Moving Students Past the Starting Line and Towards Spiritual Maturity

By Doug Franklin February 25, 2020

What is Spiritual Maturity?

Spiritual maturity is the ability of a Christ-follower to read God’s Word and be convicted by the Holy Spirit regarding the truth it contains. It’s a disciple’s willingness to turn to God, confess sin, and seek repentance. Spiritually mature disciples apply the truth of God’s Word by changing their thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes. They are like the man who builds his house on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27). 

This is the process of transformation. 

Spiritual maturity requires a soft heart, open to God’s instruction and discipline so that we can respond in humility, ready to trust God’s offer of forgiveness. 

Spiritual Maturity is Not…

youth students spiritual maturity

The opposite of spiritual maturity is for us to identify as Christ-followers but never read his Word or seek his forgiveness. Disciples who lack spiritual maturity run and hide from challenges and tend to think of others’ sins more than they consider their own.

I find that most students are just at the starting line of their faith. They’ve received Christ, but they’ve never taken the next step forward toward spiritual maturity. Read our article here on how to teach students to study the Bible.

Moving Students Towards Spiritual Maturity

For me, the end goal of youth ministry is to have my students reach spiritual maturity. So how do we help them get there?

1. The Power of Confession

the power of confession

First, I need my students to understand confession and the power it has to transform their lives. The act of confession requires me to see the holiness of God and to realize that my actions have broken his heart. I can’t fully adore God unless I admit to him where I have fallen short. Adoration is telling God who he is, so I must recognize that he is not on equal footing with me (Isaiah 55:6-9). 

Coming to God with my confession also allows me to fall in love with God’s goodness and mercy. I love God more deeply when I see that I can do nothing to impress him or earn his love. It’s a free gift given to me because he first loved me even though all I have ever done is reject his commands. As Jesus says in Luke 7:47, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

2. The Importance of Repentance

The second step I want my students to pursue is repentance. Repentance is the action of moving away from our sin by not doing it anymore. Many of us and our students suffer from ongoing sin and the inability to turn from it. Repentance moves past confession by not just stating the sin but by stopping the action of our sin. Repentance is so much harder than confession. It requires us to live in the power of the Holy Spirit and to trust him to guide our actions. 

3. The Necessity of Application 

The third skill I need my students to learn is the application of God’s Word to their lives. I call this a skill because it demands action more than a mindset. I must be willing to change my actions, behaviors, and thoughts if I am to apply God’s Word. So I may need to change my friends, how I use technology, where I go, and what I say. 

Every application must have a who, what, where, and when so that the application can be measurable. If it’s not measurable, you will never know if it was completed. The application of “I want to love my brother more” is wonderful but not measurable. How do you know if you love your brother more? By just saying the words? No. You know you love your brother more by doing something for him at a sacrificial cost to you. 

This skill of application is bathed in trust. You must trust that God is going to meet you in your application, strengthening you, giving you grace, and showing you his greater purpose for your life. It is in application that we draw near to God and he draws near to us (James 4:8).

This is deep stuff and hard to imagine we would do this in youth group. But why not? Have we become so shallow that we don’t even think this is possible? Would God not want us to do this? Let us first challenge ourselves to spiritual maturity and then allow the power of God to work through us to challenge our students.  

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More