Creating a culture of spiritual growth is hard work. It’s easy to talk about but quite a challenge to do so. It is a bit odd (and sad) that churches aren’t more open to spiritual growth, but any resistance is simply human nature doing what it does best: fight

Of course, even when you prayerfully and methodically take time to establish that your church and ministry is indeed a “spiritual growth zone,” be prepared for the following three obstacles. But take heart, there are solutions.

Challenge #1: Busyness
I addressed the topic of misplaced priorities in another entry, “spiritual maturity: a note to parents.” While I don’t have time to address it thoroughly here, it’s a big deal. And as a parent, I can tell you I am often guilty. I’ve got plenty of good reasons why my children are involved in a million and one things…to the detriment of their spiritual growth…so I can use a friendly (read: kind) reminder from time to time

More and more kids are growing up in single parent homes, and for those with two parents at home, more than 60% of them have both parents working outside the home. As a result, many families try to keep their kids busy. Some declare it’s just to keep their kids out of trouble, while others believe kids need as impressive a resume as possible in order to get into a good college. Regardless, quite often, both kids and parents end up exhausted, emotionally and physically. And since time often doesn’t allow for spiritual development, families deplete themselves in that area, too.

Solution: Focus on the parents. When families are over-committed, they’re also likely feeling guilty, so be sympathetic and encourage them. Celebrate any effort they make and work hard to establish a “guilt free” persona. You want parents feeling refreshed when they talk to you, not beat up. Once a month, provide a brief overview (no more than 1/2 a page) of upcoming lessons, along with 2-3 drive-time or dinner-time follow-up questions. Think short and sweet and be encouraged by any spiritual conversations they have.

Challenge #2: Laziness
I don’t think many people are lazy. We just find too much fulfillment in sedentary activities. How can I do a Bible study when I need more time to beat my friend’s video score? Why should I serve at a retirement community when I am intimidated by older people?

Solution: Students need vision and a challenge. First, it’s important to be sure you are providing worthwhile reasons for spiritual growth activities…more than “WWJD.” Secondly, students need to be challenged, followed by more challenges. Or they need to be challenged, followed by encouragement. The different strategy depends on the personality of the student and the relationship you or another leader has with that student.

It’s important to handle this distinction with prayer, because your attempt at motivating a student could drive him or her away. Still, don’t allow fear to paralyze you. As long as students know you care and are ready to engage with them when they’re ready, you’re in good shape.

Challenge #3: Disinterest
Face it: some students could care less. They only show up because they’ll be grounded if they don’t, so like a prison sentence, they’re doing their time.

Solution: Love and encourage them. Essentially, disciple from a distance. Students may not want to have a relationship with you or God, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do everything possible to build into them. Write notes, go to their games, plus any other ministry means that will allow them to see the love of Christ through you. You may never get a ‘thank you’ note from them, but you probably don’t get many anyway, so show and tell the love of Christ with great abandon!

Youth workers are resilient. Remember that the next time you’re discouraged! And also keep an eternal perspective–or at least 5+ years–so that you can continue to lay a foundation of faith, one brick at a time. Now, if we could only do something about those people moving our bricks….

Gregg Farah is the Student Ministry Pastor at Shelter Rock Church on Long Island, NY. He’s excited to be back in student ministry after his 7-year journey as a church planter in New York City. Prior to his church planting days, Gregg served as youth pastor for 9 years in the suburbs of Seattle, WA and Orange County, CA. Be sure to visit his blog for much more, including a way to help finance his new line of books he is writing!

The other day I was sitting in my office, when a teenager I did not recognize knocked on my door.  He said, “Hi, I think I’m supposed to talk to you, but I need someone to sign these forms saying that I did service here.”  I took the forms from the teen and saw that the forms were for his school’s service hour requirement.  There is nothing unusual about this; several times a year (especially Fall and Spring) I get the mad rush of teens trying to complete their requirements for the school year. What made the situation odd is:

  1. I barely recognized the teen.
  2. What he wanted me to sign off on was something he did 3 years ago.  

The reason I knew it was three years ago was because we hadn’t done that type of service project at the church in the last three years.  Like I said, I’ve done a ton of recommendation letters and service requirement forms, and usually it’s for teens I know and I can confidently say have earned my support.  But, once in a while a teen or a parent I’ve never seen walks in and asks me for “This Favor.”

Ideally, you would want to have a conversation.  You would talk about how you don’t feel comfortable vouching for someone you don’t know or something you have never seen.  And then you would develop a plan to get the student more involved so that you could be confident in putting your name down, right?

In theory that’s what we would like to do; however, many of us are guilty for just signing off and enabling the situation because we are:

Too Busy – Often times we give a student a pass because we are just super busy.  I can’t blame you, there is a lot on your plate and when something like paperwork hits the desk, you look for the quickest way to process it.  If this is you, you need to come up with a system where you allot time for situations where you don’t feel rushed to just GET IT DONE.  The teen (or parent) might plead to get the form, letter, etc. back as soon as possible; however, you need to be their youth minister and sometimes that means holding them accountable to what they are requesting.

People Pleasing – You just can’t say no, you don’t want anyone to feel bad and you just hate conflict.  You’d rather a teen have pleasant encounter with you than feel rejected by the Church.  In fact isn’t that the reason people are leaving?  They feel rejected?  I believe teens crave structure and someone with a strong foundation.  Yes, you may upset the teenager; however, if you follow the NO with love and care, they’ll respect the fact that you are looking out for their best interests.

You Agree With It – You see things like recommendation letters and service hours as something small.  It doesn’t matter if you know the teen, it’s just a part of the system; therefore, having a conversation with them about whether or not they really earn this letter is mute.  You believe that as the youth pastor you have an obligation to do what the congregation asks of you, even if the teen isn’t a full-blown member.

While the situation may seem insignificant it does say something about your ministry.  It’s circumstances like these where we have a real opportunity to talk to teens about investing in the local church, especially if we don’t know them or they rarely get involved.  By signing these forms and writing your letters your vouching for your ministry, so you want to be as truthful as possible.  By signing for them, you are vouching saying they are a representative of the Church, and that is saying a lot.

What are your thoughts?  Is this a big deal in your ministry?  Do you have any solutions to fixing it?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.