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.
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)
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) email@example.com
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 ...
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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 (email@example.com)
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:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician’s Nephew
The Last Battle
Crystal Kirgiss (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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)
- Wednesday Small Groups
- City Group
- Donuts and Discipleship
- Tuesday’s with Hall (leader’s last name)
- 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
- CORE (Christ, Outreach, Relationship, Engagement)
- Connection Groups
- James’ Gang
- Soup Group
- Community Group
- Beyond Campaigners
- 222 (2 Timothy 2:2)
- Breakfast Club
- Breakfast and Jesus
- 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)
- CC (acronym for Conversation and Growth in Spanish; used in Costa Rica)
- The Fellas
- Minute Men
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.
What other 4-word tools do YOU use? Send them to email@example.com.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“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:
JUST COPY IT.
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
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 (email@example.com)
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
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.
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
letting them help in his ministry
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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, 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...”
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 - email@example.com