Developing Spiritual Maturity in Youth

By: Mark Christian

What is Spirituality?

“Life is made up of relationships.” The foremost of these relationships would center around those involving the Lord, our families, the church, and then others. The strength that is built into these relationships is
a determining factor in the content of a person’s life. In ascertaining some of the keys to a spiritually consistent youth group, we, of course, would immediately realize that a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ is of foremost importance. Jesus Christ is ever and always our Savior. Guilt and condemnation become some of the most detracting elements to a spiritual experience with the Lord. It has been said that the difference between guilt and condemnation centers around the fact that guilt is something we feel when we transgress against God’s laws and it can be done away with by repentance, allowing the blood of Jesus Christ to cover our lives, as His righteousness becomes a part of us. This is God’s answer for guilt. Condemnation on the other hand is the work of the devil. It comes into our lives as a blanket to shroud us and keep us from feeling any sense of relief. All of us need Jesus Christ. A youth group and every individual in it needs Jesus Christ. He is our Savior, our Friend and, I believe to the youth of this generation, He ought to be our Hero.ei

Spirituality would also concern our concept of serving God. What does it mean to serve the Lord? Elements of serving the Lord could perhaps be broken down into some basic things. Prayer, of course, is an essential.
The possibility of knowing Jesus Christ outside of prayer is moot. That is why some thriving youth groups make a pointed effort to pray and meet together at least once a week, perhaps at an early morning hour with transportation to school provided afterwards. Or, maybe on a Sunday afternoon prior to a Sunday night service. The influence of a praying youth group is always felt.

Another factor in serving the Lord is Bible reading. There is a very good series of studies which are called “Spiritual Adventure” and published by Word Aflame. These studies will challenge youth towards Bible reading and spiritual growth. I have personally seen kids read amazing amounts of the Word of God and discipline their lives to very good practices as a result of working their way through this spiritual adventure notebook.

In conjunction with prayer and Bible reading as a part of our concept of serving God, I believe it is important that young people realize that their character and conduct away from church is vital as well. In the face of peer pressure, their actions and attitude towards life will greatly reflect what their concept of serving God really is. This world is in spiritual shambles. I listened recently as a man described how a
15 year old girl came into his office and in the presence of her family they discussed the import of the venereal disease she had contracted. For the rest of her life, twenty days out of every month her body will
be covered with lesions, blisters, and sores. Our youth should realize that serving God is not their bondage, but indeed is a freedom. Their concept of Him should lead to the recognition of the liberty that He has.

Along with the rest of what has been enumerated above, we must, of course, realize that external standards and disciplines of dress do play a part as well.

Successful Youth Groups Have a Sense of “Identity” About Them.

In talking to a young man with a lot of exposure to youth group work, he expressed the importance of a youth group being able to establish an “identity” which they can relate to. This identity or sense of belonging which can be a part of a youth group will make it more important to them to please their church friends than it is to please their friends at school. This “identity” will serve as a solace and a strengthening
factor to them at a very crucial time in their lives. It may seem carnal, but kids need desperately to identify with something. This sense of belonging is so important to the psyche of a teenager.

The miracle of media has introduced a variety of “identities” to the youth of our day. America as never before has become the melting pot of the world. This great influx of identities leaves a young person with a
great deal of options. Thirty years ago or perhaps even less, the stereo-type of the typical American was certainly more confined than it is now. Therefore, a spiritually consistent youth group must be able to
identify with each other. In other words, a kid comes to a place where he says “I can put up with the flack at school and not fitting in with the crowd if I have a place where I can ‘belong’.”

Youth groups should be something kids can relate to. With no intent to appear cynical, let me simply state that bringing our efforts with youth to a level that they can understand and appreciate is in many instances
of great importance. Recently I heard about a youth leader who had termed his youth group “The Young Apostolic”. I heard of another who termed themselves “The Young Warriors”. Later the youth leader asked
around and became concerned as to why the sweat shirts they had made with these statements blazoned on the front weren’t selling so well. He wondered why the kids didn’t seem to want to be involved. I hope this
simple illustration brings across the point that it is imperative that youth groups be built around an identity which kids can readily relate to.

Positive peer pressure serves as a springboard for successful youth work. A question was asked recently to a large youth group staff: “Are the youth of this church proud to be a part of the youth group?” In
discussion, the youth staff came to the conclusion that the youth were seemingly proud to be a part of the church, but the youth group itself didn’t have a sense of identity that the youth could feel proud to be a
part of. I think this could constitute a loss to the effectiveness of a youth group and a youth ministry.

This is not to say that the youth group “does its own thing” without feeling it’s being a part of the church. It simply is recognizing the fact that if a youth group is to be effective and young people are to genuinely feel involved, they must have a sense of belonging to the “subgroup” which they are a part of. spiritual consistency and sense of growth is enhanced by this positive peer pressure which can be at work among the youth group.

This happens when the tide is turned in the youth group so that it becomes popular to pray, to read the Bible, to worship, to have discipline of dress, and to exhibit proper attitudes and behavior. When this happens, then they are strengthened to the point that they are willing to put up with whatever intimidation may come to them as a result of their involvement with the rest of the world. They have an alternative. They have a positive alternative that is filled with positive action bringing to them a sense of belonging and offers them something that is very essential to them at their time of life.

This is not an overnight accomplishment, but for the sake of producing a spiritually consistent youth group, it should be constantly driven toward.

The Inescapable Influence of readership – “Expectations Influence Behavior”.

Youth work is a long-term investment. Teens are not often confident enough to share their thanks and gratitude up front. Much of what you will do as a youth leader will not be recognized perhaps as it should.
But in the light of the far-reaching impact that your commitment to youth work will make, it certainly becomes a very worthwhile endeavor.

Recently I read of what has been termed the “pygmalian” effect. The origin of the term comes from a Greek fable which centers around the story of a sculptor who was also the king of Cirrus who fell in love
with one of his creations. The ivory statue that he made was the creation of his own expectations and desires. Eventually, according to the Greek fable, his repeated prayers to the gods gave this statue life.
Therefore, the “pygmalian” concept rests on the premise we see reflected in many situations, that is what we put in things with our own expectations become such as a result of our believing. It is true that
expectations can and do influence behavior. The feelings and environment that we live in can be changed if we work to change them by sending out the right kind of signal. Whatever we wish to have reflected are echoed back to us and should be absorbed into our present effort.

Comedians and dramatic performers succeed in creating the kind of mood or atmosphere they want to prevail by sending out the kind of signals they want mirrored or echoed…. (They create the environment by the kind of signal they send out.) A drama coach might say it like this, “Once you begin laughing, it is easy to continue for the action and the emotion mutually stimulate each other.” We all have an audience of
individuals or fellow workers who’s life will be influenced (this includes their mood, feelings, and dispositions) by the way we enter into it. Hence, youth ministries are perhaps the most important “signal
generators” in a church as far as that youth group is concerned. The expectations of the youth minister will profoundly affect the youth he leads.

A study has shown that experimenters can raise the IQ scores of children especially on verbal and information sub-tests simply by expecting them to do well. Analysis of this type of thinking concludes much support for it. Another study has shown that overseers can improve a group’s performance on a task which requires the group to drop as many marbles as possible through one of several holes in a table by expecting them to do well.

Another study has shown that worker performance increased markedly when the supervisor of a group was told that his group showed a special potential in their particular field.

Whether it has been said a million times or never before, I would like to say that your youth group shows a special potential. What a person believes concerning what they’re a part of does have a great deal of influence on their behavior.

People do become how they act. Even outward movements of a certain kind can generate tendencies which we wish to cultivate. The best way to pray is to move towards prayer. When people move toward worship, the potential for worship is increased. When leadership actually prays and when leadership actually worships, then the influence of this will immediately go to work.

How a person sees, views, and interacts with their peers is influencing. The other morning I received a call from a friend who cannot sing, but he likes to sing anyway. His opening tones were not a part of any
keyboard which I have recently come across, but he persisted with his tune at a high volume, “Good morning, good morning! It’s time to rise and shine. Good morning, good morning! I hope you’re feeling fine. Good morning, good morning! It’s such a lovely day. Good morning, good morning…!” At the conclusion of his song, I reminded myself that it was “the thought that counts.” Here is what we are talking about. Whatever we move toward in a physical sense does exert pressure on the kind of tendency that we want generated in our lives in a spiritual sense. In spite of the lack of musical content the song did at least
bring some humor.

Consistency Is Something We Hold Up.

This is more than just a statement or habit. All of us recognize that there is none immune from the potential of failure. But we also know that our relationship with Jesus Christ as our savior does strengthen us and help us. Arrogance and a sense of invincibility will not communicate properly with youth. More often than not they relate to our sense of inadequacy and our honesty towards particular, present situations that we assess in our lives. We don’t have to feel that as youth leader we are bound to always present an image of invulnerability. Young people realize how vulnerable they are and they can relate to and appreciate from time to time our willingness to be honest enough concerning the need of our own selves with God. This spurs them on towards exhibiting the right kind of behavior.

When we regard people as highly competent, effective, capable, mature, meaningful, significant, and worthful, people will generally respond in like manner. It has been said that self image is the key to human
behavior. What does a good sense of self-image manifest? Certainly a person with a proper “self-image” will (a) recognize their need of God, (b) be able to accept responsibility, (c) be happy, (d) be able to
adjust to circumstance, and (e) be able to accept criticism. These factors are important. A spiritually consistent youth group will have a proper image about itself. This is simply recognizing our role in this
world and the importance of the mission and task which all servants of the Lord are on.

In the concern of expectations influencing behavior, I recall Bro. J. T. Pugh saying that a preacher has the most lasting influence on a congregation. Inasmuch as he is the one constantly up-front and that no
one in that congregation can forever escape his influence if they continue to come. So it is with a youth group and a youth minister. The youth minister can influence and does influence behavior within that
group. If this effect is to work, though, a youth minister must employ some things.

Encourage achievement by providing a constant flow of positive input which creates a positive climate. The youth minister can develop a positive peer pressure situation.

A very talented young man recently noted to me that it was his thinking that approximately 80% of a youth leader’s time should be spent with those who are trying, reaching, worshipping, praying, and involving
themselves in the youth group. He went on to say that if a youth leader is not careful, he will spend so much time on the “foot draggers” and the insolent attitudes on the outside edge of the group that he will
send a message to the rest of the youth group that if you want attention from the youth leader, you need to hang around the edge of group and just always be on the verge of backsliding. This sends the wrong signal.
In conjunction with this statement, I remember how significant it was for me personally when I discovered the importance of working with those who were working with me. A church service, for instance, can be bogged down if a preacher becomes overpowered by the arrogance or insolent attitude of particular people that are there. Quite often the congregation is very aware of the various attitudes represented in different people. Drumming those who are “with us” over the head because of the handful who may not yet have moved into a position of harmony with the leadership of the group only serves to magnify the influence of
the wrong attitude present in the group. If an environment of praise and worship is created, the “sidewalk superintendents” as well as the “sour faces” will often be swept up into the frame work of that positive
environment. Most always they will receive a positive influence and will decide to join up with this “going thing”.

It has been said that nothing succeeds like success. This kind of positive peer pressure does influence a youth group for the good. The key is often being able to immediately emphasize the good that is present. Being a “good finder” is not just palaver and hype. It seems to be an essential thing that leaders reinforce. Teenagers are so scrutinizing of themselves and others that helping them look for the good in themselves, their God, their youth group, their lives and their church is vital.

I remember a man speaking of the friends he had as a teenager. Among his peer group one day someone noticed a couple of indention’s on his forehead that were the result of the measles when he was very young.
Upon noticing this, he was immediately labeled among his peer group as “craterhead”. There was another fellow in the peer group who had been labeled “taterhead” and so on. We are all very acquainted with how cruel sometimes youth can be in an effort to defend themselves or escape the scrutiny of the peer group. They will immediately turn on whatever is available to bring the attention away from themselves. This, of course, represents good reason for a youth group to develop an attitude of finding good things. Perhaps even making a list or having the youth group choose someone with which they could identify with and offer a list of good things about that person which they have observed. This concept does not develop overnight, but will take hold within the thinking of the youth group if it is consistently emphasized over and over again.

Regular Growth and Learning Opportunities.

Thirdly, not only is it important that a youth leader realize the influence of his expectations on behavior and hold consistency as an important part of living, but he should plan for regular growth and learning opportunities. The importance of knowing where we want to go with our youth group and how we anticipate getting there cannot be overemphasized.

Corporations with great success recognize the importance of proper training exposure for their employees. I remember Bro. Jack DeHart saying that churches are “spiritual employment agencies”. Earl Nightingale once stated that he never understood the rationale between employing a minimum waged person (with no training) to care for and meet the public who were interested in inventory sometimes in excess of several million dollars. Spiritual consistency in a youth group is certainly enhanced by proper resources and spiritual insight being given. The gospel is a reasonable message. I believe sincere youth when approached and acquainted with truth properly will want to live for God.

Timing is so vital. A person should know what they want and strive to develop a sense of timing about how to do things. Special speakers and seminars of various sorts may need to be arranged in order to arrive at
a certain goal. If they can be timed so that each serves as a stepping stone for the other further impact of truth and spiritual development will be accomplished. What kind of nurture is needed in my youth group?

Disneyland, a recent research indicated, spends four full days of training on a teenage employee whose life expectancy on that job will probably be only five weeks. Why? Because the parking lot attendant is one of the first ones to meet their park guests. IBM requires 40 days of training per year for management people. This amounts to 8 full weeks of work. Proper exposure is so important. It’s like one fellow said, “We can’t afford not to have revival.” The youth group even if taught by the youth minister of necessity should be exposed to a proper diet. This will increase spiritual consistency. The prophet of old said, “they that
do know their God shall do exploits.” A person just simply must trust people and train the “living daylights” into them.

Basic Needs In Youth Age Groups.

Between the ages of 10 and 14 of a pre-adolescent situation, most kids see things as they are and accept them as they are. This would include their home, the church, their parents, and their pastor. This group
tends to look inside themselves measuring themselves by what they see inside. For instance, they would ask themselves, “Do I look good,” or “Do I feel good,”, etc.

Age groups between the ages within 15 to early 20’s see things as they could be and wonder why they are not that way. Why is my home the way it is? What is the church the way it is? Why are my parents the way they are? Why is my pastor the way he is? This group also tends to look at others for approval and support. How do others see me? This, of course, brings tremendous peer pressure on them. How others view them becomes a tremendous concern to them. It would help us to prepare a proper training schedule in order to serve the needs of youth at whatever time frame they are in their life.

Finally, a youth group should be provided activities and information.

Recognition is of tremendous importance in any “group” operation. Youth groups should realize their role in the “big picture”. It seems that successful youth leaders would regularly paint as vividly as possible
this concept to a youth group. I recall one youth minister pointing out during a Sunday evening service that whenever the youth group met to pray prior to service that there was an influence in that service of special, spiritual dimension. I recall one very successful pastor recently standing before the youth group and in the presence of the youth minister telling them, “If I were young again, I would learn to worship the Lord in every way I could. I would like to worship Him with the dance, to rejoice before the Lord. I am not as young as I used to be so I can’t worship the Lord sometimes like I wish I could. But if I were your age…” What this does is create a picture that vividly and consistently portrays the role of a youth group in the overall operation of God’s work in a city.

It is important that a youth minister is careful not to be trapped into unrealistic expectations. There are two approaches perhaps to leadership. Douglas McGregor developed some thinking concerning these
approaches in what he called Theory X and Theory Y.

Theory X Assumptions:

(a) Work is inherently distasteful.
(b) People prefer close supervision.
(c) Most people inherently are lazy and must be carefully structured.
(d) The principal work incentive for anyone is money.
(e) Typical workers are uncreative.
(f) Workers need to be coerced or bribed.

Theory Y Assumptions:

(a) Work is as natural as play.
(b) People like to work.
(c) Self control is often times essential.
(d) Workers at all levels are creative.
(e) Workers respond favorably to mature, favorable treatment.
(f) Recognition and self-fulfillment are as important as motivation and

Leadership will generally assume one of these postures and more often than not whatever posture they assume will come true. It is impossible to know all the distress which a young person may be feeling in their home environment or school. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many young people or youth groups as a whole who have been lead to believe that they can do a good job, or that “with God all things are possible.” Paul’s words are great admonition “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” I think it is important to remember that teenagers are more introspective than children and adults. I read
recently the remarks a teenager who left a suicide note and took their life. It had to do with the traumas that had taken place in their life. One was the divorce that their parents went through. Secondly, this
young girl had an abortion. Thirdly, the boyfriend left her. Fourthly, her best friend no longer wanted anything to do with her. Fifthly, her grades dropped drastically. Sixthly, the college which she had been
banking on for admission put her admission in jeopardy. Seventhly, she lost her sense of proper image and began to hide herself away in over indulgence in foods. It was at that point that she gave up and took her

The second leading cause of teenage death in 1980 was suicide. Five thousand of them committed suicide in 1980. Close to one-half million will try this year. What we are talking about is how do we view the youth in our youth group. Spiritual consistency would seem to be certainly enhanced if we see them as having potential. This attitude posture in leadership is important and teens need to know this.

(A) The youth group does want to be involved.
(B) The youth group likes to participate.
(C) The youth group can discipline itself.
(D) The youth group has creativity and drive.
(E) My role here is to treat them with respect.
(F) People get what they want by giving others what they want. I’m here
to give these youth a sense of “belonging”.

One of the most important things is to keep attention and drive on what a person wants, not on what they don’t want. It has been said and it is true and we find generally in life what we look for. It’s like the fellow who said, “Lady, if you treat your husband like a champ, you won’t end up with a chump.” It seems that expecting the best from yourself and others does go a long way towards a spiritually consistent environment.

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