Creating Habit-Forming Communities (Part 2)

Steven Johnson | Aug 6, 2009

One of the most important questions youth workers can ask themselves is, “Am I helping or hurting students become authentic followers of Jesus?” If we are creating a community that governs itself by rules more than falling in love with and following Jesus, we are ultimately hurting our kids. ((Erre, Mike, The Jesus of Suburbia: Have We Tamed the Son of God to Fit our Lifestyles? (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 2006), 39-42.))

There is a difference in creating a culture of rule-obeying and a culture of habit-forming. Habits are formed tendencies or practices we develop over time, upon being done regularly, that we start to do without directly thinking about. For instance, when a teenager is learning how to drive they are usually seated by a parent or guardian and told to obey the speed limit, to stop completely at all traffic signs, and keep their eyes on the road at all time. Yet, anyone who as driven for more than a week can tell you that driving involves more than just obeying the rules. It takes practice, time, and experience. Soon after driving for a while you just get into a car and drive. You no longer think to yourself, “Okay, here comes a stop sign, so I have to lift my right foot off the gas and place it on the break.” It all just happens habitually.

When one of our students is asked if he wants a beer at a Friday night party, we don’t hope he stops and thinks, “Okay, what did my youth leader tell me the Bible said I was supposed to do?” The hope of most youth workers is that the student would simply answer “No.” Not because we told them so, or because we warned them about disobeying the law, but because their answer comes out of who they understand themselves to be as a follower of Jesus. ((This is not to say that Jesus says his followers must abstain from drinking totally. Yet Biblically Jesus and his followers do seem concerned with how a follower should treat their bodies and act with wisdom in how they treat their bodies, including what they put in them and do with them.)) Creating a habit-forming community where Christian students are encouraged to create habits, not just follow rules, is a part of the discipleship process.

The first thing to remember in creating a habit-forming community is that this process does not happen overnight. Students mess up. This is where God’s grace comes into play. Youth leaders can be a concrete image of God’s grace to each student in their ministry. ((Kenda Creasy Dean, Chap Clark & Dave Rahn, ed. Starting Right: Thinking Theologically About Youth Ministry, (Youth Specialties Academic and Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 2001), 249.)) Especially for black and white thinkers, students see God’s image in their leaders.

Going back to the driving analogy, upon first getting behind the wheel of a car we all drove through stop signs we did not see. While the cop who caught us might not have offered us grace, as youth leaders we cannot afford to police our students in this way. Instead a youth leader needs to be more like a life coach who enters into a conversation with students about their choices and helps them evaluate their own decisions from a biblical standpoint. Graceful coaches have the opportunity to walk alongside the habit-forming process in community with students.

Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson is currently serving as High School Director at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Washington. He is a 2009 MDiv graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary with a concentration in Youth, Family, and Culture. Steve also speaks at local youth conferences and is passionate about helping teens encounter God, see themselves as a vital part of the church, and train them to manifest the Kingdom of God.


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