Every student will eventually graduate. In fact, if you have a senior, you only have 52 weeks with them.

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 learn to grow spiritually on their own?  We want teenagers to graduate from our ministry, not their faith.

For thousands of years, followers of Jesus have been practicing spiritual disciplines. You know this. In fact, I’m betting you have experienced the power and intimacy that comes from your own time with God. Spiritual discipline 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 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. Ride shotgun with them and help them when they steer off course.

3. Students get to grow at their own pace.

Our culture is consumed with comparison, especially in Middle School and High School. It becomes normal for us to evaluate ourselves in light of others. Most comparison leads to guilt.  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. The best ministry environments have flexible growth pathways, not a “one size fits all” pathway.

4. Students get to struggle with questions.

Confusion isn’t fun, but it can lead to growth. It’s been my experience 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. They won’t settle for someone’s easy answer, (i.e., “The Bible says so.”). The tension that we face as leaders is to provide a balance between creating a safe environment for question-asking while allowing teenagers to struggle a little on their own. To do this correctly is quite the challenge—keep trying, keep learning, and don’t give up. Leaders are learners! There’s always room for improvement in your home and your ministry.



Johnny serves as the Student Pastor at First Colleyville Church in Colleyville, Texas. He’s been pastoring students for just over 14 years and is a graduate of the Youth Cartel and is finishing his certification as a Youth Ministry Coach. He and his wife Alisha have two daughters named Ellie and Emory. When not doing student ministry, Johnny can be found building cabinets, fishing, or taking his daughters on adventures.