There's a constant agitating thought that occurs every time I think about youth ministry. It’s a thought that every youth pastor is plagued by. There are so many Christians in this world, but very few are disciples. I see a lot of students accepting Christ, but it seems like very few are taking the next step towards discipleship. Sometimes I feel like Elijah, looking around for leaders that are furthering the cause of Christ. I feel like I'm scrounging for disciples, and very few seem ready to take that journey. I want to be as transparent and honest about this as possible. I'm struggling, guys. I find myself wide awake at night thinking, "Where did I go wrong? Where is the boldness we read about in Acts? Why are the kids that call themselves 'Christians’ so apathetic about discipleship?”. Am I alone at the top of this mountain, or are there leaders waiting in plain sight, ready to pursue this?
The past few weeks, I've been praying for direction, praying about where I missed God's guidance on equipping the next generation. As I questioned every action, a single thought came to mind. I've been so caught up trying to invite my students to become Christians; I never thought to first invite them into discipleship.
Go back and reread that last sentence. Seriously, read it. Meditate on it. Be captivated by it. Because when you first read it, you might be thinking "No duh." Discipleship is our commission; it’s a no brainer that we need to be inviting students into discipleship.” Really think about all the programming and the conditions we've placed on our students to become disciples. Think about what you've been inviting your students into when you invite them to Christ.
I don't know about you, but I've been creating an unnecessary step to discipleship. I've created a step that says, "Okay, you've accepted Jesus Christ as your redeemer, now wait a couple of years, hear a wisdom series every now and then, work on reading your bible more, start praying more, follow God, and when you've tested the spiritual waters of faith, a leader might see your character development and invite you into discipleship." This might be an exaggeration of what I've created, but you get the point. We've designed these little steps of improvement before a student gets an invite to go further. Why? So we can see that our time won't be wasted on someone who doesn't care? Where in the early church did we ever see the invitation to Christ portrayed as a delayed process of behavior modification AND THEN an intimate life changing walk with Christ? "Oh you want to acknowledge Christ as Savior? I'll see you in a year when you're really ready to follow him…."
This isn't to put anyone down; this is revisiting what we may have lost sight of in our ministries. Jesus, John, James, Peter and Paul never created a step before discipleship, it was always a command, "Come follow me” (Matt 4:19), “Take up your cross and Follow Me” (Matt 16:24), “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1), “You have heard the gospel, but also with power from the Holy Spirit in full conviction. You saw who we were. And you imitated us and the Lord, for you received the word with affliction yet you received it with joy from the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6). The first step to discipleship is simple. Follow Christ. Follow me as I follow Christ. Imitate his disciples and the Lord. Why add more work on a decision that's made in faith?
What about the Cost of Discipleship? What about the parable of the tower and the army? What about the rich man that left disappointed, and the crowd that walked away freaked out when Jesus said, "Eat my body, drink my blood?"? What's so simple about that? How is that inviting? We look at Jesus laying out the cost, as if Jesus is complicating the process, but the cost of discipleship was not set in place to make life harder, it was an acknowledgment that life IS hard. These stories are a realistic look at what discipleship is like. It’s not about making good life choices, but taking on a lifestyle. The Cost of Discipleship isn't the step after salvation; the Cost of Discipleship is our step into salvation.
Discipleship is knowing that life will throw everything it has at you once you take up your cross. It’s acknowledging the enemy has a bullet with your name on it. When you go against the grain of culture and rise above the human standard, people will notice and hate you for it because they are living in the same misery and torment that you're living in, but for some reason you're not shaken by it. Death, sickness, and persecution wait for you at every corner, but the Creator of the Universe is walking with you in every heart breaking moment. He is the comfort that will follow every tear, and just when you feel like you've lost it all, He whispers hope into your soul, and victory sparks in the midst of defeat. This is the cost of discipleship. It is a call to salvation, which is transparent about the odyssey unfolding before you. The first step of discipleship is simple. “Follow me”.
What are your thoughts? What are the first steps you create for new believers in your youth? What are some challenges you face in creating a culture of discipleship? Agree? Disagree?
Sam Pettersen is a youth worker and a DYM Author - check out his resources right here!