Though it was 18 years ago, I still remember it pretty clearly. It was one of my least favorite parts of Marine Corps Boot Camp. No, it wasn't an obstacle course, a uniform inspection, or physical training. It was a little thing called "field day." Performing a "field day" was basically cleaning your room. Except the room was a squad bay. And it was the Marine Corps version of "cleaning." Instead of mops, you pushed a towel as fast as you could run on all fours. Yup, I would rather crawl through a mud-filled trench under barbed-wire than sweep the floor with a shoe shine brush. The real thing that made "field days" so frustrating to me was that there was no real defined goal. There was no set purpose. When we began, we had no idea of when it would end. The cleanliness of the squad bay had nothing to do with it. We were at the mercy of our Drill Instructors and their agenda, or lack of one.
I wonder sometimes if the teenagers in our youth groups see our discipleship efforts this way.
Now, I am not comparing our discipleship groups to Boot Camp. (We might need to talk about your methodology if there is too much similarity between the two.) But, I do wonder how your students would respond if you asked them to articulate the goal or purpose of your discipleship initiatives.
What would they say? How would they answer? I imagine for many of us, our students would have a hard time articulating the purpose or goal of our discipleship programs, because they have not been properly informed of them. Sadly, many youth ministries just aren't that strategic. Could you answer these questions about your discipleship program?
- What is the stated goal? In other words, what do you want to achieve in the lives of your students? Is this goal birthed out of Scripture? Does it correspond with any one of the many biblical descriptions of a mature Christ-follower?
- How are you measuring your effectiveness? In other words, are you concerned with whether or not it's working?
- Are students held accountable for their growth towards your stated goal? If students are not growing in their faith, if they are not taking discipleship seriously (for whatever reason) do you have a process or plan to help intervene?
- What role do your discipleship programs play in your larger youth ministry philosophy? Field-days were horrible. But they were part of a very calculated plan to shape young men and women into Marines. How does your discipleship initiative integrate with and serve the rest of your youth ministry vision?
Whenever I write or speak about discipleship in such a procedural manner, I'm tempted to cringe a little inside. I naturally resist taking something so spiritual and organic and treating it in what could seem like a rather sterile, or "assembly-line" manner. Honestly, I'm more personally drawn to the "mysterious" and beautiful parts of Spirit-fueled transformation that occur when a teenager "gets it." But, if we're not intentional about our purposes for discipleship, if we are not specific in the goals we set for our students, we run the risk of being ineffective. And in this discussion, being ineffective means potentially seeing a young man or woman fall short in the area of their spiritual growth.
With stakes this high, I'd rather err on the side of making sure we have a process in mind, any day.