By Aaron Earls
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In July 1994, more than 210,000 cards from teenagers pledging to remain sexually pure were displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In the years that followed, the True Love Waits movement witnessed millions of young people in the U.S. and around the world commit their sexual purity to God. In addition, many who compromised their sexual purity in the past experienced the promise of hope and restoration through Jesus.
Twenty years later, building on the deep and rich legacy of True Love Waits, the program is being relaunched through a new resource called The True Love Project, a video-driven Bible study for students written by author and speaker Clayton King.
The True Love Project is not simply another Bible study for students on the topic of sex and virginity. Rather, it is a “summons” for the next generation of students to understand their sexuality in light of the gospel, according to Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry at Lifeway Christian Resources, the organization behind TLW.
While Trueblood agrees sexual purity remains an important issue for students today, he believes that alone should not drive the conversation. He says the core message of True Love Waits has always been that “purity is possible because of Jesus and is for Jesus.”
The refocused message has been inherent in True Love Waits from the beginning according to Richard Ross, one of the co-founders of the movement two decades ago.
Ross, now a professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Jimmy Hester, a previous director of student ministry at Lifeway, launched the initiative in 1993 based on ideas sketched out on a napkin during a coffee shop meeting.
Since then, an estimated three million students around the world have made a True Love Waits pledge. In Uganda, the program was used to drop the prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS, which was above 30 percent in some parts of the country, to below 7 percent.
For King, that legacy is something on which he wants to build. “I was part of the movement when it began,” he said. “I spoke at one of the very first True Love Waits DiscipleNow weekends.”
In the midst of a culture that is sex-saturated, Trueblood said, today’s generation needs “to clearly see how the gospel impacts their purity and how their choices in purity are about more than their sexual decisions,” he said.
“God has used True Love Waits in an incredible way for two decades, and now He has opened the door for the True Love Waits message to be restated, to once again point people to the gospel through this very important issue in our culture,” Trueblood noted.
Purity can be understood within the concept of worship, according to Ross. “This is about a lifetime of purity,” he said. “This is not a temporary thing, hoping a husband or wife will show up. Rather, this is something that I can do for my King.”
The new eight-session curriculum authored by Clayton King, a youth evangelist and teaching pastor at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., captures the gospel-centric focus Ross and Hester implanted in the original and that Trueblood wanted to bring back to the forefront.
By beginning lessons in the broader paradigm of the story of the Bible – Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration – Trueblood believes King’s lessons will give them the proper perspective for later lessons dealing specifically with sex and purity.
When going through the new True Love Project, Trueblood said churches and student ministers can expect their students “will be challenged to live a pure life in Jesus’ power.” King stressed that means “being found faithful on judgment day, not just refraining from sex.”
While purity has always been at the core of the True Love Waits message, “I want people to know they are pure because Jesus purified them from sin, not because they have perfect behavior and have never had intercourse or looked at porn,” said King. “The good news is that temptation, lust, porn, sex, shame and guilt are no match for the grace Jesus offers us.”
That meshes well with what Ross has said from the beginning. “Point kids to Jesus,” he said. “Only He has power enough to grip their heart and their will.”
Trueblood, King and Ross agree. Whether it was on a coffee shop napkin, the National Mall, a village in Uganda or a classroom at a local church, True Love Waits and now the new resource, The True Love Project, has always had one message at its core – only Jesus can make us pure.
A documentary on the True Love Waits movement by Lifeway Films will also be released in early 2014.
For more information, visit TrueLoveWaits.com.