One thing every youth ministry leader has in common: they all watch teenagers graduate… eventually.

This reality brings about questions for our leadership: what’s being done to prepare teenagers when they no longer have youth programs to attend and youth leaders to be with? What can we do to help them to learn to grown spiritually on their own so they don’t also graduate from their faith when they graduate from our ministry?

For thousands of years, followers of Jesus have been practicing spiritual disciplines. You know this, in fact, we’re betting you have experienced the power and intimacy that comes from your own time with God. This isn’t “advanced” Christianity and we don’t need to wait until teenagers become adults before we challenge them. Here are four benefits that happen in the life of a student when they are encouraged to grow spiritually on their own:

1. Students build ownership in their faith.
Encouraging teenagers to grow on their own puts the responsibility for their spiritual growth on them. Where there is responsibility, there is usually ownership. Ownership replaces the “church consumer” mentality that says, “I’m here, now grow me.”

2. Students pick a path that works for them.
Everyone needs leadership, but we also need to find our own way. We’d would never get lost driving if we always allowed others to drive us, but then we’d never learn to drive on our own. Provide your students with a spiritual map and allow them the opportunity to learn to drive. Let them personalize and customize their growth path.

3. Students get to grow at their own pace.
Humanity is consumed with comparison and it becomes normal for us to evaluate ourselves in light of others. Most comparison leads to guilt (i.e. “I’m not as spiritual as they are.”) When a teenager is growing on their own, it’s not only personal, it’s also private. Freedom from comparison is a safe and empowering place to grow.

4. Students get to struggle with questions.
Confusion isn’t fun, but it can lead to growth. It’s been our learning that some of the most significant life-lessons emerge from confusion. When students have a question and there’s no leader to turn to, they are forced to think about it on their own and can’t settle for someone’s easy answer. The tension that we face as leaders is to provide the balance between creating a safe environment for question-asking while allowing teenagers to struggle a little on their own (not leaving them stranded forever). To do this correctly is quite the challenge—keep trying, learning and don’t give up.

Are your students empowered to develop their faith apart from the programs and personalities of your ministry?

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