Spiritually fat or fit?

“Our kids in youth group from Christian schools are spiritually fat.” These words, uttered by a youth pastor at a recent youth ministry consultation, while not pleasant to hear, gave me pause to reflect. I would rather have heard a comment to the effect of “those Christian school kids really seem well equipped and can be counted on for leadership in our youth group.” To be fair I have heard both statements in the past year. The speaker however was referring to a sort of spiritual apathy because the students had “head knowledge.”

However I began to wonder what the responsibility of the Christian school was related to the “fatness” issue. Is this fatness a problem for our kids, making them lethargic or “easily winded” followers of Christ? Is this fatness perhaps demonstrated in the church setting or in the school setting by an arrogant attitude of “I already know all this stuff and I am therefore superior to the rest of you?”

As with physical fatness, it seems to me that the answer to spiritual fatness is exercise. In this case, we need to allow our kids to practice, to exercise their spiritual muscles. It is also in the process of exercising that one realizes how far one needs to go yet to achieve what is necessary to be “fit.” One effective way I have seen this exercise happen in the setting of the small church my family attends is to have students from grade 7 on up function as assistant teachers with adult mentors in our children’s worship program. Through this they are engaged in a real life setting and articulating what they believe – and at the same time learning and growing in their faith.

So in a school setting what could happen if we paid more attention to some differentiation in the spiritual development realm? I wonder how we could increase the involvement of youth in school settings through the practice of their spiritual gifts in authentic ways? Any new ideas out there that address this issue?


Filed under distinctively Christian, student outcomes

18 responses to “Spiritually fat or fit?

  1. Rochelle Fopma

    When I was in high school, I attended a youth group which included students from a public school and a Christian school. It was interesting to see each week how the public school students would easily volunteer for the mission trips or volunteer work days and the Christian school students would be hesitant to participate. Even though all students were born again Christians, the Christian school students often held a view that they had already volunteered enough of their time and continued to make excuses for their lack of activity.
    I think Christian school students often lose the excitement of being alive in Christ. They forget how blessed they are to be living and learning in a Christian environment and often take things for granted. Public school students often have to work harder to live out their faith among their peers. I believe Christian schools need to address the ’spiritually fat’ arrogant attitude of some of their students. I think more respondsibility and positive encouragement needs to be given to students. Encourage them to live out their faith by leading a peer group, or singing on a praise team in chapel, or help them create a student-led bible study. Help the Student Coucil come up with activities which stimulate the spiritual growth of the students. The more active students are in their spiritual life in and outside of school, the less ’spiritually fat’ they will become.

  2. Dan, At Borculo Christian we’ve been working on being much more deliberate about creating opportunities for our young people to “express their faith” in a greater variety of ways.(This, after a thought-provoking group-talk about the lack of “heart, hands, and feet” as we continue to fill the heads) Talk is cheap, so to promote this we’re developing a “workshop-type” course that, for lack of a better name, we’re calling 8th Grade Leadership Training (Personally, I like Roaring Lambs-but that might be a bit too drastic). It’s a one-day per week class starting with Worldview studies that will branch out into 8th grade-led projects (involving the entire school) in which the leadership of the 8th graders will active and on display. I believe that Calvary Baptist School is devoting an entire afternoon each week to something similar (6-12). I’ll be checking in with them to find out more about it.
    Additionally, I’m hearing more and more (even from secular sources) about the value of “Service Learning Projects” and I’m thinking about the learning curve that I’ve gone through in the last four trips that we’ve taken to Washington DC for our 8th graders (not a service opportunity)—and how we’ve been able to streamline the process and cost while increasing the value of the experience due to our amplified understanding through planning and executing these trips (4X)-there is value in experience! I’m wondering if there is a “market” for providing a ServiceLearning broker-a guide that can do a lot of the grunt work of matching servers and beneficiaries, coordinating dates and destinations, develop the specific learning objectives, facilitate the activities and guide the school in the entire process? Any comments?

  3. Cori Vander Velde

    I agree with what this article is discussing. I personally have grown up in the Christian school system. Since kindergarten I have been taught about Christ and everything that goes along with beliveing in him. I also attended church with my family every week as well as youth group when I became older. I do believe students who are given this knowledge since they were young children sometimes feel that it can be redundant. I do believe that students do lose the excitement of being a Chritian after a while. Throughout high school I went on mission trips with 40 other individuals that attended my youth group on a regular basis. Throughout those four years, many students lost their excitement and passion for christ due to the fact that they felt the information was redundant. I often see that students who have been raised in a christian school system often make choices that affect them negatively, and would be considered
    “sin” due to the fact that the information that they have been taught does not even affect them anymore. If they were given the opportunity to not only learn the information, but use it throughout the community they may not make those negative choices.

  4. Caitlin Fillmore

    I agree that both the church and Christian schools are creating “spiritually fat” Christians. I think all too often, adults in the church are making Christianity a list of simple rights and wrongs and dos and don’ts. This develops a community of judgmental, self-righteous Christians committed to a regimented religion rather than a community of believers building one another up and holding each other accountable in a commitment to Jesus Christ. Children need to be taught how to love the Lord, but they cannot be told exactly what to believe. The church needs to better teach its children to defend their faith. Well-exercised faith is hard to find in almost all Christian communities. Children need to be exposed to many Christian doctrines and denominations and see how they align with scripture rather than being told that only their church’s doctrines are correct. Rather than holding up their lives and the lives of others to the microscope of their predecessors’ belief systems, they need to be continually taught to hold up their lives to the truth of scripture. Sin needs to be exposed not as merely what we should and should not do, but as something that truly grieves the heart of God. When we see our faith as a relationship, we see it as something that needs work, one might say practice. If we are practicing true faith everyday, there is no reason we should be becoming fat.

  5. Russ Gregg

    In regards to Randy’s post about a “ServiceLearning broker,” you might check out http://www.youthworks.com. This last summer we took our seventh grade students from Hope Academy to a week-long, YouthWorks service trip. Each day we went with kids to serve at a soup kitchen or food shelf, and each evening we worshiped together and discussed how to obey God’s commands to remember the poor. We concluded the week with a foot washing service. The week was life-changing for many of the students, and the YouthWorks staff took care of all the details. We’re definitely going to do it again.

  6. Arlyn Schaap

    If the quote by the youth pastor, “Our kids in youth group from Christian schools are spiritually fat”, is true, then perhaps more than just the Christian school needs to share in the problem and the solution. Although it has been more than a few years since I was a youth, I can remember that when I made profession of faith in front of the elders of my church, the only thing they were concerned with was, “Do you KNOW the answers to the questions dealing with faith.” I do not recall a single question or comment about living out my faith or, “How are you going to show that you believe and are a Christian?” It was good enough that I had memorized the answers to the questions I knew would be asked. I think we have come a long way from the perspective that all we need to do is fill our students and youth with knowledge. Yes, knowledge is important. In that sense, being spiritually “fat” or filled with faith knowledge is not a bad thing in itself. What we need to do, at home, at school and in the church is to help our young people put their knowledge into action. Knowledge needs to deepen into belief and conviction, followed by action (head, heart, hands). I am encouraged by what I see being done in schools and churches of my community where young people not only have opportunities for service and living out their faith, but most are taking advantage of these opportunities. Our 7th and 8th grade students were able to not only help out a small church in another community by doing some physical work needed, but to plan and conduct the morning worship service. “Service Learning Projects” and “Service Learning Requirements” are a part of most middle and high school experiences in Christian schools. These are ways in which we can help our youth to “put their faith into practice.” However, I think that we cannot limit our “faith enhancing practices” to just special projects or experiences, it needs to be a daily experience. Classrooms need to challenge and engage students to see the connection between knowledge, belief and practice. One of the challenges for all of us as Christians comes from James 2: 14-19, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? . . . Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do.” I see progress being made with spiritual differentiation and helping young people to practice their spiritual gifts in authentic ways. However, we need to continue to develop more ways of exercising our faith. Being “spiritually fat” is a concern that all Christians need to consider, adults included. Being spiritually “fit” and living out our faith is an ongoing challenge in order to be a disciple of Christ.

  7. Leanne Koetje

    I have grown up in a Christian school and gone to church all of my life. The youth group that I attended was filled with mostly students that attended Christian schools. I felt very spiritually fat and fit since I attended both. At our church I was a student leader for three years, and I do not think that I was more willing to participate in an activity because I went to a Christian school. I am very thankful for the opportunity that I have been given to go to Christian school all of my life. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to attend a public school sometime in my life for at least a year. I would want to see if I really would be spiritually fit. I am thankful for the opportunities that I have been given, and while I am now in higher education, I cannot wait to see how the Lord will bless me, throughout my years at college.

  8. Lauren Zylstra

    I agree that many children are growing more and more “spiritually fat” yet do not know what to do with their “fatness”. I grew up in a Christian community my entire life. I went to Christian schools and attented church every Sunday. I went to Sunday school, catechism and attended youth group. However, when I would look at the zeal and fervor that some new Christians had for the Lord, I did not understand. These people seemed to be on fire for God, and I didn’t understand why I didn’t have that same connection. I felt that considering I had known God my whole life, I should have been even more on fire for God. I realized, however, once I began to “exercise” my faith, that the reason I wasn’t on fire for God was because I wasn’t living out my faith. I had all this knowledge packed into me that it just came naturally, but there was no emotion or feeling behind my actions. Once I became involved in missions and various activities that allowed me to open myself up and share the Gospel did I really feel on fire for God. I think that all children should be given the opportunity to live out their faith. Schools and churches should provide activities for their students to participate in such as volunteer work, missions and various other activities as a way for these children to realize how great and awesome the Lord really is and actually experience it first hand, not simply be told it. The Bible calls us to reach out and guide the children and that involves being spiritually “fit”, not just spiritually “fat”.

  9. Allison DeGroot

    I have grown up in a Christian home and attended a Christian school my entire life. I have been very blessed but it has also been difficult to stay spiritually fit because when you get into a routine. After hearing the same thing over and over you start to simply go through the motions rather than really engaging in God’s word and being an active Christian. Christians who live in a ‘Christian bubble’ where they are surrounded by faith all the time take it for granted and do not always exercise their own faith. As the article says the have head knowledge, they know all the right answers to the questions their Sunday school teachers ask them but that’s all it is, an answer that they rattle off and then forget about. For a Christian to be spiritually fit they need to have their heart in their faith. They need to read God’s word and have a personal relationship with him to be spiritually fit. A friendship will fall apart if people do not communicate and spend time together; in the same way a relationship with God will fall apart if a person does not spend time with Him daily.
    In order to prevent our children from becoming ‘spiritually fat’ I think it is very important to offer many activities for them to get involved in an exercise their faith. They need to be able to see first hand how to live out what they believe and help others. I also think it is crucial that we show students the importance of having a personal relationship with God so that the can grow and learn daily in Him. It is important that we are constantly engaging students in new activities and ways to exercise their faith. We need to encourage them so that they are excited about serving and learning and do not simply go through the motions.

  10. Jillian Van Howe

    I am very interested in the idea of getting students to be assistant teacher for Sunday school and things, and would love to see this happen all over. I think many times children in the church are thought of as oh the cute children, but don’t seem to exactly fit in activities besides sunday school attendee’s. Also, to get children to help with Sunday school, children in the class may have a better time because it will be more appealing to go to a class that was designed with opinions of other kids. Also, I think by getting kids involved not only with helping teach Sunday school, but also other activities such as outreach programs would be extremly beneficial in their lives. Not only would they benefit spiritually, but finding their call in life may come easier after having experience in different areas of life at a young age. Those are just some opinions that I have.

  11. Tammi Cook

    I think every Christian, if truly honest with themselves, goes through times of being spiritually “fat” and spiritually “fit”. I, alike many others reading this, have grown up in a Christian home, church, and school. I remember going through times when I felt on top of the world and on fire for Christ as well as times when I felt a million miles from the Lord. In fact, I still have my days where I feel more or less close to God. I think too many Christian kids are not being “in the world not of it”. Kids are trying too hard to fit in and be cool. Parents need to teach their children that we are very different from the rest of the world and need to teach them that they do not need to be like a Jello mold and fit in with the rest of the world, but need to stand out and be different for Christ. Taking that further churches and schools need to push their youth to step out into the world as Christians by doing service projects and going on spiritual retreats. From experience, those times when I was immersed in Christian fellowship and immediately following was when I felt on fire for Christ. Parents, church, and school need to work together to keep refueling our youth, and adults for that matter, with the fuel to fire us up for Christ. The more spiritual “highs” we have as believers in Christ, the more we are spiritually “fit”. So we need to work together as Christians to run this race and shed our spiritual “fat”, becoming spiritually “fit” for Christ.

  12. samantha weisfuss

    This concept is wonderful to me!! As a student that grew up outside the church and entered in at the high school age I was surroundedby these bible fat types. However I was always impressed by how much scripture they could parrot without comprehending any of it. This article vindicates every feeling of inferiority I ever had as a high school student in youth group.
    As a way of combating the bloatation of our nation’s christian youth, we need to provide them with spiritual and social excercise. the first can be provided in the form of reading. Books that expound on biblical principles in a way tyhat is relative to a student’s own possition in life will likely be the most beneficial in breaking away the excess poundage of unused bible fat (in keeping with the metaphor). Books like Don Miller’s Blue like Jazz or Searching for God Knows What can teach students political and social applications for the texts they consumed in bulk as children. Anne Lamott might also, although only for the older crowd, be helpful in humanizing the archaic and elevated text of the bible.
    In a social context service learning would easily excercise the love handles of too much dormant knowledge. Putting privledged students into situational poverty and allowing them to see the real and valid deterant of destitution to the grace of a God that would allow such a situation may help them to develop their own faith and also espouse that faith to those they serve through their actions. Cutting the teeth of young faith, especially on things like poverty and illiteracy, can be a painful experience, but in order to reduce the excess of factual knowledge gained in bible school, students must see faith in action, in themselve and in those around them. Service learning also puts biblical principles like feed the hungry into a real world situation.

  13. in a way they are fat at skinny at the same time. i’ve got students who have grown up at church and in Christian school all their lives that can’t articulate that Jesus Christ and God are part of the godhead let alone understand there is a Holy Spirit. however they also feel they have heard all they need to know and don’t really think youth ministry or church has much for them that would matter. it’s kinda scarry the lack interest they show in wanting to exercising or experiencing faith. or even figure out if they want to own in themselves!

    i don’t know the answers or solutions to make faith life a priority to them. trying to find faithful Christians to be incarnational in their lives seems to be a possibility, when we can find them. another way is trying to help them experience what it means to liveCHRIST beyond just knowing about Christ. we are up against the wall in some ways because the attractive nature of culture overwhelms them. it may not satisfy them long term, but it definitely lures them out of our youth groups, churches and other experiences that we are trying to use to lead them down the path of faith and life in Jesus Christ.

    and when you look at the tripod of home, school, church; church and school don’t talk enough and the home has checked out far too often because mom and dad are being attracted by the same culture and laziness that has captivated their kids.

    [maybe a little pessimistic at the moment, but still hopeful most days!]

    pax: ty

  14. As I read this article, I began to understand this issue more fully. I grew up in the public school system and did not come to Christ until the summer before my junior year of high school. As a college student, I am in a Christian school where people do many service activities and fellowship with each other very often. Some may think that growing up in a Christian school setting is what makes children and adolescents “spiritually fat”, but I think that it can happen pretty much on both sides. While I do not see it as a problem for people to teach their kids what the Bible says (as it is biblical for parents to train their kids in the ways of the Lord), I think that it is not sufficient enough to ONLY impart knowledge. One learns best through practice– hands-on work allows us to see how knowledge can be applied. But I also think that there is a lot of pushing from parents, schools and churches for people to do service projects with groups of people. I am not against service projects, but I have seen that we can become dependent on organizations to plan what our service to others will be. We forget that we need to be able to help others on our own because of the love that comes from God. Personally, I think that something that needs to be stressed is the meaning of love– we cannot continue to think that talking to two or three needy individuals (or anyone for the matter) is considered love. Something that I would have trouble with, however, would be approaching that subject. I believe that if we truly learn to love others and have compassion and become servants to the other humans on this earth, we can become spiritually fit. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did here on earth?

  15. Christina Velderman

    I think that children should be more fit with there faith and with learning more about the Christian Faith. Children today always think of school and learing as if it were work for them. I believe that some children feel this way about Bible class and about going to Church or Sunday School. Children feel that they are forced to learn about the Bible and that is wrong. This I believe is why children are not fit in there faith.
    I also believe that students who are physically not fit also are lazy in there faith but this is not to say that the children who are fit physically love the Bible and learning about it. We need to make Bible class and learning Fun. We need to find new ways to teach the same things that the students already know. If a child learns about faith in School or in Sunday School then we as teachers of Faith need to find a new way to make Faith more interesting so that they want to learn more about Christ.

  16. Pete Post

    I have really enjoyed reading the responses to this post and especially was moved by Tammi’s honest response. In the 30+ years that I have taught in Christian schools, I have been impressed (and certainly celebrated) the diversity of Christian backgrounds that has been evolving in Christian day schools. But as a Christian teacher it can also be a challenge to honor various means of worship styles while trying to come into agreement about what’s important or essential to believe.
    While teaching at Elim Christian School I would take my students to various churches to meet with pastors and allow students to talk about their own preferences and styles of worship. It was a little easier to do this since my class consisted of only 10-12 students and I maintained a bus driver’s license so I could transport the group (although some churches were not very accessible to our students in wheelchairs). We crafted a set of questions and each student was allowed to ask the pastor-priest one.
    The experiences were varied, wonderful and (I believe) Spirit blessed. I recall a Lutheran pastor who completely broke down when a student asked what his church believed about divorce. We found out later that just a month before his son’s marriage had ended in divorce. I remember the delight some of my students had in exploring the baptismal “bathtub” of the Chruch of the Nazarene – and how this was one of the few pastors that asked to pray with us. After visiting one student’s parish he asked me if I would come back Sunday because he was going to serve as an acolyte and would be carrying in the cross. I told him that I’d like to come, and with all the honesty that a young person with special needs would exhibit he replied, “That’s funny, my priest said that there’s no way a Christian Reformed guy would want to come to our mass.”
    My students also talked for weeks about the special meaning of the icons in the Greek Orthodix church we visited. The experience of going into these churches and talking about how students responded in faith through worship was a wonderful exercise (which, by the way, also had the physical element of getting out of the classroom, up from the desks, and wandering through some pretty beautiful buildings).
    Pete Post

  17. Michelle Beenes

    I grew up in the Christian school system. I went to youth group. I attended catechism. All of these wonderful things… sometimes left me feeling completely empty. I love my parents for putting me through the Christian schools, and I know that I am the person I am today because of it; but I wonder if it would have been easier to be “on fire for God” if I weren’t surrounded by it on all sides at every moment of the day. I have made a point for a number of years now to get friends from OUTSIDE my “Christian school bubble” and it has made all the difference. Finally, friends who are different and think I’m interesting and strange because I have this faith. Friends who might not understand why I pray at meal times and who don’t always agree with my way of thinking.
    My point is, students need their faith to be CHALLENGED for it to grow. My faith grew more in the first ten minutes of me meeting my friend who is an atheist, than it did in a year of Bible classes in my Christian school. I don’t know entirely why that it, but I do believe it is because I was finally and at long last being challenged in my faith and not just fed the same lessons of catechism over and over again.

  18. I have enjoyed the discussion. Smith and Denton in their book, Soul Searching, make the claim that even conservative Christian youth believe in God but have no Christian worldview. George Barna’s surveying shows that only 9% of “born-again Christians” have a Christian worldview.

    Helpful in this discussion is Os Guinness’s book Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do about It. He claims that Christians blindly buy the “idiot culture’s” values because they have not been taught to think what a Christian worldview means in action.

    I’m concerned that Christian day school educators may become embarrassed by their Christian-mind heritage and not intentionally teach in every subject area how the Word of God infuses all aspects of living and thinking. Out there in life, including at the university, our graduates will have their minds tested as well as their modeling the fruit of the Spirit.

    Dan Vander Ark

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