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.