As a kid, one of my favorite books was Curious George. This curious brown monkey named George is brought from his home in Africa by “The Man with The Yellow Hat” to live with him in a big city. Curious George obviously gets in trouble a lot because of his curious nature. For example, Curious George watched “The Man with The Yellow Hat” make a phone call and afterwards George gets curious and starts playing with the phone and “accidentally” calls the fire station. The firemen hurry to the house, only to find Curious George and no fire. The firemen arrest him for the false alarm and put in him jail.
I loved Curious George because Curious George loved to explore and try to figure out how to live in this big city.
I think a lot of today’s teens are like Curious George when it comes to spirituality. Curious George was curious but his curiosity got him in trouble. The American teenagers are really spiritually curious and want to experiment with their spiritual life. But teens are scared they might get in trouble if they experiment too much just like Curious George did.
Christian Smith, in Soul Searching, makes it clear that spirituality is indeed very significant in the lives of many American teenagers. So the problem is not convincing teens to have a spiritual life, but encouraging them to experiment on how to live out a spiritual life without being condemned. Teens tend to not connect with God because they are scared they may fail or be judged if they try to connect with Him. So as a result, they don’t do it.
So this begs the question of:
How are youth pastors encouraging students to be spiritually curious?
Create safe environments that invite students to engage in the spiritual disciplines.
Spiritual disciplines are essential to the development of the spiritual journey. But the problem is being disciplined is so hard for today’s teens, which is why we have to intentionally create space and provide great resources for students to engage in the disciplines.
Spiritual disciplines bring students closer to God. They are great habits that pave the way for students to experience God.
We have to teach them about the disciplines. Richard Foster in Celebration of Disciplines talks about the three types of disciplines: Inward (mediation, prayer, study and fasting), Outward (simplicity, solitude, service and submission) and Corporate (confession, worship, guidance and celebration).
We have to show them how to engage in the disciplines. The easiest disciplines to demonstrate to teens are: prayer, solitude, study and service. Invite students to pray both out loud and in private. Once or twice a year provide spaces for students just to be silence and mediate on God’s word. Give students devotions (my favorite student devotional: KNOW GOD). And always be encouraging and providing students places to serve in and out of the church.
Bottom line: Locate the spiritually curious students in your youth ministry and give them safe environments to try out some of the spiritual disciplines. Give them room to freely practice and live out the spiritual life. There is nothing more cool than hearing a student pray out loud for the first time.
Ultimately Curious George wanted to experiment but he got in trouble — a lot. He was just average curious monkey trying to figure out how to live and play in the new land. Our teens are just trying to experiment with their faith, so we have to give them a safe and warm environment to experiment with the spiritual disciplines. Don’t discipline them for doing the disciplines wrong. It takes time to get comfortable with them. The best way to shut down a spiritually curious teen is telling them they are doing the disciplines wrong. Engaging in the disciplines isn’t about performing for God. It is about cultivating a discipline life that brings glory to God.
“Of all spiritual disciplines prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father.”
― Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth