I grew up Christian but like so many others, during my teens, the time that I devoted to my faith waned. I attended a Catholic primary school and an ecumenical secondary school but my faith seemed much more central in my early years. Aside from the fact that I could literally see my church from my primary school playground, my faith was at such a powerful point because I was surrounded by so many friends who shared it with me. When I went to Mass on Sundays, I saw familiar faces. The people I played in the playground with were also the ones I prayed with. But when I moved to secondary school, the faces I saw at church became more distant and in a sense so did I.
As I look back on my teenage years and reflect on my early twenties, I realise now more than ever the importance of having friends with faith. Although my close friends aren't exclusively Christian, the ones who are provide a different, essential kind of support. In the past, they're the ones I turned to for spiritually sound advice when I had questions about my Christianity. Later in life, they've become the ones who have held me accountable when I wasn't prioritising my faith and they're the ones who've prayed with me and for me.
It's hard to navigate adolescence but it's even harder to do it without friends who share your values and beliefs.
Here are three reasons teenage Christians need friends with faith:
They hold you accountable
Adolescence is the first time that many of us are given the responsibility to make significant life choices. Making the right decisions isn't easy when there are so many options which appear attractive on the surface but conflict with our beliefs. Church attendance commonly falls around this age group and it's partly because staying in bed seems more appealing than getting up on the weekend to worship.
If your friends aren't going to church, they're not going to check if you've been either. Only your Christian friends are going to notice if you haven't been, aren't reading your Bible and have stopped praying. They'll either ask or they'll observe first hand. They're also the ones who will show an interest in your decisions on the basis of how they fit with biblical teaching. In a similar way that many adults have gym buddies to motivate them, adolescents need friends with faith.
They provide spiritual support
Teenagers turn to their friends for advice and information more than anyone else. That's why it's so important that the support they receive from the ones they place a lot of trust in is rooted in Scripture. So many of the concerns (questions about the meaning of life, relationships, individual life purpose) that young people have have strong links with their Christian values, but a discussion with a non-Christian friend won't be placed in this context.
Christian friends aren't going to simply offer practical advice, they'll also be on hand to help you work out how to frame your understanding within the context of your faith and how to obtain guidance from biblical and church teaching. When you need more than reassuring words, they can pray with you and for you – a vital and exclusive feature of a faith-based friendship.
They help you feel like you belong
When we're young, so many of us are preoccupied with fitting in. No matter what type of school you go to, being a Christian isn't always cool. If you're the only Christian in your friendship group at a time when you're exploring and questioning your faith, you can end up feeling isolated and withdrawn from it.
Friendships with people around your age helps foster a sense of belonging. And not just in the earthly way of belonging to a Christian community, but also in terms of belonging to Christ. Sometimes knowing that you're not the only one and realising that you're part of something bigger than yourself is all you need to remind yourself that it's more than OK to be a Christian.