I was looking through an old notebook recently, and found notes I'd made while reading Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean's excellent book, Almost Christian. (Although it's a few years old, it's still solid. If you haven't read it and are in youth ministry, I'd highly encourage it.) I had made some notes on how Dr. Dean described teenagers who live, in her words, a "consequential faith." In other words, teenagers who "get it."
To sum up her findings, teenagers who "get it," among other things, know what they believe (they can articulate the basic tenets of their faith), and they "live out" their faith.
This resonated with me at the time, and it still does. As I think about the call God has put on my life to disciple teenagers, these two elements are first and foremost with me.
More than anything, I want students to know God and His ways through His Word, and be transformed by the in-working, and the out-working of this knowledge in their lives. It's that simple.
While there are other aspects of discipleship, I believe that after an individual's salvation experience (of course), these two elements are the most central aspects of discipleship. Here's why . . .
God's Word Is Uniquely Transformational
There is nothing else capable of fostering spiritual transformation and growth like God's Word. Scripture affirms the Spirit as the agent of spiritual growth and fruit in our lives. But the means to fully know God and His ways is found only in Scripture. Can we learn about God through experience? Absolutely. Through His creation? Of course. Through other believers? Most definitely. But God's Word is the primary means He gave us to make Himself and His plan of redemption known to us.
A Knowledge Of God Is Essential For Discipleship
Being a disciple means being a follower. And we can't follow what we don't know. To follow Christ, we must know Him. And not just the Christ of the New Testament. We must know the whole story of God's redemption narrative or we stand to miss out on the beautiful richness of God's design to rescue us.
The Living-Out Of God's Word Is Literally What Being A Disciple Is All About
As James so deftly put it in James 1:22, and I paraphrase, "you're missing it if you think it's OK to hear God's Word and not see your life changed by it." If all we are is "hearers" of the Word, we're just collecting knowledge. We're a sponge, soaking up holy tidbits. Not bad in itself, but a sponge is useless unless it is put to work, wringing out its contents. We have to let God's Word dramatically affect our lives.
As we consider our youth ministries--our philosophies in discipleship, how we program, how we put volunteers to work, how we plan for the future--we must stop and ask how we are doing on these two elements:
- Teaching God's Word,
- And helping guide students toward being transformed by it.
The other elements of how we lead students in their spiritual development, elements such as service, stewardship, and worship, all depend on knowing God and being changed by this knowledge.
Take a moment today and consider the place these two elements have in your ministry.
Do agree that these two elements are at the heart of discipleship? If not, what would you suggest should be the core of our discipleship efforts?
How are you encouraging your students to both know God and live out this knowledge in their lives?