Followers of Jesus Christ will be marked by their passionate priority to make and multiply Christian disciples. Jesus’ central command in the Great Commission was to make disciples, and the going, baptizing, and teaching the commandments of Christ explain how to fulfill this task (Matt 28:19-20). The term “disciple” means a pupil, a student, a learner, an apprentice, or an adherent. Being a disciple means one who is a close follower of a certain teacher, advocating the same teachings and striving to apply them to every area of life.
The Great Commission applied specifically to the youth means making disciples of Jesus Christ by shepherding the youth to mature into devoted, committed, and serving adult Christians. The foundation of discipleship is the formation of relationships between Christians with the intention of helping believers grow in maturity, learning and applying Christ’s commandments and the principles found in the Word of God to all of life. Discipleship relationships in the church, and specifically in youth ministry, need to be intentionally fostered between students and more mature believers.
The purpose of discipleship is to cultivate lifelong-learners who will follow and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. Christian mentors are to lead, teach, and model, but the most important need is to direct disciples to know and to grow in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Phil 3:8; 2 Pet 3:18). Information, teaching, organization, and programs are important, but their goal is to encourage students toward greater submission, obedience, and devotion.
The pattern for discipleship is the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus initiated the relationship with His first disciples by calling them to a radical commitment to follow Him (Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-34; Luke 5:1-11). Calling others to follow is evangelism and then every step of growth and commitment starting at saving faith and repentance is discipleship. Disciple-makers therefore need to take the initiative: evangelizing for new disciples, following up on evangelism, asking and arranging meeting times, inviting to events or service opportunities where spiritually enriching conversation and fellowship take place.
Discipleship with the youth or otherwise has never been easy: it takes reaching out; it takes time and resources; it takes transparency investing spiritually in others; it takes persevering sometimes even when growth appears very slow or non-existent. But such is the mission of the church, and for every strong Christ-follower, you can guarantee that they had strong Christian mentors discipling them in their walk of faith along the way. Disciple-makers are not passive, but active in initiating, inviting, and investing regularly in the lives of those they have sought out and have committed themselves to mentoring.
The most powerful mentors and disciple-makers are those who can personally identify with those they are mentoring. It is wise for those who have gone through the same seasons of life and struggles of the Christian faith to reach out to those just beginning these same experiences. The Bible says that there should be discipleship relationships established between older men and women in the church with the younger generation concerning the practical realities of the Christian life (Titus 2:1-8). In fact, the Bible states the church is a family, and everyone should view others as fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters (1 Tim 5:1-2). Our church as a family needs to be purposeful in establishing these connections. Who in a different season of life, in the older or younger generation, are you pursuing for the sake of discipleship? I pray that these connections between the wiser and more mature generation and the youth flourishes here at Congregational Bible Church.
Identifying with others also means coming to the discipleship relationship knowing everyone has sin, immaturities, strengths, and weaknesses (Rom 3:23; 1 Cor 3:1-3; Eph 4:13-15). No one wants to open up about their temptations, sin struggles, or life difficulties to those they view as strangers who do not or cannot identify with them; on the contrary, the strongest and most endearing friendships are possible and should happen in discipleship. One can tell when a discipleship relationship has reached maturity when honest and transparent accountability begins to happen and admonition, correction, and confrontation takes place with the mutual understanding that it is based on love and concern (Gal 6:1-5; Eph 4:15; Col 3:16; James 5:16; 19-20). When the youth sense you love them, it is amazing how they will open up and seek biblical counsel.
Discipleship with a busy schedule will always be difficult, but it does not need to be complicated. Preplanning meetings together with the purpose of prayer, Bible study, devotionals, or asking and exploring questions on faith and practice should be straightforward. Three major points of focus are helpful for discipleship meetings: the love of Jesus, the love of others, and the love of mission. The first priority is the love of Christ: how much Jesus loves them, and in response one’s love toward Jesus shown in affection, submission, obedience, and service (John 13:1-20; 14:15; 15:9-17; Eph 5:1).
Loving others in general fellowship and service will serve to enhance and strengthen Christ-centered discipleship (John 13:34-35; Eph 4:2-3; 1 Pet 3:8; 1 John 4:12-13). The opportunities for the youth to serve are very important for their growth as they build connections with other church members who are serve alongside them. Love of mission means stirring up the passion to make more disciples who in turn go, baptize, and teach obedience to the commands of Christ (Matt 28:19-20). Mission does not only mean going on a mission trip, but instead encouraging fellow Christians, and especially the youth, to view their schools, athletic fields, workplaces, and homes as rich mission fields.
In the end, discipleship needs to be a priority, because it is the primary mission of the church and every ministry it undertakes. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the beginning, middle, and end of discipleship. Jesus’ call for radical commitment, obedience, service, sacrifice, and heartfelt worship has not changed (Matt 4:18-22; 5:10-12; Mark 10:45; 12:30-31; Luke 9:23; John 4:24; 14:15). As disciple makers we endeavor to follow in the footsteps of Christ and become examples to help others along the path with us (1 Cor 11:1). Are we making disciples?
- Pastor Spencer Carpenter