I think we are in agreement that the world of behavior management is the Church is coming to an end. For too long the Church has sent out a rubric of behaviors that would be indicators for the rest of the Church and would qualify people for full inclusion and even leadership. This rubric included our language, music, politics, modesty, abstaining from alcohol, sexuality, and sexual activity.
But as our students are becoming more and more amoral (or maybe they have always been, but are now free to express that in public) a behavior rubric doesn't seem to be a good fit for the faith development of our students.
Behaving well doesn't help people know Jesus better. It doesn't help them know God's word better. It doesn't prepare them for a more complicated life after High School. And it has absolutely no relevance for them in their current context, except maybe make those students who actually play ball to be self-righteous jerks to their school.
What if there is a different way?
I think a way forward that accomplishes spiritual formation without having to guilt or shame our students is one that moves away from behavior modification. Instead of using behaviors as the benchmark for faith, I think a better way is to focus on the spiritual formation of our students.
A potential liability is that our students are actually spiritual babies. We give the a false sense of maturity because they aren't sleeping around, yet. When in truth they don't have any chance of sleeping around, so they find comfort in their "Christian" behavior. But at they core, they are still severely underdeveloped spiritually.
I get that this is scary to leave the behavior issues to their parents, and to simply focus on the spiritual development of our students, but this is really the only way forward. Especially for kids who only know a post-Christian world and post-Christian worldview.
The 4 key ingredients to grow faith in our students:
1) Scripture Reading: This is a no brainer. I get that. But it is horrifying how little scripture our kids know, and how little time they spend in it. So instead of simply telling kids to read God's word, let's help them out. Let them spend their time in John, Colossians, James. Relax on Revelations, 1 Corinthians, or anything in the Old Testament. Encourage them to read for formation, not for information. This means to read less, more.
So this first step is to help students find passages of scripture that God can use to actually form them. Read _______________________. In fact, read it a couple of times. Once you have read these passage of scriptures, now ask the following questions:
2) Based on this passage of scripture, what is God inviting me to surrender to Him? What would it look like if I did actually give God access to this area of my life?
This question moves right to the heart of spiritual formation. It isn't as simple as realizing that now I shouldn't have sex, or now I need to be nicer to my mom. This is a spiritual formation questions that gets students in the habit of surrender. The ultimate picture of spiritual formation is picking up our cross and following Jesus. We never are asked or ask our students to actually die to or surrender areas of their life to Jesus. This takes faith, wrestling, interaction, not simply abstaining.
3) Based on this passage of scripture, who would be blessed if you actually put this into practice in your real life.
So many times we think of application as either abstaining from something or giving money away, or being nicer to people. Those are great applications, but this question moves past "applying" scripture, and helps students realize that our formation happens when we put our faith into practice. And the markers of our faith and life matching up means that those people around us will be blessed. Our maturing faith compels us to be missional, to be active and involved in the lives of people around us.
4) Who in your world is going to help you pull this off?
We often talk of accountability and accountability partners. But that always puts others in positions of power over other people. What would it be like if we helped students see that they need fellow travelers on this road of spiritual formation. They need people who will help us, support us, pray for us, and remind us. We need people in our lives to debrief what we read and process how and what we even surrender things to Jesus. We need people and these people have to be more than the traditional small group. We need people who will help us succeed, people who will spur us on towards love and good deeds.
I get that there is nothing earth shattering here.
But I have found that my knee jerk attempt to mature my students in their faith always comes back to behavior modification. And because of that, I unintentionally force my students to live duplicitous lives. Maybe I can get that my students are simply not mature spiritually and should be willing to change my approach.
In an era where students are immature in their faith, and where we rely too heavenly on behavior markers to judge our students' readiness for leadership, maybe we should be fellow sojourners and have our emphasis be on the thing we really want for our students anyway, to be formed spiritually.
May God be gracious to us and to our students, and may his Holy Spirit actually meet our students in these encounters. That God would search and know their hearts, he would test their thoughts, reveal any offensive way in them, and then lead them along the path of everlasting life. And may this prayer be for us as well.