So often, spiritual growth occurs through what we might call encounters with God. And when we think about how we encounter God, we can build a short list:
- We encounter God primarily through the Bible, His Word.
- We encounter God through the Holy Spirit, which dwells within all believers.
- We encounter God through His creation (Rom. 1:20).
- We encounter God through our circumstances & experiences.
- We encounter God through other Believers.
I want to challenge you to think about this last idea: how we grow spiritually through encountering God within community. And specifically, how we lead or help teenagers experience this.
Throughout Scripture, we see examples of spiritual growth occurring within a community of Believers. The Old Testament is full of these examples, whether it was the nation of Israel as a whole, or the community of believers in exile. The NT shows the most applicable views of this idea of spiritual growth within community. We see a great picture of community in Acts 2 and 4.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. - Acts 2:42-44
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. - Acts 4:32
And of course, we see these wonderful, local autonomous Bodies scattered throughout the Roman Empire. The Church in Jerusalem and Antioch, the Church that met in Lydia's house, the Churches of Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, and so on . . .
Scripture makes it clear: One of the main models for spiritual growth is a community of fellow Christ-followers.
As you think about and implement a youth ministry strategy, are you intentional about building a community? Are you encouraging your students to truly share life together? This is a big challenge if you have students from different high schools, yet, this fact makes it all the more important to intentionally focus on this aspect of your ministry.
While there are certainly more than we could list here, the following are some traits of the kind of true, spiritual community that enables your students to encounter God in and through one another, growing spiritually in the process.
The foundation of the type of community that will enable your students to grow spiritually is their shared faith in Christ. But it is more than that. It is the shared desire to boldly live out their faith. In a spiritual community, a community God works in and through, your students are on the same page about following Christ.
One of the biggest roles you can play is creating meaningful experiences that foster community. Since we work with teenagers, games and fun events count as meaningful experiences. However, the types of experiences that create a spiritual community where students can encounter God are ones based on living out their faith: serving your community, mission trips, homeless outreaches, and so on. These experiences create foundational spiritual markers that help bring students together.
Your students have to be willing to let the "walls" of image fall down to reveal their spiritual needs and shortcomings. This is the type of community James refers to in chapter 1, vs. 15: "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." When there is a strong community among your students, the rending of personal sins will be almost natural. But, this level of spiritual accountability will never exist outside of genuine community.
Atmosphere of Empathy
Paul speaks to this in Galatians 6:2 when he says, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." You'll know you have helped engender a strong community when you see students seeking to meet each other's needs. This sense of empathy is a vital component of Christian community.
If your students are going to see God working in and through them, and grow closer to Him as a result, it doesn't happen by looking inward. The community you should hope to foster among your students is one that seeks to meet the needs of others, both spiritual needs and physical needs.
Helping facilitate this type of community is not easy. But, it is a vibrant part of the spiritual growth of all believers, one that is oftentimes missing among students.
When we think about the challenges students face in their culture, this strong community is a vital component of whether or not your students' faith flourishes, or falters.