Youth discipleship is the process of building relationships for the purpose of helping them grow in their faith so they can turn around and disciple others. Because of this the temptation is to just always go with the flow as far as what a student is doing or what they want to talk about. But this is not always the best strategy for spiritual growth. Sometimes you have to go against the grain in order for a student to go from where a student is to where God wants them to be. This can be a scary proposition because you may feel that you run the risk of offending the student or turning them away. But if you correct, redirect, and push them out of love you should not have anything to worry about. And besides, if you are helping the student grow, the relationship is not doing them any good anyways.
Youth discipleship is often something that gets added to our youth ministry schedule like our midweek services or our small group Bible studies. This is fine in itself because this way students are more likely to stay disciplined and actually continue in their discipleship relationships. But we have to realize that just because discipleship is on the schedule for an hour during the week that may not be the only time that discipleship needs to occur. Your students may need you for accountability and wisdom in the middle of the night. They may need you to be there for them at an important event. You may have to meet two to three times in one week because in order to be able to fully digest a challenging study topic. But regardless of what the situation is, you have to remember that since discipleship is about doing life together, it has not timetable. Therefore you must be ready and available to disciple your students whenever the opportunity or need arises.
I wish I could tell you that the process of youth discipleship is going to be one victory after another. But while there will be victories and celebrations there will also be defeats and struggles. Therefore we must be prepared to handle this difficult times, both in our own lives as well as our students. I encourage you to find support and accountability. This way when frustrations and difficulties come as you disciple youth, you can have someone to process through things with so that you can better understand the situation and respond to it. This way you do not just unload your frustrations on the student you are discipling when it may have been a case of you needing to change your approach. But what about the defeats in your students lives? I believe we do as Jesus did and take it on a case by case basis. Sometimes we will just be broken with our students and show them compassion in their failures and their difficult times. But other times we will boldly proclaim truth and give them direction in where they should go and what needs to change. But either way, make sure that you are aware that defeats will come so that you are not caught off guard and are prepared to handle them in the best manner.
Youth discipleship brings about the ultimate reward: Seeing someone come to Christ, grow in their faith, and turn around and reach others for Christ. Nothing else in ministry could be more valuable than that process. Because of this, no investment of time and resources is too great in this process. Why? Well it is the idea of opportunity cost. This is an economics vocabulary word that means when you choose one thing you cannot choose something else. So if you buy lunch one day you won't be able to use that money to buy a movie ticket later. Well in ministry we have limited time and resources. So when we invest them in one thing we cannot invest them somewhere else. Which is why I say that any investment is worth it when it comes to discipleship. Because at the end of the day, if people are coming to Christ, who cares what else we did not get to do.
Youth discipleship is a long process. Because following Christ and growing in our relationship with Him is a journey with many successes and a few failures on the way. There are many ups and downs and we must guide our youth through those so they can become fully developing followers of Christ. Because of that we must be flexible in the way that we disciple. And even though we have a schedule, a plan, and a curriculum we have to know where there are times that this must be done away with so we can better meet the needs of our students. So sometimes when we get together it may not be time to study but instead to just cry and pray together. Other times we may need to spend omoBecause as we have said, at the end of the day discipleship is about doing life together and we must be ready for whatever life may throw our way.
In youth discipleship our model is Jesus. And Jesus knew that as He was investing in His disciples so that He could eventually send them out to tell the world about Him. And ever since that first model of discipleship, the cycle has continued. We disciple so that we can send people out and they too can go out and make disciples. This is extremely important because I fear many of us disciple in hopes that those people will always rely on us. I understand the feeling. It is nice to be wanted and it is like the parent not wanting to let go of their child. But just like parent, if we have done our job well we can send the person out whom we have invested in and they will be successful. And they will still need us to an extent but just not in that full reliance that they did initially.
In youth discipleship I think it is important to remember that Jesus spent His ministry investing in 12 guys, and one of those betrayed Him. The reason I say that is that often times we get so caught up in numbers that we think we need to disciple everyone. Now I believe that is a good heart. We should desire to disciple everyone. But as we see in Jesus' ministry, some people are just not ready yet. Think about the rich young ruler who walked away because He was not ready to fully commit to following Jesus. Also, if we are honest with ourselves we realize that we cannot disciple everyone. But we can fully invest in a few that can start a chain reaction of life change all over the world. So dream and plan big in hopes that all people become disciples. But invest in a few so that this dream can become a reality.
There is so much to youth discipleship that I believe the best way to sum it up is doing life together. I am sure I did not coin this phrase so I do not even begin to try and take credit for it. But I think it is the perfect way to some up our greatest calling, building disciples. If you do not believe me just look at the Bible. When Jesus worked with His disciples and gave us the model for discipleship they did far more than just discuss the scriptures. Yes that was part of it but they also walked through life together and Jesus looked for opportunities to teach and set an example in everyday circumstances. We need to do the same thing. We need to study the Bible with our students and look for curriculum that helps us do just that. But we also need to walk through life with our students and bring them along in our everyday experiences. Then in those experiences look for opportunities to show our students what it truly means to follow Christ with all of our lives.
Youth discipleship is about helping the students whom you disciple find their next steps in their faith. When I hear this it automatically makes me think about three things, and I believe it should do the same for you. First, you need to know your students so you know where they are spiritually and can help them take that next step. So make sure that you have a strong, honest relationship with your students so you can know exactly where they are. Next, the Christian life happens one step at a time. This is important to remember so that we can always know that a student has a next step and their is growth that can happen. But also that students do not need to skip any steps. Finally, taking next steps means tough love sometimes. When you teach a baby to walk they fall and hurt themselves from time to time. But that is the only way that they will move on from crawling so you have to allow that to happen. It is the same thing spiritually speaking. Sometimes we have to let your students go out and do ministry and get hurt. Sometimes we have to speak a hard truth into their lives that they will not want to hear. But in this process they learn to walk spiritually and maybe even run and they are truly made into disciples.
One of the biggest keys to youth discipleship is patience. You must be willing to stick with the process of helping the students you are put in charge of grow in their faith and understand what it truly means to be a disciple. Because this will take time and there will be many ups and downs. I know this not only from my own experience of working with youth but also from studying scripture. Because if you remember Jesus' disciples were about the same age of most of our youth. And for a long time they did not get it. And many times Jesus would come down on them fairly hard when they were not grasping the truth He was speaking and the vision He was trying to give them for their lives. But He stuck with them and even forgave them when they turned their backs on Him. This is our model for discipleship and we must follow up. We do not take things easy on our youth but we are patient to stick with them in the discipleship process regardless of what challenges it brings.