Tomorrow I will return to my hometown of Columbus, GA to participate in the 20 year celebration of a ministry called Teen Advisors. This ministry was created by a concerned mother of four in 1987 who felt God leading her to equip teenagers to use positive peer pressure to counteract the negative messages and pressures surrounding them. After only four years of existence the organization received national attention as it was spotlighted in Focus on the Family magazine and subsequently awarded a Point of Light commendation from former President Bush. All this for a little group of teenagers and Moms trying to make a difference in their high school community!
As I have reflected on this experience in my formidable years, I have realized the real, long term impact this experience had on my life. Teen Advisors sign one year, honor-bound contracts that they will not drink, smoke or do drugs. There was also an additional contract we could sign committing to abstinence from sex. This program really worked for two primary reasons. First, we were really educated on the the reasons to chose abstinence (from substances and sex). Secondly, we had lots of accountability as a result of our membership, our contract and publicly proclaiming and explaining our commitment on a regular basis.
This ministry transformed our high school into a very unique place. The popular kids were "goodie goodies." We were able to feel confidence based on who we were and living what we believed, not in spite of it.
As I graduated from high school and entered college, I was very well equipped for the inevitable social pressures I encountered as a naive 17 year old sorority girl at a large public university. Unlike many others, I wasn't keeping moral rules because of a legalistic perspective of "it's just wrong." My decisions were not based on my parents' beliefs or expectations. I didn't feel an overwhelming need to experiment with my newfound freedom. Instead, my decisions in those tempting moments were based on a solid foundation. One of the reasons I value the role of youth ministry so highly is because I benefited greatly from the investment of caring adults who shared their lives with me.
It will be a decade before I have teenaged children, but I do hope I can remember the lessons I learned from my TA experience as I parent. A basis of truth is essential. Accountability is a powerful thing. Sure there are times when we must all be obedient "just because" but investing time in helping our children understand WHY we believe what we believe and HOW to filter those tough decisions can truly pay off in spades.
I am so thankful to Dee Dee & Richard Stephens, busy parents of four who were responsive to the Lord's leading and truly unselfish with their love. Thousands of teenagers have now been touched by TAs. What a legacy!