3 Ways to Facilitate and Further Discipleship
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Every year, in my church context, we create goals. We have whole church goals, campus goals, team goals, and individual goals. We’ve had WIGs (wildly important goals), BHAGs (big heavenly audacious goals), S.M.A.R.T. goals, and Biggies. We know how to set goals, track them, change them, vision cast them, and every year, we do it. Goals set a trajectory, give direction, and help us rally around a common vision and pursuit.
Sometimes this process can be overwhelming or confusing, but when we consider goals within the church, they revolve (or should) around one overarching goal. Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:12, and Colossians 1:28 all present, in various forms, the main goal of Christians and church leaders – to make disciples. We are invited to partner with God’s Spirit in the work of being shaped and shaping others into the image of Christ so that we all might be mature disciples. With that as our mission, all the goals we set should flow from that foundation and toward that end.
But if we’re honest, when it comes to the goal of discipleship, it’s a lot harder to set and achieve goals in any measurable way that doesn’t leave us feeling a bit uneasy about our metrics. Do we measure attendance or hands raised during an alter call? Maybe we track baptisms or students who are serving in the church? Could we create a YouVersion reading plan and track participation or new student invites? There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those metrics. Still, not one of them perfectly captures discipleship holistically, allowing us to accurately measure discipleship among our students. So what do we do?
When it comes to gauging the overall discipleship of our students, I think there are 3 major things to emphasize in our ministry settings. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I would argue that if we can foster these three things, we can have an accurate sense of where our students are in their discipleship and be more active in helping them grow.
- Healthy Ratios
The idea of ratios has existed at my church in varying degrees over the last 15 years or so. Some of our teammates really emphasize it, and others may not even know that it’s a thing. But as a concept, ratios are all about trying to create manageable and healthy relationships within a small group. A leader can only deeply know a few people, so asking any leader to disciple a group of 15 is a bit lofty, probably feels unattainable to the leader, and is less than helpful to the student.
A podcast I listened to a few months back shared this thought on discipleship: “we are formed through ongoing, proximate encounters with another who is vulnerable with us, invites us to be vulnerable with them, and challenges us to live a renewed life.”
If those are the building blocks for effective discipleship, then we should set up healthy ratios that allow those things to be realized. As a reference, we strive for a 1:8 ratio in our high school ministry, that is, 1 leader to 8 students. This allows for the leader to have the capacity to get to know and “do life” alongside these students without being too overwhelmed by the size or scope of their care. When we have healthy ratios, leaders can know their kids. When they know their kids, they can walk with them personally, and when that happens, a relationship is formed that allows for discipleship.
- Practical Next Steps
Sometimes student ministry can feel a bit like a holding facility. We keep all the rowdy kids entertained until they’re old enough to be let out into “big church” and do all the “big church stuff.” With that mentality, we can emphasize faith decisions in our ministry settings but fail to offer legitimate next steps for a student to take after that point.
Do we have areas for them to determine and develop their spiritual gifts and use them to build up the church? Do we have evangelistic opportunities for them to engage in or leadership to assume within a safe ministry environment? Are we connecting them to other leaders within student ministry and the larger church to be developed spiritually and mentored in the way of Jesus?
These next steps, and many others, are necessary to keep students growing in their faith and their discipleship of others. When we set up these practical next steps, we give students direction, empowerment, and support to grow in their lifelong pursuit of Jesus. On an organizational level, with these next steps in place, we can assess whether or not kids in our ministry are taking them, and it provides a glance at the state of discipleship within our ministry.
- Personal Story
Ratios and next steps are important and can be valuable, but nothing beats hearing and seeing the stories of life change unfold right in front of us. I love sitting down with my leaders and hearing the stories they participate in as they walk with students daily. More than that, as pastors, we should be connecting consistently with students in our ministry and hearing directly from them about the things going on in their lives. When we sit, meet, and engage with our students, we get a first-hand look at what God is doing in them, and we open ourselves to the ways the Spirit may choose to use us to join in that work. In a really simple way, if you want to know where your students are in their discipleship journey, ask them. The best way to get an accurate idea of where your students are in their walk with Jesus is to start walking with them.
Discipleship is our greatest goal. That’s the aim of the ministries we’re serving. While there are hundreds of other good things that could take our attention, as student ministry leaders, our hearts, minds, and practices should be set on the goal of seeing young people transformed into the image of Christ. With that goal in mind, we should be intentional about setting goals that gauge how that’s happening and allow us to see how we can be even better about creating ministry environments that foster that aim.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- What do you currently measure in your ministry environment? How does that metric help you identify the discipleship of your students? Of the 3 ideas shared here, is there one you could put in place in your environment?
- What goals are you setting when it comes to the vision of your ministry and the spiritual health of your students?
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