Creating a culture of spiritual growth is hard work. It’s easy to talk about but quite a challenge to do so. It is a bit odd (and sad) that churches aren’t more open to spiritual growth, but any resistance is simply human nature doing what it does best: fight
Of course, even when you prayerfully and methodically take time to establish that your church and ministry is indeed a “spiritual growth zone,” be prepared for the following three obstacles. But take heart, there are solutions.
Challenge #1: Busyness
I addressed the topic of misplaced priorities in another entry, “spiritual maturity: a note to parents.” While I don’t have time to address it thoroughly here, it’s a big deal. And as a parent, I can tell you I am often guilty. I’ve got plenty of good reasons why my children are involved in a million and one things…to the detriment of their spiritual growth…so I can use a friendly (read: kind) reminder from time to time
More and more kids are growing up in single parent homes, and for those with two parents at home, more than 60% of them have both parents working outside the home. As a result, many families try to keep their kids busy. Some declare it’s just to keep their kids out of trouble, while others believe kids need as impressive a resume as possible in order to get into a good college. Regardless, quite often, both kids and parents end up exhausted, emotionally and physically. And since time often doesn’t allow for spiritual development, families deplete themselves in that area, too.
Solution: Focus on the parents. When families are over-committed, they’re also likely feeling guilty, so be sympathetic and encourage them. Celebrate any effort they make and work hard to establish a “guilt free” persona. You want parents feeling refreshed when they talk to you, not beat up. Once a month, provide a brief overview (no more than 1/2 a page) of upcoming lessons, along with 2-3 drive-time or dinner-time follow-up questions. Think short and sweet and be encouraged by any spiritual conversations they have.
Challenge #2: Laziness
I don’t think many people are lazy. We just find too much fulfillment in sedentary activities. How can I do a Bible study when I need more time to beat my friend’s video score? Why should I serve at a retirement community when I am intimidated by older people?
Solution: Students need vision and a challenge. First, it’s important to be sure you are providing worthwhile reasons for spiritual growth activities…more than “WWJD.” Secondly, students need to be challenged, followed by more challenges. Or they need to be challenged, followed by encouragement. The different strategy depends on the personality of the student and the relationship you or another leader has with that student.
It’s important to handle this distinction with prayer, because your attempt at motivating a student could drive him or her away. Still, don’t allow fear to paralyze you. As long as students know you care and are ready to engage with them when they’re ready, you’re in good shape.
Challenge #3: Disinterest
Face it: some students could care less. They only show up because they’ll be grounded if they don’t, so like a prison sentence, they’re doing their time.
Solution: Love and encourage them. Essentially, disciple from a distance. Students may not want to have a relationship with you or God, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do everything possible to build into them. Write notes, go to their games, plus any other ministry means that will allow them to see the love of Christ through you. You may never get a ‘thank you’ note from them, but you probably don’t get many anyway, so show and tell the love of Christ with great abandon!
Youth workers are resilient. Remember that the next time you’re discouraged! And also keep an eternal perspective–or at least 5+ years–so that you can continue to lay a foundation of faith, one brick at a time. Now, if we could only do something about those people moving our bricks….
Gregg Farah is the Student Ministry Pastor at Shelter Rock Church on Long Island, NY. He’s excited to be back in student ministry after his 7-year journey as a church planter in New York City. Prior to his church planting days, Gregg served as youth pastor for 9 years in the suburbs of Seattle, WA and Orange County, CA. Be sure to visit his blog for much more, including a way to help finance his new line of books he is writing!