I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the level of ownership teenagers have in their spiritual development. I’m going to try to keep from making any sweeping generalizations, as I’m fully aware that this varies a great deal from student to student, and from youth ministry to youth ministry. Many factors play a role in how much ownership a student has in his or her faith. (Maybe the biggest three are age, parental involvement, and level of discipline/commitment.)
But the longer I am involved in student ministry the more I believe this:
Part of our philosophical foundation should be to help develop high levels of faith-ownership in our students.
What do I mean when I talk about ownership of their spiritual development?
- Students with a high ownership of their faith are students who study the Bible regularly.
- They are the students asking you questions about cultural issues or scriptural concepts.
- They understand that application of biblical principles in their lives is key.
- They seek ways to serve.
- There’s a deeper sense of awareness of faith and its role in their daily lives.
Ultimately, it’s less about a list of what they do and more about an attitude with which they go about it. Initiative is huge. There has to be a desire to want to grow closer to God, and closer to godliness.
Ideally, our students would be the ones who feel the strongest burden for their spiritual growth . . . not their youth pastor, or their small group leader, or their parents. But the students themselves. Now, I say this knowing full well that this is an ideal. As I mentioned earlier, there are factors that act as obstacles to this goal.
But if we could set those factors to the side for a moment, isn’t this something we want, something we should expect from our students?
Is it too much to expect?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section, because the methodology of moving toward this is something that hasn’t yet crystallized in my mind. But as I’ve been thinking about it, I realized that the way we structure our ministry philosophy sometimes feels upside down to me. Here’s what I mean:
It seems the 40-minute (or however long) lesson, or small group time is the center of our week with our students. We see it as the “knowledge transfer” time. We dump info on them, then leave them to more or less fend for themselves during the week. We expect them to do something during the week that builds on this gathering time. Then we gather again a week later to dump more knowledge on them.
Sometimes it seems like we need to flip this. After all, there are 6,675 minutes in a week, minus time spent sleeping. Yet, a lot of youth ministries seemingly put all the emphasis on the 45 minutes spent in small group.
Is it possible we have the paradigm wrong?
What if we accepted that real spiritual development is what happens in the everyday life of the student, not what happens in our weekly small group time slot? What if the 40-minute weekly group meeting wasn’t spent mostly on preaching or teaching a lesson, but as a time of reinforcing/redirecting the spiritual growth and application that happens in students’ everyday lives?
A lot of people do this. I know some of them, and I am always amazed at the stories they tell me about their students. But for a lot of other folks, this freaks them out a bit. (It’s OK to admit if you’re one of them.)
“What would we teach? What would students learn?”
In this model, students learn and grow mostly while doing real-life. The spiritual mentor has to be more involved outside of class during the week, but it doesn’t have to be overkill. Simple touch points using existing means of communication can suffice. This model is only truly effective if students are in charge of owning their faith, and are growing and applying each day in their lives.
Before we begin to write this approach off, we have to acknowledge that the methodology with which students gather and process information has changed. In so many other areas of their lives, they are allowed to and tasked with searching out knowledge on their own, empowered by the tools in the world around them to grow in their understanding.
Isn’t it time we empowered them to do the same with their spiritual growth?
Again, I don’t have all the answers. I welcome your thoughts on this:
- What are you doing to create environments where students have more ownership of their faith?
- What challenges are there to leading students to increase the ownership of their faith?