How Can We Encourage a Sense of Purpose and Meaning Early in Life?
Article by William Damon
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We all want our young people to have purpose in life–a “spark” that ignites their spirit, a hunger for something beyond themselves. Current research has shown the importance of developing purpose (or “sparks”) in adolescents and offers us guidelines for the types of experiences adolescents need to explore purpose in their lives. Congregations have an important role in both providing such experiences and in identifying sparks in teenagers.

Sermons can highlight purpose-filled lives as examples for young people. These examples might be biblical, historical, or even from their own community. Sermons can also be a place where sparks are discovered (maybe from using science in a sermon!) – where adolescents learn that whatever their interests, they can be used for the glory of God.

“In whatever form purpose emerges, it has a beyond-the-self (some call it “transcendent”) dimension that endows it with a special place in human affairs.”

-William Damon

Questions to Consider

  • What life experiences helped you find your purpose in life?
  • What practices are in place in your congregation to help young people develop purpose in their lives?
  • Who in your community would you identify as a purpose-filled individual? What drives them?

How to Go Deeper

  • Invite a purpose-filled young adult to share their story with the congregation. Publicly affirm their work as service to God and offer a prayer of blessing on their lives.
  • Read Colossians 3:12-17. Invite three purpose-filled adults with different careers (for example: a teacher, farmer, and stay-at-home parent) to share why they do what they do and how they “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 17 NRSV).
  • Incorporate different subjects in your sermons. For example, use science in a sermon on the universe to demonstrate just how great God is. Tell stories of astronomers and physicists who are exploring the universe out of love for God.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

Related Research

“How to Help Teens Find Purpose”

“Sparks: A Gateway to Developmental Relationships”

“What Are Sparks and How Can They Motivate Your Child?”

“Sparks: How Youth Thrive” 

“How Awe Can Help Students Develop Purpose”

“Seven Ways to Help High Schoolers Find Purpose”

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.


  1. AustinF May 19, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    Good to see the emphasis on using purposes to glorify God

  2. aidenkang May 22, 2017 at 12:18 am

    Strange to say, but I would classify failing in different areas of life as experiences that helped me realize my purpose in life.

  3. aidenkang May 22, 2017 at 12:21 am

    I would identify a friend of mine who’s involved in seeking justice for human trafficking victims as a purpose-filled individual in my community.

  4. AustinF May 23, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    As I think more about this article, “purpose” may be better defined as a “calling”, “vocation”, etc. Our purpose as the Church is always to make disciples for God’s glory. We can do that in whatever avenue God sends us to.

    • JarrodCraw May 23, 2017 at 10:20 pm

      I think that you’re right, but we can foster the attitude of disciples in teens by helping them learn what it means to show the love of Christ through service to others. Depending on the situation, it may also bring about the ‘sparks’ that this article talks about. Perhaps volunteering at a local adult day care center will spark someone to realizing that they’re calling is to serve those that struggle with disabilities.

  5. June 28, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    I appreciate that this article focuses on striving for purpose EARLY in life. Too often, this question is put off until college or beyond. As Christians, we have intrinsic purpose in life and need to ingrain this into the children and youth in our churches.

  6. August 10, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    This is such an important topic! I particularly like the idea of exposing adolescents and children to modern day heroes of the Christian faith. Giving them a concrete example of a purpose filled life could help them then begin to envision their own futures in a different way.

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