There is a lot being written today about emerging patterns of church and youth ministry. Much of it is insightful and helpful as we seek to discover ways of being effective in mission to youth. However sociology is only one aspect of a youth ministry philosophy (see “Philosophy of Youth Ministry” YouthTRAIN 2004). In this first of a two part series I want to focus on a theological emphasis in discipleship that has been somewhat neglected – one that is rooted in the practice of the early church and is sociologically relevant to today’s emerging culture.
Four Models of Discipleship
If we examine youth ministry practice today, there are four broad approaches.
The first is Biblical Discipleship, which sets out to equip young people with an in depth understanding of scripture. It focuses on theology, scripture memory, and an understanding of the Biblical teaching on the many life dilemmas and questions young people face.
The second is Relational Discipleship, in which faith is modelled to the young people and “caught” by them. This is commonly done through mentoring and small group care and accountability.
The third is Missional Discipleship, which seeks to involve young people in Christian service as a means of growing and strengthening their faith. Features are an emphasis on spiritual gifts and involvement in evangelism and mission.
A fourth approach is Indwelling Discipleship in which there is an emphasis on the presence of the indwelling Christ and the role of the Holy Spirit in discipleship. Young people are given an awareness of Christ’s presence within and learn to commune with Him and discern his leading.
It is my contention here that while all approaches are valid and necessary, the approach that is most lacking and is most needed in this emerging generation is Indwelling Discipleship. This approach is no replacement for the other three; in fact it under girds them and is foundational to them. Without it the other three contain potential weaknesses and liabilities.
Biblical discipleship risks shaping a faith based solely in what we know. As our young people develop their ability to reason and become exposed to differing philosophies they can face debilitating doubts and uncertainty.
Relational discipleship is based on who we know. When a young person moves to a new location, or significant spiritual influences are no longer present, the result can be a decrease in spiritual growth through not having adequately developed their own sense of spiritual identity and their own inspiration and motivation for growth.
Missional discipleship breeds a faith based on what we do. It can lead to a performance based faith or a faith based on our ministry identity (youth leader, worship team member, etc.) Once a young person forsakes these roles, a significant part of the spiritual identity they have developed is gone and emptiness can follow.
Let me emphasis again, I am not advocating a departure from any of these approaches. The Bible gives us an objective means to avoid subjective spiritual error; spiritual service gives opportunity for young people to rely on God and be used by Him; role modeling gives us people who will inspire and encourage us to grown while offering correction.
Instead I am advocating a commitment to indwelling discipleship as the key to overcoming these potential difficulties. A young person who has developed a vital and real relationship with the indwelling God, will not, and cannot be swayed by intellectual doubts and difficulties. Their spiritual identity will not be bound up in what they do but on a real experience of Christ within. And while others may contribute to their growth, when these people are no longer part of the young person’s life, the One they have learnt to truth and rely on will still be present within. In short, theirs will be a faith based not on “who they know” but in “Whom they know”.
So indwelling discipleship should not be divorced from the other three. It is foundational too them and provides a framework in which Bible study, service and role modeling can take place.
Indwelling Discipleship and the Emerging Generation
The indwelling approach to discipleship makes sense for this generation. They are an experiential generation who believe (rightly) that spiritual reality is not just something that is grasped at an intellectual level but at level that engages mind, will and emotions. The indwelling approach helps young people to experience and enjoy a relationship with the living God through its emphasis on worship and contemplation.
They are also an experimental generation. They expect (again rightly) that faith will have a real and discernable impact on their lives – that it will “work” on Monday as well as Sunday. Indwelling discipleship reminds the young people that the same Christ who is with them at youth group and church, enters with them into home and school life every day of the week. They can commune with him and draw strength from him as they cope with daily life.
They are a lonely generation who hunger for intimacy and love. They hear that God loves them and yet they struggle to come into an experience of that. They hear that Christianity is about relationship rather than rules, and yet at times our efforts at discipleship communicate the opposite.
Finally they are a spiritual generation with a hunger for, and an openness to, the spiritual dimension, yet too often they see Christianity as a cerebral and somewhat bland experience compared to the spiritual “reality” they find through other sources.
Is It Biblical? Some Discipleship Dilemmas
Indwelling discipleship may seem like a good idea, but is it Biblical? Consider the following “dilemmas”:
- The early church, whose effectiveness in discipleship is so often presented as a model for today, had no New Testament – only the Old Testament; and even then few were able to read. The biblical discipleship we know and advocate could not work on its own.
- On the Day of Pentecost 3,000 men were saved. Jesus had modelled a pattern of discipleship that saw him invest His life in just 12 men. Outside of this core it seems there were others – up to 120 who followed Him closely. Why then did God not save 144 (12 times 12) or at most 1440 (120 times 12) on the Day of Pentecost so that Jesus’ plan could be copied? Instead He saved 3000 men and the disciples had a problem. The relational approach to discipleship alone would not work adequately. Instead of following a pattern they had to now consult their Master who now dwelt within them through the Holy Spirit.
- When Paul went on his missionary journey and planted churches he was only able to stay in one place with the new believers for a relatively short period of time before persecutors followed close behind, causing him to have to move on to another town or city. Later he would revisit the town, discover the church had not only survived but was thriving, and appointed leadership (Acts 14:21-23). The questions that intrigue are, what did he teach them over those few months that led them to survive, and why he did not appoint leadership before moving on so that the church could be organised into a missional body and missional discipleship could be effected?
My suggestion is that the answer to all these questions is indwelling discipleship. New believers were taught an awareness of the indwelling presence of Christ and looked to Him in quite practical ways as their teacher, guide, comforter, convictor and friend.
Is It Biblical? What Did Jesus Promise?
As youth workers we are familiar with the Great Commission and no doubt use it for our own motivation and the motivation of our young people to be involved in mission:
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Yet for a long time I failed to note the significance of the last half of the final verse, seeing it as some sort of “close of gospel benediction”. Yet the promise of Christ’s indwelling presence is in fact the key to the Great Commission. It is an awareness and appropriation of the fact of His indwelling presence that provides us with the inspiration and direction we need to both grow as disciples ourselves and to make other disciples. What Jesus is saying is, “make disciples with a practical awareness of this reality… I am with you”.
Such a thought would not have been new to the disciples. Jesus referred often to the coming gift of His indwelling through the Spirit, as we see in numerous places in John’s gospel such as:
22 “I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be One, as We are— 23 I in them and You in Me, all being perfected into One. Then the world will know that You sent Me and will understand that You love them as much as You love Me. 26 And I have revealed You to them and will keep on revealing You. I will do this so that Your love for Me may be in them and I in them.” (John 17:22,23,26)
Is It Biblical? What Did Paul Teach?
As we reflect on the many writings of Paul it might be interesting to come up with a sentence or two that summarises the main thrust of all his teachings. Or perhaps we might regard the following verses as Paul having already done this for us:
25 God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his message in all its fullness to you Gentiles. 26 This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to his own holy people. 27 For it has pleased God to tell his people that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. For this is the secret: Christ lives in you, and this is your assurance that you will share in his glory. (Colossians 1:25-17)
Perhaps in those brief months that Paul had with the new believers, this was the message that he constantly preached to them: that Jesus Christ lived in them, and that his presence was not mere theological fact but a practical reality that brought not only assurance but the means by which to live the Christian life:
I have been crucified with Christ. 20 I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19b-20)
Such was the centrality of the indwelling Christ to his own life that it became foundational to the prayers he offered for those under His care:
14 When I think of the wisdom and scope of God’s plan, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit. 17 And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. (Ephesians 3:14-17a)
Accepting the theological position that indwelling discipleship is foundational to discipleship has significant implications on the way we do youth ministry with this emerging generation. Not only does it affect our general approach to discipleship, it also affects how we approach Bible study, worship and counselling.
In part two of this article to be published soon we will explore the practical implications of indwelling discipleship.
For more information on training in Indwelling Discipleship inquire about our four hour course more…