Discipleship and Age Appropriate Goals
Intentional discipleship is a hot term in
youth work, but in most cases it means
little more than trying to help youth grow
in their faith. It is “intending to” rather
than “intentional.” It usually lacks any
clear definition of what a mature young
disciple would look like. It’s a
Intentional discipleship should mean being
able to define what maturity looks like for
the age you are working with.
Anyone working with youth knows that a
mature 15-year-old disciple is not the same
as a mature 21-year-old, much less a mature
25-year-old. Mature discipleship looks
different according to a person’s age,
especially among youth.
Young teen disciples are at a certain level
of maturity. What we should be aiming at for
them is different than what we should be
aiming at for university-aged disciples.
In our Kairos work with high-school-aged,
university-aged, and post-university-aged
young people we recognize that there are
age-appropriate discipleship goals. For
example, “knowing how to choose the right
spouse” isn’t a discipleship goal for a
15-year-old, but it is a key one for someone
in their 20s. In contrast, a 25-year-old
disciple should have a pattern of consistent
daily devotion in place that one might not
quite expect of a 13-year-old.
Intending to disciple is good. Knowing
specifically what you are aiming at is
better. Any math teacher can tell you that
it doesn’t make sense to teach trigonometry
to a student who hasn’t learned geometry
first. Christian discipleship is the same.
Each stage of discipleship builds on
The ability to walk in God’s will as an
adult disciple presupposes the ability to
discern God’s will, but the ability to
discern God’s will presupposes knowing the
principles of discerning God’s will. And
that only makes sense if one first decides
one wants to actually follow God’s will.
I was at a retreat not long ago talking to a
14-year-old girl whom I had known for years.
She was one of most “Christian” kids I had
ever worked with. She prayed every day, knew
her bible and church doctrine, loved the
Lord, and was full of the Holy Spirit. She
grew up going to camps, retreats, being in a
great youth group, and having many great
She knew the Lord better than most kids her
age and wanted more. Still, she was smart
enough to know that she didn’t just need
She thought something was still missing and
it was. Although she knew that Jesus died so
that she could have eternal life, and was
very familiar with the phrase “Jesus is
Lord,” she did not quite know what it meant.
She said, “It’s like, Jesus is God. King of
the Universe, almighty.”
Like many high school youth, she understood
“Jesus is Lord of all,” but not “Jesus is
Lord of my own life.” After I explained it,
she asked, “Does having Jesus as Lord mean
that if he wants me to give up volleyball, I
would need to do that?”
“Yup! Exactly!” I answered.
“Jesus isn’t just Lord of the universe. He
needs to be Lord of your life. It means your
life belongs to him, not to you. It’s his
will, not yours, that counts.”
The most important goal of intentional
discipleship with high-school-aged
Christians is moving them from knowing Jesus
to knowing Jesus as Lord specifically of
their own lives.
Unfortunately, many youth outreaches only
facilitate “God experiences” and then stop.
But Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make
disciples.” What is a disciple? If we can’t
describe this accurately, it is very
difficult to determine whether we are in
fact “making disciples.”
The simple meaning in Greek, Latin, and
English is “pupil.” It is the relationship
of a student to a teacher. We are trying to
make people students of Christ’s teaching.
This would be adequate if it was all Christ
demanded of his disciples: hear my teaching
and live it out. But it wasn’t. He upped the
meaning. His disciples needed to deny
themselves and take up their cross. Simply
put: they needed to be ready to die, even
painfully, for him. He called them to be his
witnesses (which means martyrs) to the ends
of the earth. Many were.
If we are forming intentional disciples,
death to oneself for the sake of Christ is
Math teachers don’t even ask their most
devoted pupils to die for them. Jesus does.