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Dress standards in summer youth ministry [guest post]

Summer dress stnadards for youth ministryThis is a guest post from Robert Martinez, the Pastor of Student Ministries at East Side Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. You can follow Robert on twitter.

Ah yes, the awesomeness of summer student ministry brings with it many life-changing decisions, mind blowing events, summer camp memories, and of course the unfortunate reality of immodesty! Here are a few thoughts that have helped me in the area of implementing dress standards for summer youth ministry.

1. Start by “informing” your core students. (Those who are spiritually mature.)
Surely you have times when you are training your young people in the area of Biblical principles to live by, right? If you are not, then start! Inform them, and by all means don’t be afraid of standards! Our young people will be surrounded by standards for the rest of their lives. They will have standards in the work place, marriage, and life in general. Don’t short-change your students. In fact, show them that the Bible is our ultimate standard for life!

I think the fear a lot of student ministers have is the fear of losing their students. Pastor Paul Chappell said this in regard to young people, “…when we fear the risk of losing them, we condemn them to spiritual infancy.” I am not going to be the one to hinder my students, so I inform them a lot, even on hot topics like modesty. I started with those who are already practicing modesty and trained them to approach the matter with grace.

By the way, it is truly a heart issue, but how are young people going to get their heart right if we don’t inform them in the first place? Set your students up for success by informing your core! (Hebrews 10:24, 2 Peter 1:3)

2. Teach your core students to be pro-active when promoting your events.
In other words, let them be the informers to those whom they are inviting way ahead of time. Think about it for a minute: when a student invites a friend to a wedding, is it not natural for one to ask, “What am I going to wear?” How about when a student invites a friend to a youth group ski trip?

Consider this: we are in Memphis, Tennessee, and the majority of our public school students are already used to abiding by dress codes anyway. They know what “dress code” means.

What ever happened to giving people the heads up? Perhaps we should stop tiptoeing around certain issues and just man-up and inform people. Now I realize that there will be those casual individuals who show up without notice, but here is my thought on that: wouldn’t it be easier to address a few (if needed) than your whole un-informed student group?

Again, I teach my students to address any issue in life with grace, but by all means I teach them to pro-active about it way ahead of time. (John 1:14)

3. Avoid events that make provision for the flesh in the first place!
The truth is that our students enjoy tons of opportunities to kick back, have fun, party, go crazy, and “drive their youth leaders nuts” throughout the whole year. Why go to the beach, pool party, or waterpark when the “message” presented (immodesty, sensuality, lust, etc.) at those locations contradicts your overall message of true godliness, holiness, righteousness, and worldly separation? Perhaps we are guilty of a double standard at times, or even worse making provision for our own flesh?

Some say, “Well they are eventually going to grow up and have to learn to reach their culture anyway and so why not teach them how to deal with it in a Christian context?” My 5 year old son has never smoked a cigarette, taken a drink of beer, looked at pornography, had sex, nor played Russian roulette. Do you think I should let him to do all these things in a “Christian context” in order for him to know how to deal with and reach his culture for Christ? (Romans 13:14)

Inform your core students, teach them to be pro-active when promoting, and by all means avoid making provision for your students flesh!

QUESTION: Do you hold dress standards for your teens during the summer? If so, what are they and how do you ensure that those boundaries are respected?

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Robert MartinezRobert Martinez is the Pastor of Student Ministries at East Side Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. He is burdened for his current generation of young people and seeks to “change the statistics” among the ever growing number of young people leaving the faith. You can follow Robert on twitter.


Posted on May 31, 2012

  • Eric Couch

    I have standards fro dress in the summer as well as year round but most of the issues come in the summer time. I inform my parents at our yearly Parents meeting and I also remind them again when it gets closer to the summer or we are going on a missions trip.
    My guidelines for bathing suits for girls – one piece bathing suit or a true tankini that covers the mid riff. If all they have is a bikini – I first slap their parents(Just kidding), I make them wear a t shirt over top of the swimming suit. its not popular buts its effective. If they don’t follow the guidelines, I bring one of my t-shirts for them to wear. I also don’t encourage the use of spaghetti straps or shirts that show off bra straps. I ask my women leaders to speak to the girls about that type of dress.
    For guys – no speedo’s (nasty) but seriously, the most problems I have are with the guys pants. They for some reason want everyone to know what type of underwear that they wear. I constantly harp on them about pulling them up and I don’t have anything they can wear to cover that up. I am still working this one out.

  • Katie W

    I would say also, be fair! If you are going to harp on the ladies for their skimpy pj’s at camp/mission trip- make sure the guys aren’t walking around shirtless all the time! :)

  • Mujsicman715

    Call me old fashioned, but I don’t agree with mixed bathing. It simply stirs too much emotion and feeling regardless of guidelines. However, I do agree that dress should be addressed head-on and stop side stepping the issue. In response to camp/mission trips. the same holds true as mixed bathing. Guys should NEVER, EVER go around shirtless and Girls should NEVER, EVER wear “baby-doll” or skimpy, short pjs. Modest, Modest, Modest is the way. The church has become too tolerant. The leaders are afraid of offending or loosing someone. Do you want their blood on your hands at Judgement?

  • Whoa now, let’s not get crazy. Going to summer camp at the beach or having a pool party at a youth leader’s house are youth ministry staples. I can’t imagine shutting down any activity that involves wearing a swimsuit just because you’re scared somebody might have wrong thoughts about the opposite sex. I COMPLETELY agree with modesty, my youth ministry’s standards basically follow everything Eric’s comment said, but let’s not get overzealous and go too far in the wrong direction. Otherwise we’ll all end up wearing burkas to church, and I can’t handle that…it’s 85 right now where I live and I’m a sweater…

    • Very good thoughts Jordan, however I wouldn’t say that pool parties or summer camp at the beach are “staples” in youth ministry, that is basically saying that you “have” to have those events or your student ministry is going to fall apart! If you are “building” or “founding” your student ministry on pool parties and summer camp at the beach events, your SM in the long run will suffer spiritually, every time. Here is my advice on that bro, make “Christ” the staple of your SM.

      Someone once said, “You keep people with what you get them with.” Let me ask you this bro, “if you took away the pool parties, summer beach camp, or even the water parks, would your young people stay in your SM?”

      If your pool parties, etc. are the staples in SM, they will leave. If your King is the staple from the very git-go they will stay. Remember Christ is the Rock upon which the lives of our young people need to be built, not the sands of our changing culture. It is our duty, mandate, and obligation as Student Ministers to “get” young people with Christ from the very start, so in the end we “keep” them with the Same.

      Regarding standards, they are merely a by-product of how we approach and view the King of kings, not a by-product of overzealousness. As for burkas… I don’t think anyone (even in legalism) wheres burkas. Seems a little overzealous to even bring it up, just a thought. :)

      Conclude: Jesus Christ is the staple of student ministry.
      (Matthew 7:24-29, 1 Cor. 3:11, Colossians 1:17, Acts 17:28, 1 Cor. 1:30)

      By the way I’m not saying pool parties and such are wrong, but I would say “reconsider” taking young people to places where you “know” sensuality and lust are huge “messages” aimed right at our young people. Obviously you cannot avoid this entirely, but do we become fatalist in our reasoning and in the end watch our young people suffer? What ever happened to driving young people to be a “pure” generation for their King? Think about it.

      • I will concede one point: I probably misused the word staple.

        As for the rest, allow me to clarify.

        1. Of course Jesus Christ is the staple of any good youth ministry!
        2. Of course pool parties and beach trips are not a necessary aspect of youth ministry!
        3. Of course if we never had another pool party or beach trip, my youth ministry would not fall apart!

        I just believe it’s a slippery slope when you start cancelling youth activities that the church as a whole has been doing for 20+ years just because kids could be exposed to sin. “Let’s not go bowling anymore because they sell beer and we might see a drunk guy.” “Let’s not go to the amusement park because the woman behind us in line might cuss.” There’s something to be said for being “in the world but not of the world”. My youth show that they’re not “of the world” by wearing conservative bathing suits, or by handing out gospel tracts to beach-goers. You can’t shelter everyone from everything. Standards are not a byproduct of overzealousness, but overzealous standards are. I simply don’t believe that taking a youth group to the beach results in them being an impure generation for the King, mostly because I went to the beach when I was in youth and it didn’t cause me to stray from my faith. Unless you count the old guys in Speedo’s. That always made me question God’s will and why He would make me see that. (See my hyperbole statement below.)

        By the way, the burka comment was hyperbole borne from my sarcastic personality, Muslim women wear them so as not to tempt men by showing too much skin (apparently their face qualifies as “too much skin”).

        • Ypastor29

          Very well. I think we are both on the same page bro. Like I said I’m not against going to the beach, pool parties, etc. (with the exception of water parks, that is not a place I would even go personally, for the reasons of EXTREME exposure to pure flesh, any right minded man knows what I’m talking about there.) Of course we have to be in the world and not of it, I just think we should not become fatalistic in the area of purity for the sake of a good time. I think we agree in this area bro, great chat!

          Note: I totally agree on the speedo thing!

  • Trazy

    Thanks for this post. It’s something that bugs us each year. Even the children of our church elders show up in bikinis. Not judging the parents, it’s HARD to find appropriate clothes out there. So, we make the decision about the beach this: NO MIDRIFFS – girls, and even guys, need to wear a non-white shirt. It’s hard, but the adults appreciate it and it just makes life easy on me. Guys can wear the ribbed tanks and girls can wear spaghetti strap tanks over their bikini, but it needs to be a color.

    this policy goes out ON our beach announcement, and I make sure I have some extras on hand in case we get some newbies.

  • We have dress standards like everyone else it seems, and to be quite honest, we have not had much of an issue. Occasionally, we have to ask a girl to change, but nothing more than that.

    Eric, our guys really are not into the “sagging” of their pants so we do not have much of a problem.

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