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How you can help teenage girls grow in godliness

Lindsey Carlson on her book, "Growing in Godliness"

The teenage years can be tumultuous. The constant pressure and pull of this hyperconnected society can magnify the angst some teens go through, especially girls. What these girls need most isn’t more likes on Instagram or more friends in their social circles; they need to know Jesus and grow to be more like him. That’s why Lindsey Carlson has written a new book for teen girls about discipleship. In this article, Carlson answers a few questions about Growing in Godliness: A Teen Girl's Guide to Maturing in Christ and what teenager girls need from their parents and mentors.

What led you to write this book?

As a teenager, I longed to understand what it looked like to love God and grow in godliness. While I attended church weekly and was familiar with Bible stories, I didn’t know Christ or understand the gospel. Even inside the church, I needed discipleship to help me answer questions and grow in my faith. In my own life, theologically rich books have been instrumental in my discipleship. It is a joy to have the opportunity to pour the hope and encouragement of Scripture back into others through the same methods that have so significantly shaped my own faith.  

Because I came to faith as a teenager, I am quick to recognize how pivotal these years can be in the life of a teenager. As my own daughter Madeline approached her 13th birthday, I felt a growing sense of urgency to disciple her on the process of sanctification. I felt she needed a simple primer on how the gospel gives her hope and what Christian growth can tangibly look like in the teenage years. Since my daughter is an avid reader and I’m a writer, I thought writing her a book that could serve as a platform for conversations about identity in Christ, God’s sovereignty, and the nature of Christian growth seemed like the best gift I could give her on her 13th birthday. I pray this book will serve as a gift both to teenagers joyfully following Christ and to those still figuring out what Christian growth and maturity looks like.

What are some of the most common struggles that you notice among teen girls today? 

While in many ways smartphones and social media have shaped and changed the world my daughter is growing up in, I believe many of the struggles and heart issues remain the same. While these listed struggles are not all indicative of every teenager, they are the ones I most frequently observe in my own teenager’s friends and in the teenagers I’ve discipled over the years. 

  • Teenage girls struggle to find a biblical sense of identity in Christ. Many continue to place their hope in their physical appearance and whether they have the approval, acceptance, and love of those they desire to impress. Teenagers must learn to find their identity in Christ alone, trusting that by grace, through faith they are an adopted, beloved child of God, forgiven and redeemed by the blood of Christ.  
  • Teenage girls struggle with thinking their happiness is the most important thing in life and that only they can define what’s good and right. This makes it extraordinarily important for teenagers to develop biblical literacy to know what is good and right and discern when happiness might lead them away from holiness.  
  • Teenage girls struggle with loneliness and forming meaningful relational connections. The false sense that loneliness or lack of relationships is unique to the teenager makes it challenging for teenagers to openly admit struggle and to actively pursue a rooted, biblical community. Teenagers are often uncertain and unskilled at how to find, establish, and invest in healthy peer relationships. Teenage girls need mature Christians with strong relationships to model Christian fellowship and accountability.
  • Teenage girls struggle with the desire to impress others. The constant exposure to endless streams of pictures and social media quickly accelerates the fire of this already common human struggle. Teenagers need to see adults who aren’t tied to their phones and swayed by worldly desires. They must be challenged to live life before God, not man, and taught how to face these common temptations with wisdom and accountability. 
  • Teenage girls struggle to believe contrary opinions express hatred for others. We must encourage our teens to speak boldly and compassionately, teaching them to develop a category for civil discourse. It is possible to pursue loving interaction with those we disagree with. Help your teen as they learn to articulate and share their faith and beliefs with compassion. 

What are some of the most important topics that you think parents and mentors need to be addressing with teen girls as they seek to help them grow in Christ? 

I think as parents and mentors we sometimes tend to spend so much time giving answers to particular situations and not enough time developing tools of discernment. In discipleship, the goal is not to create disciples who are dependent on us. Instead, we pray to develop followers of Christ who can sufficiently handle Scripture, trust the Holy Spirit, and lean on God in prayer. That being said, I want to challenge adults to think past the topics that easily appear to be “hot topics” and instead aim to equip teenagers to personally address those topics with discernment. 

As my own daughter seeks to grow in Christ, these are the ongoing, “not-so-hot topics” that we strive to faithfully and frequently discuss and practice applying: 

  • How can you apply the gospel to your own weakness and insufficiency? What does it look like to live with gratitude for your salvation? Does your faith express itself in a growing love for Jesus and others?
  • God speaks authoritatively to his people through his Word. Do you live as though you practically believe this? Do you regularly read, respond, and obey? Do you desire to yield quickly to the Word’s authority in your life?
  • Spiritual disciplines are not a checklist, but they will certainly fuel your growth in godliness. Do you delight in the spiritual disciplines and find them necessary and good? If you don’t, are you actively praying for God to change your heart?
  • The process of sanctification is cooperative. Are you “working out your salvation with fear and trembling” and trusting that it is God who “wills and works for his good pleasure?” Are you giving yourself grace when you stumble in the process of sanctification? 
  • Are you praying regularly for humility, teachability, wisdom, and discernment?
  • Christ loved the Church and mature Christians will strive to love it too. Are you working to connect to the body of Christ for the purpose of worship, service, and personal growth?  

Tell us a little bit about the format and what readers can expect as they go through your book. 

This is a book aimed toward discipleship. For this reason, I write not from the perspective of a know-it-all mom, or someone who has a pulse on how to be cool (I don’t.) or without addressing lots of specific culturally relevant trends. Instead, I’m just trying to level with teenagers about some basic, time-tested tools they might find helpful as they strive to grow in godliness through the awkward teen years. My goal is to encourage teen girls to joyfully pursue maturity in Christ, by making theology humorously approachable and practical.

This small book is only 120 pages and should be readable for most teens. It is divided into three sections: “Partner with God,” “Depend on His Ways,” and “Monitor Your Growth.” 

The first section, “Partner with God,” introduces the concept of sanctification, God’s purpose for the believer’s life, and the good news of God’s sovereignty. 

The second section asks readers to learn to “Depend on His Ways” by learning from God-given limitations, turning to Scripture, investing in the Church, and through the discipline of prayer. 

The last section, “Monitor Your Growth,” calls teens to examine their words, emotions, and spiritual fruit as measurable evidence of their spiritual life and health. 

Each chapter ends with a thesis statement for teens to meditate on, questions for personal reflection or group study, and a few easy action steps for practical application. The book may be read independently or studied alongside a mother or a youth discipleship group. 

What do you wish you had learned as a teenager that you hope to pass along to girls through your book? 

I wish I had understood that accepting Christ and desiring to follow him didn’t mean that I would immediately be capable of living a perfectly holy life. Being freed from the desire to sin is a slow, progressive work that takes a lifetime and isn’t complete until Jesus takes us home to Heaven. I wish I’d known that my desperate desire to please God was actually evidence of the Spirit’s ongoing work in my life. And even though I wasn’t spiritually growing and maturing as fast as I’d like to, my story was sovereignly ordained by God. I pray that Peter’s assurance of Christ’s sufficient provision in 2 Peter 1:3-4 gives teenagers the promise of hope that I longed for:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 

What encouragement would you give parents who buy this book for their teen girls?

It is my hope that this book will give teenagers a framework for understanding spiritual growth and the process of sanctification in the life of a believer. I pray that parents will use this book to encourage their teenager not to overlook the call to grow in godliness simply because their schedules are busy. Parents, use this book to connect with your daughter, a teen in your youth group, or a friend—for the purpose of discipleship. Tell her you desire to invest in her life in meaningful ways and want to have conversations about life and faith. Ask God to help your teenager establish healthy patterns of spiritual growth that will last a lifetime. Set regular times to meet and discuss what she’s read or read and answer the chapter questions together. 

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