The Challenge of Making Youth into Disciples of Jesus
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
The question sounded so simple in my head. It was extremely easy to ask, “What does discipleship look like?” But the room of 19 to 29-year-olds went completely silent. I quickly thought about my question to search for a reason why the once talkative group suddenly became silent. I searched for another way to ask the question, “Can anyone define discipleship?” Still, there were blank stares.
Once we pushed past the silence, we ended up having a great discussion on discipleship that evening. Since then, I have had many conversations with others in this age group on this topic, they have left me wrestling with the following thoughts:
- “We were never taught to be disciples.”
Wait doesn’t the church teach evangelism and discipleship? Don’t we learn how to pray, read the Bible, and give our testimony in our Sunday School classes?
- “I am always told to just invite my friends to church.”
They did not feel comfortable inviting most of their friends because of how the church would react to their friends or how the friends would react to the church. And these students looked at their mission as being the ones who invite others to hear about Jesus Christ through someone else who has been trained, not through them.
- “Becoming a Christ follower is taught in a way that makes it sound easy and comfortable… but it is not.”
This discussion went along the lines of: your life will be better with Christ, you will have peace, you will be blessed, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is free, you will have a friend in Jesus, we are in this as a big family, etc.
- “Where is the Holy Spirit?”
From their perspective, the Holy Spirit is rarely talked about, unknown, and seemingly absent from church. When they make it known that the Holy Spirit guides them, some were told that the Holy Spirit only speaks through Scripture.
I guess it comes down to this: Are we making disciples of Jesus Christ, or disciples of the local church?
The reality is that most of us who are working with teenagers are trying extremely hard to make disciples of Jesus Christ. But there is also the reality that what we are doing is not as effective as what it could be. I do not believe there is a one-size fits all solution to these concerns. However, we must start with Jesus Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship: “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”
What type of Christianity are we offering? Are we inviting students into a life-changing, loving relationship that will cost them dearly? Or are we inviting students into a life of attending church and church functions?
Here are a few things that God has pressed on my heart as ways to better make disciples.
Start with MISSION.
I have heard it said that if we start with community, mission may not happen. But if we start with mission, community will happen naturally. We must be people with a mission. But this mission must not be rooted by guilt. We should not serve God out of duty or guilt.
I recently heard Ron Frost say, “Mission begins in God’s own heart. We are made by God and for God.” When we enter into a loving relationship with God, then we can come to fully understand what mission is because it comes from God. This is why Jesus says ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ The second greatest commandment is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
It starts with love. God loving us. Then we reciprocate that love back to God, and we invite others into this loving relationship with God. When others take up the offer, then we have fellowship with them as well! We were created to love. Read 1 John and let the Holy Spirit speak to you!
Hold Their Hand.
A couple of years ago, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota had the “Do-Groove” campaign. A guy in a maroon shirt starts to groove to the music and tries to get people to groove with him. Sometimes he is successful and sometimes he is not. What I appreciate about the commercials is that he is not just up there talking about getting exercise. He is out there trying to get people to do it with him. This needs to define my life. I need to Do Life Together with people to make disciples of Jesus Christ. I can’t just preach about forgiveness. I need to model it. I can’t just talk about grace, I need to showcase it. I can’t just teach a Sunday School class about how to study the Bible. I need to meet consistently with them so we can do it together. A young adult said it this way: We need to hold their hand.
Paul writes something remarkable in Philippians 1:29 “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.” Did you catch that? We have the PRIVILEGE of SUFFERING for Christ! I wonder how we, the Bride of Christ, would look different than we do now if we took this to heart. This is especially true here in the United States where our personal comfort seems to trump everything else. Let’s start communicating this part of the Gospel. No, it will not drive people away from Jesus. It will have the opposite effect. Take abortion for example. What would happen if we Christ followers would make it known to those we know facing an unplanned pregnancy that we will do everything to take care of them and the baby? We might not be able to afford a new car or go on that vacation we have been planning. We might be shunned by other Church goers. But Pro Life would actually have weight and meaning and we would shine like stars in the universe pointing to the love of our lives: God.
Yes, There is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We pray to the Father. We recognize the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and we pray in his name. But what about the Holy Spirit? In John 14, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Advocate and lets us know that he leads us into all truth and that he never leaves us. We need to learn to recognize the Holy Spirit in our lives. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit in our lives. Just like with suffering for Jesus, the Holy Spirit is designated for disciples of Jesus Christ. Read Acts and see the work of the Holy Spirit. Then ask him to work in your life and hold on for the ride.
I encourage you to seek the Lord and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you on this… Is there a problem with how we currently do discipleship, and if so, what is the Holy Spirit leading you to do differently?
Blake Birdsall (left) is on staff with Verge Ministries as a local ministry site director. Its local ministry is called Roots Communities, creating a community of young adults who seek to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ in the community of Becker, Big Lake, Monticello and Elk River area.