Last Sunday was one of those days that make you sit and think about life. My wife Amy and I went to the wedding of one of my favorite students, Jenn. I found myself sitting in the aisle thinking many things. I can’t believe I’ve been in ministry long enough that I have students getting married, and I’m starting to feel old. I was jealous I wasn’t doing the wedding, but I guess the father of groom was good enough to perform the ceremony. I also thought about Jenn’s brother Justin (who was in my small group), the man he has become, and how he ships off for Iraq the following morning.
At dinner, we sat with some former students and their parents. I was talking with Tiffany and her parents when God decided to bless me in a very unusual way. For almost an hour, Tiffany’s mom went on and on about how important I was in the life of so many students, now young adults, in the room. She bragged about me to the others at the table. She told me how impressed she was that I would go to football games and cheer competitions, and how special it was to Tiffany and the girls. The conversation continued and I was blessed to hear how students were growing up and doing awesome things for God.
It was an amazing night, but God wasn’t done. God was showing me the rewards of the work He had done through me. If I had thought about Jenn’s life, her brother Justin, Tiffany, and the others who were there, I would have thought about many stories and memory makers we experienced together. I wouldn’t have thought about the discipleship that had gone on, just that I was doing my job. Yet, that is exactly what God was showing me.
My interaction with those students was so much more than just going to games, teaching Bible studies, and going to camps. These students were being supported and discipled. They were seeing an adult in their lives who loved them, cared about them, and was real with them. I love this style of ministry! I guess you could call it relational discipleship. For me it was natural, but it was also very intentional.
My job at Saddleback is to be relational, be on campus, and know more students than anyone else on staff. For me that was easy, I’m a flaming extrovert. However, when it came down to the individual students who God put into my life to lead, I get extremely intentional. I see the students in my Area Bible study as “my students,” the ones God has entrusted me to lead.
I do life with students. I intentionally look for opportunities to hang out with them. For example, I have brought students with me to go grocery shopping and taught them to cook tacos, I’ve called students to help me clean my house, move furniture, pick out gifts, etc. Things they would fight with their parents over, they would love to do with me. Why? The reason is not because I’m a “Super Pastor,” but because I spend time with them and earn the right to speak in their lives! In their eyes, I’m someone who cares. Someone who plays Xbox with them, shops with them, laughs with them, talks about TV shows, and goes to midnight movie openings. That is relational discipleship and they don’t know it.
God does some of His greatest work when we’re doing life together. Students will not remember all the sermons, Bible studies, and camps. However, my guys will remember all the boxes they helped me move when Amy was at her woman’s small group to surprise her, and how mad she was when she couldn’t find things, which they still talk about.
Be intentional with how you spend time with your students. It doesn’t matter if you are a full-time youth pastor or a volunteer who loves students. It doesn’t matter if you are a flaming extrovert or an introvert. It doesn’t matter the size of your ministry. What matters is what you do with the specific group of students who God has called you to love, lead, and disciple.
Find ways to spend time with them. Going to games, musicals, and watching movies is great and it means more to them than you’ll never know. But take it a step further. How can you do life with them? How can you include them? What are teachable moments you can share with them? How can you model what a godly adult looks like, what a godly friend, husband or wife, father or mother looks like? Discipleship is more than just teaching them the Bible, it’s also teaching them about real life. Some students are not ready or interested in learning about the Bible, but you can start by modeling life for them. It’s the classic quote “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When you do life with them, you earn the right to ask the deep questions. Discuss questions they have about God. Ask them about the girl/guy they just started dating. Find out how they are really doing.
Also, recruit and train your volunteers to do the same. You can’t do this on your own. There are too many students with different personalities. Even in my Bible Study, I knew every student and their names, but couldn’t disciple them all. I needed other small group leaders. Help your volunteers to understand the importance of relational discipleship and how easy it is.
Relational discipleship isn’t something only a few can accomplish, and it doesn’t have to take hours a week. Be intentional, make time for students and include them in your life. They will include you in yours. The rewards and blessings will be too many to count. It might take seven years to see them, but I promise you those students and their parents will not be able to thank you enough.
Have fun and let God use you to bless others.
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