DISCIPLESHIP IS NOT A BUFFET!

4031771702_b04b376904_o“Do you want to hold him?” We were in the delivery room, and my son had just taken his first breaths of air and let out a good scream. At 4.5 kg (10 lbs!), he was far from fragile, but I was still nervous. I’m the youngest in my family, and I did almost no babysitting growing up. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with a newborn. In fact, I’d never even held one before.

What if I do it wrong? What if I don’t support the head? What if the nurses get mad at me? I found myself secretly waiting for the day he turns 13 when—as a veteran youth worker—I’d finally know what to do with him. (Parents of teenagers, I know you’re laughing at me right now.)

Be honest—do you know that feeling? Some of us connect better to babies. Others prefer toddlers. Still others love the middle school years or the university age. For whatever reason, these phases of life just seem easier, more fun, or more comfortable than the others.

It’s the same with spiritual children. Some find their sweet spot at the early end of the disciple-making process. Befriending seekers and sharing Christ with lost people is their best days’ work. Others find their stride in those early steps right after someone has come to faith. You love taking a new Christian and teaching her or him how to walk in the faith. Still others relish the task of leadership development and multiplication. You thrill at seeing a Christ-follower learn how to not just follow and serve Jesus, but to share his life with others through evangelism and disciple making. We each have different gifts and areas of natural focus. God wired us for those sweet spots, where our gifting and passion meet in a supernatural area of fruitfulness.

I’ve noticed something, though. As a parent, I don’t get to raise my kids only during my favorite years. I can’t go out and find another parent who loves toddlers more than I do and say, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. How about you raise my kids while they’re toddlers, and I’ll raise yours while they’re teenagers? It’ll be great—we’ll just sort of pass them around, like teachers at school!” I can’t look at my wife and say, “You take care of early childhood, and I’ll tune in during adolescence. Have fun with the poopy diapers and the middle-of-the-night shrieks. Get back to me when they’re 13!” Can you imagine how that conversation would go?

absentee-parentNo mature, intelligent parent would imagine such a thing, but we do it with spiritual parenting all the time. One youth ministry specializes in reaching lost kids, but doesn’t really do the work of growing them to maturity. Another youth group grounds students deeply in their faith, but fails to raise them up to reach their friends for Christ. But discipleship is not a buffet! We can’t pick and choose our favorite parts and leave the rest for someone else.

Christians are the only “species” I know that think they can attain maturity without reproduction. Mature apple trees make apples. Mature dogs make puppies. Mature Christians make . . . well, I guess that depends on the ministry. But it shouldn’t. Mature Christians should develop new Christ-followers, from infancy to maturity. They can’t just drop out of the process whenever they feel like it.

Jesus didn’t buy into the division between evangelism, discipleship, and leadership training, and neither should we. For him, it was all part of the amazing process known as “disciple making.” Like two wings on a plane, no ministry can be effective without both maturity and mission.

Take a moment for a quick checkup of your ministry. Which area of disciple making comes most naturally to you? Which stage of growth gets the majority of your ministry time and resources? Take an inventory of your youth meetings, small groups, Sunday gatherings, camps, retreats, and mission trips. What part of the disciple-making process gets the most focus? And which areas need the greatest attention?

I still look forward to the day my son turns 13. But I’ve also learned to specialize in each age that he’s lived. As a five-year-old, he’s wildly different than he was as an infant, and it’s been my job to adjust and change along the way. It hasn’t always been easy! I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve asked a lot of people for wisdom. I’ve read a lot of books. But it’s all worth it—because he’s my son, and I’m his dad, and I love him.

The same must be true of our youth ministries. We have to plan and program for each stage of the disciple-making process—from lost and unchurched to multiplying and leading—and everything in between. Jesus modeled it. Our students deserve it. A lost world needs it.

If you’re interested in strengthening your ministry’s discipleship process, check out Deep Discipleship. It fits into your current ministry structure and provides the tools to deepen whatever areas of discipleship need it—from first introductions to Christ and his mission, to walking the discipleship road, to leadership training and disciple making.

CC Image courtesy Ray Yu on Flickr.

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