In Part 1 I focussed on the theological basis of an approach to discipleship which I called Indwelling Discipleship. In Part 2 I looked at some of the practical implications for the way we do discipleship under an Indwelling Model. In this final part I’d like to examine programming and how it needs to be ordered to incorporate an indwelling emphasis. In doing so I will look at the five key practices of the church. These five practices are based on Acts 2:42,47 and are teaching, fellowship, worship, prayer and mission.
42 They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer. 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42,47)
Indwelling discipleship has significant implications for the way we have young people engage with scripture. An education system based on the knowledge, understanding and retention of information has adversely affected the way in which we approach scripture and the way we present it to young people. Too often, by using terms such as “Bible study” we present it as a book of information which young people need to know, understand and retain.
While advocating that young people do need this perspective, when this is our primary emphasis young people can lose sight of the fact that there is a transcendent, affective and relational aspect to scripture. In other words, God, who is over and above all (transcendent), desires to reveal himself to us and to dialogue with us individually (relational) through the pages of scripture, touching not only our mind but our emotions (affective). Or, to simplify things to make a point, the Bible should be presented primarily as a personal letter – not an academic textbook.
Secondly, the Bible must presented as God’s inspired and immutable word – one that reveals His mind on certain matters and cannot be altered so that it can be used as a means whereby more subjective impressions of His voice can be weighed.
Finally, the Bible must be taught as truth that demands action. Young people sit in classrooms all week and are bombarded by information which they then sift through a series of questions: Is this important? Do I need to know this? Do I understand this? For much of what is taught in high school there is no moral, behavioural or ethical imperative. It is no wonder therefore that when they come to our churches and youth groups their focus is on knowledge, understanding and retention of what is taught. Instead they need to have the Bible presented to them as truth that demands action. They need to come to see that through the word (the Bible), the Word (Jesus) desires to not only meet them, but to reveal to them the personal implications of what they have been learning and how it might be applied. Our role as leaders is to facilitate this process and to provide loving follow up and accountability as they seek to be obedient to what Jesus through the indwelling Spirit has revealed.
There is a common perception in youth ministry today that young people need and want in depth relationships with others. While there is truth in this, our attempts at “building community” too often fail because we lack an appreciation of the dynamics of Christian community. Our aim is to bring together a diverse group of young people and to exhort them to love each other because in doing so they are following the example of Jesus. Yet in reality this sense of community can be profoundly difficult to achieve even among Christian young people who developmentally are often self absorbed and desire community only so far as it meets their own personal needs.
An indwelling approach to discipleship comes at this issue of community from a quite different angle. It recognises the fact that because Christ already dwells in those of us who have faith in Him, we must make our primary focus to corporately fellowship with Him, then we will find ourselves growing closer together and exhibiting true unconditional love between each other.
With this understanding, fellowship in youth ministry is more than having fun together. It is even more than dividing into small groups and sharing more intimately about our lives. Such a dynamic is no different than a non church support group. What is needed is a conscious awareness of the presence of Christ in our midst as the Head of the church and the unity we share in Him through His suffering, death and resurrection. Through times of ministry and prayer this indwelling Christ brings to the group insights, encouragement and correction that draw each person deeper into fellowship with Him and in the process deeper into fellowship with each other.
In other words, our primary focus in fellowship is not how to get the young people to collectively draw closer to each other, but how to get them to collectively draw closer to Christ.
An indwelling approach to discipleship first emphasises the immanence of God in worship. Rather than being “out there” and someone we should “reach out for”, Christ dwells at the very core of our being. We worship with an awareness that He is as close to us as can be even if we do not “feel” it. Rather then a sense of Christ’s presence being the goal of our worship – something we strive for, it is something we accept as theological fact and believe by faith. Awareness at an affective level is not something we can “work up”. That is best labelled false emotionalism or self-hype. Instead it is something God initiated. On occasions He makes this sense of His presence clear and unmistakable. At other times it is absent. But through it all we enjoy His presence within us by faith.
A second emphasis in worship under an indwelling approach to discipleship is to move away from worship that is “led” to worship that is “facilitated”. If worship is the response of the human spirit to the presence of a transcendent God, then the human spirit must be accorded some freedom to enjoy and experience Him with a minimum of direction. True, corporate worship requires some degree of order and togetherness, or chaos and individualism will ensue, so the key is to walk a fine line in creating worship experiences and sacred spaces in which young people are free to worship both corporately as individuals and individually together.
In practice this might mean in a “worship mosh-pit”, in the stillness of contemplative prayer or in the reverent exploration of faith through walking a labyrinth. The medium is not the issue. What is important is that worship is ‘open-ended” and captivates young people through exposing them to the mystery of God in a way that inspires awe and worship. Through worship they don’t just sing a few familiar songs in a musical style to suit. They are transported beyond the secular and mundane into an “other worldy” awareness – not where they reach for God but where they become aware of a God who has already reached for them and invites a response.
Those principles that affect fellowship and worship also hold true for prayer, namely that prayer is drawing close in two way dialogue to a God who indwells us. Prayer is not petitioning a distant parent to change His mind over something which must seem trivial to him but is important to us. Prayer is a dialogue with the One who fills the very centre of our being – that most intimate part of who we are.
At times our efforts at teaching young people “how to pray” actually have the opposite effect than what we desire. Imagine being taught “how to talk to your best friend”. All the well meaning and insightful rules and advice we might give, ultimately lead either to a somewhat sterile and forced process of communication, or of being totally overwhelmed and confused. Instead try to stick with broad guidelines and principles and encourage young people to simply enjoy a “conversation with God”, trusting in Him to develop in them a love and desire for prayer.
In summary, when it comes to prayer we instill in young people the understanding that it is a conversation with a friend; it is not something to be carefully crafted but something to be experienced and enjoyed.
Mission is the practical outworking of the other four practices. Where these practices are present in a ministry and are enacted in a way reflective of the principles of indwelling discipleship outlined in these articles, then we won’t have to encourage young people to be engaged in mission; it will simply be the natural outpouring of the life of Christ within.
That’s not to say we as youth leaders should just “leave it to happen”. While young people will look for ways to evangelise and serve their neighbour when filled with an awareness of the indwelling Christ, there is also a place for us to be engaged in mission corporately. In doing so there is an important emphasis that must remain paramount.
It is that mission is not primarily about us doing something for God or us doing something for others. It is about Christ in us reaching out to those whom He made in His image. Therefore the heart of Christian mission is incarnational and relational – it is not dropping in to do good like some masked superhero and then disappearing off to save the next community. It is being where people are – being in their world, and ministering in Jesus’ name to those made in God’s image. Without a deep awareness of the indwelling Christ it is an emphasis all too easily lost particularly in a culture skewed toward self gratification and amongst a people who developmentally have a tendency toward self absorption.
An indwelling approach to discipleship is not some new technique to be integrated into our youth ministry programme. It is a whole mind shift that needs to take place, affecting the way we view discipleship and the way we programme within our ministry. Before us is the daunting task of discipling a generation steeped in postmodern thought where truth is relative and mystery is not something to be solved but something to be experienced. It is a generation struggling to not only answer the question, “Who am I?”, but “Why am I?” It is also a generation relationally starving and individualistically obsessed. What they need is to have an invasive experience of God through which they then cultivate an awareness of His practical presence in their lives. Will our discipleship methods and our youth ministry programmes facilitate this? Or will they stunt, or worse, hinder this awareness, producing disciples who simply don’t “know” their Master?
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