The Bible does not actually refer to spiritual adolescence but does mention other spiritual growth levels such as infants, children, adult (young men), parents (fathers).
ADOLESCENTS could easily be included as a level between children and adults.
Have you ever heard the frustration of believers who truly want to live for God and grow in their relationship with Him as they say, “It’s like I take one step forward and two steps back”? They would describe their walk like a roller coaster ride, full of ups and downs. While we all can experience peaks and valleys in our walk with God, for some this seems to consistently be their experience. These are the believers I would call “spiritual adolescents.”
Spiritual infants and children can experience this as well but they don’t have the strong desire spiritual adolescents have to grow and become who God wants them to be.
Spiritual Adolescents Described:
Romans 7 seems to especially fit the adolescence growth level.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. . . . For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” (Rom. 7:18-19, 22-23)
1) Adolescents consistently struggle between what they know they should be doing and what they actually do. They struggle because they want to be mature yet so often fail.
2) Adolescents consequently struggle with how they feel about themselves as Christians. They get to feeling defeated, like they will never get there.
Ministering to Spiritual Adolescents:
- They need lots of encouragement and affirmation for the passion they have to grow and for the steps they do take. You don’t want them to give up and regress back into spiritual childhood where it was easier because they didn’t care as much.
- They need you to be patient with them. Spiritual growth is a process. For some the adolescent struggle seems harder or longer, but if they persevere, eventually they will come through on the other side. If they feel as though you have given up on them, they will be more likely to give up as well.
- They need to sense there is hope for them. Point them to Jesus as the only source of victory (Rom. 7:24-25). Keep reminding them that the Christian life cannot be lived in their own strength.
- They need a model. You need to let them see that no one has arrived yet it is important to press on (Phil. 3:10-14) because it is so worth it.
For more help on ministering to spiritual adolescents, as well as those in the other spiritual growth levels, check out The Teacher’s Role in Discipling Students Toward Spiritual Growth resources.