As a youth pastor, discipleship is one of the most important aspects of ministry. In the process of pastoring students, from the decision to follow Jesus and leading them on a journey of living that out, my desire is to be faithful with the season of time God has given me with a young person.
Truth be told, it’s not possible to disciple every student in my youth ministry, but this is why I have a team. So I disciple students based on this principle, “Do for one, what you wish you could do for all.”
What does a culture of discipleship look like? These are some things I’m learning along the way. It is what I choose to live by, and what I ask my team to live by.
Jesus didn’t ask us to generate decisions, but to make disciples. The real growth in your ministry isn’t who comes through the front door, but who actually stick it out and become a part of the church. It’s easy to be wowed by big numbers after a big invite night; but really the number we need to base ministry effectiveness on has everything to do with the students who are being discipled.
Jesus didn’t ask us to create disciples who follow us, but disciples who follow him. We can unknowingly make ourselves idols in our students’ lives, or we can make your expression of youth ministry an idol in our students’ lives… in the long run this only destroys their faith journey. Youth ministry is at its core a transitional ministry, and therefore it is important that we are creating disciples of Jesus not disciples of ourselves or our ministry model.
Discipleship isn’t a program where you get people to follow a plan you’ve come up with. A personal discipleship program is as unique as that person is; when you try to make every person fit a certain style of discipleship or method of discipleship, you most certainly will be partially effective. Ask God to give you a specific plan, tailored to the personality and life journey of the individual you are discipling. Forcing students to fit your discipleship program, makes it easy for a youth pastor or leader to blame a student for not following through. Sometimes its how we disciple a student that makes all the difference.
Discipleship is messy, requires work and a stubborn commitment. If you are a committed, willing-to-grow kind of youth pastor or youth leader, the problem won’t be finding fish, but growing your nets. You have to be willing to handle the growing-pains of a student as they are being discipled. It’s not always fun and fulfilling; there are moments you want to pull your hair out and throw in the towel. Just keep going, God will help you disciple well.
Discipleship Is Possible
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18–20 NLT
Jesus calls us to join Him in His amazing work of loving people to heaven. Discipleship is a part of that journey. What God has begun in us, He asks us to give away to every person we interact with. If you’re a youth pastor or youth leader, you probably think the same way.
As we disciple students, our example is Jesus. We often wait for our students to initiate discipleship, but I think this is backwards. People who meet Jesus for the first time, don’t often know what they need, who to turn to, or how to live. It’s our job to make sure discipleship moments happen. Get creative in reaching out and bringing students alongside you in your journey.
Always be willing to go the distance. Jesus didn’t give up on his disciples. Even to the point of them betraying him, disowning him, and walking away from him. Look for the positive growth moments, where a student has changed; use that as encouragement and be a catalyst that propels them forward still; the last thing a student needs is your condemnation or indifference.
As you disciple a student, be committed to growing in Jesus yourself. You can only take someone where you have gone yourself, and it requires you to develop and grow as a Jesus-follower yourself. Sometimes as pastors and youth leaders, we can get so addicted to people, that we forget that we need to first be addicted to Jesus ourselves. If you’re personally not connected to Jesus yourself, you’ll only ever point people to you or your gifting.
Embrace the pain, travails, wins, losses, ups, downs of discipleship; it is entirely fulfilling. There’s something so amazing about the depth of relationship, the fulfillment that’s a result of a lifetime of discipleship. Believing in people, being a part of their lives, watching them grow in Jesus is one of the most fulfilling things to do. The only thing you will ever take to heaven with you are the relationships you’ve built through the years. Your gifting might fade, your abilities will one day be eclipsed by someone else, but what remain are your relationships.
God doesn’t ask us to grow big ministries, but to grow big people. That begins with moments that aren’t glamorous or attention-grabbing, but grace-led, filled-with-love and selflessly-faithful.
Discipleship is possible… and it starts with us.