Discipleship Is Slow. What You Can Do About It
As part of my role with youthministry360 I get the privilege lead workshops with youth workers all around the country. This is cool because it provides a glimpse at the macro trends and discussions happening across a wide-range of youth ministry contexts. (I also love engaging with the outstanding men and women doing youth ministry in the trenches.) I was doing a recent workshop, one I do often in one iteration or another, on how youth culture trends impact discipleship. One of the youth workers in attendance made a point that reminded me of a one of the core principles of making disciples:
The process of growing to be more like Christ is inherently slow. Simply put, it takes a while.
This creates tension in our ministries for a few reasons.
- First, there is a sense of urgency that youth workers feel. In this current youth ministry climate, we have fewer opportunities to truly influence our students. (I recently wrote about this here.) Youth group participation is impacted by sports and other extracurricular activities. And this generation of teenagers is as overcommitted as any generation before them. Moments to engage with students outside of programmed events are sparse too.
- Second, our culture doesn’t value “slow.” As we know, we all live in a word set to hyper-speed. Nothing in our teenagers’ worlds is slow. Nothing takes time to develop. And yet the work of becoming like Christ only happens over time.
- Third, value is attached based on observable change. Our success in making disciples is judged by us and others based on how we see our students changing and growing over time. Sometimes we place unrealistic expectations on our students and our ministries based on where we think students should be in their faith. The truth is that everyone is different and the process of growing in Christ-likeness looks different for different students.
What can we do to deal with this tension? What can we do to put ourselves in a better position to address this truth in our students and our ministries? Glad you asked . . .
Know The End Goal
We need to know where we’re going. We need to have a clear picture of what we’re trying to accomplish in our students, how we’re going to go about it, and what we can logically expect to see in students by the time they pass through our ministries.
Have Realistic Expectations
I love having high expectations of my students. (And they constantly exceed them, by the way.) I believe we should treat our students as the people we know they can be not necessarily as the people they are today. But, I also believe we beat ourselves up when we don’t see the fruit we think we should see. Now, hear me say this: growth is expected. God expects His children to grow in their faith and He empowers us with the Holy Spirit to help. But we need to have realistic expectations of what our students are capable of spiritually during their time in our ministries.
Don’t Measure Value By Performance
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is attaching our own worth to how our students behave. Or where our students are in their faith after X amount of time in our ministries. The work of making disciples isn’t mass production, assembly line work. It’s hand-crafted, DIY projects. The journey our students will go on differs from student to student. We need to judge our success and failure based on metrics like our own faithfulness and commitment to God’s call and not on an perceived performance based metric of our students.
At the end of the day, when it comes to making-disciples, the long view is the best view.
We have to know that our work rarely pays dividends in the short-term. But if we’re faithful, we can watch real change take place over time. And that’s the best kind of reward.