It’s a precarious path we walk in helping students identify the areas that can help them to grow spiritually. There are two extremes: 1.) They are so eager to please those in authority that they set many goals for every area of their life. 2.) They fear being legalistic and so don’t set any goals, but hope for the best. The former is characterized by the student who decides that they are going to read through the Bible in a year, pray for 30 minutes daily, and be involved in 2 small groups each semester. The latter is characterized by the student who loves philosophical discussion and even hangs around for hours talking after a weekly worship time, but can’t ever make it a priority to regularly commit to involvement in a ministry. Neither thing I’ve described is bad, actually, both have very important elements. However, they represent the tension that students sometimes feel as they are learning how to follow Christ out of love, not obligation, yet fully sacrificing their agenda to follow him.
I think that there is a nice middle ground that is possible for students to set goals and make commitments, but also freely offer themselves up in service without trying to meet some “objective.” The challenge for students in this is to see that as they set goals with the intent to grow, they are being conformed to the image of Christ. There is grace for them as they strive toward the transformation of being who Christ has called them to be—they will fail from time to time, but that does not mean that they do not allow Christ to set the standard high!
For some time in working with youth and young adults, I’ve used the following exercise after speaking about ways that we can become transformed to the image of Christ. I do it about once a year to help students set goals in different areas of their lives that work toward that process:
- Social—with friends
- Self—character traits and physical health
- Spiritual—prayer life, Bible Study, small group, worship, etc.
- School—grades, classes, studying
I ask students to listen to God as they set specific goals in each of these areas that will help them to continue to develop the mind of Christ at work within them. Sometimes I’ve asked them to copy the goals and put one copy of them in a self-addressed envelope that I will then mail out to them in 3 to 6 months as a means of reminding them and holding them accountable (to a small degree) to what their desire was in following Christ. This isn’t a “magic formula” that will automatically teach students about how to submit every aspect of their life to Christ, but it can begin a journey that starts with the first step.