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In Praise of Unfinished Discipleship

I’m just imagining the first followers of Jesus taking a “discipleship assessment” just after his death and resurrection. Would a single one of them make the grade as a “fully formed disciple” by today’s youth ministry standards?

If the model Jesus himself used produced the kind of results that would get most of us a poor performance review, maybe there’s a problem with the way we think about discipleship. If the Alpha and the Omega had a mixed-results youth group, what makes us think that we can produce fully formed disciples by the time our kids graduate?

How about, instead, we set our sights on the kinds of disciples that Jesus influenced…the unfinished kind?

By the end of Jesus ministry, his closest allies were unsettled, confused, and ill-equipped for the mission ahead of them. They were not anchored by their own spiritual competence, and they did not really understand what they were being called to do. They were certainly not master disciplers.

But there’s one thing Jesus made sure they did have—an embedded need for a Power beyond their own. Like children, they knew (more than they knew anything else) how very much they still had to learn.

Jesus’ discipleship strategy was based on disrupting his closest followers—messing with their sense of clarity and certainty. He kept giving them questions they couldn’t answer, problems they couldn’t solve, and relational challenges they couldn’t stomach.

But let’s face it. Our churches haven’t hired us to instigate doubt and uncertainty in our teenagers. We get praised and promoted and paid for growing kids who at least look fully formed—who show up for our meetings and play well on Sunday mornings.

So, if we’re paying attention, we’ll lean into Jesus-style discipleship with fear and trembling. We know we’ve got to be intentional about creating transformative environments and deliberate spiritual formation strategies. Having a plan is better than not having a plan. But we hold our plans (and our youth) loosely, knowing that, more often than not, discipleship can be quite a messy and non-linear affair. If we take Jesus’ discipleship “model” seriously, beneath our plans and processes, we’ll want to…

  • Welcome disruption, doubt, and unsettledness as the Spirit’s partners in cultivating “sticky faith.”
  • Be willing—in fact, pray for—our kids to grow beyond the limited understanding of discipleship they’ve learned from us.

A little over 32 years ago, I walked up some chapel steps in New Jersey and received my “master” of divinity degree. May the next generation of youth ministers master the dance of living as eagerly unfinished disciples, helping the next generation to do the same.

This article originally appeared in the recently released Special Discipleship Edition of Group Magazine. To request your free copy, click here.  

 

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In Praise of Unfinished Discipleship

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