Changing the Scorecard

In our last post, Is Your Ministry Successful?, the discussion was centered around how we (in the Church as a whole) gauge success in our ministries.  The measure of success that we use is discipleship. We ask these two questions in our student ministry:

  1. How many students are being discipled?  
  2. After a season, how many students are discipling other students around them?  

When you begin to measure things this way it changes the scorecard.  It changes the philosophy, the approach, and basically everything else.

Discipleship, similar to many other terms used within the church, has a number of various definitions based on who you ask.  Throughout this post, I simply want to clarify what we mean when we say and use the terms ‘disciple’ or ‘discipleship’ and why we measure things through those terms.

Traditional View

I remember taking two specific classes in my undergrad training for youth ministry.  One was Evangelism of Youth and the other was Discipleship of Youth.  These two separate classes sum up the view, and inherently, the traditional stance that evangelism and discipleship are two different processes.  When there is an end to evangelism, there is a beginning of discipleship.  Never the two shall meet.  Traditionally, evangelism and discipleship would look like this:

This image (borrowed from Greg Nettle and Alex Absalom’s new  eBook called ‘One Of’, which can be downloaded for FREE here) depicts an accurate perspective on how discipleship is widely viewed:  separate from evangelism.  This implies that we are to evangelize to someone until they reach the point of conversion.  Then, once they make the decision to surrender to Jesus, the discipleship process begins.

One issue I have with this model is that too often in our student ministries and churches, the process stops at the conversion point.  We evangelize, evangelize, evangelize until the person we are evangelizing makes the decision, then the process stops.   Think to the last time you had a conversation with someone that talked about the conversions they had in their ministry over any period of time. Did they follow with, “…and those people that made the decision are now in intentional relationships with people investing in them, so that they can go out and invest in others”?  I’ve never heard that!  Isn’t that what we are called to do, though? The conversation always ends with the amount of conversions on a certain night or at a certain program.

Disciples Who Make Disciples View

Scripturally, I have a hard time finding a place where Jesus tells his disciples to evangelize without pursuing discipleship.  He tells them to go make disciples.  In Luke 10, Jesus sends his disciples out to preach and heal (evangelize), but also tells them to seek out relationships with those people (discipleship).  If there is no scriptural grounds for the separation of evangelism and discipleship, then why have we separated them?  Or furthermore, why have we placed such an emphasis on evangelism that discipleship gets lost at the point of conversion?

Greg says it like this, “What I have come to believe is that discipleship begins from the moment we meet someone.  So, there is a pre-conversion discipleship, as we learn to follow Jesus, and a post-conversion evangelism, as we continue to respond to the challenge of the Gospel.”  With that in mind it might look more like this:

As we seek to be incarnational with those students around us, we must begin to realize that we are discipling them from the very beginning, helping them become more like Jesus while showing them who Jesus is.  At some point on the discipleship journey there is a conversion moment where the Spirit lives in them.  At that moment, it is very crucial for the discipleship process to continue so that they can keep growing in Christ and transplant the Spirit that is in them to others.  It’s all about disciples who make disciples.

The Changing Scorecard

This approach and perspective changes the scorecard for us.  We don’t pursue the numbers or conversion stats as the main gauge for our ministry.  There’s still importance in those stats.  However, that’s not how we view success in our student ministry.  Instead, the two questions are the new scorecard.  It’s worth it when we get out of the way and let the Spirit that is in us work in and through our students, as we begin to see them disciple other students.

Is Your Ministry Successful?

What is it that makes you feel that your youth ministry is successful?

This is a question that came up a few weeks ago as I observed a discussion between several youth pastors.  I’ve been a part of quite a few similar conversations, and this particular topic of discussion is always interesting to me as I think it gets to the core of what we are truly striving for in our ministries.  I always find the responses fascinating, in the sense that I discover myself often having a different view on many of the answers that are given.

There’s always a field of answers that are given and many of the responses to this question often include numbers – how many students are coming to your program, or how much numerical growth you’ve seen over the last year.  Along those lines, some will say how many students are bringing friends.  There’s always the commitments/recommitments conversation.  Someone usually brings up how many students are going to bible college or full-time ministry.  Another one tends to be making sure students are devoted to Christ when they leave for college.  Every once in a while someone will bring up discipleship and making disciples.

All of these are good and well.  In fact, many are very, very good – as well as highly encouraging.  The one I tend to connect with the most is the making disciples.  But even ‘making disciples’, in this conversational context,  is frequently used with numbers.  People will throw around the vine and branches reference found in John 15, defining the “fruit” mentioned there as a numerical measurement.  When you look at it though, the Greek translation of “fruit” in John 15 is karpos, meaning to gather fruit or a harvest.  Based on that, it’s important to keep in mind that a harvest takes a season.  It isn’t something that simply happens once a seed is planted.  It takes investment, it takes hard-work, it takes sweat, it takes commitment, and it takes time.  The fruit that is referenced in John 15 is one of investment, for a season, in someone’s life.  It’s referring to the hard-work, blood, sweat, and tears that goes into discipling someone or a group of people.  It’s not talking about a seasonal numerical effort.  And this is where my heart is for what I view as a success in the ministry that God has given me.

How many students are being discipled (in the harvest/investment sense)? After a season, how many students are discipling other students around them?

This has become the measurement that I have started to gauge by.  It’s vitally important that students are in relationships with our leaders.  We ask each of our leaders to invest in a group of students and disciple them – include them in their lives.  After a season of investing in students’ lives, we are now at a point where we are beginning to release our students to invest and disciple other students around them.

Ultimately, we have students for only a select few years.  Christ only had the disciples for a few short years.  His goal was not that they would have everything figured out (cause they definitely didn’t) by the time he left earth.  Nor was it his goal to have the most disciples ever.  His greatest goal was to disciple them and invest in them for the few years they shared together so that they could go out and invest in others.  Christ looked at the journey as a whole and invested in his disciples in a way that provided sustenance and endurance for their journey, even after they were out of his ministry and he went back up to heaven.

My heart and passion, in the goals conversation, is to see students commit themselves to Christ (whenever that might be on the journey), but with a faith that can be sustained and won’t fade away.  I want students to be discipled and to be disciple makers.  I’m tired of reading about the trends of students that go through student ministries, then graduate only to lose their faith entirely.  I want to start investing in this generation in a way that sustains and lasts.  I want them to view their life (whether that is college, or their job, or their family, or their marriage, or their neighborhood, etc.) as their mission and to be disciples of Jesus that make disciples of Jesus.

Shotgun Ministry

We all know how the game ‘shotgun’ works… The general idea is that when multiple people are going to be riding in a car together, the first person to yell, “shotgun” gets the coveted prize of riding in the front passenger seat.  There’s something nice about getting to ride shotgun (besides the extra leg room), isn’t there?  You tend to feel fully a part of the car ride and the conversations that take place within the car ride.  Because you are sitting up front there is a sense of importance and total inclusion for that ride.

With that in mind, when I say Shotgun Ministry, I am speaking about the inclusion of students in what you are doing.  It sounds simple, but having students sit ‘shotgun’ with you is one of the best things you can do in the discipleship process from a relational standpoint.  Throughout scriptures, we constantly see Jesus including disciples in what he was doing: eating, traveling, healing, etc.  He allowed his disciples to ride shotgun, so to speak.

Here’s some ways for you to implement Shotgun Ministry:

  • Don’t go anywhere alone.  Always try to find ways to include students in your everyday life.  Take students with you if you need to go grocery shopping.  If you need to run to the bank, then pick up a student on the way.  If you have to go anywhere, try to find a way to bring a student into the mix.  This is a simple way to open up your life to students and for students to connect with you in a more personal level.
  • Open your home.  Have students over your home whenever you get the opportunity.  Include them in your family.  If you are watching a movie, include students in that.  Have students help you make dinner and then eat with them.  There’s something powerful that happens when you sit around a dinner table with people.  They feel a part of your family.  If you have a video game system then set up some time for students to come over and play video games.  You would be amazed at the incredible conversations that you can have with students while playing video games. Whatever it is you are going to include students in at your home, know that there’s a sacred connection that occurs when your home is opened up.  It’s a beautiful thing.
  • Keep it in rhythm.  For many of us, we have certain routines or rhythms throughout a week that we like to operate in.  These rhythms can provide great opportunities to include students.  For example, if you go for a walk on Saturday mornings in a park then that would be a great chance to include students in your walk.  Or, if you enjoy going out to breakfast a certain morning of the week or out to lunch after church on Sundays, both of these are great avenues to include students.  Basically, what I am saying is that you don’t always have to disrupt your schedule or family time to be with students.  The opportunities are there every week.  It’s just finding those areas where you can include students.

The shotgun approach to ministry changes the game.  It opens your life up to students, which enhances the way you disciple.  Discipleship should not be a separate part of your ministry.  Discipleship is your ministry.  Once you open your life up to students is when you will find yourself discipling them.

Now, there are a couple things to keep in mind with the shotgun ministry approach:

  1. Students will see your mess.  It’s part of doing life together. Students will see you get angry or even argue with you spouse.  It’s ok.  Just because a student realizes that you aren’t perfect doesn’t mean your ministry is ruined.  In fact, it has been my experience that when you allow students to see your mess they tend to draw closer to you.  It helps them see, understand, and live in God’s grace even more – because you and I are living in it and need to live in it!
  2. Your game will need to be stepped up.  In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.”  These are serious words.  And if we are to take discipling students seriously, then these words need to be taken with the utmost respect.  Like I said above, students will see your mess when you open your life up to them.  And that is great.  BUT, if your life is not rooted in Christ and you are not going after His heart daily, then students will also be able to see that, as well.  Discipleship makes it even more important for us to be going after God’s heart through the scripture and prayer.  Not that we have to have it all together, but that we are seeking after Him daily.
Go for it!  It’s a beautiful, messy thing when we invite students to ride shotgun.