03.25.14

4 Obstacles To Your Students’ Spiritual Growth   by Andy Blanks

As we all try to lead students to have more mature, more meaningful faith lives, there are obstacles we encounter. Potentially many of them!

Here are some of the main obstacles to faith development I have observed over the years . . . and some thoughts on what you can do about lessening their impact.

Faulty Foundation

In my opinion, trying to lead students in spiritual growth without a strong foundation of teaching the Bible is virtually impossible. We know that Scripture, God’s Word, sets the standard for what a Christ-follower should look like. It’s the fullest picture of God and His ways we have. And yet, it seems like so many youth ministries don’t have a plan for how to start with and build off God’s Word. Bible Study for the sake of Bible Study doesn’t accomplish anything. But the key to spiritual growth is seeing Scripture as the foundational information that propels and compels application.

What You Can Do About It

Have a plan to teach the Bible. Do your best to equip parents to do the same in their home. Structure your ministry in a way that creates meaningful times of Bible Study, with an emphasis on application. Then, make sure you are creating environments for students to apply what they know.

A Relationship Vacuum

Disciple making doesn’t happen outside of relationship. It’s the model Christ laid out in Scripture. It’s a pattern we see as we study Church history. And in my experience, the people and ministries who most effectively develop students with vibrant faith lives are the ones that are intentional about building strong communities. If you or your small group leaders are not relationally invested in the lives of your students, you are putting up a big obstacle to spiritual growth.

What You Can Do About It

Do you have a structural problem? Is your youth ministry constructed in a way that doesn’t allow for community to take place in small groups? Or do you have a “values” problem? Have you or your leaders failed to plug in to students because you don’t value transparent, reciprocating relationships? For community to work, relationships can’t be manipulated or constructed. They have to happen organically. It doesn’t happen without intentionality. But it’s worth the effort and the openness.

A Good Case Of The “Blahs”

Call it old-fashioned apathy if you want. But trying to lead students in spiritual growth who really don’t want to grow is virtually impossible. Yet, because you love teenagers and their parents keep dropping them off at church, you’ll keep trying . . .  The student who simply goes through the motions can be one of the most frustrating parts about youth ministry.

What You Can Do About It

I have a theory here, that certainly doesn’t apply in every case. But I think it is applicable to many. I believe that most students in our youth group who don’t really want to be there (and whose attendance will slowly taper off the older they get) have never been exposed to dynamic, authentic Christian faith. Figure out your baseline of engagement. Are they seeing a shallow faith lived out at home? Or is it something else? This is where youth ministers and youth workers shine.

Broken System

No, I’m really not talking about you, or us as youth workers. I think the number one obstacle to discipleship is a lack of spiritual direction in the home. This is not news to you if you are an experienced youth worker, or have been paying attention to many of the great studies and books released over the last few years. But, it bears mentioning in a list like this. It’s important for us to always remember our ideal role (we would be a partner with parents in spiritual development, supplementing and enriching what happens in the home) as opposed to the role many of us play (the only or the main voice of spiritual leadership in many of our students’ lives). Regardless of how many times we have heard it, or are reminded of it, a lack of spiritual role models in parents is probably the most significant obstacle in teenagers’ faith lives.

What You Can Do About It

There are entire seminary courses, volumes of books, and even ministry organizations dedicated to the “what can you do about it” answer to this question. So, this space is not much use to us for providing solutions. But, I will say this: you have to know the problem you are dealing with if you are going to begin to solve it. Make it your mission to know the home situation of all your students. Unrealistic? Too much work? True, it’s a daunting task. But if you knew this, you could know exactly what your role should be with individual students. Do they need enriching? Or do they need major spiritual leadership?

Knowing what you’re dealing with is vital to begin addressing it.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list, by any means. Just the main obstacles I have consistently seen over the years.

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