I recently had a conversation with a teenager who chose to follow Jesus two years ago. He told me about the process of salvation for him. He went to a student camp during the summer and walked forward during a worship gathering. He said, “I prayed and asked God to forgive my sins and it was awesome. I felt Jesus within me.” He then told me how he read his Bible everyday and always listened to music that uplifted Christ. That was then, two years ago. Today he says he doesn’t want Christianity. As he said, “I know I should do the right thing and I know that I should want to get closer to God, but I don’t want it right now.” I can appreciate his honesty. Christ says that an honest no is better than a half-hearted yes, described by calling those people lukewarm. I asked this student one question. Immediately when you returned from camp, who talked to you about your decision to follow Jesus, outside of whoever received him at the end of the Sunday service? His answer:
This is not as much an indictment on his church as it is on any Christian who was around him or who he told about this decision to follow Jesus. It is my belief that if someone had been willing to disciple him immediately following his life change, the chances of his reverting to the old lifestyle would be minimal. Just like a newborn baby cannot feed himself, so too does a new follower of Christ need clear direction in the beginning stages of his walk with Christ. Many agree, but many do not do anything to change this. Allow me to offer some ideas of how to disciple a teenager and why each idea is important!
1. Do as Jesus did.
Jesus invited twelve men to follow Him. By the time of His death, eleven had stayed with Him. For that reason, I implore all followers of Jesus not only to make disciples, but also to do so without overthinking it. If the King of kings and Lord of lords finished with eleven, we are doing well to maintain mentoring relationships with two or three. Invite others to follow you only as you follow Jesus. This helps people keep Christ at the center rather than you and me. Believe me, I want the credit, but I know that Christ alone deserves the credit for any growth that happens in a mentoring relationship. Great leaders give credit to others when things go well and take the blame when things go poorly. Imagine how you would have felt if you had an adult talk to you about life when you were a teenager. Perhaps you had that example. If you didn’t, you might wish that it had been the case. Be a reproducible model of Christ, so that the teenager you’re mentoring can one day mentor another just as you have them.
2. Choose community over curriculum.
Jesus modeled how we are to disciple by using His entire life and ministry. How did He disciple others? He was with them. Day by day, Christ remained with them. He did not have a quarterly lesson plan to follow. He simply had the rubric of life. In every situation, Christ had a chance to mentor. Matthew’s call to follow Jesus after the rough lifestyle of tax collector was a mentoring moment. Peter’s call to love Jesus after his denial of Christ was a mentoring moment. Even Christ’s own temptation at the hand of Satan was a mentoring moment. Curriculum is not bad, especially for those who have never attempted to disciple anyone before, but it can hinder the ability to learn simply by doing. The disciples of Jesus learned by doing and we can too! A teenager needs rules for formation, but he also needs examples. Our culture is growing to be more visual and interactive by the day. They don’t want another list to check off, they want another life to follow.
3. Show grace in accountability.
I mentioned Peter’s denial and subsequent display of love for Jesus. When Christ met with Peter, He simply offered Peter a chance to repent and call for love of Christ. He did not give Peter a slap on the wrist and say, “Now Peter, you know you shouldn’t have done that.” Instead, after Peter confessed his love for Christ, Jesus gave him one command: “Follow me.” Jesus knew that Peter didn’t need a reprimand. Rather, he needed an opportunity to choose life once more. Mentoring relationships are messy. The more grace we show, the more we are like Christ. Show the grace of God in your discipling of others, just as God has shown grace to you daily. If there were one thing that teenagers have told me they can’t stand about other people, especially adults, it’s that they appear fake. Be honest about your own struggles as an adult. Be open to talking about things that you thought teenagers wouldn’t struggle with. The world is much more flat than it once was. Teenagers are smarter today than they were when I was a teen. They also encounter more situations. Be a sounding board of grace rather than a talking head of judgment.
Header image provided through creative commons zero by Ryan McGuire.