The past few years in ministry have changed the way I disciple students. If you would have asked me just a few weeks ago how discipleship works I would have told you that once a student comes to Christ, spend time with them, eat meals together, ask the hard questions, support their sports teams, and get connected with their family, then you will see fruit. Fruit like good decisions, sharing Christ with their friends, and even being like Christ in thoughts and actions.
There is an equation here: disciple students and see fruit. But it just doesn’t seem to always work that way, and instead of seeing the student as a tree with fruit growing on it, you see a tree with one small developing piece…maybe. It’s as if all the time, energy, and prayers with students leave you with just a few good things to cling to. Instead of your labor in ministry growing big wins and big fruit, you have just little pieces of good things, little fruit snacks, small pieces of visible ways God is working in a student’s life.
I have lived this frustration time and time again through a few relationships that came out of a small group I was leading. Our relationship began and I started to understand the many challenges he was dealing with a broken and blended family, ADHD, medication and stress that stunted his growth, and over self confidence to dull the pain he was facing. Through the years we spent a lot of time together. In fact, I thought I was doing everything right to disciple this student, but I just wasn’t seeing any fruit. I was pouring in, I know God was working, but it seemed pointless it wasn’t getting through.
Week after week we would have to approach him about distracting others in the group and even going out of his way to keep any growth from happening and week after week I would be talking to his step-dad about ways to help him work through the hard stuff, but there just was not fruit. No breakthrough that showed God was working or that my energy and time was worth it. He came up to me soon after that time and said that he wasn’t sure there was even a God and was going to try to be agnostic. I challenged him to ask God to reveal himself and committed to journeying with him but, it pushed me over the edge and drove me to a point of giving up. I remember going home to my wife one night and saying, “That’s it, I’m done.” I was done trying to allow God to use me with this student; it seemed hopeless. There is nothing that points to him realizing there is a God, let alone that he is working in his life.
Soon after that time I followed up with him and asked where he was at with being agnostic. I said, “I have been praying for you almost every day that God would reveal himself to you; has He done that?” After a pause he said, “Yes he has. I’m not sure how but he has.” I stood there with a twinkle of renewed hope, but also disappointed that there was no big fruit, no actions showing God’s work. Then I realized there was, it was just a fruit snack for what was doing.
Maybe in your life you have a relationship with a student or a friend and you can relate to this. A lot of times we don’t see big chunks of fruit in some student’s lives, big wins and success stories of salvations or being a disciple of Christ, but we need to notice that God is working in their life and He is doing things worth noticing and celebrating. Even if they are little actions or words they could fruit snacks of the seeds you have planted.
In 1 Timothy, Paul reminds Timothy that God is the one that gives us strength and sees us faithful and I would add that God is the one that is doing the work of discipleship not us. In your ministry, with the student that just doesn’t seem to bear the big pieces of fruit or just doesn’t get it, don’t give up. Allow God to do the work and be available for him to use you. Hold on to Paul’s words that he is faithful, hold on to discipling students, and hold on to fruit snacks.