I was once asked to find a way to quantify spiritual growth in my students. I remember thinking it was, in every way, impossible. How in the world would I measure something so personal and so specific to each person? But nevertheless, since it was part of my job and required as part of an education institution, it gave me a chance to experiment to find what worked and what didn’t. While there is no sure-fire way of measuring what works for every person in every situation, I have found incredible value in creating some kind of litmus test that helps students form a lasting and biblical faith.
Bellow are ten questions that ought to be asked, talked about, taught about, and thoroughly thought through. I have also created pdf versions for you to download.
1. What do they love the most
I know, this seems almost too easy. The answer is of course Jesus. But this question is really designed to get to the root of where students would rather invest the vast majority of their time, energy, and resources. Or at least their desire to.
2. What are they focused on
This question is a bit of an extension from the first. Oftentimes, what we love most, we are focused on. However, for students, this is not always true and it’s not always true in every moment. The point here is to help them learn, as they grow older, what they love the most, ought to require to most focus.
3. Are they willing to take risks?
There is such a thing called safetyism. It’s basically the idea the primary job of a parent is to keep our kids safe by keep a perpetual roll of bubble wrap on them for life. It’s believing the role of a parent is to clear the path of any obstacles. But following Christ requires risk. I don’t mean making rash decisions or acting recklessly. But the willingness to stand with conviction knowing that doing so is often a great risk in our modern world.
4. How do they define sin?
I say it a lot. But sin is a constantly moving target. It seems like at every turn there is another sinful behavior that mainstream media and pop culture are campaigning to normalize. So first, be talking about sin. The goal is to continually become more like Christ, so we have to discuss those things that hinder that goal. Second, consider what is sin to them? Don’t assume your students are on the same page as you. It’s likely they are not.
5. Are they missional?
Teaching students to talk about Jesus can be tricky. I wish it wasn’t, but there is no getting around it. Some think it is a gifting thing, others a tolerance thing, for some it’s simply a personality thing, and for many, it’s just not a thing at all. Yet the missional nature of the gospel is a non-negotiable. We have the good news, it’s our job to live it, proclaim it, teach it, and breathe it. But since that’s easier said than done for most teens, how much they practice missional living is indicative of two things. Their growth as disciples and our focus to coach them in it.
6. Do they really get the idea of love?
To love is to tolerate. To tolerate is to blindly affirm another’s personal choices. Right? Wrong? But I would bet you a steak dinner, when you talk about love—the unconditional, Bible kind—you’re thinking of the unconditional love for the sinner, Jesus eating with tax collectors, and an almost supernatural hope for literally anyone to come to Christ, But students can carry a far different view. God’s love doesn’t excuse humanity’s inherent sinful nature, yet for culture, love can mean so much more. Love unconditionally supports a person’s personal decisions as pure and holy, so long as that person is being “true to themselves.” Modern love promotes the heart’s desire in any circumstance. Yet the heart is wicked. Pay attention to how your students view the idea of love.
7. Who do they trust and rely on the most?
This is really a question of who is their tribe. Here I don’t just mean friends or family. Having a tribe is almost cult-like. It’s unwavering support for those around you—even in the face of utter stupidity, even when it doesn’t make sense to—you support the tribe. For many, this is family, but not all. Our youth find their tribe in all kinds of places—sports, academics, gaming, sex, even celebrities. Tribes provide more than a sense of community, but a sense of identity and purpose. So you should ask yourself two questions. First, think about what are your students’ tribes? Second, how is your church or home helping to be their tribe in light of all the other options?
8. What are their reasons for believing? Or withholding belief?
This one is simple, but so incredibly critical. By the time students enter fifth grade (age 11 or so), they should be starting to form their own reasons for believing in Jesus. Which means as parents and pastors, we need to begin exploring their questions and providing good reasoned answers. We can no longer afford to just expect students to carry their parents faith until they reach adulthood. I am convinced that by middle school most of your students have already begun to formulate their opinion on Jesus. And remember, it’s church a few hours a week versus a potential unending stream anti-Jesus rhetoric they get nearly every where else. So the simple question here is, no matter what they believe—Jesus or not—do they have a reason?
9. How thorough is their knowledge of the Bible?
Here I am talking about more than just Bible memorization, knowing all the basic fundamental stories, and the basics about Jesus. All of it is important—especially memorizing verses, I am big fan. I am talking about the deeper, more intellectual nature of theology and biblical studies and how the Christian worldview applies to every facet of life. Among teens Christianity is often viewed as anti-intellectual and basic biblical principles don’t always apply to modern life. If we don’t show them how deep the rabbit hole goes and how that journey applies to all of life, then it just won’t apply at all.
10. Are they pursuing a vocation they were created for?
One my favorite things to tell parents and students is, that no matter what you do—whether you’re a stock broker on Wall street or a stock boy at Walmart, take Jesus with you. As followers of Jesus, we are wired to take our talents into the marketplace to further the Kingdom of God. For Christians, what we consider to be secular work is just as sacred and full time ministry. So ask yourself, how you are helping the youth in your life see their interests and talents as something God-given to be used for his glory.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it’s a useful start in helping you pay better attention to the spiritual growth in the lives of your students.
I have also created a student version available here.
One of my responsibilities as a teacher was to oversee the spiritual growth of the entire student body. Every year, I would ask similar questions at the beginning and end of the school year of the students, parents, leaders, pastors, and myself. The wide variety of answers would help me guide students in their walk, so they could not only have a sure foundation, but to build on for a lasting faith and a prepared faith for what ever comes next.