The rising generation is not the future of the church, they are the church. Right now. It is, of course, true that our investment in our youth today prepares them for a future that has deep-seated implications for the church in the days ahead. But maybe, more importantly, our investment in them today has an immediate impact both in terms of the church right now and the surrounding culture.
If you lead youth in any way, you are shaping the church right now for right now. But we have to also realize that any kind neglect to effectively disciple youth today still shapes the church right now. Even if we don’t feel the effects until later. Until it’s too late.
We putter along thinking that the methods we use are adequate when our results are actually just short of terrifying. We believe that if it worked for us as students, then it must work for students today. We work hard hoping for a payoff we may never see. At the same time, we ignore what is right in front of our faces. There will always be students that we graduate wondering if their faith will survive college and beyond. Some of them pull through, and some don’t. But we can’t ignore the strength and power of our students’ faith in the present.
Stop Just Hoping
As a teacher, I had the privilege of standing on stage during the commencement ceremonies for our graduating seniors. My role was to read their “life verse” as they made their way across the stage diploma in hand, smiling ear-to-ear, filled with a penultimate sense of accomplishment. Next up would be college.
But were they going to make it? Were they ready? Would their faith withstand the cultural onslaught that was coming straight for them like an out of control freight train? With every hug or handshake came an overwhelming wave of anxiety. Would I ever be sure? Could I? Perhaps not definitively, but indeed there were some steps I could have taken to at least allow myself to sleep a little better at night.
Our school’s entire infrastructure of discipleship was geared toward loading students up with knowledge, skills, and a few experiences in hopes it would be enough to carry them through college. We basically viewed college as a barren desert. No food or water for the next four years. Our task was to supply them with enough to make it to the fertile lands of family and career. We called it preparing them for the future.
But it wasn’t. What we called preparation completely ignored discipleship. What we hoped would set students up for future success, did nothing for their current experiences. We gave students everything we counted on them needing, sprinkled some magic fairy dust on it, and hoped it would somehow translate into a disciple of Jesus on mission for the gospel. We hoped for disciples instead of making them.
Stop Just Equipping
I don’t believe this scenario is limited to the graduation stage of my little Christian school world. I think the same is true for the church. It is nothing malicious or ill-intended. We are still focused on discipleship. Well, maybe not quite. More specifically, we are focused on equipping God’s people, hoping that it makes disciples. But there is more to discipleship than just equipping. It is more than a distribution of tools for any job that may come my way. I can purchase every tool available at Home Depot and still have no clue how to use them to build a house. The same is true of discipleship. Giving our students all the tools they need means very little if we never first, demonstrate how to use them and second, give them ample opportunity to master them.
Hope does not make disciples. Equipping is only a part of the process. Walking with those we mentor in their journey, teaching them and guiding them in each step, and providing the means to master the tools we provide. This is the stuff of discipleship.
I believe it is time to reconsider our methods for raising up a new generation. I believe it is time to truly meet our students’ needs with the power of the gospel.