Discipleship. The word means different things to different people. When I say “discipleship” in the context of this post, I’m simply talking about the process of growing to be more like Christ. This process will differ based on your ministry context.
But, I think there are some common characteristics of healthy discipleship no matter what context you’re in.
As you read these, ask yourself to what degree you see them in your youth ministry.
1. Gospel Focused
No matter how you teach the Bible, or what you’re teaching⎯Old Testament, New Testament, topical studies, character studies, etc.⎯it must be taught through the lens of the Gospel. When we make our Bible teaching too much about application, or cultural relevance, or entertainment, we fail students. The good news of God’s rescue plan for humanity, as fulfilled in Christ, must be the foundation of your teaching efforts.
Too often we make our Bible teaching about doing. Do this. Don’t do that. Right actions won’t make disciples. But consistently bringing our students face-to-face with the Gospel will.
2. Relationally Centered
Relationally centered as opposed to program, or event centered. Think about the relationships Jesus formed with His disciples. Life was shared. It wasn’t some dry educational experience. It wasn’t Jesus merely dumping information on His followers. There was real relationship. Jesus and His disciples shared life together. It was reciprocal, too. Jesus allowed His disciples choice moments to see His frustration, His concerns . . . the human side of “fully God, fully man.”
We have to embrace the relationships we have with students, not as a means to an ends. We must truly share our lives with them, just as we ask them to share their lives with us.
3. Community Oriented
Healthy discipleship is relationally centered (focus on the individual) but fully embraces the gift of community (focus on individuals). I think this is one area where youth ministers are very effective. We have some built-in advantages working with teenagers, to be sure. But, it’s still a vital component of healthy discipleship.
If you’re looking for an awesome discipleship structure/framework to really maximize your youth group’s collective missional potential, I would suggest looking at the work Mike Breen and 3DM are doing. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Mike and his team are some of my favorite discipleship voices around.
4. Outward Reaching
You probably already create opportunities for your youth group to serve. Maybe you do mission trips, or volunteer at a retirement home. That’s awesome. Keep doing it. But, I would encourage you to break free from the “youth group wide,” program-centered approach, and to intentionally empower smaller groups of individual students to seek opportunities to impact their immediate world.
Leave it up to them to decide how it looks. But create the expectation that this type of outreach should be happening.
5. Multiplication Empowering
Plain and simple, if you’re doing discipleship the right way, your students will begin to desire to draw other people in. Some of these students might be fringe members of your youth group. Others will be their peers who do not have a saving relationship with Christ. Your role is to help guide and encourage your students to bring these outlying students into your community.
The “front door” of faith for this generation of young people is probably not an invitation to church. Instead, it’s an invitation to belong to a community. To coin a phrase that is going around the Internet, it’s “belonging before believing.” The logic behind this is pretty simple . . .
While a non-believer may say “no” to church based on preconceived notions or bad prior experiences, it’s much harder to say “no” to being truly accepted as a part of a community of peers who are daily living out the Christ-life. How much more authentic (and comfortable) is it for this individual to then be welcomed at your youth group when he or she already has a relationship with a group of students? It’s a paradigm shift, for sure, but one that I personally think is both true to the biblical example and where we find ourselves culturally.