Global Discipleship

October 2019 Global Discipleship

Recording Discipling Moments: Organic & Formal

All discipling (“helping others become more like Jesus by…”) falls into two basic categories.


As leaders spend time with students outside of a small-group or other structured spiritual context, they may have the opportunity to guide conversations and experiences towards spiritual things. These conversations, plus leaders’ attitudes and actions, all provide potential discipling moments.

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, organic discipling only happens if leaders are prepared for the possibility. You can plan for organic discipling by honing these skills:

Be a good conversation starter.

  • Have good conversation-starting questions ready, always, everywhere.

  • Some students are quiet, cautious, and don’t believe an adult would be interested in what they have to say. Prove them wrong.

  • Don’t give up if your first question flops. Students are too often on the receiving end of someone who “gave up.” Don’t be one of them.

Be a good listener.

  • Take careful note of everything they say.

  • Do not plan a response while they are talking. Just listen.

  • Ask relevant and engaging follow-up questions to keep the conversation going.

  • Be on the lookout for moments when a follow-up question could make a natural turn towards faith, truth, doubt, God, and following Jesus.

Be aware of your surroundings.

  • Note where you are, who else is present, and what’s happening.

  • Be on the lookout for ways you could naturally and safely serve or help someone.

  • Model natural and enthusiastic service and kindness.


As leaders spend time with students in a planned spiritual context (such as Campaigners, or a small group, or a one-on-one) and engage in a planned experience (whether worship, service, or study), they intentionally guide both conversations and experiences to a place of learning and growth.

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, formal discipling is often most powerful when it feels organic. But in order for formal discipling to feel truly organic, it must be carefully planned and skillfully executed. In the case of a small group Bible study, these steps will help you prepare for organically styled discipling:

Know the Bible passage inside, outside, upside down.

  • Make it the focus of your personal daily Bible reading for the week prior.

  • Read what comes before and after it — an entire chapter at least, and the full book if possible. 

  • Read what wise teachers and theologians have said about it. Free online commentaries abound.

  • Serve the meal (the specific passage of your planned reading and discussion) but be sure it is grounded in solid nutrition (the overarching doctrinal truths that shape and inform the passage).

Lead students towards truth by way of guided discovery.

  • Telling students “what the Bible means” is not the goal (though you should have studied this for yourself and should feel confident about your own knowledge, and you should make sure the conversation doesn’t lead down a road of untruth).

  • Use guided questions related to observation and understanding (e.g. “Why do you think Jesus said that to the women?” or “What do you think the woman expected Jesus to say?”) rather than factual questions (e.g. “What did Jesus say to the woman?”)

  • Teach students how to notice things before asking them what they noticed.

Be flexibly focused.

  • Welcome questions and doubts, counting them as opportunities for increased understanding and growth.

  • Be ready with your own observations based on your personal study, but allow for students to observe something unexpected and (sometimes) far more profound.

  • Do not force the passage towards “personal application.” Sometimes the most profound result and most appropriate response to scripture is simply having spent time in God’s Word, immersed in His written revelation, listening to the voice of God meet us there. There does not always need to be an immediate follow-up action step. Demanding scripture to function in this way is to reduce it to a behavioral handbook.

Between both organic and formal discipling, it’s safe to say that any time a leader is with a student, there is the opportunity for discipleship (living my own life in pursuit of becoming more like Jesus) and discipling (guiding, encouraging, and helping another person live their life in pursuit of becoming more like Jesus).

Written by Crystal Kirgiss (

September 2019 Global Discipleship

Young Life was built on prayer. 

You’ve likely heard the story about how, almost 90 years ago, a woman named Clara Frasher gathered with a group of her friends to pray for teenagers at a Texas high school. Through a series of divinely orchestrated events, Young Life began in that very community less than ten years later.

When people pray, God listens.

He does not always answer in ways we’d hoped. He does not always answer in ways that are obvious. He does not always answer in ways that align with our dreams and plans.

But he always listens. And he is always good.

On October 1st, our global mission will join together in prayer. Like Clara Frasher and her friends did almost 90 years ago, we will gather together in person (in offices, homes, schools) and also in spirit (across miles and mountains and oceans and continents) to speak and listen to our Father.

We will do this together as a global mission because God is our Father.

Yes, he is my Father and your Father and his Father and her Father. But he is first and foremost our Father.

Except in the narrative context of private conversations, the bulk of New Testament yous should really be translated as all y’alls.

God’s Word is written to his children. To his followers. To his kingdom — a collective noun comprised of many.

Young Life staff, leaders, supporters, and friends are often self-starters, people with visionary drive, individuals with a sense of entrepreneurial-can-do spirit.

But at our core, we are a family of God’s children, desperately in need of their Father’s loving-kindness, grace, strength, and direction. 

Even as we speak to adolescents about discovering and pursuing a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” we must never forget that nothing about Christian faith is personally singular.

Even as we encourage those around us to be sure “for themselves” about what they believe, we must never lose sight of the fact that Christian belief is communal and collective, bound as it is to the Savior of us all.

Even as we pray from the depths of our invisible and individual souls, we must never presuppose an invisible or individual faith. Neither of those would be true faith at all.

On October 1st as we pray for our mission, let us also be people who are praying as a mission. 

May we sense the kingdom’s diverse unity. 

May we posture ourselves as one-among-many.

And may be embrace our mission’s identity as just one of the many parts of Christ’s body.

Our mission will be stronger if those within it are knit together as one, praying in unison to our Father.

And our mission will be brighter if as a whole we are knit together with the countless other missions and congregations of Christ, our Lord and Savior.   

Here is a link to a prayer guide for the day, which offers us an opportunity to pray in unison prayers of adoration and thanksgiving as well as lift up local and global requests for the mission. The theme for the day, Our Father, is based upon the Lord’s Prayer in Matt. 6:9-13, and can be divided up into eight segments which you and your team can offer up on the hour. Thanks for spending this coming Tuesday in focused prayer to Our Father.

Global Discipleship August 2019



What happens when almost 10,000 people across the Young Life mission are bound together by a unified focus on several key Biblical passages and truths? What happens when God’s word is laid before almost 10,000 people in ways that are intended to shape and form their Biblical engagement not just for a month but for a lifetime, not just at a head level but also at a heart level?

For the first time in the mission’s history, this summer all US Work Crew, Summer Staff, Assigned Teams members, Assigned Team spouses, camp interns, camp staff, and the entire Camping Department engaged with the same discipleship materials: a 30-day guided devotional called Rooted. They were joined by their counterparts at Rockridge (the Young Life Canada camp property), the work staff and assigned teams at Cairn Brae (our Scotland camp), and the Summer Staff at Pico Escondido (our Dominican Republic camp). In a few especially delightful cases, they were also joined by Assigned Team children as young as ten.

The vision behind Rooted was wide (all the camps, all the people, all the boxes of all the books) and deep (rich layers of scriptural contemplation and spiritual growth) and long (habits and practices to last a lifetime).

In a certain sense, our mission-wide venture (such as it was, for there is enormous potential for growth at the global level) was a sort of built-in liturgical lectionary experience. Throughout the summer months, we all read the same scriptures about being firmly rooted in Christ (Psalm 1, John 15, Galatians 5, Colossians 2:6-7, and more). Knowingly or not, we corporately inhabited a space of shared communal scripture. We heeded Paul’s encouragement to the believers of Colossae to, “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill all y’all’s lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. (NLT, southern style)

Friends from the same town, who served on Work Crew at different properties, read and studied the same scripture passages. They considered the same daily challenges. They engaged in the same reflective practices. They returned home, from different places, with a shared experience.

Summer Staff and camp staff, working in different departments, came together as time and context allowed, and engaged one another with simple yet profound issues of, “What did you think about…?” or “Tell me about ...” or “I’d love to hear what you wrote about ...”

Members of the camping department, from their offices in Colorado Springs, read alongside thousands of high school and college students, prayed for them daily and specifically as prompted by the parallel scripture passages, and inhabited the same scriptural context.

Whether new to their faith or deeply entrenched in their faith, people of all ages, serving in all roles, learned and practiced meaningful and replicable ways of engaging God’s word on a daily basis, both corporately and on their own.

As one Work Crew Boss noted: “The thing I loved about it was that all across the mission, we were literally on the same page.” 

We hope and pray that continues, not just literally each summer, but also metaphorically each day. For we are all children of the same Father, serving the same Christ, filled with the same Spirit, living the same mission, and pursuing the same vision.

Paul’s vision for the Colossian believers should be our vision for all our students, all our leaders, and all our staff:

And now, just as all y’all accepted Christ Jesus as all y’all’s Lord, all y’all must continue to follow him.

Let all y’all’s roots grow down into him, and let all y’all’s lives be built on him. 

Then all y’all’s faith will grow strong in the truth all y’all were taught, and all y’all will overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)

We are an all y’all mission, flowing from an all y’all faith. For a few months this summer, we strived to embody all y’all at our camps, not just in our gospel proclamation but also in our devotional practice.


  • Rooted was the first of what will be an annual publication for the summer camping experience.

  • The 2020 devotional will focus on true Biblical identity of God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, and God’s Children.

  • We received requests from staff all across the field for copies of Rooted, both for their own use (so they could follow along while their students served on WC or SS) and for area use (Campaigner groups, leadership, etc.).

  • We are hoping to offer a field version of Rooted (exact same book, minus the intro letter to WC/SS). 

  • We are dreaming of similar styled content for extended field use in small group discipling contexts.

Written by:  Crystal Kirgiss

Global Discipleship July 2019 -THE ART OF THE ICEBREAKER QUESTION

Highs and lows..Roses and thorns...Brownies and frownies...Happies and crappies.

However you might word it, “best/worst” icebreakers have become a traditional opening schtick in many smaller-deeper-discipling-Campaigner groups. 

They’re easy. They’re foolproof. They’re prep-free. They don’t require deep reflection. They focus on “me and what happened to me” – always a popular topic.

Breaking ice is a noble and necessary endeavor, especially in a group of adolescents who are often still learning the fine art of thoughtful conversation. But if the goal of our smaller-deeper-discipling contexts is spiritual growth and formation, it might be time to move the needle on our ice-breaker strategies. Perhaps now and then, we could be a little less predictable, a little more reflective, and a lot more focused on how “me” relates to God and others.

What if we started with something like this:

“What’s one way you brought help or hope to someone this week?” 

This question (riffed from Lindsey Osborne, Midwest Divisional Training Coordinator) invites people not to reminisce about their perceived experiences of personal life (i.e. talk about me for my own sake), but rather to reflect on their actual engagement with Christ-centered faith (i.e. talk about how God and my understanding of him is affecting the way I think and act).

That’s a significant shift in both perspective and processing.

Many students haven’t yet made the connection between following Jesus and daily life. This type of question helps connect those faith-and-life dots in significant ways, first internally as they reflect and sort their thoughts, and then verbally as they articulate their experiential reality and spiritual awareness.

Research shows that articulated faith shores up foundational faith. In other words, “saying becomes believing.” 

When we provide opportunities for our friends to speak honestly about how their faith impacts their attitudes and actions, we effectively cultivate formational space. In truth, many of our adolescent friends have no idea yet that their faith actually is impacting their attitudes and action ... that is, until they discover it through a well-timed and intentional question.

Open-ended statements can work just as well. How about starting with something like this:

“This week I struggled to obey (hear/believe/etc.) God when...”

Completing that kind of statement requires self-awareness, honesty, and humility, all of which are vital to a growing and lasting life of faith.

Starting with a thoughtful and reflective opener isn’t a buzz-kill. It’s energizing and empowering. It’s meaningful. It’s life-giving. Whatever their age, people appreciate being challenged and given the chance to talk about real things, deep things, things that are bigger and beyond themselves.

Take time to brainstorm a collection of opening questions that offer a range of depth and reflection. That way, you’ll have plenty of options to keep you from getting stuck in the “high/low – happies/crappies” loop.

  • What were you afraid of this week, and what did you do about it?

  • How did God bring joy to your life this week?

  • What’s one doubt or question you had about following Jesus this week?

  • How/when did you help someone this week?

  • What’s one thing God taught you about himself this week?

  • This week, God....

  • This week I prayed about ..... because .....

  • This week, I thought of God when ....

  • The week, God helped me ....

-Written by Crystal Kirgiss, Vice President of Discipleship (



On two occasions, the risen Christ had significant but very different encounters with people as they travelled on specific roads.

When Paul walked toward Damascus to oppress and imprison Christians there, he was blinded by a bright light, knocked to the ground, and overwhelmed by a booming voice from heaven that identified itself as, “Jesus, the one you are persecuting!” (See Acts 9 and 22 for the whole story.) Today, when someone has a sudden and radical life-altering encounter with Jesus, it’s often referred to as their “Damascus Road” moment. This summer, thousands of adolescents will have this type of experience during outreach camps at Young Life properties.

On another occasion, two of Jesus’ disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, discussing everything that had happened in the previous few days, most notably the crucifixion. Suddenly, they were joined by an unknown third person (Jesus Himself, though they didn’t recognize Him) who asked what they were talking about. They gave a summary of the events, including this admission: “We had hoped [Jesus] was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” (Read the story in Luke 24:1-34). The stranger called out their shortsighted disbelief, and “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” What an incredible seven-mile long Bible study that must have been! And yet the two travelers still didn’t get it. It wasn’t until they invited Jesus to stay with them for a meal that they finally recognized who He really was. I imagine after Jesus disappeared from their midst, these travelers’ lives were never the same. They likely continued to follow their traveling companion, Jesus, for the rest of their lives.

The difference in these two road encounters is much like the camping ministry we do with adolescents. At our outreach camps, we introduce them to Jesus Christ in a Damascus manner. Under bright lights, in a context of bold proclamation, crowds of kids have a radical change of heart.

Our adventure camps in Young Life are more like an Emmaus experience. Things aren’t flashy or fancy. Usually there are no sound systems or stages, big events or bold surprises. Things are smaller, simpler, quieter and more drawn out. Whether at base camp or on the trail, discipleship experiences offer a slow walk outside, a chance to ponder Scripture, eat a meal in a small group, and allow God to make our “hearts burn within us,” just as He did with His two disciples near Emmaus thousands of years ago.

Both types of experiences are needed. Bold proclamation and steady growth are equally valuable parts of our journey with Jesus.

My wife and I have had the privilege of serving in Young Life for over 25 years; the first 10 were working directly with kids, first as volunteer leaders and then as area directors. There was a heavy focus on introducing adolescents to Jesus, but we were always sad if a teenager walked away from their initial commitment to Jesus. For the past 18 years we have fully given ourselves to the second part of Young Life’s mission statement — “helping them grow in their faith” — through running discipleship adventure camps in Santa Cruz, California  and Baja Mexico. These discipleship experiences, like all of our Young Life adventure camps, have a profoundly lasting impact on teenagers as they fully embrace following Jesus for life. In that sense, they are surprisingly like that simple walk to Emmaus.

We invite you to start thinking now about how you walk with your high school or college friends at an adventure camp next summer. As you head home from outreach camp, and while the excitement of kids standing at Say So is fresh in your mind, please consider what the next best camping opportunity is to help build the new faith of your friends. Young Life adventure camps exist to equip teenagers with the tools they need to live life with Jesus beyond the “camp high.” Whether it’s through daily adventures, pioneer living, sea kayaking, backpacking, or learning to serve others in Mexico, these discipleship camps provide experiences designed to help kids encounter Jesus through being in an intimate community and learning to spend time with Him.

What road are your teenage friends on? Are you ready to take the long slow walk to Emmaus to help their “hearts burn within them” as they learn to follow Jesus for life?

Click HERE to view the YouVersion Young Life Reading Plans to go deeper with your students!

Writer: James Thomsen



This spring I took 15 college guys from Colorado to the West Coast for a week.  Our daily itinerary was simple.

  • Morning: Sitting with the Lord for several hours.

  • Meals: Sharing meals and life together.

  • Afternoon: Random adventures and surfing into the evening.

  • Nighttime: Process what we saw, what we learned, what is being changed in our lives.

We have been doing this trip for 10 years. It is popular, it is a highlight, it is compelling, and it is needed. I'm thinking about the richness of this trip over the past decade as I mull the question: "Where are all the men?"

In the mission of Young Life, we have seen a steady decline in involvement from men.

  • Less men in Campaigners and discipleship.

  • Shortage of men in summer staff.

  • Oftentimes less men in leadership or attending Young Life College.

  • Fewer men applying for field staff or other positions.

  I think boys and men today have a deep longing for apprenticeship, which requires a master artisan. I know that in our culture we are losing the deep wisdom that comes from sitting and doing something slowly and repeating that process for years until we are masterful in our craft. I believe the art of making disciples (building Christ into boys and mending Jesus through a man) is one of those tradecrafts where there are fewer and fewer masterfully skilled workers to be found. Part of the reason why the art is being lost is because it takes so much time.

Even the new ways to connect, engage and train men are found lacking. Purchasing an app or going to church on your phone from the comfort of your couch, listening to a podcast and going to a weekend retreat don’t address the core problem. The make-a-disciple curriculum we watch Jesus employ stands in stark contrast to what we practice today. With 12 and with 72, Jesus' method was one of radical submission to His authority, shock therapy and enormous amounts of time spent together. I do not believe that the result of the new ways offered today will yield formed young men who can weather the elements and be found standing as old pylons against a rising tide. But we need those kind of men.

Young men are being discipled in a culture that teaches and rewards people for gaining "followers" who do not actually follow you anywhere. This inevitably bleeds into our understanding of what  it means to follow Jesus. I think if we want to see pockets of authentic-faith, character-compelling, follow-worthy men arise, they are going to graduate from a different line.

I believe if we want to be a part of shaping the hungry hordes of guys looking for someone to tell them the way, we are going to have to lead from a different cut. We must be the ones who are marked not by efficiency but by lives of withdrawing often to lonely places to drink deep droughts with the Lord. Then we return. We spend much time with a handful and freely give a few the best of what we have fought for in Christ and hard-won through obedience so that they can outrun us … and our names are forgotten.

To not lose the men, we need to spend the time to do a few key things.

  1. Make yourself available.

  2. Run with the men who run and ask to be poured into.

  3. Give parameters of the relationship and make sure your voice has “weight.”

  4. Be committed to the cost of discipleship — time.

I see men who are hungry, starved and desperate. If we raise our expectations, they will come running!

Written by: Greg Hook, Area Director (Young Life College Director), Fort Collins, Colorado


Recently, my pastor began the Sunday morning message with this statement:

“I am best discipled through my eyes.”


It was a powerful statement that led me to wonder: How am I best discipled? How is each person in my family best discipled? How are the ministry volunteers I lead best discipled? What about the kids in my high school and middle school — how are they best discipled?

As ministers of the gospel — whether in a staff position or as a volunteer leader — it’s very important that we consider the many varied ways that individuals and groups are best discipled.

As in all things, Jesus is our model for this. When we look carefully at His life, we see that He had deep wisdom and discernment on how to disciple each person He encountered.

  • The bleeding woman was discipled best through touch ✋ (Matthew 9:20-22).

  • Peter was discipled best in the simple, routine context of his everyday vocational life of fishing 🚣‍♂️ (Luke 5:5-11).

  • The Samaritan woman was discipled best simply by being acknowledged, spoken to and heard 👂 (Luke 4:17-26).

Jesus knew how to specifically disciple individual people by doing a few very basic things: being with them, listening to them, and asking them questions. In other words, Jesus’ individualized discipling strategies didn’t depend on His divine power or knowledge, but rather grew out of His intentional and relational humanity. We can, and must, follow that example.

  • We must pay attention to how people learn.

  • We must pay attention to how they interact and engage with others.

  • We must pay attention to how they process experiences and information.

  • And we must pay attention to all the different ways that Jesus discipled the individual people He was with. He used sight, taste, touch, sound, tangibles, and more.

  • We must also pay attention to the different ways that Jesus discipled the large groups of people around Him.

  • The 5,000 were discipled best through the taste and sharing of a meal 🍞 (Matthew 6:1-10).

  • Jesus often discipled His closest friends by telling stories and parables. ❓

  • And He discipled the religious leaders — through a powerfully nuanced challenge — by drawing in the sand ☝️ (John 8:1-8).

As we disciple a growing diverse population of kids — different ages, different cultures, different abilities, different interests, different backgrounds, different family structures and more — are we considering all the different ways individual kids need to be discipled? Are we getting to know individual kids deeply enough that we can tailor our method, style, conversation and interaction to meet them in a way that effectively engages both their heart and mind?

Jesus’ life and ministry makes it clear that we are called to do just that. Now it’s up to us to know our kids (and leaders, as the case may be) well enough to disciple and lead them in a way that best connects with and serves them on their path to becoming more like Jesus.




Sometimes I wish we knew more about Jesus as a teenager. Who were his buddies? How did he spend his time as a kid? Did he win every game he ever played? When friends wondered how many stars were in the sky, did he tell them?

I wonder, don’t you?

For whatever reason, the Gospel writers give us precious little insight into the early life of Jesus, so going on wondering is about as good as we can do.

We do, though, get one scene in Jesus’ life between his infancy and his adult ministry. It’s an intriguing aside, tucked into Luke’s careful account, that I think it is profoundly relevant to those of us who work with young people. The scene warrants a closer look.

The story is in Luke 2:41-52. Try to picture it: after joining his family on a dutiful pilgrimage to Jerusalem, twelve-year-old Jesus skips out on the return trip home. Three long days later, during which time his parents frantically search for Jesus among their fellow-traveling friends, neighbors, and relatives, he finally shows up, sitting among the religious teachers, where he’d apparently been all along . . . while his parents went out of their minds with worry.

As a dad of a twelve-year-old, I can identify with Mary and Joseph’s frantic search for their missing kid. “Son, why have you treated us so? We’ve been looking for you anxiously!” You think?! So much for not being anxious about anything. What must have gone through their minds when, after a full day’s journey away from the big city, they realized their son wasn’t with them? And how must they have been feeling when a full day after that, they still hadn’t found him?

What strikes me most about this story, though, isn’t the reunion between Jesus and his parents but rather what he was doing in the temple when his parents finally found him. Think back to what you’ve heard or imagined about this scene. How do you envision it? Most people I’ve asked—even those familiar with the narrative—picture Jesus teaching the elders.

But that’s not what he was doing.

“After three days, they found him in the temple, sitting among the teacher, listening to them and asking questions.”

Jesus wasn’t teaching. He was asking questions.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The theology here is a little complicated. Before jumping to the conclusion that Jesus already knew the answers to the questions he was asking, keep in mind that in verse 52 we’re told that from this point on in his life, he continued to grow in wisdom. Jesus asked genuine questions with the goal of gaining insight. Jesus learned. And the teachers were amazed at his understanding.

I thank God for this little story and for the permission it gives you and me—as well as the kids we work with—to ask questions, too.

I wonder...

  • Do you, like Jesus, have teachers to sit amongst and ask questions?

  • Do you give space for kids to ask questions, whether in Club, Campaigners, or everyday conversation?

  • Do kids feel safe asking questions in those contexts?

  • Do you foster curiosity in those you lead so that they continue to ask bigger and bigger questions?

  • Do you willingly and humbly answer I don’t know to the questions you can’t answer, or do you feel pressured to always have an immediate answer?

I recently met Charlie, a 23-year-old follower of Jesus. During our conversation, he spoke about the many doubts and seemingly unanswerable questions that for years had kept him from following Christ. When I asked him what changed, he didn’t speak about having all his doubts erased and all his questions answered. Instead he told me about a mentor whose own questions were far more profound than the ones keeping Charlie from faith.

The honest questions of a faithful man gave Charlie permission to approach Jesus in faith, in spite of all he didn’t know or understand.

As a young leader, I felt a great deal of pressure to know all the answers and to win the argument as kids voiced their questions. Sometimes I still do. It’s taken wise counsel and discipline for me to learn that it’s okay to let questions hang in the silence for a while, and that often the best response isn’t a neatly packaged answer but rather another honest and inviting question.

Let’s be people who are honest with our doubts, who aren’t afraid to voice our questions, and who give others the freedom to share theirs as well. We’re in good company. Wonder is not the enemy of faith. It’s a prerequisite.

by Josh Powell (Metro Director, Hong Kong)

The Gift That Keeps On Giving: Student Leadership Project

To read the April, 2018 article HERE to learn about the Student Leadership Project (SLP). Below, you can read a first-person account from Jamisen, a recent SLP Assigned Team Member. She puts into words what many others have said: SLP offers all the things we love most about discipleship and ministry. Here’s what Jamisen had to say about her experience:


This summer I had the privilege of serving on assignment in Minneapolis, MN on Student Leadership Project (SLP). I knew very little about this assignment, but many friends who had previously served encouraged me to wait, see, and be flexible! I arrived at Bethel University with eight other staff people and 20 high school students. Our full group included people from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences. I’d come from the small city of Lexington, Kentucky. My co-leader was from the Bronx. We had students from California, North Carolina, Washington, and Colorado.  For the next two weeks we would share experiences, learn from one another, serve and encounter Christ in so many new ways.

SLP sets out to take your students who are natural leaders in their schools and equip them to be Godly, multiethnic leaders in their communities. This unique discipleship opportunity allows students (and those on the Assigned Team) to learn from a wide range of Christian leaders and teachers. It also provides them a space to put into practice all that they are absorbing. They do this through a combination of classroom instructional time, small group discussion, and hand selected experiences that expand perspective and push students out of their comfort zone. SLP is set in a big city so that students can experience a wide variety of cultures that are present in the United States. SLP gives students the chance to truly learn how to serve and love every kind of neighbor in every kind of community in the manor of Christ.

Each student had to complete a final project by the end of their two weeks. This project was to reflect what the student was taking home from their experience at SLP back to their communities. When the projects were all displayed, it was a truly beautiful depiction of hope for the future. One student from a town that is 97% white expressed that before his SLP experience, he had never learned from anyone who didn’t look like him. He was so excited to go home and share with the people in his ministry all that he had learned about being a leader in a diverse world. Another student expressed how she was refreshed and affirmed of her calling to stay in her town to influence the kids in her community to pursue their education to change the trajectory of their lives.

I am fully convinced that the 20 students who were sent out from SLP will not only be bringing the gospel to their communities, but will also be the leaders of tomorrow who affect change for the Kingdom of God across the country. 

SLP will have a handful of sites around the US this summer with limited spots available to qualified students.  For more information or to apply for admission into this life changing Leadership Development program, please follow this link

Written by:  Jamisen Manley, Director of Development (Lexington, KY)


One of the most tritely spiritualized phrases — “God is love” — is also one of the most profound theological truths: God is Love.


Thanks to the webs and the socials, our world goes crazy for pithy quotes and feel-good mottos that can be blasted across the cosmos in a split-second. Encased in a hipster font. Overlaid on an angsty photo. Accompanied by a looping indie soundtrack.

But followers of Jesus are not nourished by pithy quotes or strengthened by feel-good mottos. When we say “God is love” without considering or understanding its doctrinal depth, we sabotage truth and diminish sacred Love to an empty cup of meaningless blather.

If reduced to merely a feeling, a response, a motto, or an action, Love is just another viral blip on the digital horizon.

But we know better, for:

  • God LOVED us enough to take on flesh and carry our sins unto death.

  • Christ LOVES us as the Father LOVES Him.

  • God’s lavish LOVE enfolds us as His children.

  • God’s great LOVE leads us from death to life.

  • Nothing in all creation can separate us from the LOVE of God.

    …And perhaps most pressing of all:

  • The world will know we are followers of Christ by the way we LOVE each other.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church gives shape to this kind of LOVE, extending far beyond feeling, response, motto, or something to do.

LOVE is ...

  • patient

  • kind

  • not jealous

  • not boastful

  • not proud

  • not rude

  • not demanding

  • not self-serving

  • not irritable

  • not bitter

  • forgiving

  • just

  • truthful

  • persistent

  • faithful

  • hopeful

  • enduring

We love this description of Love, overflowing as it is with supernatural significance and spiritual wisdom.

But lists are easily set aside, checked off and skimmed.

By their very nature, single words (especially when extracted from their surrounding context and exported into a tidy list) are at risk of being folded into a sound-byte, a motto, or an empowering quote.

Paul’s letter protects against this, if we would simply pay attention to the surrounding discourse.

The “Love is” list — (each individual item of which should utterly infuse the head, hearts, and hands of all disciples) — is preceded by a compelling and convicting explanation of what Love means in daily, actual and obedient practice.

To really drive home the essence of Love, Paul juxtaposes it with the most esteemed and deeply desired ministry gifts of that day.

We would all do well to follow suit, in our specific ministry setting, in which case:

  • If I were the most clever camp program director of the decade, funny enough to do stand-up comedy on the professional circuit, able to write a clever schtick with a mere moment’s notice, renowned for both my slapstick and sophisticated humor, but don’t love, I would be nothing but a bag of meaningless cheap laughs that gives birth to despair.

  • If I were the most articulate speaker in my area, who engaged listeners with exciting narrative and compelling illustrations, confident and calm in front of a crowd, wondrously clever and memorable in each club talk, adored and admired by all the kids (and probably all the other leaders), but don’t love, I would be nothing but a bag of hot air that dumps poisonously empty words on all who hear.

  • If I were the most influential ideator of my division, who developed fresh organizational theories and enacted fierce strategies that result in exponential growth and expansion, outpacing my colleagues in advancement and recognition (and maybe other things, too), but don’t love, I would be nothing but a lifeless quantifier that diminishes ministry to a means, and dehumanizes people from imago Dei to item.

If we would both be and form disciples, we must remember that God is Love and we are called to love as Christ loves.

So what about you? What piercing If I were statement might you need to face and then reject? What “greater gift” of ministry — whether you have it or desire it — threatens to destroy your one and true call to Love?

If I were _______________________, but don’t love, I would be _____________________.

Written by: Crystal Kirgiss, V.P. of Discipleship (

The Roots & Fruits of Disciple Making

The Bible is a book of both concrete truth and creative metaphors. God is gentle, and God is a rock. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, and Jesus is living water. Humans are selfish creatures, and humans are branches. Yahweh is faithful, and Yahweh is a shepherd. God is divine, and God is a king. And metaphor within metaphor — God’s Kingdom has arrived, and it is a mustard seed.


As words, metaphors give shape to non-concrete realities. As images, metaphors invite us to see, discover, understand and experience the embodied truth.

One of the most commonly mentioned things in the Bible is also one of its most powerful theological metaphors — trees. (Check out this article for more thoughts on trees in Scripture.)

God’s expansive story begins with all kinds of beautiful trees, and also two very specific trees (Genesis 2:17; 3:22). It ends with two healing trees of life flanking a river of living water (Revelation 22:1-2). Within the story, both God’s people and God Himself are described as trees (Psalm 52:8; Hosea 14:8). Wisdom is a tree of life (Proverbs 3:18). Isaiah tells trees to sing and clap their hands. Those who love, fear, and hope in Yahweh are trees planted by a riverbank (Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17). Those who love, trust and follow Jesus are deeply rooted in Him (Colossians 2:6-7).

Deep roots, strong trunks, healthy branches, flourishing fruit, and sometimes beautiful flowers are concrete earthly realities that reflect profound spiritual truth.

As part of the Deeper initiative, we’ve created a visual metaphor of discipleship intended to foster deep dialogue and encourage focused intentionality. At the same time, it will also help each of us:

  • Carefully contemplate what it means to follow Jesus in both general and specific ways.

  • Honestly reflect on our own personal lives of discipleship.

  • Prayerfully consider our discipleship hopes and desires for those in our ministries.

You can find a downloadable PDF of the image here.

Leadership 1, Modules 11 and 12 (in YL Access) offer some thoughts on how to engage with this image (and other new discipleship tools) both individually, among your leadership team, and with those in your ministry.

Here are some reflection questions and dialogue prompts to get you started:

  • How do the three main tree elements relate and work together?

    • Roots — “time in Scripture, time in prayer,” more.

    • Trunk — a strong core of love, trust and more.

    • Branches — expressions or displays of specific behaviors and attitudes repeatedly highlighted throughout Scripture.

  • In your current season of life, how do you engage in, experience or express each of the different elements in the tree?

  • What specific areas (within trunk, core, branches) of your personal discipleship are most in need of attention, guidance or challenge?

  • How can you lean into those things intentionally and purposefully?

  • What specific areas of your personal discipleship (within trunk, core, branches) do you naturally embrace and dig into? Why? What does that look like?

  • Think about your specific ministry focus (WyldLife, Young Life, YoungLives, Young Life Capernaum, Young Life College) and your specific ministry context (community size, location, primary culture, specific subcultures, socio-economics). Based on those realities, what are your hopes and desires for your students’ growing life of discipleship? For example, what do you hope “time in Scripture” will begin to look like for those in your small group of teen moms? Or how do you hope your seventh-grade WyldLife Campaigners guys will begin to display “faithful witness”? And so on.

  • How will you intentionally disciple your students with these things in mind?

Written By: Crystal Kirgiss, V.P. of Discipleship (

Who Grew? The Gospel According to Aslan

Who Grew? The Gospel According to Aslan


Though The Chronicles of Narnia were not written or intended to be an allegory (C. S. Lewis was ferociously adamant about this), they are replete with Christian imagery and allusion, which Lewis readily acknowledged.

As we become more devoted disciples, and as we disciple others toward deeper faith and understanding, a scene from Prince Caspian (the book, not the movie … never, never the movie) illustrates this in a profound way.

The Pevensie kids are back in Narnia after several years in jolly old England, where unfortunately no one had yet started Young Life. They are their normal ages again, not the adults they’d grown into during their previous Narnian life, which must have been a terrible thing for them. Just imagine having been a king or queen, taken seriously by other adults, engaged in significant and meaningful tasks and adventures, only to have it all whisked away after being dragged back home. Let’s never do this to kids when camp is over, okay? Let’s keep taking them seriously, keep engaging them in significant and meaningful tasks and adventures, and keep reminding them of who they really are. Back to the story.

On their way to rescue the Narnians from that stinker Miraz and his wicked nasty army, the children find themselves utterly lost in an overgrown forest. Alas, being back in Narnia and living like a true Narnian isn’t quite as easy as they’d expected. They quickly feel dejected, tired and hopeless.

At their very lowest moment, when it seems clear that their long-anticipated return is not going to be the mountain-top swashbuckling experience they’d hoped for, Aslan appears to Lucy, the youngest and most devoted of the siblings.

“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

“Welcome, child,” he said.

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

And there you have it. That’s the magic moment. That’s the profound truth That’s the mid-chapter dialogue that should cause every reader to stop, catch their breath, and gasp at the sheer simplicity yet total mystery of growing closer to Jesus.

As we move more closely toward Jesus, gain deeper understanding of Jesus, develop more intimacy with Jesus, abide more fully in Jesus, more consistently display the love that comes from Jesus, and allow ourselves to be more completely guided by Jesus, shouldn’t we expect to feel a bit bigger — maybe not in stature, but for sure in wisdom, spiritual maturity and faith?

Isn’t that the point? To grow up into the full likeness of Jesus, becoming mature believers instead of needy babies who only fuss for milk and then conk off in long naps?

Yes, that’s the point. But the outworking of it, like all of discipleship, is a complicated paradox:

  • We find freedom by being fully dependent.

  • We find joy by embracing suffering.

  • We find fullness of life by emptying ourselves.

  • We find hope by acknowledging our helplessness.

  • And we grow not by becoming bigger ourselves but by recognizing God’s endless so-much-bigger-than-us-ness.

The more we know of Jesus, the more we realize how much we in fact don’t know. The more we become like Him, the more we realize how utterly unlike Him we still are. The more we experience Him, the more we realize how little we’ve actually experienced up to that point.

For our entire earthly life of discipleship, Jesus should seem continually bigger and BIGGER and BIGGER.

If Jesus seems the same size as when you first met Him, or the same size as last year, or even the same size as last week or yesterday or this morning, it’s time to re-enter the world of His supernatural reality, which is our true home.

May our prayer for both ourselves and those we disciple be simply this: “Lord, help us forever see and experience You as bigger than before.”


The authorized (and only) correct reading order of The Chronicles of Narnia:

  1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

  2. Prince Caspian

  3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

  4. The Silver Chair

  5. The Horse and His Boy

  6. The Magician’s Nephew

  7. The Last Battle

View September 2018 Email


Written by:

Crystal Kirgiss (

Creative Names For Campaigner Groups

Thank you to everyone who shared their ideas for creative Campaigner Group names!  Take a look at the amazing ideas across Young Life: 

  • Walk With Me
  • Boys. Bikes. Bibles.
  • Deep Questions!
  • Stammtisch (German for Regulars’ Table)
  • WUP (Walk up Prayer)
  • Starbuckies
  • Wednesday Small Groups
  • City Group
  • Donuts and Discipleship
  • D’ship
  • Tuesday’s with Hall (leader’s last name)
  • Bropaigners
  • D-group
  • Girls Club
  • Fort Club
  • Fight Club (fight to make time for community, to pursue Jesus, for 
  • friends to know Jesus)
  • Man Time
  • House Groups
  • Beyond Capernaum
  • Friday Night Lights (Guys group that meets under the lights on leader’s back deck)
  • Friday Morning B-Stud
  • Cabin Time
  • Women Around the World
  • Journey Groups
  • Beyond
  • CORE (Christ, Outreach, Relationship, Engagement)
  • Connection Groups
  • James’ Gang
  • Soup Group
  • Community Group
  • Beyond Campaigners
  • 222 (2 Timothy 2:2)
  • Breakfast Club
  • Manversations
  • Breakfast and Jesus
  • Discover
  • ECO (acronym for study, share, pray in Spanish)
  • Wolf Pack
  • Lagniappe (French for “a little something extra”)
  • Three Brothers’ Sistuhs (name of coffeeshop)
  • YoungLives Beyond
  • FYE (first-year experience for YLCollege)
  • Shakers
  • Mantown
  • CC (acronym for Conversation and Growth in Spanish; used in Costa Rica)
  • The Fellas
  • Deeper
  • Minute Men

Designing the Perfect Question With Four Words

Moving Forward with 4-Words

Getting conversations off to a good start is a basic skill everyone should possess.


Getting conversations off to a good start is a basic skill everyone should possess.

Keeping conversations active and ongoing – even after it seems like they’ve hit their end – is an art that every minister should develop. And by minister I mean every Young Life, WyldLife, YoungLives, Young Life Capernaum, and Young Life College leader or staff person.

The basic tool for advancing conversations is deeply active pastoral listening in which you truly engage, intently pay attention, make eye contact, take the speaker seriously, nod your head in acknowledgement, and remember everything that was said.

Beyond that, here are additional back-pocket tools that you can use throughout a conversation with kids (or adults) to move it forward to the next step and move it deeper to the next level.


Screen Shot 2018-08-20 at 5.39.19 PM.png

What other 4-word tools do YOU use? Send them to  


Remember last month?  We asked you for the names YOU use for your Campaigner groups.  Well, we got a TON of great, creative names submitted and we thought we'd share.  You can see all of these HERE.

Written by Crystal Kirgiss (

Global Discipleship - DON’T COPY ME

“DON’T COPY ME!!” (said Jesus never)



Preschoolers are famous for shrieking with indignant rage, “DON’T COPY ME!” when an older child or adult copies them. It’s annoying, irritating, and entirely unfunny to the child being copied.

But older children and adults do it anyway because sometimes they (we) are overly zealous about creating and satisfying their (our) own amusement. (Insert an honest confession and admission here.)

Copying little children isn’t especially nice. Copying a classmate’s test answers isn’t at all honest. Copying someone else’s creative production isn’t even remotely decent.

Copying Jesus is another matter altogether.

Jesus himself tells us to copy his behavior by serving as he did (John 13:14), obeying as he did (John 15:10), and loving as he did (John 15:12).

Paul tells us to copy Jesus’ attitude (Phil. 2:5).

Peter tells us to copy Jesus’ way of living (I Peter 2:21).

So copy away. Copying the living Word that was (and was with) God in the beginning is a very good thing.  So is copying his written word.

For everyone who has ever struggled to engage with the Bible, to journal about its profundity, or to immerse themselves in sacred scripture, here is the easiest devotional/contemplative/intentional/analytical way to interact one-on-one with God’s word:


That’s it. That’s the secret sauce.

1. Open up your Bible to a particular passage (anything will do – a Psalm, a story of Jesus, an epistolary teaching, an Old Testament episode).

2. Open up your journal (anything will do – lined, unlined, leatherbound, spiralbound).

3. Pick up a writing instrument (anything will do – ballpoint, rollerball, #2 graphite, Staedtler markers in 24 vibrant colors, fountain pen).

4. Copy (all the words from the Bible passage, into the journal, word for word).

You needn’t follow the original formatting, i.e. you can use UPPER CASE AND lower case at YOUR DISCRETION. You can use various colors. You can change your handwriting style. You can underline or highlight or bold. You can turn a long list into a

  • streamlined

  • organized

  • structured

  • business-y

  • left-aligned bullet list.

You can write VERY BIG or very small.

You can do whatever you want, as long as you copy all the words.

That’s it. Really. Truly.

Deuteronomy 17 provides guidelines for future kings, including a specific imperative that a new king must copy for himself all the words of God’s instruction. Not “just because,” but so that:

  • he would have a personal copy of God’s words,
  • he would learn to fear God and obey him,
  • he wouldn’t become proud,
  • he would remain wholly faithful to Yahweh.

It’s right there in Deuteronomy: JUST COPY IT. For good (and kingly) reasons.

We are not on the road to Old Covenant kingship, but still, let’s JUST COPY IT. For good (and disciplined) reasons, so that:

  • we would slow down and spend more time with the words,
  • we would see new things as our eyes and brains and hands work together,
  • we would learn to identify and remember small sets of words as cohesive thoughts,
  • we would notice repetition, emphasis, structure, and intent.

Copying God’s word is easy. It is never a waste of time. It transcends age. It requires no special training, education, or knowledge.

Most importantly, it will change you in sure and subtle ways, as God’s word always does when we simply take time to read it, relate with it, and rest in it.


Some other things:

1. A new journal is supremely motivating.

2. A stellar pen is almost absolutely necessary.

3. The Psalms are an obvious starting point.

4. White space is your friend. Don’t cram as many words as possible on a page. Spread out. Take it easy. Triple space.

5. After copying, think about these things:

  • What did I notice about the act of copying?
  • What did I notice about the content of what I copied?
  • What did I notice about these words after copying them that I’d never noticed after simply reading them?


Written By Crystal Kirgiss (


The Anatomy of Discipleship

discipleship: becoming more like Jesus by...
discipling: helping another person become more like Jesus by...
  • Followers of Jesus embrace and enter their own life of discipleship in a myriad of ways – devotional, contemplative, communal, sacramental, missional, practical, theological, and more.
  • Followers of Jesus embrace and enter the process of discipling others in a myriad of contexts – relational, conversational, missional, instructional, collaborative, and more.

Those a lot of different words, so let’s take a look at how we practically do that.  I like to think in terms of Discipleship Anatomy to help us identify and lean into these different contexts.


  • Meeting with a small group of people to talk about life and faith.
  • May include friendly chit-chat, discussion, prayer, Bible study, creative activities, etc.
  • (Relational. Conversational. Devotional. Instructional.)


  • Meeting one-on-one to encourage and guide someone towards personal development and spiritual growth.
  • May include everything in Face-to-Face, plus deeper levels of guidance, challenge, exhortation, encouragement, etc.
  • (Relational. Conversational. Devotional. Instructional. Pastoral.)


  • Specific eye-to-eye times of deep challenge, guidance, correction, affirmation, counsel, and heart-to-heart difficult conversations.
  • May include prayer, Bible study, deep conversation, pastoral listening, etc.
  • (Relational. Pastoral. Instructional. Exhortative.)


  • Activity-driven context for those who may not yet be ready or comfortable with solely face-to-face connection, who are still learning how to converse comfortably, or who need to move in order to focus.
  • May include play, action, competition, interspersed with questions, conversation, listening, etc.
  • (Relational. Active. With-ness. Conversational primer.)


  • Working together in service or mission.
  • (Relational. Missional. Collaborative. Service-centered. Sacrificial.)


  • Part of every discipleship/discipling context – the joining of two or more followers of Jesus in prayer, partnership, solidarity, and unity.
  • (Relational. Sacramental. Kingdom-focused. Other-centered. Communal.)


The mysterious beauty of all these contexts is this:  not only do leaders disciple their students and help them become more like Jesus, but students also disciple their leaders. As leaders listen, converse, respond, guide, encourage, and simply be with students, leaders themselves will become more like Jesus. In other words, the act of discipling others will circle back on itself so that spiritual growth flows both ways, and the hearts of everyone are changed. This is the most powerful and sacred discipling context of all. Let’s pursue it with a passion.


Written By Crystal Kirgiss, VP of Discipleship







Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 5.10.14 PM.png

Author:  Crystal Kirgiss 

Ask ten people to define discipleship and you will get ten different responses. Ask fifteen people to describe what’s involved in discipleship and you will get fifteen different lists. Ask twenty people to identify the main goal of discipleship and you will get twenty different ideas.

Overwhelmingly, Christians believe that discipleship goes hand in hand with following Jesus.  And yet, according to a 2015 Barna study (The State of Discipleship), Christian adults, educators, and leaders struggle to clearly articulate the what, why, and how of discipleship.

Perhaps we are over-complicating a straightforward reality. Or maybe we are over-simplifying a profound mystery.

Whatever is behind the current discipleship conundrum, the global Young Life mission remains just as committed to the second half of its mission statement — helping adolescents grow in their faith — as to the first half — introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ.  

In order to do that effectively and collaboratively, we need a clear and concise working definition of not just discipleship but also disciple-making or discipling. One of the confusing issues is that many people conflate these two things. When I recently asked a trusted theologian for some recommended titles on discipleship, he asked me: “Do you mean discipleship? Or disciple-making?”

Aha. Gotcha. Epiphany.

Words matter.

So let’s start with discipleship.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines discipleship this way: “The habit or fact of devoting oneself to following the teachings and example of Christ.”

The Barna study offered several definitions for people to choose from. A majority of laypeople chose this one:  “Discipleship is a lifelong process and journey rooted in a relationship with Jesus.”

A majority of religious leaders and teachers preferred this:  “Discipleship is the process of learning to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, seeking to observe all that Jesus commanded, by the power of the Holy Spirit and to the glory of God the Father.”

We could boil these down to something as simple as:

Discipleship is becoming more like Jesus.

That means disciple-making or discipling could be defined as simply as this: Helping others become more like Jesus.

But we are practical people, so we want to talk about how, not just what. If we expand our definition by just one little word, the practical takes the stage:

Disciple-making is helping another become more like Jesus by…

Read the gospels to see what Jesus did with his disciples, then finish the sentence. By…

  • spending time with them

  • teaching them

  • encouraging them

  • letting them help in his ministry

  • correcting them

  • asking them questions

  • welcoming their questions

  • using everyday objects and situations to illustrate important truths

  • using stories to explain difficult concepts

  • talking to them about scripture

  • talking to them from scripture

  • praying with them

  • praying for them

  • speaking truth about their true identity

  • giving them a clear purpose


And so much more.

Defining disciple-making in this way clearly states the goal of our mission and also empowers staff and leaders to tailor things for their unique ministry context, community culture, personal giftings, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

We are a disciple-making ministry. It’s right there in our mission statement. More importantly, it’s in our DNA.

We introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ (by our presence and our proclamation), and we help them grow in their faith (by grounding them in The Faith). That’s who we are. It’s who we’ve always been.

Leadership conversation starters on discipleship and disciple-making.

  • How would you define discipleship, based on your personal journey and experience of following Jesus?
  • Is that different from disciple-making / discipling? In what ways?
  • How does Young Life’s mission statement — both parts of it — drive your local ministry?
  • Based on the definition provided above, what does your local ministry include in the by list for disciple-making?
  • What is your ministry doing well when it comes to disciple-making? What areas need growth?
  • How do your leaders - both individually and corporately - focus on their own discipleship?

Crystal Kirgiss (PhD, Purdue University) is the VP of Global Discipleship. She’s married to Mark, a Young Life Senior Area Director. For over 30 years, she has been involved in youth ministry as a Young Life and WyldLife Leader, a youth ministry trainer, and an author and speaker. She can be reached at

You can find a summary of the Barna Discipleship Study HERE.

You might want to check out The Skinny on Discipleship: A Big Youth Ministry Topic in a Single Little Book (Group Publishing, 2015) by Katie Edwards, a veteran youth worker. Her book was the inspiration for the simplified and streamlined definition of disciple-making offered above.

Think About The Llama!


Written By Dan Jessup

My leadership strategy and thinking has changed some over my 30+ years of leading in Young Life.  Today, I think a lot about the llama.  Yep, since you can find these wild and unruly beasts all over South America in the Andes Mountains, I sometimes ponder, what would happen to the mission I lead if I got run over by a llama?  What would happen if I were trampled to death?

Think about it:  one day I will not be leading Young Life in Latin America and the Caribbean, which means that one day, someone else will.  Have I led and am I leading with intentionality so that we have a robust, thoughtful, proactive succession plan (that’s corporate speak for good leadership development) in the works, just in case the llama makes his move?

Jesus knew he had only three years to prepare the leadership to spread the Gospel.  Paul seemed to know that his time on earth was finite, so he got after it with a vengeance.  The apostle Paul sure seemed to think this way in 2 Timothy 2:2. Jesus seemed to be clear in Matthew 28:18.  But for much of my 30+ years of leadership I did not think this way.  I lead, albeit unintentionally (this is the heart of the problem!), as if I would be leading forever.  Things are different now. 

Leadership Trees


For our division, there are two simple strategies that are crucial for combating the llama: the Leadership Tree and the Second Branch Project.  Chances are you have seen the Leadership Tree, you understand the principles, and you have taught the principles.  My question is, do you actually have one yourself?  Do you have one on paper, in your Bible that you look at and pray over, or pull out at area meetings and regional retreats?  Answer:  I do.  In fact, every senior leader in our division has one and by the end of this fiscal year, every volunteer leader in the division will have one!  I might suggest, if you don’t have one in writing, it is likely that you are more susceptible to the llama than you might want to admit.

Second Branches

Second, we have intentionally expanded the influence of the Leadership Tree by identifying the “next best leadership” in the division in what we call the Second Branch Project.  Here’s the simple thinking: I am fairly confident that I will develop the people on my leadership tree (those on my “first branch").  However, those on my “Second Branch” meaning someone else’s “First Branch,” are the next, next future leaders of the mission.  The Second Branch Project is a way for our divisional team to keep in front of all of us who we see as the next best leadership in the development process.  

All of this is just another way of saying we take Jesus’ words seriously about “go and make disciples.”  In doing so, we have a very intentional system of making disciples.  It is more than having a good club,  good campaigner program, large area ministry, good numbers at camp, or a kicking region.  This involves senior leaders being good senior leaders by recognizing one day, the llama will win.  When he does, our intentionality of leadership development will be what determines how well the mission grows and expands long after we are dancing in heaven!  This is not morbid; on the contrary, this is how we should lead with the Spirit as Paul and Jesus led.  

So I say – “think about the llama...”


Dan Jessup


Want to create your own Leadership Tree?  Here's a simple download where you can make your own!

Need training on Second Branches?  Contact:  Scott Miedema -