Rethinking Discipleship
by Chris Sasser

Every now and again, I run into a book, an article, or a video that forces me to rethink some things. As someone who has been in full-time youth ministry for a really long time, I can get stuck in a rut and simply do the things I’ve always done. The question I need to be continually asking is this: Is what we are doing moving the needle when it comes to discipleship? Sure, we’re busy with programs, events, trips, and retreats. We even have small groups and environments where students can talk, but are we really pushing teenagers into a deeper relationship with Jesus and really making disciples? As I’ve been thinking about this again recently, I’ve been reminded of some truths that need to influence the decisions I make and how I steer the ministry God has called me to lead.


First, discipleship doesn’t just happen. I think sometimes we can operate as if the programs we run and the content we deliver will automatically produce the disciples we want. But this rarely happens. True discipleship takes intentionality, time, and a different kind of effort. First off, we need to be doing the things in our lives that lead us into a deeper relationship with God. If we aren’t true disciples ourselves, we cannot expect the ministry we lead to produce true disciples. The teens and parents in our church need their leaders to be just that: leaders. We are not hired guns simply to provide a safe space and a few fun things to do at church. Our calling is bigger than that, and it all starts with our own discipleship.


On that note, we need to understand that teenagers and parents need role models. The families in our church are looking up to us as the “professional Christians” and they often take their spiritual cues from the leadership of the church. Don’t worry; you don’t need to be the only role model for the families in your church. But you may be the one to equip and encourage people in your church to use their influence and be the role models your families desperately need. Part of your job is to facilitate relationships, where teens and adults are learning from each other and growing in authentic community. This takes time and intentional planning, but it is a big part of the discipleship process.


Another thing to remember is that parents and teenagers need space. In a world that offers little or no time and space to just be, we need to be creating opportunities for families to slow down and just take a breath. They need space to think, ponder, and contemplate the glory of God. They might need some help too. Provide prompts or resources that encourage families to take some time to reflect on who they are and how God is moving in their lives.


Finally, I have learned that if I really want to take discipleship seriously, I have to be willing to change. I have to change the way I think, the way I lead, and the program I build. I have to be constantly evaluating how effective our church is at discipling the teens and parents in our midst. If I really hope for them to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus, I need to do everything I can to facilitate that change. It’s more than building an appealing program; it really is rethinking discipleship.