Spiritual disciplines are what various Christians over the years have found strengthen their faith and help them grow towards their full God given potential as a Christian. Lists of what those things are vary slightly, but the average list includes things like prayer, Bible study, fasting, confession, worship, fellowship, rest, celebration, service, generosity, chastity and disciple-making. Mind you this is not some checklist, but rather things the Bible mentions as being necessary for living the full Christianity life and for growing in spiritual maturity.
If you look at the list, children are often led to do some of these things by the adults in their lives – especially parents. Compliance is usually expected or required in the spiritual disciplines the parents believe are important. Then, suddenly at about age eighteen, these same children are launched. No one is there to encourage or require participation in spiritual disciplines. If the children have not already transitioned to independent participation in spiritual disciplines, it is quite likely they will no longer be practiced.
How can you help the parents of your Bible students begin transitioning their children to independent participation in spiritual disciplines long before age eighteen? It doesn’t happen by accident. With intentionality on your part and with their parents at home, you can help them make that crucial transition long before adulthood.
So what should you do to help young people?
- Explain the various spiritual disciplines and why they are helpful. I never heard the words spiritual disciplines until I was an adult. I had, however, been taught about most of them and knew how they could help me spiritually. Sharing applicable scriptures can help them see why God thinks they are important.
- Don’t make them too rigid. Within each discipline, there is often a lot of room for personal preferences. Bible study is crucial, but it doesn’t have to be the same scriptures studied in the same order. Younger children, for example, are more likely to make Bible study a daily habit if they start by reading books of the Bible that have lots of stories or practical advice, like Proverbs.
- Mix group participation and independent practice. Don’t throw young people in the deep end of the pool to teach them how to swim. Start by encouraging family devotionals that include a couple of spiritual disciplines. Over time, help them to plan those disciplines in their family devotionals. Then begin encouraging families to have some days with the family doing those things together and other days when family members do those things independently. This can keep momentum going for children who are struggling a bit.
- Give lots of encouragement for any progress towards independence. Let’s be honest. Many Christian adults still struggle with participation in the spiritual disciplines. Your encouragement can motivate your Bible students to continue trying to develop these helpful habits. Don’t wait until they are doing them all perfectly. Point out any growth or progress you see.
- Provide private times for assessment and feedback. Since many spiritual disciplines are silent, it’s hard to know for sure how your Bible students are doing. Make these conversations non-threatening by conducting them with an attitude of ”how can I help you” rather than ”I will be grading you”.
- Remember the role of the Holy Spirit. If your Bible students have not been baptized through their own decision to become a Christian, they have not received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Some spiritual disciplines are easier with the help of the Holy Spirit. Think of yourself as a coach, coaching them through their spiritual development. Be the encouraging, life changing coach… not the mean, terrifying coach that uses fear as motivation. Be age appropriate in your expectations. It’s okay to expect progress, but don’t demand perfection from children who are still struggling to remember to brush their teeth! Growth occurs over time and often in spurts.
It requires extra work, but moving young people to independent practice of the spiritual disciplines makes it much more likely they will continue them as adults.