December 2017 / January 2018 - Vol. 95

teens busy with smart phones
. Intentional Discipleship and Age Appropriate Goals
by Michael Shaughnessy

Intentional Discipleship
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 free-floating orientation.

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.

Having Goals
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 previous levels.

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.

God Experiences
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 “God experiences.”

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 another Wow!

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 the definition.

Math teachers don’t even ask their most devoted pupils to die for them. Jesus does.
Michael Shaughnessy Michael Shaughnessy is the Kairos director for the Sword of the Spirit both in North America and Internationally. He is the editor of the Kairos Youth Culture Newsletter. Kairos is an international federation of outreaches to high school, university and post university aged people.
Return to Table of Contents or Archives  (c) copyright 2017 - 2018  The Sword of the Spirit