I was asked to talk for 45 minutes about Discipling the Next Generation during the breakout sessions of a recent conference in Oklahoma City.
I shared my history of campus ministry experience, and then about my four kids. And then I said, “I have no idea how to disciple the next generation.”
Discipleship is a strange buzz word for me. I grew up in a church culture that took discipleship very seriously. That word and concept meant a formal mentoring relationship with rules and stipulations involved. It was extremely intentional and planned out. I had goals and steps to reach those goals.
However, when I look at the the Bible itself, I see a much different picture. That word “disciple” means “follower.” There were the 12 Disciples and there were other followers of Jesus. He called them to himself, and then they walked with him as he and they did ministry together. For years. All day every day.
The disciples never seem to quite get it. Often they have no idea what Jesus is talking about. They’re not on the same page at all. They miss everything he’s saying and doing. And in the end – they betray him and scatter. This is not a pretty picture of the discipleship relationship.
I don’t think it works as well for suburban Bible studies or lunch-break plans. It’s not conducive to anyone interested in time management or productivity.
Discipleship is walking with Jesus together, and that’s a crazy thing to do. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take confusion. It’s going to take conversation. It’s going to take risk and failure. It’s going to work and not work. It’s going to take miracles.
So instead of laying out what the next generation needs, I gave key words and principles that I think they and all people are looking for:
- Truth – people want truth. They’re not against it at all. They’ll fact check like crazy. The information is out there. So let’s teach them the truth about Scriptures, Christ and his church. They’re willing and hungry to learn.
- Kindess – they want charity, love, patience, fairness and justice in the truth they find. Not just the cold hard facts.
- Positivity – they’re so used to cynicism and hatred, but they want to know not only what your’e against but also what you’re for.
- Relevant Rootedness – they’ve grown up without much stability, so they long for traditions, patterns, liturgies, seasons and we can offer that if we have it ourselves or we can try to find it together. Along the way, they want to know why this stuff matters and if it’s relevant to their lives. That’s a fair thing to ask.
- Discussion + Action – they want to participate in the discussion and not just be lectured about what they should know and do. It’s motivating to be a part of what’s being figured out. Then they want to do something about it, not just talk about it. What a great quality!
- Love – They’re used to being judged by achievement or ignored by their achieving parents. Or they’re marginalized and cast out. They yearn to hear I love you, God loves you, I’m for you, God is with you, I’ll help you – no matter what.
- Diversity – they’re getting less and less okay with stereotypes, racism, classism and injustices. They’re passionate about and working towards more diverse places, and the church is far behind in this area.
- Authenticity and Honesty – their BS meter is high, even when they hand it out themselves. They’d like you to be honest, even in failures. They’re more willing to listen if there is genuine humility.
- Relationships, Community – they want to be together and in relationships. They want friends, mentors, marriages, churches, communities, neighbors
- Healing – there is so much hurt so their needs to be so much healing and freedom. They need healing and freedom from hurt, abuse, addictions, tragedies, divorce, and much more. Everyone needs counseling.
- Stories and Symbols – there is power in the narratives, the icons, the stories and symbols we have. We have often lost the arts or abandoned them, but beauty and art have power.
Perhaps we could walk together with the next generation and future generations, so more and more people will be persuaded that Jesus is beautiful and believable. That sounds like discipleship, or something like it.