How Can We Encourage a Sense of Purpose and Meaning Early in Life?
Article by William Damon
Read the Full Article

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”

Health Tip: Find Purpose in Life
Article by Jason Hamblin (2014)
Read the Full Article

August 14th, 2017|3 Comments

What is the Science? According to a study out of the University of Washington, living with purpose may positively affect both mental and physical health. In their study, researchers paired people 55 years [...]

How to Be Successful and Still Compassionate
Article by Kira M Newman, Book by Christopher L. Kukk (2017)
Read the Full Article

August 3rd, 2017|4 Comments

What is the Science? Can compassion lead to success in the workplace? Research into compassion, purpose, and work seem to offer a resounding, “yes.” For example, workers who receive compassion from their bosses [...]

Doing Something Creative Can Boost Your Well-Being
Article by Jill Suttie (2017)
Read the Full Article

July 11th, 2017|3 Comments

What is the Science? In popular culture, creativity is often associated with madness. However, recent research suggests that creativity is much more strongly associated with well-being. One recent study pursued this correlation even [...]

The Four Keys to Well-Being
Article by Richard J. Davidson (2016)
Read the Full Article

July 7th, 2017|2 Comments

What is the Science? “Well-being is a skill.” Such is the conclusion of neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson. Davidson’s claim is based on his scientific research into the plasticity of certain neural circuits associated [...]

The Science Behind the Joy of Sharing Joy
Article by Emma M. Seppälä (2013)
Read the Full Article

June 30th, 2017|1 Comment

What is the Science? Have you ever been in the middle of a great experience and one bad moment seems to ruin it? You were on vacation and somebody cuts you off [...]

The Will and Ways of Hope
Article by Scott Barry Kaufman (2011)
Read the Full Article

June 22nd, 2017|4 Comments

What is the Science? There are a lot of variables that go into success: skill, passion, grit, and optimism are just a few traits that play a part. One variable, however, might play [...]

By | 2017-07-26T22:04:08+00:00 May 20th, 2016|Purpose, Research|8 Comments

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.

8 Comments

  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. matt@ncstudycenter.org 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. marymact@gmail.com 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.

Leave A Comment