One Wednesday night our group gathered in the back of the church to sit on second-hand couches, talk about Jesus, and consume salty and sugary snacks. I had my lesson and video ready to present, but I feared the night would be filled with awkward silence and distracted conversation.
One of the popular girls in our group showed up with a new guy that seemed older and more sophisticated than most of our group. This guy strolled into the room with a confidence that reflected off his black leather jacket blinding us all. I remember thinking, “If I really knock it out of the park tonight he’ll come back and our group will really start growing.”
I began the lesson and started navigating through the starts and stops of adolescent discussion. But at one point I noticed that the new guy and a few others were losing focus. I turned my attention to what was distracting them and noticed 13-year-old Pete, face down on a lazy boy recliner.
He had his feet spun up to the head rest so that his head was stretched out over the edge of the foot rest. It was a balancing act that forced him to adjust in the chair to hold position. All this gyrating and negotiation with the chair was worth it because on the floor directly below the foot rest was a huge bowl of Munchie Mix which he was shoveling into his face as if he was fattening up to go into hibernation.
I looked back at the group and everyone started laughing. I realized that the lesson was over, the cool guy wasn’t coming back, and this had little to do with the discipleship making that Jesus had called me to. I was frustrated with students failing to take Jesus more seriously. But I also knew that I needed to change how I was discipling them in order for them to take it seriously.
After that night, I still led some studies but I knew we had to get out of the church in order for any significant discipleship to happen. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way:
Look For The Committed
There are always students who have a greater desire to learn about their faith and put it into practice. Identify these students by asking them to commit to something more than just attending every week. Create a leadership group or outreach team who will also commit to praying for your group, reach out to their friends, and serve in the community.
Find Meaningful Challenges
Sometimes discipleship means doing the dirty work just because it needs to get done. But sometimes we are throwing jobs at our youth just because we couldn’t find a meaningful project to sink their teeth into. Youth will learn more about themselves and how God works through them when we match their talents with a corresponding challenge. Look for a significant need in your community and ask your youth how God is leading them to respond.
It’s Not The Destination
Learning to be a follower of Jesus is about following his lead. That kind of learning isn’t meant to be in the back room of the church with salty snacks. Getting your students out of the Church means exposing them to real life experiences that help them see, feel, touch, and smell what it means to be a disciple. We are all tempted to play it safe inside the walls of the church, but Jesus taught his disciples as they were walking, eating, fishing, and fighting because the real world is the richest classroom. It didn’t matter where they were going because the lesson was how to follow not how to arrive.
Have Grace For The Ones Who Don’t Get It
I think the most challenging passages in the gospels are the accounts of Peter and the disciples denying Christ and running away for fear of their lives. The group that Jesus invested 3 years of his life into turned their backs on him during his most trying hours. If the men and women that Jesus discipled lacked that much faith how can we get all hot and bothered about 13-year-olds who are bored of the same old video lesson in the youth room? We need the grace of Christ, especially when kids don’t understand Jesus or why we love him. Grace that was extended to insider and outsider. Grace that was extended to righteous and pagan. Grace that called lowly Galilean fishermen to be his disciples. Grace that forgave those that killed him because they didn’t know what they were doing. We need his grace to follow. We have to extend grace to our youth so that they can follow too.
These discipleship essentials helped get me and my teens out of the youth room and into the world where we could learn to follow Jesus.
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