A Spiritual Formation Plan For Every Student
I think we’re in agreement that the world of behavior management in the church is coming to an end. For too long the church has sent out a rubric of behaviors that would be indicators for the rest of the church and would qualify people for full inclusion and even leadership. This rubric included language, music, politics, modesty, alcohol, sexual orientation, and sexual activity.
But as our students are becoming more and more amoral (or maybe they’ve always been but are now free to express it in public) a behavior rubric doesn’t seem to be a good fit for their faith development.
Good behavior doesn’t help people know Jesus better. It doesn’t help them know God’s word better. It doesn’t prepare them for the more complicated life after high school. And it has absolutely no relevance for students in their current context—except maybe for those students who want to be self-righteous jerks at their schools.
What If There’s a Different Way?
To spiritually form our students without resorting to guilt or shame requires a move away from behavior modification. Behavior shouldn’t be the benchmark for faith.
A potential liability of behavior modification is that our students are spiritual babies. For example, when our students aren’t sleeping around and we hold up abstinence as Christian value, we give them a false sense of maturity. In truth, they might not have any chance of sleeping around. But if we communicate that the goal is abstinence, they might find comfort in their “Christian” behavior simply because they aren’t having sex. At their core, they’re still spiritually underdeveloped.
I get that it’s scary to simply focus on the spiritual development of our students and leave behavior issues up to parents, but this is really the only way forward. This is especially true for kids who only know a post-Christian world and have a post-Christian worldview.
Four Steps to Grow Faith in Our Students
1) Read Scripture.
This is a no brainer—I get that. But it’s horrifying how little Scripture our kids know and how little time they spend in it. Instead of simply telling students to read God’s word, let’s help them out. Let them spend their time in John, Colossians, James. Relax on Revelations, 1 Corinthians, or anything in the Old Testament. Encourage them to read for formation rather than for information. This means to read less content more often.
The first step is to help students find passages of Scripture God can use to actually form them. Read a passage out loud to them. In fact, read it a couple of times. Once you’ve read the Scripture passage, ask the following questions:
2) Based on this passage of Scripture, what’s God inviting me to surrender to him? What would it look like if I gave God access to this area of my life?
These questions move right to the heart of spiritual formation. It isn’t as simple as students realizing that they shouldn’t have sex or that they need to be nicer to their moms—instead, these are spiritual formation questions that get students in the habit of surrender. The ultimate goal of spiritual formation is to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. We should never ask our students to surrender areas of their life to Jesus—surrender takes faith, wrestling, and interacting rather than simply abstaining.
3) Based on this passage of Scripture, who would be blessed if you actually put this into practice in your real life?
So many times we think of application as either abstinence from something, giving money to something, or just being nicer to people. Those are great applications, but this question helps students realize that formation happens when we put our faith into practice. And when the markers of our faith and life match up, the people around us will be blessed. Our maturing faith compels us to be missional—to be active and involved in the lives of people around us.
4) Who in your world is going to help you pull this off?
We often talk of accountability and accountability partners, but that puts people in positions of power. What would it be like if we helped students see that they need fellow travelers on the road of spiritual formation—they need people who will help them, support them, pray for them, and remind them. They need people in their lives to debrief what they read and process how and what they surrender to Jesus. They need people, and these people have to be more than the traditional small group. They need people who will help them succeed—people who will spur them on toward love and good deeds. We all need that.
There’s Nothing Earthshattering Here
I’ve found that my knee-jerk attempts to mature my students in their faith always comes back to behavior modification. And because of that, I unintentionally force my students to live duplicitous lives.
In an era when students are immature in their faith and we rely too heavily on behavior markers to judge our students’ readiness for leadership, maybe we should instead be fellow sojourners and emphasize the thing we really want for our students anyway: spiritual formation.
May God be gracious to us and to our students, and may his Holy Spirit meet our students in these encounters. May God search and know their hearts, test their thoughts, reveal any offensive way in them, and then lead them along the path of everlasting life. And may this prayer be for us as well.
After almost two decades of student ministry, Ben’s heart still beats and breaks for students. Loving students and helping them love Jesus have been the foundational principles around which he has organized his life and ministry. While his job description has transformed over the years, he is still most passionate about investing in the student ministry at MARIN COVENANT CHURCH. Follow him on twitter at @AVERAGEYM.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.