I had a conversation a few years ago that completely changed the trajectory of my life and ministry.
We had just resumed programming after the COVID-19 lockdown, and after our normal Sunday night service, my team and I sat together, ready to celebrate and debrief. As small talk filled the room and side conversations picked up, I looked at one of our high school senior interns and asked her how she was doing.
There was no way to fully understand what I had just asked.
See, in a moment that is far too rare in our modern world, she actually answered my question. She didn’t just throw out a “fine” or “good” short-form response. Instead, she paused for a moment, and I could see the wheels of her mind begin to spin. Moments later, I watched as tears welled up in her eyes…I knew something big was moving from her heart to her head and about to come out through her words. Then, in a moment I can still remember clearly, she simply said:
“When Sunday nights were gone (meaning our Sunday high school program), I had no idea what to do when it came to my faith.”
The words hit me like a nine-iron to the shin (I don’t know what that’s like, but I imagine it’s alarming and painful all at once). In a sentence, she had confirmed a suspicion I had started curiously engaging for the first time during the pandemic:
Is what we’re doing actually working?
Not just like what we were literally doing in our context, but our approach to youth ministry as a whole in America?
I’m talking a game, three songs, a sermon, and some small group questions. Were those things yielding a generation of disciples of the Way of Jesus?
Well…when that senior in high school spoke up, mind you, she was a star student within the ministry (bought in, an inviter, served, loved her church, committed to her small group), what I realized is that what we were doing was not getting us the results we were pursuing.
I was in youth ministry to help students develop an authentic faith of their own.
And as soon as they were on their own during the pandemic. Many of them had no idea how to stay connected to God.
Conversation or Spiritual Formation?
This rattled me to my core and forced me to spend the next few years (continuing today) exploring my own faith views, imagining ways for leaders to help students build an everyday faith, and changing the way I think/talk about what it means to follow Jesus.
See, here’s what I realized:
Much of ministry was centered on conversation rather than spiritual formation.
What I mean is that our strategies and energy were aimed at reaching as many students as possible, introducing them to the person of Jesus, creating space for them to explore what it means to trust Jesus, and then giving standardized “next steps” that were supposed to take care of spiritual formation.
We did a few of those things really well that had a positive impact on a lot of students. I’m not saying that anything was inherently bad, but what I realized is that our model was not complete.
Every kid and youth ministry needs a pathway for spiritual formation.
Or another way we say this at Orange is:
Every kid and student ministry should help a kid or student build an everyday faith.
What this means is that our goals move from simply wanting kids/students to show up on Sundays, Wednesdays, or whenever and instead to helping students know how to practice their faith every day of the week.
The Four Faith Skills
At Orange, the way we teach this principle is through what we call the “Four Faith Skills”.
These are ancient practices that are proven to help Jesus’ followers become more like Jesus. The faith skills are broken down as follows:
- Pray: Talk to God through prayer.
- Hear: Hear from God through reading the Bible.
- Talk: Talk with other people about God.
- Live: Live like Jesus in your relationships with God, yourself, and other people.
When we practice these “Faith Skills” (which is just another way of saying “spiritual disciplines”), we help kids and students discover ways to prioritize their faith when they’re not in our programs.
I want to believe that if our intern had been taught how to build habits of prayer, silence, solitude, community, Scripture reading, etc., she would have had a clear picture of what it can look like to practice her faith outside of the 1-2 hours of a church service each week.
So, leaders, we have a responsibility to learn from what has been revealed over the last few years. We can go back to the model of ministry that served a generation well over the last 15-25 years (of which it was so needed). Or, we can address the reality that a new generation (Gen Z and Gen Alpha) may need a new kind of kid/student ministry.
How To Help Kids and Teens Build Everyday Faith
If you are looking for a new way to help people become more like Jesus, here are a few suggestions for steps you can take to help kids/students build an everyday faith:
Practice in your programming
One of the simplest ways to set the example of how to practice an everyday faith is to build the faith skills into your weekly programming. What would it look like for you to allot two to three minutes in your programming for a guided prayer? Maybe it’s even a 30-second one where you ask elementary students to talk openly with God about their week or something going on at home. Or maybe you practice 60 seconds of silence after your talk/teaching to ask kids/students to quietly think about what you just discussed. Maybe you find ways to practice phase-appropriate Bible study skills to help kids/students engage with the Scripture using critical thinking skills instead of simply listening to someone talk about the Scriptures.
Look, there are a million ways to incorporate the Faith Skills into your programming routine; it just takes a little ideation and a willingness to shake things up.
So, what’s one way…THIS week that you could incorporate a spiritual practice into your program?
Help kids and students build habits
Okay, this one follows suit with the last one. One of the worst possible things that could happen is for Faith Skills to become a commodified piece of programming that, 25 years from now, a new way of ministry leaders are deconstructing. Instead, it’s important to begin to incorporate practices with the end goal of teaching kids/students how to build habits of spiritual practices to incorporate into their everyday lives.
When we practice prayer, we can make sure students understand they can practice the rhythms of prayer at home. (Shameless plug: ParentCue times are great for this because they call for the practice of praying with your kid/student regularly as a parent of household rhythms.) Or maybe it’s teaching kids/teenagers a method for thinking about the Bible so that when they are reading ancient Eastern texts, they can think critically about how it applies to them using the skills you’ve taught them. It could even be emphasizing the importance of taking a break from YouTube, video games, TikTok, or technology as a whole for a few minutes each week (each day for the overachievers) to rest their minds and even experience silence where they can think about God.
Another great way to do this is by utilizing a strong devotional strategy to help students apply the practice of faith to their everyday world. At Orange, we offer devotionals for kids and students that are designed to help them daily discover what it means to know and see God daily.
As you are intentional about helping students practice the Faith Skills, make sure to cast vision around them being for everyday use. Help students discover ways to see God daily and then celebrate when they do this to set an example for others.
Emphasize the importance of an everyday faith.
Okay, so please forgive me for stating the obvious, but if any of this is going to stick, it has to be emphasized consistently. We’ve all heard that vision leaks. . .that is definitely the case with the slow and steady process of spiritual formation.
See, the work of formation is not expedient. It doesn’t match our fast-paced “purchase with 1-click” culture. It’s slow, sometimes boring, and requires endurance. But, if kids and students start to embrace this vision for what it means to be a follower of Jesus, I believe that 20-30 years down the road, our world will benefit from a generation of people who look more like Jesus than many generations before them. As leaders, we have the responsibility to talk about practicing faith even when we feel like we’ve made the point. We have the responsibility to model what it means to intentionally build habits of spiritual practice. We have the responsibility to commit to a new ideal of ministry effectiveness that is centered more on kids/students building an everyday resilient faith than it is on exponential attendance growth and weekly events.
When we choose to help students build an everyday faith, we may just see a revival of what it means to be an everyday follower of Jesus.
The movement we are a part of started 2000 years ago with groups of people whose entire lives were changed by the Way of Jesus. So much so that they were known as a group of people “who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 CSB).
Maybe, just maybe, with Gen Z and Gen Alpha we’ll see it happen once again.
Kick off the new year with 20% off our best-selling devotionals for kids and students! Use the code DEVO24 at the Orange store.