Ministry can be frustrating. There are so many factors that contribute to our frustrations that we can compile a comprehensive list, but do you know what factor that has caused me the most frustration? Discipleship. You’re probably thinking “Really? Out of all the things that can frustrate you? Its discipleship?” Yes, discipleship frustrates me, because like you, I’m trying to figure out how I can help my students become disciples of Jesus Christ.
So what do we do when we’re not happy with how discipleship looks like in our ministries? We usually do three things: (1) we read books about discipleship and hope it gives us the answers we’re looking for; (2) we ask another minister what they’re doing for discipleship in their ministry, hoping they solved the great mystery, or (3) we start searching other youth ministry websites to see if they have any discussions about it. I have done all three of these things, and unfortunately, I can’t get a straight answer. This is probably due to the fact that there really is no correct way on how discipleship looks like; however, what I have noticed is we have unintentionally accepted a right way on how discipleship should look like in our ministries.
A little over a month ago I was looking at a forum for youth ministers and the topic of discussion for this forum was “what should discipleship look like?” As I was reading through this forum, I started to notice a few trends on what discipleship looks like. Furthermore, I noticed the answers that were given were the same answers I would find in books I’ve read or what other youth ministers, I know personally, have told me. Here is a list of what we have deemed as acceptable answers for discipleship:
- A small group. This small group can take place at a church or a home, usually I find more people favoring homes than the church.
- An in-depth study. This study can include going through a book of the bible verse by verse, a topical study on various subjects, or everyone reading the same book i.e. Crazy Love. This study takes place in a small group.
- Accountability/mentoring. This can also take place in a small group, where everyone is mutually being accountable to one another so everyone can be built up. During this accountability time, mentoring can take place too.
- Relationships. We want our students to be connected to each other, and we want ourselves and our leaders to be connected to them as well. This can happen anywhere, but we believe the best place for this to happen is in a small group.
- A process. This is the idea that we have designated certain ministries for each person, who is ready to move into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. A student being involved in a small group is used as an indicator they want a deeper walk with Christ.
Can we all agree these are the five answers we will most likely get when it comes to what discipleship looks like in a church setting? A majority of us are probably doing all five of these methods, or at least trying to accomplish them. Now, my issues isn’t with small groups and what happens in them, and in fact, I believe we should all have small groups that try to incorporate these methods. My main issue is how small our view of discipleship is. Can we really say discipleship is taking place because our students are participating in a small group that tries to incorporate these methods? And if you’re honest with yourself, the answer is no, because if we could say yes, then we wouldn’t be asking everyone “what does discipleship look like,” so we can make sure we’re doing it right.
Now many of you (including myself) have built our ministries around this idea of discipleship, and I know what you are thinking, “But Josh, that’s what Jesus did. He got twelve guys together and he invested in their lives.” And I will whole heartedly agree with you, that’s what Jesus did. Yet, there’s a problem with this thinking, because we’re viewing it wrong. Jesus’ overall ministry of developing disciples was investing in twelve lives, but it’s what he did as his investment that we should look at as discipleship.
So how did Jesus invest in his disciples? He worshiped his Father with them, he taught them, prayed for them, sent them out to share the Kingdom of Heaven with others, let them struggle in the water, showed them how to serve others, and the list goes on and on. Unlike us, who have narrowed our view of discipleship to a few methods, Jesus used everything as a means of discipleship. And I believe Jesus’ approach to everything is discipleship is the best way we can develop our students as disciples.
We need to come to the conclusion that everything in our ministries is discipleship, and our students need everything we offer them so they can develop as a disciple of Jesus Christ. And in my ministry, I’ve chosen to give up on discipleship only being what happens in a small group, and by doing that, I’ve freed myself from the frustration of trying to figure out if I’m doing discipleship right. So if you’re frustrated and unhappy because your discipleship ministry isn’t cutting it, then do what I’ve done and try the Jesus approach, and allow everything to be discipleship.