In the last years I’ve become more and more interested in spiritual disciplines. It came out of a nagging feeling that my relationship with God wasn’t deepening as much as I wanted it to and I was looking for fresh ways to reconnect. It turned out the ways I found weren’t fresh at all, they were old practices from the Bible, practiced by the ancient church leaders.
When I saw The Beautiful Disciplines, a book about teaching spiritual disciplines to youth, I bought I immediately. Sure, I’ve incorporated some of my own experiences with spiritual disciplines into my teachings in my youth ministry, but I was immensely interested in a curriculum that would to this wholly and systematically. I’ve only read The Beautiful Disciplines, I haven’t actually used it yet in practice, but I’m really excited to do just that, because I think it’s a very valuable tool.
The book is written by Martin Saunders, until recently the editor of the British Youthwork Magazine and an experienced volunteer youth leader. He tested the curriculum in The Beautiful Disciplines in his own youth group.
It may seem an impossible mission, getting young people interested in spiritual disciplines. It’s so completely counter-cultural. But it may just be what young people need to really deepen their faith, to become true disciples of Christ. It will help them meet God in a personal way and encourage them to live their life in connection with Him. And I happen to believe that young people want this, they want that personal relationship with God, they just don’t know how to get it and keep it.
If we teach spiritual disciplines the right way, it could change young people’s lives for eternity! I fully agree with Saunders when he states:
“This book has been written out of a passionate belief that the spiritual disciplines are not just theoretically good for young people, but that they will be gasped in like oxygen when properly explained.”
The Beautiful Disciplines consists of multiple resources, making it usable for youth groups, but also for retreats, assemblies or other gatherings:
- A short overview of each discipline, meant as background info
- First step resources: discussion starters about each of the disciplines, aimed at a positive, but non-Christian audience. These are all based on real life stories
- Adaptable Meeting guides: stand alone lesson plans on each of the resources, containing games, discussions, Bible study and often some kind of practical ‘test’ or experience. These are aimed at a generally Christian audience
- Going Deeper resources: practical extra activities for those with extra time or for people who want to dig deeper
There’s been discussion about what spiritual disciplines are exactly, since there isn’t an exhaustive list somewhere in the Bible. Saunders wisely only included the disciplines that are mentioned in the Bible and this is his list:
- Study (of God’s Word)
I found the lessons to be fun, thought-provoking and practical. There was a good mix of fun activities and deep discussions. I didn’t like all of the games, I may replace some of them when I use the curriculum, but as always that’s just a matter of personal preferences. Because I’ll be using it with adolescents and not with young teens, I may also extend some of the spiritual exercises a bit.
The great thing is that the curriculum is fully flexible and adaptable. Saunders even gives practical and valuable suggestions at the end of each lesson on how you can adapt it for younger teens, older youth, for churched youth and for unchurched youth.
In short: I fully recommend The Beautiful Disciplines to anyone interested in teaching spiritual disciplines to young people.
However, I would add that it’s not suitable for leaders who have no prior knowledge of spiritual disciplines and have no experience with them. The basic explanation of each discipline at the beginning of each chapter is just that, basic, and before being able to teach this to others, I’d recommend reading other books that delve deeper into this subject. Saunders gives the same recommendation by the way and I agree with his embrace of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines. Another tip is Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.
Do you think teaching spiritual disciplines will work with young people? How would you go about it?