One of the leadership axioms I adhere to is that leaders cannot take people further than they are themselves. In order for teens to consistently grow in their faith, ask them to establish spiritual goals. As part of this, talk about how good goals are tangible and measurable so as to allow teens to determine whether or not they’ve successfully reached them.
After establishing these goal-setting basics, challenge student leaders to set two or three spiritual goals for themselves—things they want to do outside of your youth ministry in order to grow in their faith. Give student leaders a definitive time limit in which to reach their goals. In my ministry, we typically do this twice a year: Once over the summer, when we set goals for September through December and again at the start of the new year, when we set new goals for January through May.
Because the broadness of this task can sometimes be daunting for teens, if you see teens struggling to come up with their spiritual goals, give them additional guidelines. For example: Ask student leaders to make one of their spiritual goals about reading scripture, one about praying and one about serving.
After giving teens time to think and pray about their spiritual goals, ask them to write them on an index card along with their name. Then invite them to share their goals with one another. As they do, ask student leaders to explain why they chose their goals and how their faith might change if they successfully reach them. Doing so helps leaders articulate why their goals are important and how meeting them will help them grow in their faith.
As teens share their goals with one another, offer gentle feedback where appropriate. In particular, be on the lookout for unrealistic goals. While it’s good (and even healthy) for goals to push student leaders, you want leaders to have a shot at realistically completing them in order to ward off perpetual frustration. For example: If a teen says their spiritual goal is to read the entire Bible, encourage them to break it into smaller chunks. Since most teens won’t actually be able to read the entire Bible in four to five months, encourage them to instead establish a goal of first reading the New Testament.
Once all your leaders have shared their spiritual goals with one another, copy their index cards. Give them their card to take home and put in a place where they can see it frequently as a reminder of their spiritual goals. Then keep a copy for yourself. At least monthly, revisit your team’s spiritual goals—on your blog, in your meetings, or both. Ask teens to share an honest assessment of how well they’re doing with meeting their goals. As teens share failure stories, offer grace. Ask them to consider why they haven’t been able to fulfill their goal and what they’ve learned in the process. Give them an opportunity to revise their goal if need be. As teens share success stories, celebrate with them and process. Again, ask them to consider what they’ve learned, how their faith has grown, and why continuing such a habit might be important to their spiritual growth in the future.
Over time, what you’ll find is that the simple act of setting goals, writing them down and frequently revisiting them will prompts spiritual growth in your leaders. When leaders are growing themselves, they’ll be able to authentically challenge and encourage other teens to do the same. What’s more, by working toward their spiritual goals, leaders will begin establishing spiritual habits that will help them sustain and strengthen their faith long after their specific goals are met.