The Basics of Spiritual Growth in Students

The Basics of Spiritual Growth in Students
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If you like sports, you have heard this story.

In the 1960 NFL Championship game, the Green Bay Packers suffered a heartbreaking defeat to the New York Giants after blowing a fourth-quarter lead. Vince Lombardi opened the following seasons training camp determined to return to the basics. Standing in front of 38 professional athletes, he held up a football in his right hand and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

I have little doubt you have heard this story. It has been used countless times in business and sports as a rallying cry to develop stronger teams, commit to learning, and focus on becoming better at your craft. But Lombardi’s aim was not to provide fodder for the next generation of leaders to motivate their team. Lombardi understood the power of habit and the power of precise repetition.

And it was that return to the fundamentals and repetition to develop the right kind of habits that led the Packers to go on to win the 1961 NFL Championship.

But just like Lombardi’s reminder, followers of Christ need to be brought back to the basics as well. There is incredible power in the habits of prayer, Bible study, meditation, service, and engaging our neighbors with the gospel message. These things are our footballs. They are the key fundamentals that lead us to more profound spiritual growth and therefore, need to be practiced, and practiced, and practiced again. Because our impact is entirely dependent on how we continually master the basics.

Truth

It exists. And regardless of what you hear or see in the media, politics, or academia, students want to be sure of truth. It never fails, every time I get in front of a group of students and discuss truth, they are all dialed in and engaged. They are eager to know. However, in a post-Christian culture, assuming they know there is absolute truth or how to distinguish the difference between objective and subjective truth leaves you trying to build a foundation while sinking in quicksand. It is a task that will inevitably result in failure of the worst kind. Not only the existence of truth, but the author of truth needs to be a constant topic of conversation and teaching.

This is the world. This is humanity. This is Jesus.

Morality in our world is suffering from a severe case of schizophrenia—a complete break from reality. Our moral compass, no matter which way we face, has been calibrated to point back to us. Most of our challenges in modern culture, whether economic, social, political, or religious, are rooted in some version of relative morality. But having the notion of absolute truth properly in place opens the door to a fuller understanding of the current state of our world, the fallen nature of humanity, and, most importantly, the power and person of Jesus as the only means of rescue from our idolatry. We need to be reminded that we are great sinners. We live in a greatly fallen world, in need of an even greater Savior. The greater realization we have of our sin, the greater understanding we have of our Savior.

The Bible

In our highly distracted age, it is far too easy to reduce spiritual growth to nothing more than weekly church attendance and perhaps the occasional small group meeting. We forget that we hold the very breath of God in our hands. I have seen first hand; Bible teachers marginalize Scripture in an attempt to connect students to God; picking and choosing what to teach to not offend. However, our understanding of morality, our foundation of truth, and the purpose and mission of humanity are laid out in Scripture. It is divine. It is inspired. And it is infallible. To attempt the Christian life without it is like playing football without the football. It’s absurd.

Serve

As a teacher, I have always championed the idea of a thinking Christian. To me, there was something divinely important with the intellectual pursuit of the faith. I was right. Well, sort of. Looking back, I recognize that I over-corrected. We can’t teach people just about faith or about the love of God. We need to provide them with robust experiences that deepen their faith and be God’s love in motion.

Sending your people out ON MISSION invites them into what God is doing and reconnects them to the reason the church exists: to make disciples and make Christ famous. But meeting the needs of people is more than just feeding them, clothing them, or even providing housing and a job. Those are all great things. But service in the kingdom is about those things and the gospel. It is about those things and prayer. It is about making a deeper connection with people. It is about them seeing the face of Jesus in yours and experiencing the power of the gospel in word and deed.

Does it sound too simple? Could the Christian life and witness be as simple as living out truth, falling in love with and being constantly engrossed in Scripture, coming to grips with our sin nature and need for Christ? Could it be merely sharing the gospel with anyone and everyone you meet?

Yes. Emphatically, yes!

Yes, we need to grow. Yes, we need to move from spiritual milk to solid food. But just like Lombardi’s Packers (and so many more teams to follow) practicing and establishing the habits of the basics never ends.

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Contributors:


Steve Kozak

About Steve Kozak

Steve is an experienced and dedicated youth ministry professional currently serving as the vice president of youth ministry for CE National. For more than 15 years, Steve has taught in the classroom, local church, and served as the executive director of Awana Youth Ministry. Steve holds a masters degree in theology from Moody Theological Seminary and a masters in Christian apologetics from Biola University. Steve is also an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He speaks and writes on youth ministry, youth culture and apologetics. He resides in northern Indiana with his wife and four children.