Have a Discipleship Process You Can Be Proud Of
In my local church, Tuesday morning was check-in time during our weekly staff meeting. We were all expected to say something during professional check-in time, and inevitably it became a bit of a contest for who was “doing the most.” I had a basic, formulaic reply “We did ________ over the weekend, it went great. [Insert a challenge, success, and maybe a story from the event] That’s it for me.” Inevitably, I’d get the question back, “So, how many youth did you have there? What was the attendance?”
Success in youth ministry is about so much more than attendance. We do need to know who is there, for many reasons. But we also need to know what youth are doing because of their experiences as a part of ministry life.
In efforts to describe, understand, and measure church vitality, many churches are evaluating and creating a “discipleship process” for those who are a part of their faith family. Each church can create their own process, but all processes are really designed to create one thing: world-changing disciples of Jesus Christ. With so much focus on church culture, discipleship systems, and discipleship processes, youth leaders may feel pressured to “produce” something. Often, church leadership asks that “something” to be more people, more active members, new brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now, in American culture, we like to think of processes as things that have inputs and outputs; that things we put in at the beginning go through a process and come out shaped and formed into a specific end product. Yet, youth becoming members of a denomination or a local church should not be the end product of a discipleship system. The purpose of youth ministry is not to have a confirmation class where youth graduate out of youth ministry and (hopefully) into something else. A discipleship process may not necessarily have a clean ending. It may not produce what you think it will produce.
John 15:1-17 uses the imagery of vines, branches, and fruit to talk about the results of living a life of faith. Note that in a life of discipleship, we are called to bear fruit. Jesus doesn’t say we will only make apples…or oranges…or pomegranates…or even durian. We are called to bear fruit through lives of discipleship, and there are so many different kinds of fruit in the world!
The fruit that is the end result of a discipleship process really should not be measured in attendance or membership. It should not be a box that we can simply check as “completed” on our to-do list in life. The end result of an effective discipleship process should result in a person who reflects on their experience in the process, and then does two things:
1) Bears fruit by putting what they learned or experienced in the process into practice in their life;
2) Bears fruit by returning to the process in order to learn more, experience more, and grow more deeply connected to the vine and branches.
I think a good example in my own life is the journey through the Disciple Bible Study series. Each study was its own contained process, designed to get me more familiar with scripture, and think about how I could apply it in my life. Then, upon reaching the end of the workbook, I would find myself reflecting upon what I had gained in that time spent with the materials and friends. In that reflection, the question “All right, what now?” would always come up. The completion of one Disciple workbook would encourage me to pick up the next one. Or encourage me to connect with another group, start serving in some way, do more with my faith.
Perhaps at the end of Bible studies, short-term studies, or the school year, you could ask some of these kinds of questions to kickstart youth back into a new discipleship process:
- How are you engaged in the replication of faith?
- How are you being a multiplier of faith?
- Are you more like Jesus after this ______________ (bible study, project, year, etc)?
- How are you finding freedom like in Galatians 5?
- How are you moved to action because of your faith?