Almost every youth ministry has ‘reaching students for Christ’ as its core mission in one way or another, and rightly so. We know as youth leaders how important it is that teens make the decision to follow Christ before they enter the ‘college years’, because reaching them with the gospel becomes a whole lot harder then. So we put a lot of effort in telling the gospel, in leading students to Christ and encouraging them to make that decision.
In many churches that’s it. The youth leaders feel that once students have committed to Christ, the rest will sort of follow automatically. All you have to do then is keep an eye on them while teaching how to live a good Christian life…
But is that true? Does that work? It seems to me that we shouldn’t be ‘satisfied’ with students choosing to follow Christ. If that’s our end goal so to speak, we’re only making converts. I think we should aim much higher. If we want students to have a faith that lasts through their college years, a faith that lasts a lifetime, we need them to become disciples.
I’ve used the term ‘spiritual journey’ before to describe the road everyone takes from being spiritually dead (unbeliever) to spiritually fully alive (believer and disciple). If we stop investing in our students when they are converts, when they have reached the point of making a decision for Christ, it’s like we’re telling them the journey is over. They’ll sit down in the grass alongside the road, bring out a picnic basket and stay there forever.
Choosing to follow Christ is a great moment, but it’s not the end of the road. There’s more to come. We need our students to become disciples instead of converts, to start following Jesus further down that road. There’s so much more to learn, to discover! They need to grow in their faith, become more mature. We need to equip them for the more difficult parts ahead, because we know their journey won’t always be easy. We need to teach them what they need to know, show them the way, and help and encourage them along the way. We need to make disciples, not converts. Jesus Himself commanded us to do it:
Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you. (Matthew 28:19b, 20a)
Is your youth ministry focused on making converts or disciples? Do you see spiritual growth in your students or is their faith more or less stagnant? If you see little change in your students who have already committed to Christ, if you feel there’s little evidence of God being at work in their life, if their hearts and minds and lives don’t seem to be impacted by the Holy Spirit, maybe it’s time to step up the focus on making disciples.