Heading to Verge

Next week John Moores and myself will be traveling with Alex Absalom to Austin, TX for the Verge Conference.  This conference is geared towards equipping leaders to “make disciples who make disciples” – by being intentional in the communities that we are placed in through, the vehicle of, Missional Communities.

Besides the fact that the 3 of us will have a blast together and that we will be in Texas at the end of February, John and I are really looking forward to the opportunity to learn, grow, and network.  Particularly, in the the networking aspect, the chance to hear the stories of what other churches from around the nation and world are doing with missional student ministries.  We are excited to be a part of the conversations that are going on, in order to learn and grow in what we are doing with our own student ministry.

Things that we will be praying for:

  • a fun time
  • safe travels
  • good conversations and formed relationships
  • we will be challenged to grow based on many conversations
  • God will speak clearly to us during the seminars, main sessions, and other miscellaneous conversations that take place
  • the Spirit to continue to give us vision and direction

We are hoping to come back and share with all of you many of the things that we were challenged with and things that God has put on our heart during our time at the Verge Conference.

Also, if you or some people from your church are going to be there please let us know!  We would love to connect.

This Isn’t a DIY Project

Even in the short time that I have been doing student ministry, I have encountered a number of student ministry leaders that have their own Home Depot DIY (Do-It-Yourself) approach to their ministry.  By this, I mean, they feel as though they have to do EVERYTHING themselves – the programming, the teaching, the planning, the curriculum, hanging out with students, and even the discipleship (if there is any).  Often times, as a result of this, the leaders  in their student ministry function as mere chaperones or adult bodies to focus on crowd control.

There are a few problems with this approach:

  1. You’re going to get burned out.  You just can’t do it all yourself.
  2. Jesus never modeled this kind of leadership, so why are you doing it?
  3. You’re not equipping leaders to lead and disciple students.  Or, as Mike Breen and Alex Absalom would put it, you’re not releasing “God’s people to do God’s work.”

It’s important, in creating disciples, to release your leaders (and your students) to GO FOR IT!  Jesus modeled this in Luke 9 and Luke 10 when he sent His 12 disciples, then later, other disciples to GO into the world.  They didn’t fully understand everything.  In fact, at this point in the story Jesus’ disciples didn’t even understand that He was the Messiah and all that this entailed.  Regardless, Jesus sent them to go make disciples.  Basically, if you wait for your leaders to “understand everything” then you will rob them of opportunities to GO and make disciples.  Discipleship and investment in people’s lives is messy and you can’t be afraid to let people GO for it.

A philosophy that we have adopted for this leadership approach is Low Control, High Accountability.  This is a saying we use in our student ministry, as well as the overall church at RiverTree, that provides a releasing of our leaders.

Here’s 3 different ways we implement Low Control, High Accountability with our leaders:

  • When our leaders hang out with students  we don’t tell them what to do, where to go, or what to talk about.  Our leaders have the freedom to do what they feel led to do with their students (Low Control).  However, they are held to an account to disciple students, pursue students outside of weekly gatherings, and to ask discipleship questions – what is God saying to you? what are you going to do about it? (High Accountability).
  • Concerning our high school GoCos, we don’t control the leaders’ decisions about what they will be discussing (they know their students best) or where they will GO to serve (they come up with that as a GoCo).  The GoCo leaders are held to an account as to whether or not their GoCo is in the Come, Thrive, GO rhythm. See the post on our rhythm.
  • One of the things that we definitely don’t control with our leaders is which students our leaders disciple.  This is a Spirit led relationship that needs time to develop.  We ask and expect each of our leaders to disciple a group of students (High Accountability).  But we let them discern and figure out which students they have affinity with and who they feel God is leading them to.

We have found that when you release leaders and provide an atmosphere of Low Control, High Accountability then leaders feel the freedom to disciple and lead in a way that they feel called.  It is very empowering and Spirit led.  If you are the student ministry leader at your church, I cannot emphasize how important it is to NOT CONTROL every aspect of your ministry and to GIVE aspects away.  When you release your leaders you will see growth (spiritual growth and discipleship) not only in your students, but in your leaders, as well!

Jesus didn’t make conference junkies — he made disciples.

A few weeks ago the folks at Wayfarer Blog had a poignant post on how big events fall short of making disciples.  The post is called Jesus didn’t make conference junkies — he made disciples. It is worth reading.  I have read it several times and found it both challenging and affirming.

The post points out the great need we have in student ministry for rhythm between Events and Processing.  Rich Atkinson at Wayfarer says “It takes a moment to make a decision for Jesus, yet it takes a whole lifetime to work this decision out.” I agree fully. What I have experienced in my own life has been true to this. In a moment, at a large event, my heart surrendered to Jesus. Since that time I have been working that decision out through processing with other Jesus followers.  Along the way I have experienced other big events that spur me on towards Jesus. The rhythm between events and processing is ongoing in my walk with Jesus. Both are needed for me to grow as a disciple.

We also see this in the way Jesus made disciples.  Mike Suit, in an earlier post entitled Get Rythm  says this, “Ultimately, for all of us in student ministry, our goal should be making disciples.  If Jesus only did miracles with His disciples or only spoke to them in front of large crowds, but gave them no chance to unpack and discuss what they saw or what He said, then their relationship with Him would have only had a very little amount of depth to it – and discipleship would not have occurred.” Mike goes onto say that similarly, if Jesus only processed with the disciples through discussion and small group teaching, but never included them in things like the feeding of the 5000, then they would not have grown as disciples.

Both Events and Processing are needed to produce disciples. So in the ministry you lead or are a part of, how are events and processing balanced? How do you or your leaders accomplish both?

The Mission Isn’t Safe

As we have said before several times on this blog, our mission is to make disciples.  We want to disciple students and we want students to disciple other students.  This is biblical and it’s missional.   What it isn’t though, is SAFE!

As John talked about in our last post, Are you Circling the Wagons or Charging the Hill?, many student ministries will develop a “defensive” mentality that keeps students safe and provides an environment for the “good” kids.  One of the issues with this approach is that the ministry cannot be missional!  And because the ministry isn’t missional it will be difficult to make disciples.  In fact, it will create just the opposite.  It will have an entirely inward focus.  It might be disguised as disciple-making and even missional, but if you peel back the layers, the core of it will most likely be inward focused and safe.  And the main issue with this safe approach is that it is not biblical.  What is biblical is, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”

Safety and mission are not a both/and.  They are an either/or.

In the Great Commission (quoted above), Jesus tells the disciples to “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands…”  In John 13:34-35, Jesus’ says, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Making Disicples

We help and encourage our students to be disciple makers.  We want them to include their friends and those around them in their journey – both at GoCo and outside of the GoCo context.  To be intentional in conversations with them, to pray for them, to be there for them, to serve them, to do life with them, and to love them as Christ loves them.  The methods on how we do this and our approach will be talked about in a later post.

The Messiness of Disciple-Making

Making disciples and pouring into the broken and the lost is messy.  When Jesus says, “Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other,” he wasn’t saying, “Love each other, but only when it’s easy.  And if that person drinks, or parties, or is having sex with their boyfriend or girlfriend, then stop loving them.”  No!  There’s something directly connected to making disciples, teaching them the commands of loving each other, and the mess that comes with that.  So, we fully accept the broken students that come on mission into our GoCos and we fully encourage our students to be intentional in how they approach discipling their friends that aren’t coming to our GoCos.  When we send our students on mission to disciple the broken, we expect the broken to come to us.  It’s never the safe approach.  But it’s the approach that changes lives and creates a discipling culture.

Now, we are still early on in all of this and we still have a long ways to go, as well as many things to learn.  But the stories that we get to be a part of, the fruit we are beginning to see, and the students that are being changed, are all speaking testimonies of the power of what happens when we let the Spirit work through us to be intentional in our relationships with those around us, instead of playing it safe.  When we equip and encourage students to do the same and live out the Great Commission and Jesus’ commands, then a whole generation begins to change!