discipleship

A Christ-Centred Approach to Youth Ministry

  • 23 October 2017
  • MinistryLift blogger

I can picture it vividly. It's Friday night, the lights are dim, and the music leader is picking his guitar in the background as he sings about God's love. Meanwhile, the speaker stands up and talks in a loud voice: "Do you know how much God loves you? He loves you so much he sent his Son to die for you! Who wants to accept that love tonight?" Crying, hands start to go up. A few stragglers look around, see who else raised their hands, and decide to raise their own hands too. The leaders anxiously go around the room helping the youth say a prayer for salvation. The night concludes, everyone cries and says goodbye. Later, we all go home. 

On the following Sunday, some of the youth and leaders go to their home church and share with the congregation. "It was an amazing time at youth/camp/mission trip/retreat. We had 15 kids accept Jesus into their lives." Everyone cheers, some people cry tears of joy. Mission accomplished. 

This is often the Canadian church’s mindset; it’s about numbers. How many were there, how many got saved. 

But are these the right questions to be asking?  

Months after these types of experiences, how many of these kids who made a decision for Christ are involved in a local church, serving, and being transformed into Christ-likeness? The impetus of youth ministry can often be placed on making a personal decision for Jesus, but unless these decisions are followed by discipleship, the decisions can end up being meaningless.

So what's the remedy? I believe it's having a discipleship-focused, Christ-centred ministry. A ministry that does not just mention Jesus during an altar call, but a ministry that places Christ and his gospel at the centre; a ministry not focused solely on numbers and entertainment, but a ministry that is focused on relationships and encouraging a life that is holistically centred on him. 

Here are some practical ways you can accomplish this:

First, teach the gospel. This may sound like a no-brainer, but sadly, it's not. In many cases, youth ministries are about making morally and socially acceptable youth, not disciples. Morality is important, but it must always be taught in light of the gospel. Thus, it is important to teach about Christ, our sin, and our need to put faith in Christ for all things. 

Engaging in Tough Discipleship Questions

  • 17 October 2017
  • MinistryLift blogger

When you think of discipleship, what fills you with fear? 

My role as camp director of Camp Likely has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with many young adults and teens. These are teens who desire to follow Jesus with their whole hearts. They want answers to big questions as they face decisions about their futures, friendships, relationships, church, and faith. 

Some of the hardest conversations I have with them are about these big topics. These are challenging conversations because each one comes with a different perspective, sphere of influence, and specific needs. I really don’t want to give them cookie-cutter answers that I know "feel" good or are the "right" thing to say. I want to be able to engage in the conversation authentically, as Jesus did. 

This, however, has been seriously impossible. I have found that when I engage in conversations about sexuality, finances, faith, career, or relationships that I’m not sure what to say or what not to say. These are topics that are so personal, so close to the heart. I don't want to lose the relationship I already have with them by being too assertive with my views. 

My biggest fear in discipleship is being too forward. I struggle with the fine balance of listening and encouraging with correcting, or offering another way of thinking or doing. I know I limit the amount of hard conversations or questions I have because I don't want to lose the relationship. I don't want it to be overly serious. 

However, Jesus still requires me to be a disciple-maker. To be engaged. To be serious. To be fun. To be dependable. To be honest. To be faithful to His ways. 

In a world where many young people are choosing to leave their faith or live it out differently than in the past, I believe we have a call to still engage. Engage in what is going on with those who we are in relationship with. And if we can't even show up, what can we contribute? 

I truly believe that if I won't first address my fears about discipleship or my fears about the big questions or the grey areas of living for Christ, then how can I expect to be an effective disciple-maker? 

How can Jesus use your strengths and weaknesses to point people closer to Him? How can Jesus lead you to engage as He did? 

As we share some of our fears, I believe we will be able to consider what it means to truly engage in the tough questions, discover our role, and identify the obstacles that are stopping us. When I do this, I have noticed that I no longer feel stuck in my weakness but experience the joy of living in Christ's strength (Philippians 4:13).

Discipleship on Mission for Mission

  • 10 October 2017
  • MinistryLift blogger

Josh* just graduated high school, is part of minority people-group, and lives in a not-so-desirable neighbourhood in a mid-size city. He comes from a broken and blended family with not much financial wiggle-room. His claim-to-fame is playing second-string on a two-time defending championship football team. His church is not overtly "cool" and he only started participating in middle school because his parents forced him. How do you disciple Josh?

Josh was invited by his youth leader to join her on a short-term MB Mission team. He was willing, but the obstacles were not insignificant: few guys were going, he didn’t have not enough money, he was the only racial minority participant, and he’d never even been on an airplane before. It was a miracle he even participated.

The money unexpectedly came in the week after he gave up trying and had quietly committed his needs to God in prayer. With the door now open he stepped through. He struggled through team training as the only guy, thought he was going crazy when his ears plugged on the airplane, and endured weeks of reaching out to children in a strange culture which was his least wanted ministry option.  

I met Josh while his team was debriefing its survival of four weeks "over there." He was a little shell-shocked, but as he unpacked the experience and considered where he had met Jesus, he began to see his own context differently. A new man began to emerge. He still referred to his football heroics, but he was no longer reflecting on just the game, but on the needs of his peers—young men like him. He was already beginning to think of guys he could invite next year. Listening to the Holy Spirit, dwelling in the Scriptures, and being attentive to the voices of a disciple-making community were producing a noticeable transformation. Josh was not just learning about Jesus; he was becoming more and more like Him.  

A celebration night capped off his team's debriefing days. Josh nervously paced at the back of the room dreading his turn to address the crowd. When his name was called, however, the gentle giant spoke with confidence, described the transforming power of the love of his team, and the kids he "hated" working with. And he gave voice to a heart responsive to whatever call God had on his life. Which, as was abundantly clear, would lead to a much greater life story than being a two-time defending football champion.

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