Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
The above scripture’s reference used to be painted above the exit door of our youth facility. Now that we have remodeled, I’m getting it put there again. It’s a constant reminder of our mission to the world. I think it’s true to say that the church is pretty good at a lot of things. But what we are not good at sometimes, and should never be bad at, is truly disciplining people. This is not just seeing them “saved”, but actually seeing them rooted with a strong foundation of what it is to be Christian (like Christ). Numbers of salvation are great. But these numbers needed to be disciplined. A number means a person. A person means a life, a living being, an individual. A person needs treated as such. As the above passage says, make disciples (a person who follows with all of their being), baptize them (a person’s new identity, symbolizing entrance into the Kingdom and body of believers), teach them to obey commands (a person living the life that follows the confession of Christ as Lord). Christianity is not just a prayer prayed and survival until heaven. It’s a lot about what happens in between.
Here are some random (or maybe not) observations about disciplining: You cannot disciple people with pizzazz. The use of technology and excellence in what we present in our churches and youth ministries is not what will disciple anyone. Sort of like, “Come sit in our service and we will dazzle you with our tech, lighting, great music and illustrated sermons. If you come each week (’cause we are the greatest thing going) you will turn into a Christ follower.” We need to often remind ourselves that corporate worship and teaching do not need technology. It’s a great tool, use it if you can/want to, but it’s not what makes anyone a disciple. Corporate worship is vital, as is the teaching in corporate settings. But eventually the pizzazz of technology and excellence wears off and what we do personally with people is what matters.
(And let me throw this in with pizzazz. The working of miracles and gifts of the Spirit are not a substitute or discipleship either. They are signs. They affirm. Though they accompany a believer, they are not what disciple people. And if people are focused only on them, they become shallow.
They will simply turn into sign seekers and not much more. They end up looking for emotional pizzazz. You cannot disciple people through feeding them a diet of emotional pizzazz.)
While what was just said above about tech and excellence should be obvious. Discipleship cannot be accomplished from behind a pulpit alone. It is also certainly not done by sitting behind a desk all week (this is a jab at professional ministry & myself). We have professionalized the minister so much that he/she simply manages a company and speaks once or twice a week. Again, what happens in the corporate setting is very important, is needed, and should be prioritized. We need to come together. Scripture is clear on this. We all need to get under good pulpit teaching. A lot gets accomplished in the corporate setting. These times are purposed by God. But discipleship needs to go beyond this.
(And here’s another random thought that I will just kind of leave hanging out there: You cannot disciple someone by shouting at them. The church not only needs to say the right things, but be careful how we say them…)
Discipleship takes seasons of sowing. Not just “here’s a booklet” or simply “take this three week class.” It is consistent seasons of sowing. It takes the personal rub of relationships (This necessitates the need for more than just the professional minister. All of the Body of Christ should be those who disciple. All believers are ministers in this regard.) That also means what is big must at times get small (and smaller than a small group). Big church is not bad. But we must get small consistently. That’s where the personal rub of relationship happens. The personal rub of relationships uncovers that everyone has a story. It uncovers that people are met by God at certain places in their lives. Discipleship helps build a road to where they need to go from there. Discipleship is personal.
I write this to challenge you in how you are working with your students. I am constantly asking myself if I, and my volunteer staff, are doing all we can to disciple those who we have the opportunity to be with. I am in the process of tweaking things again. Be creative. Truly get personal with your students and discipleship them. If you lead a volunteer team, get them doing it to. It is vital to do this right. What is right? Whatever gets small, gets personal, and builds.