Young Disciples – retain, release and incarnation

On Monday and Tuesday Tom and I went to LICC for a mini conference called "Young Disciples". It would be a mighty blog post indeed to report on all the wisdom that was shared and discussed, so I thought I’d try and share bite sized chunks of the things that made an impact on me.

First, a couple of questions that help us to discover the heart of what we’re about. Do we ‘convert’ and then seek to ‘retain’, or do we ‘train’ so that we may ‘release’? Yes, it seems so obvious. And for us as an inter-church ministry retaining is not an issue in the sense of some kind of church  membership. But we need to be sure that we’re maintaining an emphasis on training and releasing and passing.
And if we’re really honest, is the heart of our ministry Information or Formation? So much of what tends to happen in church is information (teaching and the like). And here we’re much more culpable since one aspect of our work in schools is RE lessons and assemblies. We really want to be much more about formation, helping young people to grow to be disciple making disciples. So perhaps our occasional frustration with the more information driven aspects of our work is OK. And our joy at seeing young people grow in, and take responsibility for, their faith is understandable.

We often refer to Jesus incarnation as the primary model for good Christian youth work – the importance of entering into the lives and world of the young people we’re working with. As The Message puts it, "The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood". But incarnation isn’t an end in itself. Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom of God, to release a band of disciple making disciples, and ultimately to die on the cross before returning to the right hand of God, the first resurrection body to take a place in heaven. So I’m challenged about whether we too easily stop at being incarnational. It’s a theme developed by Steve Griffiths in his new book, A Christlike ministry. I’ve bored people here for years by saying that schools work is a great place to start but a poor place to stop. Incarnational youth ministry needs to lead to discipleship. And that can include the work of discipling young people away from unhealthy lifestyles or attitudes. But surely our greatest goal is to help young people themselves become disciples of Jesus.

I guess the key indicator that discipleship is actually taking place is when people are confidently able to pass on what they’ve discovered to others. Now that is a challenge we want to rise to.

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