At the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, just before He ascended into heaven, Jesus gave His followers one last charge: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:19,20a). These are verses that I’m sure are familiar to you but have you noticed that they are cradled between two lesser known but deeply significant phrases uttered by Jesus, namely ““I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) and “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)?
We dare not act on the command to make disciples without first reminding ourselves that Jesus is intimately involved in the process, both through His power (v.18) and His presence (v.20). The implication is of course that we do not make disciples on our own – we have Him with us and within us.
Furthermore, other verses lead us to take this a little further. There is a sense in which we do not make disciples at all! It is after all God who saves people by drawing them to Jesus (John 6:44) and the Holy Spirit who then does the teaching (John 14:16,17,26). Therefore when we disciple the young people in our ministry we do so with the understanding that our task is to allow God to disciple them through us.
This means that discipleship is not a programme we put young people through but a three way relational interaction between God, the young person and ourselves. In this interaction it is God who leads, the young person who follows, and we who “pace” with the young person helping them discover His direction in His time. Unless we stay mindful of this, we end up with a common scenario in which we lead, expecting the young person to follow us, and asking God to bless our efforts.
This is more than a theological or philosophical concept. It has practical implications. Firstly it affects the way we do evangelism. It is not our role to get young people to choose to follow Christ. That’s God’s domain. Our role is to be obedient in proclaiming His message and when we do God is quite able to do His part without the need for dimmed lights, prolonged appeals and emotive music played over and over. Such “appeals” are not only not Biblical, they can be harmful, pressuring young people to follow us (not God) into a decision before they are ready. Instead we need patience in waiting until the pull of His Spirit is so strong it is hard for them to resist. This will happen without manipulative appeals. It will even happen when they return home and sit alone in their bedrooms reflecting on what was said at your youth meeting.
Secondly it affects what we do as “follow up” when a young person comes to Christ. The temptation is to provide them with a list of do’s and don’ts, whereas instead we should be helping them build a relationship with the Discipler who will lead them into Truth. Our first question should be “Where is Christ in relation to you?” and having helped them to an understanding that He lives within them, our second question should be, “What is He saying to you?” Are there insights He has particularly impressed upon them? If so explore the reason. Are there things they are doing that they feel bad about and want to change? If so, work with them on these issues and avoid the temptation to impose upon them your own list of sins that they need to forsake. Not only will you be allowing God to disciple through you but you will be teaching the young person to hear His voice.
Thirdly, it affects the way we counsel young people. For too long I wanted to be seen as the wise guru having all the answers when young people came to me. Now I direct them to look to Jesus and seek His answers, sharing what I believe He may be saying through Scripture and my own insights, or humbling confessing my lack of knowledge of His will when I have no idea what He is saying. On these occasions I pray with the young person and commit to continue praying and meeting with them, until they themselves are convinced regarding where He is leading.
As was the case with decision making, discipling with the understanding that God is the Discipler who wants to disciple young people through me, is very freeing. I can leave Him to do His work of convicting, convincing and comforting while I stick to my role of caring, communicating and coaching.
In Part 7: My teaching