Youth Ministry is More Than Entertainment
Youth ministry is full of fun and engaging activities and events. There’s nothing quite like watching students try to guess which fact is a lie during our icebreakers, cheering them on as they eat a blender full of McDonald’s food, or choosing a friend to eliminate during Mafia. At some point, though, most of us in youth ministry will start to question the point of it all.
What fruit comes from our games, fun trips, and events? Are we just entertaining the next generation? Are we focusing too much on fun and missing the Great Commission? Are we undervaluing the great command of Jesus to make disciples?
It’s a fair question to ask ourselves (and definitely possible in some cases), but I don’t think so. Let me explain.
When we look at the first-century disciples in biblical times, we see a much different definition than what most of us assume Jesus meant in Matthew 28. The goal of a disciple was to learn from a rabbi “close up.” It was very personal. In fact, in most cases, the disciple desired to become a replicate of his or her rabbi. The disciple would follow a rabbi from day to day, live with them in many cases, and be under their teaching, all in hopes of excelling in the knowledge that the rabbi possessed.
There was no curriculum or programming when it came to the plan. Instead, it was a daily relationship between the disciple and the rabbi. Knowing the biblical definition of being a disciple is relevant for us in our time because the same is required. Of course, our culture looks much different than that which Jesus lived in. However, I would argue that people haven’t changed that much.
The key to discipleship isn’t knowledge, it’s relationships. Think about it: who have you learned the most from when it comes to Jesus? Chances are, whoever that person is, you know them well and trust them deeply. This is the first requirement and most important one if we want to disciple students. We have to know them well, and they have to trust us deeply.
Unfortunately, this takes time. One sermon won’t do it. One amazing weekend service won’t cut it. One week at an awesome summer camp won’t provide it. If proper discipleship requires gaining trust, then proper discipleship is going to be slow. This is why we have to stick with it even when it looks like nothing is happening. Students aren’t going to become like Jesus overnight; nobody does that. Sure, God can miraculously deliver us from things in a moment, but becoming like Christ takes a lifetime. Our definition and strategy on discipleship should focus more on the relationship than it does content. If you sit and watch a tree grow, it will feel like it never does, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t growing.
Here’s what I’m getting at. I know sometimes the games and the events and the continuous conversations over and over can feel fruitless. However, just because we don’t see the fruit right away doesn’t mean the tree isn’t growing. Just because we don’t see a change immediately doesn’t mean God isn’t working. The games matter because humans don’t laugh with people they don’t trust. The conversations matter because humans won’t replicate people that don’t listen. The events matter because humans grow closer as they build memories together, even silly ones. It all matters because they build trust. If students can’t trust us, they’ll never let us disciple them.
So in conclusion, the challenge for all of us is to teach students the Bible and tell them about Jesus. But not just that, we must first be consistent, genuine, and intentional in our relationships with them so that we have the right and the trust to speak into their lives. Discipleship is slow because building a relationship is slow. After all, it’s God who does the growing, we just have to focus on loving students and allow God to do what only he can.
About the Author
Derrick Brown is the student pastor at Impact Church, a church that exists to see broken hearts healed, hope restored, and lives changed. Derrick got his start in youth ministry at the age of 18 and now has been in ministry for over 10 years. His heart is to see students have a real relationship with God,… Read More