Organic Youth Discipleship
By Allison Hibbard
When I was younger, I was a follower. I tried my hardest to wear the right clothes, say the right words, and watch the right TV shows. I knew that I would be “in” if I could just get Katie’s approval. If she thought I was funny, then the others would laugh too. If she invited me to come to dinner, it would be the best night ever. Lucky for me, Katie did invite me to hang out, a lot.
We didn’t spend our time at wild parties; we never even really drove out of a three-mile radius. Most of the time, we would just drive around listening to the “Xanadu” soundtrack, making up hand-motions and laughing a lot. We’d go to Target, the mall, out to dinner; we’d sit around and watch old Charlie’s Angels re-runs. (I was too young for the show, but if Katie liked it, so did I.) I spent more time with Katie than with my own family and I loved every second of it.
My mom didn’t mind–she trusted Katie. She knew I was safe and staying out of trouble. I knew Katie from church. Katie was my small group leader, and over the years she became my best friend. (I know, this sounds very after-school-special, but it’s true.) In the 14 years that Katie and I have been friends, she’s been my small group leader, friend, confidant, mentor, and cheerleader. Now we work together in the ministry I grew up in.
Working in youth ministry, I hear the word discipleship a lot. To be honest, the whole concept is a little intimidating to me. When I think about it, I am reminded of just how human I truly am. I make mistakes all the time–who am I to tell a student to read her Bible every day when I haven’t made time to read mine in a week? Then I remember my relationship with Katie.
I don’t think Katie had a five-point plan of discipleship. I don’t remember her sitting me down to have a serious talk about the importance of tithing. I think she was following Christ, and sharing her journey with me. She was honest with her successes and her failures, and helped me as I tried to walk with Christ too. The more time I spent with Katie, the more I wanted to be like her. And since she was striving to be like Christ, the more I mimicked her, the more I became like Christ.
As a small group leader, I have tried to follow the example Katie set. I do my best to follow Christ daily, and share my life and my journey with the girls in my small group. I look for ways to encourage, challenge, and listen as they begin to walk on their own. I mess up every day, but I strongly believe that sharing our imperfections with students allows them to feel the freedom to make mistakes, and reminds them to learn from them and move forward.
First Corinthians 11:1 says: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (NIV). The hard part of this form of discipleship is that I have to be growing in order for my girls to grow. The easy part is there are no age, job, program or tool stipulations. It’s “life on life”.
Sure, there are a few special events here and there, but for the most part, I pull my girls in as a part of my everyday life. Target runs, visits to the mall, the McDonald’s drive-thru. Some days we speak in accents, some days we have to dance to whatever music is playing in Starbucks. It seems too simple, but those are the moments that the students laugh about. Those are the moments that the students remember. Those are the moments I remember. In fact, Katie and I spoke in British accents on Saturday . . . and laughed a lot.
By Danny Bowers
In youth ministry, we often talk about a healthy and growing ministry. And while numbers alone don’t always reflect the health, direction, or growth of a ministry, if that ministry isn’t growing in relationships with students, parents, volunteers, ministry opportunities, there may be something hindering what God could be doing.
One tool I have found to help grow a ministry is this simple acronym called, well, what else, G.R.O.W.
G – GOALS
You want to be able set goals for yourself, your staff, volunteers, and student leaders. You want to have something that your ministry is working towards. It could be the amount of students your volunteers really connect with, the quality of your student ministry gatherings, the amount of time you spend with students each week, how often you encourage your student leaders—the sky is the limit. But when we set goals we need to know that they are attainable. If you live in a city of 4,000 and you want to see 5,000 students show up for Sunday school . . . well the odds are against you. For me, my goals are to help me communicate the purposes, how they balance out in certain areas, and continue to share the passion of our student ministry to leaders and students. These are things that can help flourish the life and health of our ministry. This also helps me communicate to my supervisors how our student ministry is fitting in with the overall direction of the church.
R – Reality
This is the gut check after you set goals. If one of your goals is that volunteers connect with three students each week, then you have to know where you are starting. If your volunteers are not even connecting with one student, then that is your reality. For my leadership, the reality of where things are helps me know how I need to communicate my goals to the audience they need to be directed to. Sometimes the reality check can be encouraging, frustrating, or scary but remember—it just gives you a place to start, not a finish. It also helps you know what training is needed in your leadership.
O – Opportunities/Options
This is your brainstorming attack session. How are the goals going to stimulate your reality of where things are to move forward? This is where I love working with a team. It allows us all to know where we are at and where we are going. But how do we get there is up in the air. I love allowing “sky is the limit” type thinking because of the amount of excitement that can create and help you move forward. You have to look at what type of means or people do you currently have in place to help reach your goals. Sometimes your options may seem inadequate or non-existent, so maybe you get to create your own options. You may not be the creative/designer type but someone on your team probably has those skills. Have fun with this. But remember, we do the possible, God takes care of the impossible. I believe that when goals are honoring to God, opportunities are enjoyable to tackle and we see God provide. For me this area has to start, end, and with every aspect in between, be covered in prayer.
W – What’s Next
This is the part of ministry where many of us can get stuck. This is the part of the process where we put our thoughts to the future. As we set goals for a healthy student ministry and begin to push forward to reach these goals, we have to be in the process of thinking of where we are ultimately going? What do we need to prepare ourselves for next? This part of the strategy helps us as leaders and others around us embrace what we are doing and continue to push ourselves to keep health and life in our student ministries. It is about active thinking, never settling for being dormant.
Here is a quick example of one way this tool can be used:
When we first set out to initiate small groups in our student ministry, we set a goal of two small groups available for students. The reality was we didn’t have a single small group or leader. Our options were a set of five possible leaders and we chose the two who were the best for the time/season of our ministry. We also trained the other possible leaders, so in six months we could double our efforts. We went from two small groups to four small groups with great leaders and healthy environments.
There are many times when we have to become flexible and make adjustments along the way. There is no steadfast rule that once a goal is set it is set in stone. There is nothing that says you will always have options at your disposable. Sometimes certain goals you set could be great goals, but the wrong time in your ministry to try and make them work.
Working through this process with a team is highly encouraged and I believe the ministry will benefit. I also believe that as a leader, you may not be wired to facilitate all of these steps—maybe there is a ministry-minded friend or teammate who could help you process these steps. Regardless of the challenges, if we are dependent on Christ to see us through each step of this process, I believe we are working towards creating healthier settings for our student ministries. Hopefully this tool can help you as much as it has helped me!
These articles “Organic Disciplines” written by Allison Hibbard and “G.R.O.W.” written by Danny Bowers are excerpted from Youth Ministry Magazine a 2005 January edition.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.