What's your purpose for doing youth ministry? While the wording of our answers might differ some, the heart of our responses would probably be very similar, and may even be summed up in one sentence: The purpose of youth ministry is to lead students to become disciples, or followers, of Christ.

Now, how this gets done looks a million different ways. And, we must acknowledge that we play different roles with different students, depending on the level of parental engagement in a student's spiritual development. But if you ask me, your call, or your task, if you will, is to play your part in making disciples of Christ.

I think about discipleship a lot. I think a great deal about how we as youth ministers and youth workers lead students to be followers of Christ and not merely nominal Christians. And I had a thought the other day I wanted to pass along to you. It's this:

If we aren't leading students to become disciples, what are we leading them to become?

Are we leading students to be legalists? Do our students see their relationship with Christ as little more than a list of "do's and don'ts" to check off? Are our ministries full of teenagers who aren't motivated by imitating Christ's holiness, but are instead driven by a Pharisaical sense of rule keeping?

Are we leading our students to be lukewarm religionists? Do our students go through the motions at Church, but lead unremarkable lives at school, barely discernible from those who don't know Christ?

Are we creating spiritual consumers? Are we more concerned about the level of our students' entertainment than the depth of their devotion? Do we put more time, thought, and energy into our presentation than we do our content?

Or are we, in a word, leading students away from Christ? Do the things we say and do demonstrate to students that following Christ is optional, a hard task reserved for the super-spiritual? Does the content of our programs show them that Christ is containable, and predictable, and not very life-changing or transformative? I'm confident that there's not a one of us reading this that would knowingly or willingly lead students to be these things. But, when you're not intentionally raising-up disciples of Christ according to the picture painted in Scripture, you will inevitably be leading students to become something other than a true Christ-follower.

We are helping to shape teenagers' faith. What are we shaping it to be?

How can we know if we are helping students grow into disciples? In other words, what is the fruit of our ministry in the lives of our students? What does it look like when it works?

  • If you see students who are growing in their knowledge and understanding of Scripture, you are helping them grow into disciples.
  • If you see visible fruit of spiritual growth in their lives (in other words, if you see them applying their growing knowledge of Scripture), you are helping them grow into disciples.
  • If you are actively working alongside students' parents as co-laborers in shaping their faith-lives, you are helping them grow into disciples.
  • If your students are engaging in your church outside of "youth specific" activities, you are helping them grow into disciples.
  • If your students are developing a heart for the poor, the sick, and the outcast, you are helping them grow into disciples.
  • If you see students willingly embrace leadership responsibilities, you are helping them grow into disciples.

The methods by which you lead students to become true followers of Christ will differ depending on the individual variables that define your ministry. But here's one thing that is universally true across all ministries:

If we are not intentional about leading students to become disciples, we seriously undermine the chance that it will happen on our watch.

What is your strategy for making disciples?