Encouraging, equipping, and motivating students to grow in their intimacy with Jesus is one of the greatest responsibilities and joys for youth workers. Spiritual maturity happens when we focus our lives more and more on Jesus, and become like him. A key to helping teens develop in Christian maturity is to identify where they are in their walk with Jesus, then help them take the next step. The five steps of spiritual maturity look like this:
Step 1: Spiritually uninterested. They’re not interested in God, church, or matters of faith. They have ulterior motives for coming to youth activities besides knowing Jesus better (their parents make them, they’re here for friends, they come for the fun, but tune out when the “Jesus stuff” starts). Youth workers often interpret church attendance as spiritual growth. That’s not always the case.
Step 2: Spiritually interested but not growing. Their attendance at church and youth group is regular. They like being there, and they know it’s the right thing to do. They’re basically moral, but their religious life is kept almost entirely within the walls of the church. They rarely practice any of the Christian disciplines that nurture a person’s relationship with Jesus. It’s impossible for them to grow much because of this.
Step 3: Abiding in Jesus. They’re committed to the disciplines that increase their intimacy with Jesus outside a church setting. In particular, they get into God’s Word regularly, spend time in prayer, and involve themselves in worship. They do, however, still exhibit a substantial amount of Christian immaturity. This is sometimes the most a youth worker expects from his or her students, but there’s so much more!
Step 4: Transforming into the image of God. They’re commitment to spiritual disciplines is changing them from the inside out. They exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). Their personality is blossoming in genuine Christ-like attitudes and intentions. However, it’s still difficult for them to follow through on tougher matters of faith and obedience. They’ll shy away from doing things that seem too hard, or too scary, and will often have good rationalizations for doing so.
Step 5: Developing in Christian maturity. They’re taking courageous steps of faith, obediently following in the footsteps of Jesus even when they don’t feel like it. They’re motivated by selfless love for their Father. They’re practicing their SHAPE in front of others, and getting better at them (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, experience). They’re living out the tough disciplines of a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. They’ve shared their faith, or invited an unbeliever to church for evangelical purposes within the past few weeks. This step is a lifelong process, and by no means implies perfection – until, of course, we see Jesus face-to-face.
Our work in student ministry is to know our kids. Based on the evidence displayed in their lives, where are they in their walk with Jesus? How can we encourage them to take the next step? How can we properly motivate and equip them to do so?
God’s answer has always been discipleship. Psalm 78:1-8 talks about one generation passing their knowledge of God along to the next so that every generation can put their trust in him. That’s what discipleship is all about. Walk with your students. Talk about Jesus with them. Be a living example of what it looks like to follow in his footsteps. Finally, pray for your students regularly by name, and wait patiently for God to work in their lives. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3, our faithful work plants and waters the seed, but only the Holy Spirit can cause spiritual growth.