Teaching Kids a culture of Personal and Spiritual Maturity
D.L. Moody once heard Henry Varly, a preacher in his day say: “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him.” And his response was: "By God’s help, I aim to be that man.”
Moody then poured his life and work into that calling.
This is the kind of vision we need to give our kids! What would your life look like if you threw everything at Jesus? What if you were a young man or woman who was fully committed to His work and His will for your life?
We live in a culture that asks little to nothing of young people. In fact, we have an entire category of human life devoted to the idea that young people are completely incapable of maturity, and therefore should not be expected to grow up and achieve anything. It’s called. adolescence. And for most of our youth today, the period of time that adolescence extends is stretching longer and longer. This has particularly affected males.
The reality is it’s so engrained in our culture by now, that the expectation of culture on the whole has shifted and few people anticipate much from young people. In generations gone by, men in their early 20’s started business, bought homes, established families, and won wars. Today men in their 30’s are unmarried, living with roommates or their parents, playing video games, and looking for a good job. I see this first hand, as I turned 30 this year, and many the guys I knew from high school are doing exactly this. I mean no disrespect to those who find themselves in tough situations, but I do want to describe the current reality as honestly as I can. Kay Hymowitz in the Dallas Morning News described these men as the child-man. NPR described the Next Generation as being on the slow lane to adulthood.
These were descriptors about 10 years ago. The norm has been established. Recently, as conversation about Generation Z (i.e. young adults today) researchers are arguing they are a bit more eager for adulthood. Not by much, but more. Why is that so exciting? Well, because frankly young people are capable of more.
This is exactly what fuels the cultural push I want to talk about today: A Leadership Culture, or a culture of Personal and Spiritual Maturity.
We want to see students find Jesus, get saved, and be transformed into fully devoted disciples of Jesus.
In Rise Youth, I want as a pastor—and we want as a team—want to meet kids wherever they are spiritually and personally. We love non Christians and new Christians. But we love them too much to leave them there! In fact, that’s the pattern of Jesus’ love too. He meets us on the road, and calls us to follow him on a journey of real spiritual formation. And this is why we call students to growth toward full maturity.
Let me demonstrate that this is profoundly biblical.
Paul the Apostle felt this was the responsibility he had as a leader:
 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (ESV)
In context, Paul is talking about his suffering. This is what suffers, toils, and strives for: to present everyone saved? No. To present everyone attending? No. To present everyone mature. Mature. This is the Greek word “telios", meaning “perfect, complete, consummate human integrity and virtue, full grown, adult, of full age, mature."
He says this is what the all the energy within him, provided by the power of the Holy Spirit himself was given over to: to present believer mature.
Now, if it’s this important this better be what we celebrate as a youth ministry and it’s what I celebrate in my home. Yes, we honor fresh faith and cheer for that. But even that is part of a greater scheme gunning for maturity in Christ in these kids. I want to make intentional effort to shape a culture where kids see themselves as on an exciting journey of spiritual maturity and long to grow in that process, so that they become authentically like Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. The goal is not to make them feel insufficient, as no one ever “arrives”. But instead, I want them to feel excited to learn, grow, and give themselves to this effort and to celebrate steps in Christ-likeness. This is just biblical.
In fact, consider the rebuke of the author of Hebrews in the chapter five of that book:
 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,  for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (ESV)
The concern of the author is that these believers are less mature than they ought to be by now. And this is the heart of a real pastor: to want more for people than they want for themselves. He doesn’t celebrate their infancy, but urges them to grow in maturity. In this same way, we don’t discourage youth from taking their first step, we freak out and celebrate it. However, we must have a holy-discontentment with infancy and urge them onward to take their next step in spiritual maturity. Then the next. And the next. Until they see Jesus face to face.
So what does spiritual maturity look like? For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to break it down into two parts for the purpose of a teenager: One. Personal maturity and Two. Spiritual Maturity. Let me say from the outset that I distinguish between personal and spiritual, not to create an unnecessary plutonic dichotomy between what is spiritual and what is physical. Because even what is physical is spiritual. I make this distinction for clarity. What I mean by personal is practical, human maturity that even a non-christian can achieve. Things like learning to work hard and interpersonal skill. By spiritual I mean things pertaining to life in Christ and sanctification as a follow of Jesus into Christ’s likeness.
Let’s talk first about personal maturity.
Again, what I mean here is taking ownership and responsibility as a human. Our identity as human beings is one of rulership. From the instant God put Adam in the Garden we read that he was made in God’s image and God's charge to him was to reflect that image by having dominion of the created order before him, to fill the earth with more image bearers. Fill and subdue. That’s at the core of what it means to reflect the goodness of God in this world. Humanity, and the whole creation under them flourishes when men and women rise up and extend God’s good reign by taking creative and compassionate responsibility for what’s before them. But this is precisely what went wrong.
In sin, the first humans fumbled this calling. Badly. Adam did not lead, rule, or exercise gracious dominion but instead passively allowed the Enemy to cast his own vision for human flourishing—a vision that did not involve extending God’s reign by squandering their lives on themselves. Adam took no responsibility to live out his calling and thus the enemy planted thorns and thistles, meanwhile, Eve took the opposite approach. She was inspired by Satan not so much to sit idly by but to seize this contorted vision for her life. In contrast to Adam she shattered her calling through overreach—seeking to snatch godhood rather than extend His goodness.
This should have been the demise of humanity. But it wasn’t. Beautifully, the Godhead determined not to abandon the people He created to our own futility but, in love, reclaim us by grace for His calling toward calling to rulership. In restoring Israel He established a people who were called to His purposes. To represent the goodness of His reign before an unbelieving world. And at long last in sending Jesus, God conquered sin and reassigned us purpose to extend His reign by grace, this time to Go therefore and makes disciples of all nations—an echo of our original calling to have dominion, fill the earth and subdue it.
So, today we are called away from passivity and into gracious rulership under the sovereign Lord Jesus. To take ownership. To take the raw material in creation before us and draw out its potential. We are responsible to extend the goodness of God in work, responsibility, and a mission to cause flourishing all around us. This opportunity is given uniquely to Christians but also has implications for non-Christians as image-bearers of God.
As teenagers grow and develop, they need to see themselves as growing in natural maturity, not just biologically but personally. Becoming a teenager is not just about increased development of the body but increased ownership of the world around them as image bearers of God. Simply put, teenagers are called to more. They are called to take ever increasing ownership of their lives, their school work, their finances, their schedules, their sports teams, their friendships, their job, and the list goes on. Therefore, as disciple-makers of teenagers, we are called to call them to much more than the world calls them to, or that they believe themselves capable.
So, how is this done? I think about natural maturity in terms of stages. When you’re a baby you can’t take of yourself. Others take care of you. As you become a toddler you take steps towards self-leadership. You walk. You learn to read and eventually even clothes and bathe yourself. Later, as a school-age boy or girl you learn to take even more responsibility of things like school work. But then something curious happens, you even begin to take care of others.
The most mature kids are identified by their compassion and ability to unify their sports teams, defend their peers from bullying, and share their belongings with other students. In high school and middle school some students become volunteer leaders in church or school office, teachers aids, and they even get jobs not only to earn money but learn basic leadership skills in a coffee shop, restaurant, as a janitor, or whatever.
Eventually when you’re successful as a teenager in becoming a young adult, you take on full responsibility of your finances, your future, and move towards full responsibility in partnering with a spouse and raising your own children. As adults maturity often looks like taking care of many others: coworkers, a department, a company, an organization, a city group, a team, or a church.
What does this mean? Becoming responsible means moving from others taking care of you to taking care of others.
Our job as influencers in the lives of students is to help them take steps along that process. So, that’s what we do in Rise Youth.
I’m just going to say it, I don’t hold back from calling students to hard things. I often give them challenges I actually know they will fail in. I demand students bring their bibles, have a notebook, join a small group, serve and lead. On rare occasions our team has agreed to have some students become not just student leaders but full-blown youth leaders in twelfth grade. We’ve done this 3 times.
We’ve asked the student leadership team to do hard things as well. I don’t even know how to run production. But two of our boys Mickey and Jacob run it faithfully and run it well every single week. One year we had the whole youth group fast before a particular event.
We have a student led worship band this year. This took a long time. Our worship team lead Isaac would say it took blood sweat and tears to get there. He worked probably three times as hard as if he were simply leading a team of adults and five times as hard as leading it by himself. Today, we have students inspiring students to worship King Jesus from the front of the youth room.
It’s amazing. We let some students teach on occasion. We actually think we’re raising up young theologians. We even try to identify students who can co-lead their own small group. We’ve seen again, and again, students rise to the occasion. Not all off them, but many of them. I don’t think this is too much to ask. I think it’s my responsibility as a youth pastor. To be sure, there’s more I could ask of them. But either way, this is not something we’ve arrived at, but a serious cultural aspiration we are running after in our youth ministry nonetheless. We want to develop maturity and leadership in these kids.
What about your home?
Let me ask you: What are you challenging your kids to do right now? This could be something small, an area of obedience to you, an area of responsibility in the home, a job, or an improvement in sports or schooling. Do you realize how spiritual that is? Maybe it’s been tough. I want to challenge you to press on and press in. Persevere and don’t give up. This is so important in your kids’ development and your labor in the Lord is not in vein!
Second question, Discipling teens for the day they move out requires that they become fully responsible adults taking ownership of their future, and taking care of those around them. What is the next step in your teens personal maturity? Could they become a small group leader? Should they serve in our ministry when we re-open? Should they lead their own zoom group alongside their current leader? Should they get a job at the local Wendy’s? Are they ready to start meal planning for your family? Could they start an online store selling their old clothes? What’s next for them?
Finally, let’s conclude talking about spiritual maturity.
There’s more to being mature than just killing it at making money and leading others. True increased independence is an endeavor of increased dependence upon the Holy Spirit. I’ve seen some kids grow up to be exceptionally successful at everything that counts for nothing. They grow up to finish college, make money, and start a family, but they lead their lives in vein because they don’t have a biblical vision for their lives. They’ve given themselves over to the world’s vision of success. They need a better vision. One that comes only from God.
They need to see the why behind every step in the process of maturity. I need to go on a bit of a tangent here. It’s not enough to pursue goodness for “goodness sake". Pursuing the good life but not the God-centered, God-besodden, God-glorfying, God-obsessed life is a wasted life. It’s empty and temporary and meaningless. Paul said in 1 Corinthians that if Christ isn’t raised then Christians are the most to be pitied. But the converse is also true. If Christ is raised then those who live a good life but not a Gospel-life are the most to be pitied.
It’s for this reason I’m nit-picky about language. Part of that is my personality because I like words. I’m particular about language by nature and was when I was eight and twelve years old. But part of that is theological. I hear too much pithy nonsense come from good families.
They say cute phrases and pursue good, nice, honest things, but they do not pursue the greatest thing—or at least they don’t articulate it that way. They sound like non-Christians as they speak. I don’t want to shame those families or shame you if that’s you. This isn’t my point. But it’s something worth considering. We want to see families rise up and learn to teach their children the why behind the things we lead them in.
My wife grew up as believer in an awesome Christian family. One of my wife’s critiques of her church growing up was they failed to give her a Gospel-why behind their calls for good behavior. While her parents discipled her in the Gospel, the church often preached works-righteousness rather than Gospel-centrality. Therefore she felt it sometimes stunk of a religious culture rather than a Gospel-culture.
Here’s the difference: We don’t just pursue self-mastery, we pursue self-control by the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God because Jesus died for us. We don’t just see sexual impurity and dressing immodestly as something shameful, we recognize that Christ shed his blood to purify us when we were still in sin, so we live righteously knowing we’re free from blemishes by grace.
Spiritual maturity—or you could say Gospel-maturity is sanctification driven by truth, because of grace, and for the glory of God. Unspiritual, self-centered maturity is self-improvement driven by our own subjective ideas, because of self-righteousness, and for our own glory. There’s a big difference.
So, as we seek to develop our kids spiritually, we must passionately center it on Jesus, the Bible, following Him, honoring God the Father, in dependence upon the Spirit. Your kids live in a culture that says you’ve come from nothing, you’re going no where, you only live once, so do whatever feels dope in the moment, and try to make some money and post a few funny videos along the way.
But as a disciple maker in your home your charged with the task of casting a more beautiful and biblical vision for your kids. Your teaching them that they’ve come from a God who has an eternal purpose for them and those around them. They’ve been died for on a cross by the eternal Son of God, Jesus. They’re headed into an eternal reality. In the mean time, what ythey do now by grace matters eternally. Souls are on the line. We’re bringing the kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
So call your kids to pour it ALL out on Jesus’ feet. Don’t waste your life on frivolous pursuit. In secret and in public, whatever you do, do all for the glory of God. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young by set an example for the believers in purity, in life, in faith, and in conduct.
So you’re wondering what this looks like?
First off, you need a bible culture in your home. I spoke in depth about this last week. Each of these values build on one another. This week’s idea of spiritual maturity flows from a bible-culture. So if you haven’t listened to that go check it out. For now, what I’ll say is you need to intentionally build rhythms of bible reading and bible-saturation in your home. the Bible must matter to your family. You should have your kids memorizing bible verses. You should be reading the Bible at home.
Second, today I want to emphasize the value of the local church. Do you have any idea how precious the local church is? And not just being vaguely, or loosely connected to church, but the value of demanding weekly attendance at church for your kids. Your kids can do sports, cheerleading, chess club, student leadership, career planning, tutoring sessions, and drivers ed, and they will become strong contributors in society, but internally be empty and spiritually bankrupt. God has called you to own your home and while your kids are under your authority your tasked with discipling them not just raising them. Developing fully devoted disciples of Jesus is the goal. Not just fully functioning citizens in society. To get there you need help. You are amazing. But you’re not enough.
They need the voice, the witness, the testimony, and the example of hundreds of other people who know the sweetness of grace, who worship Jesus, and serve him as Lord to the glory of God the Father to legitimize your followership of Jesus to your kids. It’s the witness of the local church that empowers and reinforces the discipleship of the Christian parent.
Demand church attendance. Even in this weird weird weird season. God’s mission for you in the context of your home isn’t on pause because of a virus. It’s even more important now than ever. I would encourage you take church at home, zoom city group, rise youth at home, and every other opportunity extremely seriously in this season.
I’ll conclude with Jonathan Edwards. He was an American preacher in 1700’s. Probably one of the most influential theologians on me personally.
"An American educator, A.E. Winship decided to trace the descendants of Jonathan Edwards almost 150 years after his death. His findings are remarkable, especially when compared to another man from the same time period known as Max Jukes...Jonathan Edwards’ legacy includes: 1 U.S. Vice-President, 1 Dean of a law school, 1 dean of a medical school, 3 U.S. Senators, 3 governors, 3 mayors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 60 doctors, 65 professors, 75 Military officers, 80 public office holders, 100 lawyers, 100 clergymen, and 285 college graduates...Jukes’ descendants included: 7 murderers, 60 thieves, 190 prostitutes, 150 other convicts, 310 paupers, and 440 who were physically wrecked by addiction to alcohol. Of the 1,200 descendants that were studied, 300 died prematurely.
These contrasting legacies provide an example of what some call the five-generation rule. “How a parent raises their child — the love they give, the values they teach, the emotional environment they offer, the education they provide — influences not only their children but the four generations to follow, either for good or evil.”
Give your kids a Jesus-legacy. Don’t give up in this season. Persevere harder than ever. And beg God the Holy Spirit as you do. I’m not just rooting for you. I’m praying for you.