Are Teenagers Spiritually Immature?

A former volunteer of ours recently got hired as a full-time youth pastor in another state.  We’ve been keeping up with him regularly during the transition to help him win, and I got a text from him that said this:

still struggling a bit more with the middle school than high school.  our students are very immature spiritually so i am trying to find out how to communicate to them and raise them up in a loving way

It seems like a legitimate concern.   But I think often times our perspective as youth workers is easily off course.  It really depends on what we mean by “immature spiritually.”  Maturity, after all, is simply acting appropriate to your age.

So if we have an expectation fresh out of Bible college that a 13 year old with ADD wants to know what eschatology means, then I understand why we think teenagers are  immature spiritually.

If we expect a 17 year old who’s life goal has been a D1 scholarship to suddenly skip practice for the youth pastor’s prayer meeting, then I understand why we think teenagers are immature spiritually.

What do we mean by “go deep?”  What do we expect a spiritually mature student to look like?  A college student?  An adult?  Ourselves?

See I think it frees us a LOT to remember how old our students are.  And with their age comes their cognitive, emotional, and spiritual development as well.  We can’t expect teenagers to be spiritually mature if what we mean by spiritually mature is having a college level education about inductive Bible study.  They’re still trying to love Jesus and not look like a dork.  So we can just show them why Jesus is better and not become frustrated when they don’t grasp the greek roots of a present active imperative verb.

They’re kids.  Let them be.

Many of them are just now figuring out abstract illustrations.  Tap the breaks on some of your stories.

Should we have high expectations of biblical literacy, spiritual understanding, and relational growth in Christ?  Yes.  But we should be equally ok with knowing that every single student is going to arrive at those milestones at different times and with different intensities.

Spiritually mature teenagers are the ones that have an appropriate understanding of God for their developmental stage.  If they’re not as intellectual as we’d like that’s ok.  That just means we need to be more intentional in recognizing our own expectations may actually be what’s hindering students from becoming spiritual mature.