How to push a spiritually apathetic teen to be spiritually passionate

Deep and Wide Youth Ministry

In yesterday’s video about evaluating ministry by journey or destination, I posed the question of how we help move students from being spiritually apathetic to being spiritually passionate. A youth worker named Jeff Boose was browsing my site, reading about the Deep & Wide ministry values that my youth ministry is based on, also asked the same question. If you’re not familiar with Deep & Wide, there’s a more detailed document about it at Dare 2 Share’s website. Also check out the LIVE YM Talk we did with Jason Lamb about Deep & Wide youth ministry.

Jeff asked a very important question:

What are the steps you take to get students from apathetic to passionate?

I think the arrow on the chart that moves kids from apathetic to passionate could be titled “obedience.” It follows the role and responsibility Jesus gave to us teachers in Matthew 28, “…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”

The best term I can come up with that explains this is “pushing them toward obedience.” A lot of people don’t like pushing kids spiritually because they’re afraid the teens will rebel against it or be turned off, but I see kids who are being pushed in every area of their life except their spirituality. Their athletic coaches push them hard physically, their teachers push them academically, their jobs push them to perform, etc.

When it comes to pushing a teenager spiritually, that first hump from apathetic to interested is the hardest. That takes a lot of pushing. It’s where we come along side the teenager and say, “Hey, I know you may not care about this spiritual truth, but just try it. See if it works. See what might happen if you just obey what God says whether your like it or not.” If the teen does try it in obedience because of your persistance and they see the spiritual principle they’re experimenting with work out as the Holy Spirit guides the process, they become a bit more interested because they see that this God stuff isn’t just a bunch of ideas in an old book Pushing them to obey in the next area of life is a bit easier because they’ve already seen how God’s Word works when they follow Him. When they do it again, they start to become a bit excited about scripture, and soon they’re passionate about following and obeying the Lord in other areas of their life, as well.

Here’s the kicker: Someone who is genuinely passionate about something cannot help but share it with the people around them. I hear a lot of men talk very passionately about fishing, hunting, and car engines. It’s like they wrap their entire identity around those activities. Although I care nothing for any of those things, I can’t help but be a bit intrigued to listen to them talk about it just because they’re so obviously passionate about them.

When someone is truly passionate about obediently following the Lord, when they wrap their entire identities around Him, they contagiously share it with the people around them. This is one way that going deep into God’s Word fits hand-in-hand with going wide.

For me personally, the hump that pushed me from being apathetic to interested was sharing my faith with my peers in high school. I didn’t care to share Him at all, but when I was more-or-less forced to do it by an adult youth leader, I was pushed to obey the Lord’s command to share my faith. When I did so, I saw how following Him in obedience, whether I wanted to or not, really worked in my life and the life of others around me. I couldn’t help but become a bit more interested. The more I shared my faith, the more spiritually excited and passionate I became.

The deep and wide values work hand in hand. They cannot be separated as so many ministries do (i.e. small groups for discipleship, big events for outreach), but that’s another topic for another day.

Posted on April 6, 2010

  • I think there is definitely a fear of pushing teenagers too much. I know I struggle with it each week as I lead and mentor our teenagers and our student leaders. However, because of the relationships we have built with them, they are willing to listen and at least try when my husband and I push them to seek, obey, stand out, and be challenged. Teenagers have an amazing capacity to learn and be molded with such an eagerness and an innocence.

    Last month we started a 90-day Bible reading challenge with our high school group… we called it B90X (like the P90X extreme workout program). It is a lot of reading (12-16 chapters per day) but I have been amazed at how they have been doing it so diligently… asking questions, encouraging each other, even reading ahead! Even the kids I thought were not going to do it, are asking me if I'm on schedule (I'm behind! ack!). Another example was challenging them to be facebook holy… pushing them to be obedient not just at church but in all aspects of their lives… immediately saw a LOT less swearing, complaining, and meanness on my FB news feed… or they just blocked me… haha : )

    It's a beautiful thing to see kids growing in their knowledge of Christ and in their passion for Him. It definitely takes a while but I think that modeling, relationship building, passion, and pushing… not to mention a ton of praying… really do help lead kids from apathetic to passionate.

    • That's awesome to hear, Sunnie! Thanks for sharing your story. This passive Christianity stuff doesn't work for anyone and is extremely offensive for the God who gave His life for it. Way to push kids deeper and wider! :)

  • I love that you bring up obedience. Even though we are sometimes hesitant to discuss how to obey Christ, I believe that students are hungry for that kind of direction. This summer, we are doing a junior and senior high discipleship backpacking trip, and our junior high pastor came up with a great idea on how to offer scholarships: students can earn scholarships toward the cost of the trip in four different ways: 1) Reading the entire New Testament by Easter; 2) Participating in a small group this semester and serving for 10 hours; 3) Praying for a friend who does not know Christ for 30 days as well as sharing with them about Jesus and inviting them to a church event; and 4) participating in Lent by fasting from something (which is very foreign to many to many of our students). It's been fun to see students really step it up and participate and see the fruit. For many of them, it's clear that they have loved it, and that all they needed was someone to push them to do it. I'm sure the students who actually sat down and read the NT learned far more from that than a hundred Sundays of me just talking about the Bible!

    • That's a really good idea! I like that. Thanks for sharing it! What a great way to help motivate teens to go deeper in order for them to attend a trip that goes deep. I'm not really a fan of using cool prizes and gifts as motivation for reading the Bible or memorizing scripture, so this could be a good solution. Thanks, Benjer!

      • Yeah, we kinda went back and forth about whether this constituted a bribe of sorts, but we felt good about it since it was right in line with the purpose of the trip: discipleship.

  • Tim–
    I am here with ya. When leading adolescents spiritually, they need a sense of structure and support. I have found that when you raise the bar, they will most likely meet you there.
    Bottom line: discipleship happens from the inside/out.

    The fundamental question (which you asked) every youth pastor wrestles with is: How can our youth ministries cultivate and facilitate passion within our students?

    I think there is a two part answer.
    1. Raise the bar.
    2. Put adolescents in an environment of WONDER.
    Wonder is connected with God and produces in the soul a sense of AWE and adoration. Students should not only WANT to worship God, but they DESIRE to obey God. What blows our kids away? When the Holy Spirit longs is ignited and sparked inside our student's hearts, souls, and minds. That is PASSION!!

    I think there are 4 marks that cultivate an obedience-passion. A student must know, trust, and love God, which in turn will allow them to obey God.

    • Hmm… sounds great, but could you give me some ideas of what you mean by putting adolescents in an environment of wonder? It sounds like something I'd love to do, but in my own life those environments are usually when I step out in faith, take risks, and leave my comfort zone and see God come through when I'm forced to depend on Him. Are you thinking we should do more to dump kids in those kinds of situations somehow?

      • @Tim–
        yeah, exactly…… you mix up your youth ministry environments. Once students get in the routine, it is time to change it up. This is why variety is huge.
        I am suggesting we dump kids into at least one or two new faith environments every quarter.
        Here are some practical examples:
        1. During youth group, leave the church building and go evangelize a local grocery store.
        2. Go visit another Jesus believing church that is very different than your current context. Look for different cultural experiences. I know for a fact there are tons of these churches in Minneapolis.
        3. Go to different camps, retreats, and events. I know some youth ministries have sacred cows, but change it up.
        4. Challenge the kids to be silent for 30 minutes during youth group as they try to listen to God.
        5. Invite your students to run the entire youth group night. Don't do this a lot, but do it enough so they can get comfortable ministering to others.

        Honestly in my experience the two biggest ways to create wonder is allowing the students to be still before God and challenge them to minister to others who they wouldn't normally minister to.

        • Yeah, I totally agree. Those experiences take a lot more time and energy to coordinate, but have a proportionately more significant spiritual impact. Self-discovery is the greatest form of learning and most of what we learn and process through those experiences are things we'll never forget.

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