This went on for about a decade, until the church had to begin doing triage with kids who had been raised in the church, but never discipled to own their own faith.
Now the most common questions I hear from youth workers and parents are:
“How can we equip teenagers to truly live out their faith in a world full of distractions?”
“What is the secret to helping kids own their faith by the time they move out on their own?”
“How do you actually disciple teenagers today, connecting them with positive adult role models who will mentor them how to walk like Jesus?”
A few years ago, in our book Ministry by Teenagers, my good friend David R. Smith and I addressed the proverbial elephant in the room: the growing number of teenagers raised in the church who will walk away from their faith during or shortly after high school. It’s a sad reality, one plagued by conjecture of “what the real problem is.” Rather than throwing stones, David and I offered some tried and true methods to disciple teenagers, help them live out their faith in word and action, giving them opportunities to serve on their own as well as in a student leadership team.
But what does this specifically look like?
In other words, we can use words like “disciple” and “mentor” all day long, but what does this look like with teenagers in the church today? Simple questions like, “What discipleship material works well with today’s kids?”
I think that’s what my blog reader Rich was asking:
I’ve been reading your book, “Ministry by Teenagers” and I totally love
it. I’m going to be modeling my Student Leadership Team after those
principles this school year. It’s been a tremendous help as I seek to
give my SLT some structure, direction, and purpose.
I did have a question for you. What kind of discipleship materials do you recommend for the student and mentor to use?
Good question Rich. This blog is a good format to give specific and current examples of effective discipleship material. I find that there isn’t just one rubber-stamp “catch all” discipleship material that I use. It really depends on the kid, their gender, their age, their maturity, their passion, their questions, their struggles…
So I really try to adjust the content to the kid.
Here are some examples of effective discipleship material I recommend:
- If I have a kid who has a lot of questions about faith or Jesus, I might take them through Lee Strobel’s A CASE FOR FAITH or A CASE FOR CHRIST. Or Tim Keller’s A REASON FOR GOD (Is it just me, or do you think Tim Keller might just be the C.S. Lewis of the new Millennium?)
- If I have a kid who is a showing great leadership potential, I might take them through a John Maxwell book about leadership, or one of my favorites still, FINISHING STRONG by Steve Farrar (I still think this is the best book to take a leader-guy through)
- If I have a normal teenager (guy or girl) who is going through typical teenager stuff (peer pressure, temptations, disagreements, enduring through difficult times…) then I’d probably take them through my brand new THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR TEENAGERS, coming out in two weeks. In this fictional premise I was able to deal with real world issues that teenagers struggle with today. The book is a devotional that tells the story of three teenagers struggling to survive “against the odds” and it comes with 27 sets of discussion questions pointing them to the truth from the scriptures. It’s laid out so kids can read it and go through the questions on their own, in a small group, or with a mentor. Doug Fields describes it well: “Jonathan’s Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenagers is exactly the type of devotional teenagers will actually read. In a fun and interesting way, Jonathan helps teens tackle tough issues like coping with pain and depression, drinking, loving difficult people, and the temptation to indulge in fleshly desires. The teenagers in my small group will be blown away that there’s a Christian author who uses the popular post-apocalyptic fictional premise to address their real-life issues.”
- If I had girls that were going through the typical pressures girls face, I’d probably have my female adult leaders take them through books from Hayley DiMarco. Doug Field’s daughter Tori recommended some of her books to my daughter Alyssa and she really liked SEXY GIRLS: HOW HOT IS TOO HOT? and anything from the GOD GIRL series.
- But I also like to use scripture. Sometimes I’ll just take a kid through the book of Matthew or Galatians or Ephesians. If I have an adult leader who would prefer a “study guide”, then I might give them something like the WELCOME TO THE FAMILY book that we provide as a FREE download on our website on this “FOLLOW UP” page. I’ve used this with brand new believers and kids that have been in the church their whole life.
- I just wrote another devotional for guys called, THE GUYS GUIDE TO GOD, GIRLS…AND THE PHONE IN YOUR POCKET. New York Times Best selling author Nancy French called the book, “refreshingly brutal.” Exactly what today’s guys need to hear.
In all of these situations I like to meet with the kid regularly in a casual place (an ice cream shop, Taco Bell…) and talk about real life. If we go through a book, we’ll say, “Read chapter 1 by next week and let’s talk about it.” When we meet, I start with laughing, joking, asking about his week (doing way more listening than talking). Then we review what we read. If it’s a book with discussion questions, I’ll go through those discussion questions.
Discipleship goes way beyond youth ministry. Followers of Christ are going to be compelled use the model that He used so effectively: Go and make disciples.
My church is learning this right now. We’re developing some mentor programs that go beyond the typical “youth leaders.” We’re trying to train adults from all over the church and connect them with young people who have a desire to grow in their faith. Last month we had a training after church and had about 30 adults (mostly non-youth-staff) attend. Our hope is to have these 30 people sitting in coffee shops and Jamba Juice with a kid several times a month this next year, talking about real life and even using some of the materials I recommended above to help young people draw closer to Jesus.
What are you doing to make disciples?
What resources do you use?