In Part 1 I focussed on the theological basis of an approach to discipleship which I called Indwelling Discipleship. I contended that this was the fundamental approach to discipleship in the early church and it needs to be so in our youth ministries today, not replacing, but underpinning the more common approaches I called Biblical discipleship, missional discipleship and relational discipleship. In this second part I will take a more practical approach, looking at what specifically the implications of indwelling discipleship are for the way we go about discipling young people.
Ministers of the Spirit
5 It is not that we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves. Our only power and success come from God. 6 He is the one who has enabled us to represent his new covenant. This is a covenant, not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old way ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives life. (1 Corinthians 3:5-6)
In youth ministry we face a constant temptation to minister the Law – to tell young people what they should and shouldn’t be doing, constructing an elaborate system of “do’s and don’ts” which young people must adhere to in order to be “good Christians”. Yet this verse points out that such an approach ends in death.
How many young people have we seen exit out of our youth ministries, knowing all the right answers but without any real heart devotion? How many have we seen move away to study at tertiary institutions where they are exposed to new philosophies and beliefs that “talk them out of” what they previously believed? A friend once commented to me that a relationship with Jesus spoils you for everything else – meaning that once you have connected with Jesus at a relational level no amount of argument or sin can enable you to shake the sense that following Jesus is the only way of living that brings purpose and peace.
Rather than minister the Law, we are called to minister the Spirit – to disciple young people in such a way that they learn to experience the reality of the indwelling Christ in their daily lives and form a loving relationship with Him – one that makes it hard, if not impossible, to walk away from.
It may be that we frequently use phrases (clichés?) such as “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship” and “know God, don’t just know about Him”, but do we devote time to actually teach young people how to experience or grow in this relationship? Or do we fill them with Biblical facts and just expect it to occur?
Our primary role in discipling young people is to “draw them into a relationship of dependence upon Christ”. It would be helpful for us to write this down and display it prominently in our office to ensure that this remains our focus. In order to accomplish this we do two things:
Teach young people the practical reality of the indwelling Christ
On those occasions where I have been privileged enough to lead a young person to Christ, I have taught them that conversion and the new birth involves having Jesus come and live inside of them through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Once they have understood and have prayed a prayer of repentance, trust and commitment, I will ask them where Jesus is now in relation to them. Frequently I will be met with a puzzled look but with further explanation regarding what has just occurred, it dawns on them that because they invited Him to dwell in them, that is where He now resides.
I am convinced that this is the most important point a young person needs to know and understand on conversion, and I will talk and teach on this frequently to them, as I believe Paul did to his new disciples.
Teach young people to hear the voice of God
The fact of Christ’s indwelling through the person of the Holy Spirit is more than a theological proposition. It is a practical reality, and must be taught as such. Now the question arises, if Jesus lives in me, what does He do there? Surely His presence is not something passive but active. True, His presence gives us power for ministry but there is so much more.
We read in John’s Gospel that the Holy Spirit is our teacher, counsellor, and guide.
7 But it is actually best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Counselor won’t come. If I do go away, he will come because I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convince the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. 9 The world’s sin is unbelief in me. 10 Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. 11 Judgment will come because the prince of this world has already been judged.
12 “Oh, there is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting his own ideas; he will be telling you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. 14 He will bring me glory by revealing to you whatever he receives from me. 15 All that the Father has is mine; this is what I mean when I say that the Spirit will reveal to you whatever he receives from me. (John 16:7-15)
For Jesus to accomplish these things through the Spirit, it stands to reason that He must communicate with us. And if He is communicating with us – all of us – surely a key element of discipleship is teaching young people to hear His voice.
Perhaps such a statement causes alarm bells to ring for you! It should. Such an emphasis has the potential for abuse, misuse and misunderstanding. Yet if this is the approach that yields fruit it is the one we must practice while at the same time being careful to avoid the dangers.
I suggest the following emphases and cautions:
i. God will not contradict His written Word. Any subjective sense of what God might be saying in a specific situation must be held up against His objective Word and discarded if it does not line up.
ii. God will confirm His spoken word through the Body. An important role of the church is to collectively hear His voice and act. Our overemphasis on the individualist aspect of faith can cause us to overlook the safeguards community offers in hearing God’s voice. Thus, as a young person seeks to hear God’s voice on an issue, others in their faith community – especially older, wiser Christians – can confirm or caution, and in the process teach the young person to hear and recognise the voice of the Spirit.
iii. God will confirm His spoken word in the young person’s own spirit. Young people can be easily manipulated and any sense of what we think God may be saying to them needs to be couched in very careful terms that allows them the freedom to decide for themselves whether any “word” given to them is truly from God. Therefore in sharing with them a sense of what God might be saying to them we state that we could be wrong and ask for some reaction from them – does what we say line up with their own inner convictions? We need to believe that if God speaks to us a word for a young person, He will also communicate it to them. It may be that they already have a sense of what He is saying and are looking for confirmation, or it may be that as we share with them a sense of “rightness” comes upon them (suddenly or gradually) as the Holy Spirit confirms this word to their hearts.
iv. God’s spoken word comes in many ways. Seldom is it audible. It may come as a deep gradual sense of “knowing”, or a sudden “aha” experience. It may be in a sense of peace experienced amidst nature, or in the “thumping heart and sweaty palms” experience of a challenging sermon. It may be heard amidst the noise and tumult of youth worship, or in the solitude and stillness of one’s own bedroom. It may come as a clear statement in Scripture, or through the reasoned understanding of a relevant Biblical principle. When we talk to young people about “hearing the voice of Jesus” we must be careful to ensure they understand what we mean and the wide range of ways in which He speaks to us.
Teacher, Director or Coach?
These issues being raised cut to the very core of the way we may commonly disciple young people, and in particular our role in discipleship. There are three common approaches:
i. The Discipler as Teacher. Here we see our role as primarily a person who teaches young people all they need to know about faith and practice. It is an important responsibility but the pitfall we face is that they come to rely on us for nourishment and not the Holy Spirit as Teacher.
ii. The Discipler as Director: Here we see our role primarily as the person who advises them on what they should and shouldn’t be doing when confronted with life’s choices. We are there to make sure they stay on the straight and narrow, warning and admonishing them as necessary. Again such a responsibility is an important one and we dare not shirk it. But our ultimate goal is that they should learn to hear the direction and admonishment of the Lord Himself and act according to His directive and not ours.
iii. The Discipler as Coach: Here the emphasis is on personal responsibility. We cannot play the game of life for the young person. They are the one on the field and they must make the calls themselves. As coach we offer teaching and direction but our overarching emphasis is on equipping them to make correct calls while all the time looking to Jesus who is their One True Discipler.
Indwelling discipleship and counselling
This approach impact the way we counsel young people. Counselling changes from being a place for giving advice to being a place of seeking God’s advice together. As was said earlier, certainly there is a place for the use of Scripture as a means of checking any subjective sense of God’s leading, and certainly there is a place for us as pastors to offer our own insights based upon experience. But underpinning both these emphases is one that acknowledges God as the source of answers, not us.
We are not called to be some religious guru setting ourselves up between a young person and God, relaying on to them what God is saying. They have the same access to God’s wisdom as we do because the same Jesus lives in them as lives in us. Therefore when they leave our office, Jesus leaves with them and is able to comfort, encourage and direct throughout the week, just as He has been as we met together.
Similarly we must emphasise to the young person that their accountability is not to us, but to Jesus who sees all their actions through the week and knows all their thoughts. It is not our role to judge or condemn when they fail. Any changes for the good that take place are not to impress us, but to please and bring glory to Him.
A Practical Example
Let’s examine how this might work in practice. Imagine our first meeting with a young person who has just committed their life to Christ. How will we set out to disciple them? There was a time where I would simply teach them about assurance, overcoming sin, and how to study the Bible. I would also find out what was happening in their lives and offer direction in making wise choices.
Now I would approach things a little differently. As alluded to earlier I would begin by talking about reality of Christ living within them and talk about the ways He has already communicated with them and ways He might continue to do so. I would emphasis the importance of Bible study and prayer but as a two way process in which they learn to not only “do” those things but use them as a means of hearing from Him.
Then I would ask them about what issues in relation to their life they sense the indwelling Christ talking to them about. Too often I have wanted to impose my “list” on them – don’t swear, don’t smoke and obey your parents! Yet now my approach is to have them tell me their list – or more correctly, what they sense God telling them is His list. As they begin to talk about those aspects of their life that they feel some sense of conviction and remorse over, I am able to line those impressions up with Scripture and my own experience and use this to affirm their growing ability to hear God, or offer some coaching to improve this fundamental skill – to hear His voice.
Another practical example
Now imagine a young person coming to me wanting to know God’s guidance over a certain course of action. My goal is not only to have them hear the voice of God for themselves, but to do so in the context of community where different parts of the body – myself and perhaps the young person’s small group, prayerfully seek to relay to the young person any sense of what God might be saying.
As I mentioned earlier, I would start with the conviction that if God is to tell me something about this young person’s life, He will also tell them. Therefore it is their responsibility to listen for His voice. As we, the members of Christ’s Body share our insights, the young person is encouraged to sift through what is said and discern the voice of God in it. Such an approach not only enables them to make good decisions but becomes a means by which they can learn to hear the voice of God more clearly and to be drawn more deeply into relationship with Him.
In one sense we do not disciple anyone – God does. Yes, that young person needs us to be a role model and yes, they need us to offer wisdom and direction, but as we provide these things we are careful to continually point that young person toward Him. In doing so we pursue our goal of “drawing them into a relationship of dependence upon Christ”.
However to practice Indwelling Discipleship has implications beyond our interactions with individual young people. In the third and final part I will set out to explore what the implications are for the way we structure and run our youth programmes.
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