Everybody is doing it. Just this one time won’t hurt. Relationships solve every problem. You are #1. Popularity and power are keys to success. Music is life. Image is everything. But he loves me. We are attracted to each other in every way possible!
In a culture that is full of lies and falsities, many of our students are missing the mark of authentic discipleship! Much of our time in youth ministry is spent attracting students, yet we often find ourselves using the same tactics as SnapChat, Nike, Apple, Abercrombie, and Starbucks. The image of our ministry is everything! We want the latest and greatest of everything! We want to be in the spotlight of our schools. We want leaders to thank us and show their appreciation for us. We want our senior pastors to acknowledge our works and abilities. We want parents to see their kids are having fun and staying safe when they are with us. We want to fit in with the ‘cool kids!’ We want to be edgy with our messages and ways of communication. We want students to think we are hip before they mention our love for Jesus.
What are we feeding our students? What do they take away from their time in our ministries? What are we communicating? How are we attracting new students and connecting them into a journey with Christ?
I challenge every ministry leader, every youth pastor, every volunteer, and every parent to see their responsibility of making disciples before they ever think about creating cool ministries full of popular students! We often become disillusioned in our quest for discipleship. We trick ourselves into believing that if we attract the right students we will grow an awesome ministry. While that can be true based on numbers it does not always equate into a culture of discipleship. Here are six warning signs that can appear within a Culture of Attraction versus six key focuses we must strive towards in order to develop a Culture of Discipleship.
1. Emotional Rollercoaster vs. Foundation in Christ – Our desire is often to see our students walk away ‘feeling’ great about themselves. Over the course of a service we take our students on an emotional roller coaster, inviting them to cry, laugh, and feel appreciated. Our goal is to get them to emotionally connect to our worship leader, our speakers, and our leaders. We want them to ‘feel’ Christ, not experience Christ! In the words of Mark Lowry, ‘There are some mornings when I wake up before the sun comes up that I do not feel saved.’ Christianity cannot be based on emotions. James says we must have joy during the most difficult times! It doesn’t matter what our lives look like; we must be firmly planted in our relationship with Christ. Please don’t hear me wrong – emotions are great! Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
We need to stir the passions, desires, and emotions of our students as we direct them towards a foundation in Christ. Jesus was emotional and showed compassion on many, but His personal foundation was built on a relationship with the Father! He was rooted in God, not His own personal emotions. He desired to passionately live out the Father’s calling. Are we drawing our students toward us emotionally or into a relationship with Christ that is not wavering on faulty ground?
2. Events & Programs vs. Relationships & Community – How much time do you spend on event planning and programming? Do you spend just as much time in relationships and community? Who are you discipling and who is discipling you?
It is easy to fill a calendar with summer trips, retreats, Disciple Now weekends, small group programming, services, outreach events, pizza parties, middle school ice cream socials, cardboard crazes, Christian concerts, trips to local theme parks, and… well… you get the point. I have felt at times like my level of success is measured by how many incredible events I can do. What parties am I throwing? How many kids were there? What crazy, disgusting games did we do? Who ate the chocolate out of the diaper? Who ate the blended McDonald’s happy meal? Which student won the iPad?
What if we were to narrow our ministries down to 4 major events over the course of the year – summer trip, Disciple Now weekend, fall retreat, and a Back 2 School event? It would give us the ability to pour into the lives of our leaders, families, and students on a personal level. We would see students experience community that would lead to a culture of discipleship! Jesus didn’t throw parties. He built relationships. He didn’t go from event to event. He went from person to person doing the work of the Father!
3. Elevating Self vs. Elevating God’s Voice – Unfortunately, many youth pastors use their platform as a way to promote themselves. Students can easily pick up on this, and it can become detrimental to the culture of our ministries. I have also seen youth pastors promote the individual instead of promoting a relationship with Christ. In other words, they encourage their students to just ‘do what’s best’ instead of teaching to live out God’s Word. I understand there must be grace and love, but without truth you do not get authenticity. The combination of grace, truth, and love creates a culture of discipleship.
What are you doing to elevate God’s voice over selfish desires? Do you even teach that God is clearly speaking to each and every person on the face of the planet? Do your students walk away knowing how to hear God’s voice? Once we realize God is speaking to us individually, we must pause to reflect on those Kairos moments. We are then faced with the choice to move on and ignore God – elevating our own selfish desires – or to obey God’s voice as we elevate our love for Him! Hearing and obeying God’s voice is a simple process that we must be instilling in the hearts and minds of our students!
In tomorrow’s blog, I will take a look at these last three points of difference between a culture of attraction and a culture of discipleship…
4. Reliance on Yourself vs. Reliance on God
5. Large Group vs. The Whole Person
6. Living for the Moment vs. Living on Mission