We work with a lot of students who are claiming to be Christians. As their youth pastor in some sense we are responsible for disciplining our teens and discerning who is growing and who is NOT growing in their faith. Some times we unfortunately invite the entire youth group and church to be praying for Tim because he is dating an atheist gal. Tim three weeks ago was sold out for Christ, and now he is sold out for making out in the back seat of his car.
Basically on a week to week basis we are determining/judging who is being holy and who is messing up according to our limited perspective. Let me say it another way, we are only judging the students who are attending our “spiritual programs.” Some times we (the youth pastor) link our student’s participation in our programs/activity/campaign with their spiritual growth. The logic is: If they are coming to church and to my amazing Christ-centered YM, then they are growing.
Think about it…we are only interacting with our students for about maybe 3 hours a week, at most. There is 168 hours in the week and we indirectly observe our students for 3 hours. In addition, the adolescent cognitive, behavioral, physical, and spiritual development levels are constantly changing and shifting.
In Messy Spirituality, Mike argues that we assume spiritual growth can be charted as a steadily climbing line. In actuality, true spiritual growth looks different for each of us. Our growth may be going up, going down, sideways, off of the page, and maybe jagged irregular shaped, and odd shaped.
Measuring spiritual health is a tough task. I wish there was a great spiritual litmus test that would clearly indicate where the student is at. It would be so much easier. Bottom line: I think there is some sort of error in how we judge our subjects, I mean students, spiritual well being. Plus doesn’t it feel so good to call out everyone’s crap, issues, and flaws, and not ours.
Let me be clear…I am not saying we don’t discern who is being spiritual. I am simply saying we need to be careful on how we assess the heart of our teens.
My philosophy is when I am assessing my students spiritual growth/well being, I always assess with grace.
It is essential we think about the psychological and spiritual maturity implications when we play the sanctification judge in our youth ministry. If our students are fully aware that we are spiritually grading them, then they may think their spiritual process is about performance. Therefore, their spirituality may only be a performance of pretending to be spiritual only during youth group.
Again, the great Mike said: real and true spiritual growth begins with desire, not guilt; passion, not principles, desperation, not obligation.