Youth ministry involves stewarding relationships between teenagers. The youth I work with are enmeshed in multiple networks of relationships at the same time, including those in their family, at school, online social networks, and teammates. Their relationships with one another at church rarely overlap with their relationships in those other spheres.
So we have an opportunity to cultivate friendships that are grounded in a shared story and shared habits of worship and community. While we pray for all of our students’ relationships to be characterized my mutual concern, selflessness, and common commitment, we work to develop those characteristics when we’re together.
I think doing that requires a balance of emotional closeness and emotional distance. I’ve been at retreats with groups of youth who were downright frosty with one another, and I’ve been on mission trips with teens who couldn’t stand to be apart. Neither of those are good. In healthy relationships among teenagers at church, emotional closeness should never be an end in itself. Youth group and mission trips should bring them closer to one another and should bond them (if not there’s something wrong), but I fear that if closeness is not in service of something greater (Discipleship), it can be contorted into a force that doesn’t build faith but undermines it.
Yes, friends are friends forever. But the best friends work together toward something bigger than their friendship.