student ministry, youth ministry, discipleship, discipling students

From Silly to Sacred: Creating a Culture of Discipleship

By Doug Franklin April 13, 2017

When I was a youth pastor, I wanted to create an atmosphere of fun and excitement. I did this through games, worship bands, crazy stunts, and events that seemed risky even though they were not. I figured that if students thought, “Anything can happen at youth group,” they wouldn’t want to miss out on a single night.

This system actually worked. Attendance increased regularly in every youth ministry I ran. But looking back, I’m not sure I achieved the goal I was shooting for. I used this system to keep students coming—and if they came, I assumed they would encounter Jesus. I measured their attendance, but I never thought to investigate their growth in relationship with Jesus.

The churches that I worked for loved me. More students meant more families. More families meant more giving. So no one questioned my results. I guess they were thinking the same thing I was: a packed youth ministry was a successful ministry.

“I was too focused on creating a culture of fun, rather than a culture of transformation.”

I was good at creating culture. But I’m ashamed to admit that it never dawned on me to create a culture of discipleship. I was too focused on creating a culture of fun, rather than a culture of transformation.

If I had to do it over, I would create a new kind of discipleship culture. I would start by helping my adult leaders build deep meaningful relationships. I would challenge them to ask personal questions and to get to know parents and glean from them information about their kids. I would create space and time for students and adults to bond. Then I would teach my adults how to use that relationship as a foundation for discipleship, how to turn the corner from small group leaders to mentors.

“I have been told a hundred times that you can’t measure transformation. But it’s not hard to see stagnation or growth in specific areas, like pride or selflessness.”

Once adult leaders had mentoring relationships with students, I would provide them with the deeper content I wanted them to teach. I would break down the content into small sections that adults could easily share with students. The adults would look for milestones in students’ lives to better know when each student was bearing fruit. I have been told a hundred times that you can’t measure transformation. But it’s not hard to see stagnation or growth in specific areas, like pride or selflessness.

Would I still play games and do wild activities? Yes, but every activity would be core to the ministry, not just some add-on for behavior control.

Culture change starts with relationships. How deep are the relationships in your ministry? Are they deep enough to direct conversations away from the silly and back toward the sacred?

Doug Franklin

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have a dog that thinks he is their only child. Diesel is a 70-pound Weimaraner  who never leaves their side. Doug grew […]

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