If you are an educator or even spend any time on Pinterest, you may have heard the term “growth mindset”. It is a trend in secular education that has shown rather modest success with the average student, but has much better results with at-risk students.
So what exactly is a growth mindset and is it a biblical concept? If it is, does introducing the mechanics of growth mindset curricula within the framework of a Bible curriculum provide any benefits to the kids and teens you may teach?
At its core, growth mindset means students are taught change and improvement in their abilities and intelligence are possible. The implication is that most young people believe abilities and intelligence are fixed at birth and while they may learn more, they will never become more intelligent or have more abilities than they did at birth.
The theory is that if we can convince young people their efforts to learn, change and grow have the ability to produce meaningful change, they will be more likely to do the things they need to do to grow. If they believe what they are asked to do in school or other places where learning can occur will result in very little improvement in where they are currently, they will be less likely to benefit from instruction.
Does this theory have any implications for the Bible classes and other learning environments we provide students in ministry? In theory, one could extrapolate that it does. Young people can easily begin to believe that they are basically “good” or “bad” – often based on feedback from the adults in their lives.
If young people, believe that character, like ability and intelligence are somewhat fixed at birth, why attempt to obey God? Following this fixed mindset to its logical conclusion (at least the logic many young people might use), could lead some of them to believe whether or not they obey God is somewhat irrelevant. They may on some level believe their eternal destination was set at birth and there is little they can do to change that – good or bad.
Romans chapter eight – especially verse thirteen – points out the error of allowing young people to have a fixed mindset regarding their spiritual lives. Their choices can and will make a difference in their lives and their eternities.
The Bible also sets forth the idea of repentance – the very definition perhaps of a spiritual growth mindset. Repenting of sin is not just an emotion, it implies an attempt to change those choices and behaviors that led to the sin.
Young people, however, need some intentional teaching on a spiritual growth mindset. Not the term itself necessarily, but the biblical truths that reinforce the possibility and the need to actively work on growing spiritually.
This has become controversial in some churches as a need to balance fear and grace has perhaps tipped the scales so far towards grace that many young people believe they do not need to obey God to spend eternity in Heaven. Some even believe it is not necessary to become a Christian, because God will allow them in Heaven for living a “good” life.
Growth mindset in the spiritual training of young people goes beyond just understanding growth and change are indeed possible. It is important to teach them practical ways to achieve that spiritual growth.
In many cases, young people will also need mentors to encourage them in their efforts to grow. They will need to be taught spiritual disciplines like how to read the Bible independently and in reflective ways that encourage personal spiritual growth. They may need additional training in Christian life skills in areas like godly conflict resolution to enable them to better live their lives as God would want them to do.
While we don’t need to use the term growth mindset in our ministries to children and teens, we absolutely need to begin thinking about ways to help young people embrace and achieve the spiritual growth God wants them to have in their lives. If the research is correct, it will make at least a marginal difference in the lives of most students and a potentially significant difference in the lives of the young people who are most spiritually at-risk.