e live in a society that is saturated by sex. Secular media constantly exposes us to sexual images, innuendos, and influences. This issue is not new, but it must be addressed. Statistics concerning youth culture support the necessity of teaching the importance of purity and God’s design for sex and intimacy. For example, among U.S. high school students surveyed in 2009, 46 percent had engaged in sexual intercourse (www.cdc.gov).
The Next Step
Four years ago, God gave a vision to my wife to reach the next generation with the truth about sex, love, and dating. Essentially, it was a desire to teach teenagers about the importance of sex and purity. Our desire was to carry out the vision in a relevant and nontraditional approach. The vision became an event known as “iPromise.”
The scope of iPromise is to reach teenagers and their parents. Our intent is to provide parents an opportunity to learn about teen culture as well as provide an opportunity for them to naturally dialogue about the issue of sexual purity.
For the past three years, iPromise has been hosted at New Life Covenant Church of God in Markleysburg, Pennsylvania. Participants wear semiformal attire and are provided with appetizers and refreshments, including the infamous chocolate fountain. The church’s gymnasium is transformed into an inviting, decorative environment accenting the theme for the night.
Each year the event has included contemporary praise-and-worship music led by local Christian bands, drama skits, and poignant messages concerning love, sex, and dating. Students have been challenged to not just abstain from premarital sex, but to live committed to God in every way—honoring Him with their eyes, ears, and heart. Over the past three years, we have discussed love, dating, risks of sexual activity, cultural influence, and purity. We also have focused on the epidemic of pornography among teen boys, highlighting its addictive nature.
Each year the event has featured a different theme: “What Is Love?”, “Unmasking the Truth on Dating,” and “Spotlighting Purity.” Over that time, iPromise has impacted 600 teenagers and parents in our community.
Last year’s event spotlighted the importance of purity in our daily lives, showing that what we feed our mind settles in our heart and is eventually carried out with
our hands. If we put garbage in, garbage will come out; but if we put treasure in, then treasure will come out. As Philippians 4:8-9 says it, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (NIV).
We wanted teenagers to understand the importance of what they listen to and watch. The notion that what we feed our eyes and ears has no effect on our spirituality is as ridiculous as thinking that eating at McDonalds three times a day will not affect our physical health (the latter experiment being disproven in the 2004 documentary Supersize Me). Our purpose is not to just get teenagers to say no to sex, but to say yes to God.We want them to say to God, “Yes, I will follow Your ways. Yes, I will obey Your commands. Yes, I want to remain pure in thoughts and actions and to wait until I marry the person You desire for me to spend the rest of my life with. Yes, Lord, I will wait.”
iPromise has been a collaborative effort involving a team of youth workers and pastors. This network includes youth pastors from churches outside the Church of God. From the beginning, as a network, we decided to focus on our unity in Christ in order to serve the teenagers within our community. We knew that together we would be able to achieve more than we could as individual ministries and church- es. Thankfully, iPromise has become an impactful annual event involving dozens of churches.
We decided to make the event “out of the box” with a prom-like atmosphere. In order to accomplish this feat, we choose a theme such as “Unmasking the Truth.” All of our messages, decorations, and colors underlined the message of unmasking the truths about dating.
We utilized many resources in order to pull the event together and to make it memorable and impactful. A local rental business had café tables that we rented, covered with coordinating tablecloths. A church member created centerpieces featuring glittery masks with silver accents and greenery. When students walked into the gymnasium, they saw walls transformed by wooden painted masks and a backdrop painted by an artistic friend. Long tables held a variety of appetizers from popcorn chicken to meatballs and cheeses. The chocolate fountain was loaded with fruit, chips, pretzels and, yes, chocolate.
Each year the order of the event has been similar but not the same. We choose to not only change themes, but also the line-up of the night’s events. For 2011, we re-created a mock television show featuring a late-night TV personality with a live band. This event was completely different than previous years. However, most important is that we are communicating a vital message to teenagers and their parents, helping them to be keenly aware of the red flags and slippery slopes of wrong relational choices.
“My teens really liked iPromise. They felt that it focused more on dating and what love is, rather than just sex. I thought Michelle really nailed several great points. My favorite of the night was when she talked about how dating a different person every couple of weeks or months is practicing divorce—so true. I also had a parent that was blown away.”
—Joy, youth leader
“iPromise has allowed me to realize the purpose and plan God has for us as young men and women in Christ. He wants us to stay pure until marriage not only to please Him, but so that we are the ‘whole pie’ when we meet and decide to marry our lifelong partner. iPromise impacts young men and women for the glory of God. . . . Although staying pure may not be the cool thing to do in today’s culture, it is a standard that has been set by God for His people and for the benefit of His people.”
“The creativity that is shown by everyone involved in iPromise makes it more than just a night of repeatedly saying ‘Don’t do that.’ Interviews, skits, and videos combined with a formal-but-fun atmosphere make it more like a celebration of choosing to do the right thing.”
“What I like most about iPromise is that it addresses teenagers where they are.”