Discipleship for youth is something that must be part of your ministry. Not only because of the fact that making disciples is our greatest calling but for another very urgent reason. Studies continually show that if a student does not come to Christ and begin taking ownership of their faith by the time they are eighteen, they are far less likely to ever come to faith in Christ. This means that we must reach them early or they may never come to faith. But we also need to reach them early so that they can turn around and begin to reach others in their generation. Because we can only do so much work and there are many students who need to hear the saving message of the Gospel and learn how to grow in their faith. So we need to reach as many students as possible and train them to take the Gospel out to others so that we can have an army of disciples to send out that will in turn make disciples in this generation.
Youth discipleship is the process of helping a student grow in their faith so they can turn around and disciple others. In this process you need to be the expert on the various topics you will study as you help the person you mentor the person to disciple. I do not say this so that you will think you should be arrogant or to make you feel that you are now inadequate to disciple anyone. Instead, what I say this to tell you that you need to throw your self into the discipleship process and make sure that you are fully prepared to answer any questions that those whom you disciple may have. You need to study deeply and work hard so that you can be the expert on the topics of study. You also need to realize that because of your life experience you are the expert on something and you need to share that knowledge with others. Finally, remember that sometimes being the expert means that you may have to acknowledge that you do not know something right then but that you will work hard to go find the answer.
At the heart of youth discipleship is love, no pun intended. This may seem strange at first but when you think about it this makes sense. When asked what the two greatest commandments were Jesus said they were to love God and love people. He also adds that everything else pretty much gets summed up in those two things. So if we are training our youth to live like Jesus, be disciples, then it will boil down to showing them how to live a life that loves God and loves people. But there is a bigger picture here. Our students need to be loved and have it modeled to them what a life of love looks like. Because all of us want to be loved, feel connected, and know that we belong, but this generation desperately needs it. So as you plan out how you will disciple your youth, make sure that love is at the forefront of all your plans.
When selecting youth discipleship curriculum, planning discipleship events, working out the vision for discipleship in general,, have you ever thought about the real world implications of those decisions? Because our students have to face the real world every single day and we need to make sure that they are ready for that challenge. We need to make sure that they are equipped to support one another so they can face temptation. We need to make sure they are ready to step up when the opportunity comes to share your faith. We need to make sure that they are prepared to stand firm for the faith with every challenge and trial that they face. And with that in mind I believe that there are two things that we must consider as prepare our students to live in the world around them as followers of Christ.
First of all, the lives of our students are not all fun and games. Many of them have been hurt by people who are very close to them, some even experiencing unspeakable abuses. In many of our churches the majority of our students have been through a divorce or maybe even multiple divorces. Some of them are already battling addictions or seeing close friends and family battle addictions. I know I have a student who has seen his dad battle through addictions, health issues, divorce, and the student basically runs his household now. This is a lot for an 18 year old to deal with. But honestly, I am sure that his story is not the worst. Granted, depending on where you are doing ministry the situations may not be all that bad, but because of sin in our world they are never perfect. We need to keep this in mind and not pretend that somehow we are living in Heaven right now. Yes we get little tastes of it along the way, but we need to be honest with ourselves and our students about the fact that the world is not perfect and there will be trials. And we need to make sure that they are not only prepared to face that reality but also that they know that they are not alone and have someone to listen to them and show them love when those trials come.
The other thing that I have been realizing lately is that I firmly believe discipleship is about doing life together. Because when you look at Jesus this is what He did. He walked through life with His disciples and looked for teachable moments in day to day situations. This reality has many implication for your youth ministry and for mine, but one in particular that we will discuss today. Our students need the skills to be successful in the world we live in. They need to be prepared to fill them many roles we have in our society so that we can have people who our lights for Christ in all walks of life. And I am beginning to believe that we need to look for opportunities in our student ministries to help our students learn those skills. I am not saying you have to open a career center or offer computer classes, although that would be a really cool community outreach in a lot of places. All I mean is that you need to listen to your students and their needs and desires. And if they need a job, help them find one. Not only will you help them in a practical sense but you will be amazed in how it deepens your relationship with them and how many spiritual conversations you are able to have through your time together doing very real world tasks. It is the same thing if a student is interested in the automotive industry and you have an interest in cars. Or maybe just if a kid does not know how to change a flat tire. If you have a knowledge of graphics and a student is interested in that, sit down with them and share some of your knowledge and give them access to some of your software. Or it could be as simple as helping students and families get prepared for college. I know this year I have seen this play out in two ways. First of all we had representatives from a local college come in and help students and families fill out applications and FASFA forms. Recently, I realized the senior guys in my small group had a big interest in technology and entrepreneurship so we say down and talked about business as well as web and app development. It was amazing the doors it opened up for great spiritual conversations and how our relationships were strengthened.
But this task is not just for you. You need to empower your leaders to share their knowledge, experience and skills as well. Because as a youth ministry you must be a team working towards the same goals. And that goal is of course having students meet Jesus and experience life change, but we also must prepare them to go out into the world so they can be lights and help others experience life change as well.
When we talk about youth discipleship I think we often begin to try and over complicate things, because we realize we are talking about teens, so somehow things must be different and more difficult. But I have found between working with youth and with adults that not much changes. They still have the same questions and the same needs and they all are on the same journey of trying become more like Christ. And besides, discipleship is about doing life together, regardless of how old someone is who is going through the discipleship process. Yes, because of our life stage our experiences are different and the types of things we may be doing are different, but at the end of the day all of us in the discipleship process are people who were sinners, have met Jesus, and are striving to be more like Him through prayer, discipleship curriculum, relationships, and life experiences.
In youth discipleship you have many tools at your disposal. Many of these are things like your youth discipleship curriculum that you can use to work towards reaching students for Christ in a variety of ways. But today what I want to look at is the fact that many of your best tools are not always what first comes to mind. But these tools are incredibly valuable and can have an incredible impact on the life of a student.
1. Time- I continue to believe that our time is one of the most valuable resources that we have. Therefore we must use it wisely as we find time to spend alone with God daily, find time for family, and find time for our ministries. But time is also valuable for another reason. Taking the time to sit down with a student or show up to an event can mean the world to them. Often times this is because they know how valuable your time is and appreciate the sacrifice you make in using it to invest in them. But many times it is because no one else in their lives is giving them any time at all. It continues to amaze me how so often we think of these big, fun, and exciting things we can do for our students, like events, when really all they want is the simple things, like time.
2. Wisdom- I always think of wisdom as knowledge combined with experience. Therefore we all have some of it to give. And our students need our wisdom. They are bombarded from all sides with what the world says is wisdom about how to live their lives. We need to make sure that we are there though to impart true wisdom to them about a life filled with hope and joy, even if sometimes that wisdom comes in the form of speaking a harsh truth into their lives in order to save them from themselves.
3. Heart- More than anything, students want to know that they are wanted, loved, and that they belong somewhere. They want to know that someone cares about them and what is going on in their lives. We need to make sure that we are opening our hearts to our students so they know that someone cares and that someone is there to carry their burdens with them and to celebrate their victories.
These are what I believe to be some of the most important tools we have as leaders. What about you? What are your favorites?
Youth discipleship is about far more than just studying a youth discipleship curriculum. It is also about fellowship and doing life together. The problem is that though that there is not enough time to come up with ideas and for many of us we just struggle with coming up with ideas like this anyways. That is why I want to take a moment today to give you a list of youth ministry activities that you can do with those whom you disciple so you can deepen those relationships. Not to mention that many times I find the best spiritual conversations come out of times for relaxation and fun.
In the process of youth discipleship there are some youth discipleship resources that I believe can come in handy. I would like to discuss a few of them today. The first is a calendar. This is because I firmly believe that discipleship is about doing life together. So there will be times where you need to show up to events and other functions in order to show how much you care for and want to support the people whom you choose to disciple. And nothing could hurt that process worse than you missing out on an appointment that you promised to be at. Another thing that is helpful is of course a Bible because part of becoming a disciple is growing in God's word. The last couple of resources are not mandatory but highly suggest them. The first is a journal. I just believe it is nice to be able to document things you want to discuss, prayer requests, as well as triumphs and trials in the process of following Christ. The final resource would be a discipleship curriculum. While a discipleship curriculum is not mandatory, I do believe it is helpful to focus study and your time together with those whom you disciple. Those are the resources I think are most useful. What are you using?
Youth discipleship is about doing life together. So there will be a lot of time for fun and games along the way from trips to go shopping or even camping to ballgames and parties. But eventually the time to get serious will come. Because if you are truly going to disciple someone the time will come where you will take the relationships and the trust you have built with the person whom you are discipling and take the opportunity to speak truth into their life. You will have to call out the sin in their lives and you will have to challenge them to live for greater things. And at times it will feel uncomfortable and like you might even lose the relationship. But if you are not helping them grow in their faith and truly helping them become disciples of Jesus, then what is the point of the relationship anyway?
In youth discipleship I believe a curriculum is important and can be very helpful because it gives structure to your students time together with whomever is discipling them but it also makes it easier for them to turn around and disciple someone else. But out of that, I also want to remind you that some of the best lessons will often not come from a curriculum at all. Instead they will come from the teachable moments you take as you do life with those whom you disciple. These could happen on a car ride, they could happen while doing yard work, or even while folding laundry. And in these moments some incredible, life changing spiritual conversations can happen. So, value your scheduled time together with those you disciple, but remember that some of the best discipleship times will happen outside of that time as you look for opportunity to build relationships throughout the week.