Let’s be absolutely honest here for a second. It is hard enough just making our students into disciples let alone encouraging them go out and be disciple makers. Sure we want them to. But just look at what we are up against. Students have more distractions than ever before, they are busier than ever before, they are more stressed out than any generation before them, and they simultaneously live in a more volatile and diverse world than any generation before them. Simply put, the deck is not stacked in our favor. It might even seem that just getting our students to show up at youth group, do their best to follow Jesus, and maybe become a little better leader over their four years in youth group is victory enough.
Yet we also know that Jesus told us differently.
The Fear Within
Discipleship is missional. Faith isn’t a personal, private affair. It is meant to reach far beyond the confines of our personal space. Our act of following Jesus is designed to reach far more hearts than just our own. As the glorified and risen Christ stood before his fearful band of brothers, he reminded them of their mission. He reminded them that discipleship didn’t end when Jesus departed. In fact, it was just the beginning. They were being called to go and make disciples. They were called to testify to the truth of Christ’s resurrection and the life-changing message of the gospel. They were to continue the work and mission that Jesus had begun.
They were to be disciple makers
Our students are not all that different from those first followers of Jesus—unsure and afraid. Our students are struggling with having meaningful conversations with their peers. And they haven’t the motivation to try. Is it fear? Is it contentment or apathy? Or maybe it is just a lack of knowledge? It is actually something you might not expect. Let me introduce you to Mary. Mary was one of my model Christian students. Read her Bible, loved Jesus, and worshiped with her entire self. Everyone looked to her as a leader. Yet there was something that Mary wasn’t willing to do. She wasn’t willing to engage her peers in meaningful spiritual conversations. She wasn’t willing to hold her friends accountable. She wasn’t willing to tell her friends when they were being dumb and sinning. In other words, she wasn’t motivated to make disciples. She was content on knowing that she knew Jesus. She had her eternal destiny covered, and everything was going to be all right. So why in the world would I worry about anyone else? At first, I just thought she was selfish. Until I dug deeper.
She had no idea how to navigate her own culture. There was no doubt in mind that she loved her peers. In fact, that is what caused her fear. She was afraid that if she confronted her peers about Jesus or held her Christian friends accountable, she would come off as unloving or hypocritical. It was her love that paralyzed her in fear.
The Freedom of Truth
It is no surprise that youth culture is defined by a plurality of truths. Truth is often spoke of as something within, deeply personal, and therefore can be profoundly different for each person. So imagine being someone like Mary. How can you take the passion and energy that you have for Jesus and explain it to someone who will either praise you for having such conviction in your truth while sharing their conviction for their truth; or be completely offended because you attempted to share your views as if your efforts were an act of overt oppression?
It comes down to truth.
If we properly teach our students about truth, the difference between what is subjective and what is objective: and teach them how to engage in productive conversations with gentleness and respect, two key things will begin to happen. They gain confidence and conviction.
We sometimes jump to the conclusion that our students’ lack of motivation to make disciples is because of copious amounts of apathy. Rest assured, this is not always the case. Many of our students love Jesus. A lot. They want to follow, but our culture is successfully crippling them. And yes, it is easier to quietly attend youth group, avoid conversations about faith, and worry about ourselves and much less about those around us. It is easier to keep their mouths shut and not rock the boat. But every time I take the time to properly and thoroughly teach students the nature of truth and conversational methods that work, I witness first hand, an almost miracle-like transformation in their motivation to go and make disciples.
Teach on the difference between subjective and objective truth. Explain that subjective morality and relativism are self-defeating. Teach students to ask better questions, create relationships, and to love and accept people over accepting lifestyles. One could argue that this generation cares more and loves better than the rest of us. Leverage it. This generation has a greater sense of urgency to reach out and seek justice for the poor, broken, and marginalized. Embrace it. Not only will your students have a better grasp on the gospel and their culture, they will be people with truly changed lives seeking to change lives.