In my last post, we talked through the toughness of the summer schedule in the youth ministry world and how crucial it is for each of us to find the “Summer Sweet Spot” for our summer ministry plans. That post was aimed at the woes of the programming world in which we operate, but in this post I want to focus on the other, more important area of summer discipleship. In my context of 100+ students, I am hoping to provide discipleship frameworks that can work for large ministry contexts. For a small ministry context, check out this awesome post by Brent Aiken.
Before we get too far away, let me define the word discipleship for the reader. First, the term discipleship is a “hip” word in church circles and whenever a word achieves the status of “hip,” definitions get muddled. Secondly, discipleship is the fundamental process in which we are formed by God as we follow Him. We are formed by God by His Word, His Spirit, His Church, and His People.
Put simply, discipleship means joyful constancy to Jesus Christ.
Discipleship is more than a weekly meeting with a mentor, more than reading your Bible, and definitely more than reading your favorite authors or listening to famous pastors. Discipleship looks different for different people in varying contexts, but don’t let the word’s popularity muddle the fact that it’s about joyously following Jesus. Here are two quotes I can’t get over from Bonhoeffer in his classic book The Cost of Discipleship:
“Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ… And a Christianity of that kind is nothing more or less than the end of discipleship. In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ. Because the Son of God became Man, because he is the Mediator, for that reason alone the only true relation we can have with him is to follow him.” Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2012-08-07). The Cost of Discipleship (p. 59).
“And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy.” Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2012-08-07). The Cost of Discipleship (p. 38).
Now that we have a clear definition of discipleship, what does it mean for us to have summers filled with discipleship in our student ministries? I am not setting out to give you a prescription of how to effectively engage in discipleship, but I believe there are three frameworks that help us think through summer discipleship in a larger student ministry.
DISCIPLESHIP AS THE GOAL
On the first Sunday of summer, I tell my students that one of the best things they can do that summer is to set goals. Goals are like little maps that tell us where we want to go. If you never set a destination (goal), you never know if you got anywhere. Would you get frustrated with Siri not telling you where to go if you never set a destination? If you said yes, then we have way more serious things to talk about.
Summers for youth pastors fly by with camps, retreats, trips, and teaching. If you never set discipleship as a goal, it should come as no surprise that you saw little or no involvement in summer discipleship with your group. Discipleship takes planning, effort, and resources just like summer camp.
DISCIPLESHIP IN MARGINS
How do you respond when someone passes you in the hall and says, “Hey man! How are you doing?” There is a good chance that somewhere in your response you mentioned your busyness. “Doing good! Just really really busy!” There are multiple reasons why we mention our busyness when we respond to others inquiring about our life. Namely, our culture glorifies “busy.” But being overly busy doesn’t glorify God. What glorifies God is teaching students to live a life of joyful constancy to Jesus Christ. These opportunities for teaching will never be seized without margins in your life.
Margins in your life are your greatest defense against busyness. View your life as a piece of paper (if you view it as a fireworx martian green sheet…that says something about you) and think of your schedule as text filling that sheet. Is the sheet of paper covered in words by your work and personal schedule?
Let me ask you for one more response, “Are you too busy for discipleship?” If you have zero margins in your life, not only are you living an unsustainable pace, you are too busy for discipleship.
DISCIPLESHIP IN TRANSITION
As your group grows you will realize that you can’t personally connect with every student on a consistent basis. This means that some students need more of your time depending on life situations. Apart from tragedies and depression, the greatest student in need of discipleship are those in transition. The students who are transitioning from children’s ministry to student ministry, from MS to HS, and from HS to college need your attention. Transitions cause anxiety, stress, and worry in students’ lives and it is an incredible opportunity to show the joyful constancy that the Lord brings to their life by following Him. The greatest lesson in discipleship you can teach this summer is that even when our lives are in transition, God remains constant.
Your greatest opportunity for discipleship this summer is with your students in transition.
DISCIPLESHIP AS THE GOAL, IN THE MARGINS, AND IN THE TRANSITIONS
Discipleship is messy. Discipleship is hard. Discipleship is the most important thing you do. As disciplers may we disciple our students to joyful constancy in Jesus Christ.
What are some frameworks that you would add as we think about discipleship in a large ministry context?