What The Gym Can Teach Us About Discipling Teenagers
Two words: resistance and repetition.
To build muscle you lift a weight (resistance) over and over again (repetition). To build endurance you take a step or a stride (resistance) and repeat this for 3, or 5, or 13.1, or 26.2 miles, and so on (repetition). It really is just about that simple.
So what does the thought of resistance and repetition have to do with spiritual growth? Plenty.
When we define the word resistance in terms of spiritual growth, we need to think of the singular force that is employed or utilized to achieve growth. In the case of our spiritual growth, the resistance is God's Word, the Bible. God's Word is the barbell, the steep hill, the speed bag, the treadmill . . . it is the transformative force by which our spiritual bodies are shaped. Scripture speaks to this over and over again:
How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.--Psalm 119:9
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.--2 Timothy 3:16-17
My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.--Psalm 119:28
Repetition is much more obviously defined in spiritual growth, but equally (if not more) important. Hitting the treadmill once-a-month won't prepare you for a marathon. Anyone practicing this regiment will fail, and fail miserably. Occasionally reading the Bible simply will not equip you to live the Christ-life. It's important for us and our students to be reminded over, and over, and over again of the principles and teachings of Scripture.
So, how do we take this metaphor and put teeth to it? How might we take this picture and adapt it to how we lead students in spiritual growth?
Here are some thoughts . . .
Are you providing your students with the proper equipment?
In my little analogy here, you are one of the personal trainers for your students. While students engage with your ministry, you are tasked with providing their equipment and their routine. Are you providing them with the tools for success? Do they have the right equipment to consistently get a good work out? Do you have a plan for teaching Scripture? Or are you just sort of piecing it together?
Are your students getting their reps in?
It's funny . . . the guys who spend the most time talking at the gym are usually not in very good shape. As those tasked with leading teenagers' faith development, we need to make sure we're consistently providing meaningful interactions when our students are participating in our ministries. Are your students getting a good work out in your ministry? Or are they having fun socializing? If you put a premium on entertainment and fun experiences, it might be time to re-think your plan. There is certainly a place for fun (we work with teenagers, after all). But your primary means of existence is not to serve as an event planner; it is to facilitate spiritual transformation in the lives of the teenagers in your ministry.
A few final things to consider . . .
- Growth Is Not Possible Without Pain. Most of us have been there: that last hill near the end of the run that makes your legs burn and your lungs heave, or those last few reps that make every muscle in your body shake. Growing physically necessitates pain and discomfort. Guess what? So does spiritual growth. If you are leading teenagers to grow spiritually, they will have to hurt a bit. They will have to feel the pain of getting outside of their comfort zone. They will have to feel the sting of failure. They will have to know the fatigue of self-less service. But without this pain, there is no growth.
- Fatigue Is Inevitable. Exercise will drain you. It's kind of the point, actually. If your students are growing, they will get tired spiritually. They will want to quit. You can play the role of encourager by picking them up spiritually and rallying them to keep going. There are many factors that contribute to fatigue. You can be one of the ones that contributes to their spiritual "second wind."