As we consider how we disciple teenagers, I wonder if we sometimes miss an important aspect of spiritual development . . .
Answer this question: Do your students play a meaningful role in shaping each other's faith?
I think we can look at this in two ways:
- Passive influence, and
- Active influence.
As we consider creating ways for students to increasingly influence each other spiritually, I am really focusing on the active type of influence. Passive influence happens organically when students simply interact with one another in your youth ministry. Students hear other students asking questions and maybe consider an aspect of their faith differently as a result. Certainly students see each other living out their faith and can gain certain lessons from this. This is passive influence. And let's assume that it happens to a certain extent on its own.
But what about active spiritual influence?
Active influence is when students are intentionally and personally engaging in each other's lives as part of their collective spiritual development. Some questions to think about:
- Are you intentional about creating environments where students can directly influence others spiritual growth?
- How much responsibility or accountability do you place on your students when it comes to each other's spiritual growth?
- Do your students see themselves as part of each other's equation for spiritual maturity?
We need to remember that there's plenty of biblical evidence that we are supposed to be a part of each other's growth in Christ. The picture of the New Testament Church we see in Acts 2 and 4 speaks to this. As does Paul's writing in Galatians and James writing in James. But my favorite example we see of this is Hebrews 10:24-25:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
I love Paul's language: "spurring one another on" to a more Christ-like character. And the idea of Christian encouragement being part of the content of our "meetings" . . . The picture we see here is one where the spiritual community of our peers is actively involved in our growth as Christ-followers. So, are you doing this? Are you fostering this environment?
Maybe the better question is, "How do you foster this environment?" Here are a few thoughts on what this might look like. I'd love to hear your thoughts, as well.
You have to value the concept of students influencing each other before you will see any meaningful change here. If you do not value it, i.e., if it is not important to you, you will not make room for the type of active influencing that Scripture calls for. Out of this value will come a philosophy shift in your ministry. Clearly communicate to your volunteers and your students that you expect and desire teenagers to be important spiritual influencers of one another. Then, adjust expectations, programming, values, and goals to reflect the importance of this concept.
Equip & Empower Students To Be Influencers
Students need to feel like they are capable of influencing their peer's faith lives (equipped) and they need to feel as if this type of influence is safe, appropriate, and, most importantly desired (empowered). Knowing your philosophy and environment like you do, consider what you need to do to make these two things happen.
Create Space For Influence To Occur
As we discussed earlier, passive influence will occur in the natural rhythm of "doing community" as a youth group. But, active influence will occur most effectively when you create space for it to happen. This will look different in every situation, but it requires some work on your part as you consider your structure and programming. Some thoughts to consider . . .
- Do you need to change the way you teach to include more time for reflection and discussion?
- When was the last time you had a small group of students together and engaged in spiritual discussions where students carried the conversation?
- What is the role of accountability among and between your students? Is there an atmosphere of acceptance when it comes to students speaking into one another's lives?
- Do you create time for students to lead discussions, teach lessons, or give testimonies?
What else might you do from a programmatic/structural standpoint to create room for active spiritual influence?
A Dose Of Humility
An atmosphere where students' active influence of one another is valued gives the teenager's influence the same value as an adult volunteer's. Or yours for that matter. If we're unwilling to see the value of teenager's being able to influence one another, we are either tragically underestimating their abilities, or pridefully overestimating ours.
Teenagers have the ability to shape each other's spiritual lives in a tremendously meaningful and positive way.
It's time we were intentional about fostering this involvement in our youth ministries.