When I first became a Christian (in 1996), I started learning about “True Love Waits” (TLW) It was a popular program youth workers were using in talking to students about “saving themselves for marriage.” It basically involved signing a pledge card that you would wait to have sex until you got married, and then you were encouraged to buy a purity ring. This would help students remember their commitment to themselves, to God, and to their future spouse. For the most part, the program worked. But, to be honest, it failed to take root in most teens … like me.
I signed the card, posted it in my bible, and I bought a purity ring (which I still wear to this day). But, when push came to shove, I gave in to sexual temptation on more than one occasion. The card was out of sight (and out of mind), and the ring was removable. I was a hypocrite to say the least. It’s not that I didn’t believe in biblical purity, and saving myself for marriage, I did. I tried to resist temptation, I really did want to live up to the pledges I signed (yes, I signed the TLW pledge card more than once). I wanted to live a life that was totally different to the culture. I wanted to be one of those Christians that was visibly on fire and set apart for God. The message of “True Love Waits” in-of-itself was good and biblical; the problem was, I never allowed it to take root within me. It was a nice concept, but to be honest, the seeds of the message had no fertile soil – no foundation – to take root in. See, I was never really encouraged by my parents to save myself for marriage. This isn’t to say that it was their fault that I had sex before marriage, however I can’t help but wonder, what if they had taught me the biblical principles about purity and healthy sexuality? Would I have given in, so easily, to the sexual pressures and temptations around me? Would have the message of “TLW” impacted me more with that foundation of biblical purity already in place?
Here is where, I think, a lot of teens fell in regards to this campaign: parents weren’t really involved in presenting the message. It was left up to the youth worker to convince kids not to have sex before marriage, not the parents. Additionally, the program of TLW failed to help students live a total life of purity – as in, beyond not having sex, how does one live out purity. The message had to move beyond just signing a pledge card and wearing a purity ring. The message had to more than “don’t have sex.” The message had to go deeper, in both the lives of the teens and the parents.
To be honest, I was skeptical when this new-move of TLW came out in July. I thought, “Is this just the same message re-packed all over again?” Surprisingly, no, it’s not. I really do think they’ve gotten it right. Yes, the message of saving yourself for marriage is still prominent, and yes teens are still asked to sign the pledge card, but TLW 3.0 moves beyond just-sex-only and talks about helping teens to live an every-day-life-of-purity. More so, TLW 3.0 partners youth workers and parents together. The basic idea is to get youth workers to equip parents in talking to their teens about purity.
Tim Schmoyer, of Life in Student Ministry, interviews Jimmy Hester (co-founder of TLW) about the new True Love Waits program.
Tim: What could TLW look like in our youth groups?
Jimmy: I’m glad you asked that question. One of the major challenges we face with True Love Waits is keeping it fresh so that youth leaders will not use it once with their students and say, “True Love Waits? Yeah, we did that two years ago.” Over the years we have asked students and their leaders what should be the emphasis of TLW for the immediate future. While the message remains the same, it needs a fresh look and focus. We recently did that and the consensus was that True Love Waits is perceived as an event. That may be an element in the campaign but when it is effective, True Love Waits is a process of developing purity in the lives of students. For it to take on that image in a youth group, the student minister would need to see TLW in a different light. The process would include education (why is abstinence important and what does the Bible say about it), commitment (pledge to remain abstinent until marriage), and follow-up (encouraging and supporting students in their commitment). Included in the process would be the student minister partnering with parents–the primary spiritual developers of their students–in carrying out TLW. This process and partnership can take on many forms. We have developed one approach that we call TLW 3.0: A Path of Purity. Currently we have information on the TLW website and we have produced a family guide with small group teaching plans for the student minister to launch a partnership with parents.
Tim: How can we best talk about abstinence in our youth groups and how can TLW help us?
Jimmy: I’m often asked this by student ministers and my response is do it all the time. Now I’m not saying that every Bible study or worship time or youth event needs to carry a TLW theme. What I am saying is to be sensitive to opportunities when your students set the agenda. It may come in a casual remark in a conversation. It may surface in a situation that takes place at school. Wherever it comes from, take advantage of it because it may never come your way again. One way TLW can help student ministers with this is through TLW 3.0: A Path of Purity. We have identified 18 life markers that occur from birth into young adulthood that provide natural opportunities to have conversations about sexual issues that lead to developing purity in a student’s life.
Now, is this to say that TLW 3.0 is the end-all to teen abstinence programs? No; although I will say that this program hits the bullseye because it gets youth workers and parents on the same page. See the diagram below:
No longer is it “ME (the youth worker) trying to teach THEM (the student).” Now it’s “US (yw and parents) teaching THEM (students).” This, to me, is more effective. Bravo, TLW.
To download FREE teaching lessons (for parents and teens), go to the True Love Waits 3.0 site of Lifeway Student Ministries.
What are your thoughts? Has TLW done good, or do we need something more?
[Thanks Tim Schmoyer for pointing this resource out!]
[Additionally, here is a great 4-part lesson on Teens, Sex, and Holiness, put out by youthministry360 – it’s FREE, too]