#7 Focus on True Discipleship (Mt. 29:18-20)
Coming in at number seven on the Top-Ten-List of things to do to stop the insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results in Youth Ministry is Focus on Discipleship.
While the majority of those leading youth ministries would agree Youth Ministry should focus on discipleship, in the end, most do not practice it. Most would say, “We focus on discipleship, just look at our discipleship groups.” However, if we were to inspect those “discipleship groups” further most often we would find students in small groups that are focused on topics relevant to adolescents: sex, drugs, authorities, choosing friends wisely, etc.
Most youth leaders would say, “those are the relevant topics, we have to deal with in order to (a) peak student’s interests and (b) to educate them on what the Bible says about the topic. Agreed. The problem is neither of those rationales. The problem is the focus.
Allow me to illustrate, how many of you are tired of hearing the ‘how-to’ sermons on weekends? “How to have a great marriage” “How to make wise financial decisions” “How to…” Of course you are, and students in the youth ministries across this nation are tired of hearing it from youth pastors as well. Students are tired of hearing it because genuine discipleship is in no way linked to a Christian self-help course, and intuitively or intellectually the students know it.
Discipleship is about being conformed to the image of Jesus. It’s not that the topics are bad, or not worth addressing. They are biblical and crucial to understand the commands that Jesus talks about in Matthew 28. We should consistently rehearse the commands, principles, and teachings of God.
The issue is that when we focus on topics rather than discipleship, we seek to do spiritual triage with Band-Aids. Most youth ministries have it backwards. They teach on topics hoping that if the students hear about what they should and shouldn’t do, somehow that will miraculously translate into spiritual formation that will “make the tree good” (Matt. 12:33). Focusing on topics is eerily similar to the religious of Jesus day.
The Pharisees were in many respects the very best people of Jesus’ day. But they located goodness in behavior and tried to secure themselves by careful management at the behavioral level. However, that simply cannot be done. Behavior is driven by the hidden or secret dimension of human personality, from the depths of the soul and body, and what is present there will escape. Hence they always failed at some point to do what is right, and had to redefine, re-describe or explain it away–or simply hide it. By contrast the fruit of the spirit, as described by Jesus and Paul, does not consist in actions, but in attitudes or settled personality traits that make up the substance of the “hidden” self, the “inner man.” “Love” captures this fruit in one word, but in such a concentrated form that it needs to be spelled out. Thus, “the fruit (singular) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22) *
“Attitudes or settled personality traits” are not overcome by “management” of behaviors. The problem is far greater and deeper than behaviors. Our sin nature cannot be controlled by behavior modification. We, nor the students in youth ministries around the world, will ever experience the lives we were intended to live until we are consumed by the power of Christ living in us.
Imagine if Youth Ministry ceased to focus on self-help topics and instead focused on being saturated by the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 through walking with Jesus. What would happen if our aim in Youth Ministry was for students to be continually controlled by Jesus through relentless pursuit of Him?
* Dallas Willard, Why Bother with Discipleship? RENOVARE Perspective, Vol. V, No. 4, October 1995. First published in a Biola University bulletin. Available in The Great Omission, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006.