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Overcoming Hurdles to Spiritual Growth

Hurdles pic

As a youth ministry leader you are always balancing the areas of reaching (evangelism) and growing (discipleship). Honestly, I have found that it is easier to focus on the reaching side of ministry because many times it is a one-time event or a decision made by a young person. The growing aspect can be more challenging. The road of discipleship is more of a journey with turns and U-turns, as youth take 3 steps forward and two backward at times.

Though discipleship is knowledge based, you recall that it also involves experience. In the area of serving we see our faith grow when we step out and serve and see God do things that only He can do. We engage in experiences to help us learn and grow. Growth is something caught, not just taught.

I would like us to wrestle here with two hurdles in the road of spiritual growth. For the most part we are not missing knowledge of Biblical truth in our youth groups and churches. The challenge is usually putting into practice what we know and not being overly discouraged in our growth because of roadblocks. Allow me to use some agricultural terms here in explaining these roadblocks to spiritual growth.

Mowing Over

In the USA we are in the middle of late spring and the grass in our yard is growing quickly. We have a lot of rain in the spring mixed with warm temperatures and sunshine, a perfect mix for grass to grow. We like to have our grass mowed because it looks nice afterwards and we do all kinds of things from watering to fertilizing to adding new seeds each spring. However, weeds grow as well. With this growth we tend to mow it, cut it down before it gets to long and out of hand, both for the grass and the weeds. This same concept happens in spiritual growth, especially as we look at sins and any on-going bad habits in our lives and the lives of our youth. In regards to the weeds, if we simply mow them, cut off the tops, then the weed grows back again. In addition, it will at times multiply to create more weeds. It is comfortable to mow it over, cut off the top. Or put another way to deal with the symptoms instead of the disease. With weeds, you have to get to the roots. If you kill the roots then you kill the weed. The problem in our spiritual life is that we want to only mow and not kill, or in the Biblical language put to death. Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” and Romans 12:1, “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely…”. This means we have to get to the root of our actions, issues and sins, not just trim off a part.

In youth ministry this requires time, patience and most importantly an interactive, one another based opportunity. This may happen in some very good small groups, but often times we just hear about the weeds, it may take individual, focused one-on-one time to dig up the roots. As a youth leader do not be deceived by weeds that are trimmed off, but seek to dig up the root causes in the life of your youth.

Covering Up

Another hurdle that is often faced is to cover up. One way to deal with our challenges issues, sins or even addictions is to cover them up. Denial is one of the most often used methods. Fear of the cultural shame that confession to another brother or sister could bring is one reason for covering up. Do you remember another time of cover up in Scripture? Yes, the Garden of Eden. In chapter 3 of Genesis we see that Adam stated “I hid myself”. Together, they also “sewed fig leaves together as a loin cloth”. Both times they hid, covering up sin and shame. Creating a safe environment for youth to share and to find trustworthy people is the key to removing the cover up that many youth are tempted to do. God wants us to live in freedom. His freedom happens not when darkness is covered up, but when it is brought into the light of Christ and His mercy and forgiveness.

Holiness and Effort

From my experience the sharing of Christ, our sin and salvation is easier to do and to see results than in our sanctification process as believers, leaders and youth. God calls us to walk with him, to be set apart as Christ followers. The passage in Colossians 3:1-5 states it this way, “(1) If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (2) Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (3) For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (4) When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (5) Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…

For those who are believers, we are seen as holy before God! Declared by God as holy, “hidden with Christ in God” (verse 3). But if we are seen as holy, why would we need to strive to set aside sin? Scripture answers this in verse 1 and in verse 5:

seek the things that are above, where Christ is…” (verse 1)

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” (verse 5)

Pastor Matt Chandler of The Village Church points out “God wants more for us than positional holiness, he wants to transform our lives and free us from bondage.” From conversion until heaven the Holy Spirit of God is sanctifying us through His work and our obedient, grace-driven effort.

How about you?

Again, we face hurdles in our sanctification. First, is the mowing over of sin or dealing with the symptoms of actions versus the heart or root of our disease. This shows up when people go from relationship to relationship, without looking inward to see if the issue of relationship breakdown and hurt may be an issue in our own heart versus blaming others. It is much easier to blame others than to dig deep into the soil of our soul. In the fire of community we are able to see the real root of our needs for spiritual growth. We avoid deep relationships even with other believers many times because we want to mow over our sins versus look into the depths.

How are you doing at deep community and deep heart searching in your soul? How is this impacting our leadership and our youth ministry. Honestly, larger youth groups and churches can allow us to hide versus come into the light that God wants us to walk in. We should not look to mow over or simply cut off the top of the weeds, but we should work toward totally uprooting the plant, through Christ.

Our second hurdle is to cover up. To deny we have any struggles. Social media is good at “covering up”. We all show people only our best side of our life. We rarely if ever use social media to tell people how we are doing. Acting like all is well when it is not. There is a pull in church life to adopt language and posture that are not a reality in our life. “To sew together fig leaves to hid our nakedness.”

This area of spiritual growth and thinking not just about the knowledge or serving side of growth, but considering the hurdles to growth is essential. Let us seek the Light of the World, so that He can shine light on the cover up and help us see the roots not just the weeds in our soul.

Chris Davis
Global Youth Ministry Network

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