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Why You Need to Explain the ‘Why’ of Rules

My almost four-year old son is in the why-phase. Whenever I say something, his standard reaction is ‘Why?’. Why do I need to be in the car seat? Why do I need to to go to bed? Why does daddy get five meat balls and I only get two? Why can’t I take rabbit (his favorite stuffed animal) to Kindergarten? Why won’t you buy me that toy?

It’s sometimes annoying, it’s requires patience, but it’s also incredibly challenging. He has managed to make me think about the ‘why’ of things more than I have ever done before. And the funny thing is that when I take the time to explain the ‘why’ of things to him in a way that he can understand, he is often satisfied with the answer. He accepts rules much easier if we explain the ‘why’ of the rule to him.

In youth ministry, it’s really not that much different. When we take the time to not only tell the rules, but explain the why, teens accept the rules much faster.

I remember an incident where I had to talk with a girl about our dress code, as her outfit was way too revealing. At first she was very belligerent and rebellious that I had the nerve to say something of the way she dressed. But when I explained what her outfit would do to the boys, that they would probably not be able to get her ‘image’ out of her mind that night at home and that she was in a very real way tempting them to sin, her attitude changed. To her, the dress code had been a stupid rule made by people who judged people by the way they dressed and ‘who preferred each girl to wear long black skirts and baggy sweaters’ (her exact words). But now she grasped the reason behind it and it made her much more understanding of the rule.

Explaining the ‘why’ of rules leads to an easier acceptance. But that’s not the only reason you should take the time and effort to explain the why. The second reason is that it’s important that youth understands that there’s a reason for them at all and that that reason is usually love. Too often in Christianity we lay down rules without showing that there’s a reason for them at all.

Take the whole ‘no sex before marriage rule’, I’ve heard that more times than I can count as a teenager…but seldomly was the ‘why’ explained. They just said it was a sin, but never explained why it was a sin. It seemed to me like God had created to whole concept of sex to give us pleasure, so why was having sex a sin? Only much later did I grasp the truth that God wants us to save sex for our marriages because He loves us, because He wants the very, very best for us.

The rules mean nothing outside of the relationship and that’s a truth we need to show our youth in every possible way. That means that we need to explain the ‘why’ of our rules in relational terms as well.

Let me give an example: let’s say you have a small group rule rule that says that members should respect each other’s opinions and religious viewpoints. Why not explain the relational rationale behind it? The rule of respecting each other’s opinions is a way of showing the other you love them.  Love is among many other things, expressed by showing respect for someone else’s opinion, especially when they differ from yours. In the same way, God has given us rules that show His love for us, or that are meant to show our love for each other. After all, loving God above all else and loving others like we love ourselves is the biggest commandment God gave us.

Do you take the time and the effort to explain the why of rules? What do you think of the concept of explaining rules in relational terms?

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Rachel Blom has been involved in youth ministry in different roles since 1999, both as a volunteer as on staff. She simply loves teens and students and can't imagine her life without them. In youth ministry, preaching and leadership are her two big passions. Her focus right now is providing daily practical training through www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com to help other youth leaders grow and serve better in youth ministry. She resides near Munich in the south of Germany with her husband and son. You can visit Rachel at www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com