Don’t just hang with the kids, equip them to follow

Well it’s cold outside—too cold for any sanity (the weatherman err, person, says it could hit the -40s with wind chill). -40 is insane, in anyone’s language. However, let me see if I can hit the right keys and produce a sane document (just for the record, I am indoors and I have my beanie on. (To my Canadian friends, my toque).

But that is not the point of this paper. I want to focus our thoughts on discipleship. Discipleship is at the top of all our lists when it comes to our goals for ministry. It sits right next to its brother, evangelism. We all want to see young people discipled—we want them to be strong, passionate followers of Jesus who are equipped to take on the changes and chances of this fleeting world.

But, do we really do it? As I think through what discipleship is, and how we do it… and even when I chat with experienced youth leaders, it seems that our thinking may be a bit muddled. It is here that I want to give a plug for a great book—it is Bill Hull’s The Complete Book of Discipleship. This is a masterful treatment of the subject (be warned, it is not a book you skim through in an hour or so- it is indeed, meat not milk).

Hull gives a very clear, simple and effective understanding on what discipleship is. He also gives us a real jab, more of a 2×4 upside our collective heads to get discipleship right.

“Simply, discipleship means learning from and following a teacher. However, while we can define discipleship in these simple terms, something about the discipleship movement has never quite made it into the heart of the church. I find it particularly puzzling that we struggle to put disciple-making at the center of ministry even though Jesus left us with the clear imperative to ‘make disciples.’ (p. 24)

Following, however, isn’t short term. Discipleship isn’t a program or an event; it’s a way of life. It’s not for a limited time, but for our whole life . . . . Discipleship isn’t just one of the things the church does; it is what the church does.  (p. 24)

Hull reminds us that discipleship is simply teaching people to follow Jesus. It is not simply enough to turn to the Christ in one impassioned ‘spiritual moment’ after a fiery sermon. We don’t simply go down the front of church to say a prayer and then move on. We deny ourselves, take up the cross of Christ and follow him to death.

It seems that we are so focused on numerical growth through evangelism that we have dropped the ball when it comes to helping those converts actually follow the one they have converted to.

Discipleship is not about attending a young person’s sporting event or having pizza with someone to ‘hear their story’. Hey, these are awesome, excellent things to do and may assist or flow from discipleship. However, discipleship, at its heart, is teaching someone the scriptures. It is opening up the manual and unpacking it for someone who wants to follow the master who wrote it. We must do this unashamedly, wisely and make it the key plank of our youth program.

I’ll leave you with some tasty Hull quotes.

Unfortunately non-discipleship ‘Christianity’ dominates much of the thinking of the contemporary church. In addition to sucking the strength from the church, Christianity without discipleship causes the church to assimilate itself into the culture. And sadly, whenever the difference between the church’s and culture’s definition of morality ceases to exist, the church loses its power and authority. (p. 16)

In particular, the church in America has superseded the theoretical for pragmatism, creating a marketplace model of church and society. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who toured America in the 1800s and recorded his impressions, said, ‘Where you expected to find a priest, you found a politician—or a salesperson.’  (p. 27)

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