As a student minister I am constantly looking for ways to engage and connect with students in our community. Admittedly, I am not the “coolest” guy in town or the guy with the greatest facilities, or even the guy who can pull off the greatest attire (skinny jeans are not friendly to my body type). However, I do enjoy lifting weights, and (quite honestly) I can move quite a bit of weight. Through some relationships that our church had with some of the schools in our community prior to me coming on staff, I have been able to work out with students in the weightlifting classes in our local schools. As you can imagine, this has been a great way to begin relationships with students from the schools, but even more, this opportunity has reminded me of some of the very basic principles that we often forget in our ministries.
Prior to coming on staff at the church where I currently serve, I would often lift weights by myself. There were several reasons for this. One was the convenience of being in the gym when it was less crowded. Another reason I would often work out alone is that I was really easily intimidated. I just did not want others to work out and lift more than I could or embarrass me. As I have been working out with students at the schools, I have been reminded of a key element to weightlifting: we can go farther when we go together.
Obviously the Gospel is enough to bring about spiritual growth and transformation in the life of a believer, but there is something we often miss. When I have a workout partner, we can push each other to accomplish our goals. He can cause me to keep going to get one more rep in when I think I am done. As I sat and thought about this the other day in the gym, I thought about how true this is with discipleship as well. Often in student ministry specifically (and Christianity generally), we leave young believers alone on their faith journey. It is almost as if we expect a believer to merely gain maturity by osmosis once they begin following Christ. While there may have been more truth to that in years past, that is not as true today. There are simply too many voices speaking into the lives of believers today for us to simply think maturity will come “naturally.” Those of us in leadership roles must remember that we can go farther when we go together.
I enjoy lifting with the students at the schools. I am stronger than many of them in most lifts, and lifting with them in those lifts challenges them to work harder. However, in a few lifts, I am relatively weak, and the students push me to work harder and lift more. I go harder because they are pushing me to do so. What a great point for us to grasp in the discipleship process: when we partner believers up, they encourage, challenge, support, and hold each other accountable. That leads to growth!
Although I am a student minister, my ministry is hugely dependent on so many of our adults. I need our adults to invest in the lives of students so that our students (and even the adults) can go farther in their spiritual formation. Too often, I fear, we expect students in today’s post-Christian culture to just “get it.” Even Jesus’ disciples needed one another to continue to grow and develop after His ascension. How true is that of us today as well! We can farther when we go together.
Another reminder came this past week as I was lifting a weight that I have successfully lifted many times before. As I strained under the weight of the particular exercise, my body would simply not respond. I could not lift the weight. Thankfully, I had a spotter there who was able to assist me to a) complete the lift and b) prevent me from sustaining injury. How true is that of our spiritual walks? There are times when we will face struggles or difficulties, and we will need that “spotter” there to help us through it.
The Gospel is, by its very nature, relational. Too often we lead students to a belief in Christ, and then leave them to navigate the waters of teenage issues on their own. When we partner them with someone who can serve as an accountability partner (spotter), we equip them to be successful in their spiritual formation. Unfortunately, this is counter-cultural to our generation. Today, the prevailing mindset seems that each individual’s choices are no one’s business but his or her own. This is not the case for the believer. Our students need that spotter, not to judge them in their decisions, but to assist them so that they can grow in their faith.
This concept of accountability should not be a surprise to us. The early disciples were accountable to one another. In addition, they supported one another when they faced difficulties. Paul even encouraged the Galatian believers to “bear one another’s burdens.” The fact remains, though, that accountability requires commitment on the part of all parties involved.
Not only do we all need the “spotter” for accountability, but we need the spotter to assist us in the areas in which we are weak. Too many times we leave those students behind who begin to follow Christ and then perhaps struggle with a specific sin. When our students have spotters in their lives, we can help them gain access to the power of the Gospel that has already overcome the power of the sin with which they struggle.
One of the joys of my ministries is just hanging out with students. Recently, I had a student come by, and we just spent the afternoon talking and discussing life. He asked me about the transformation that has taken place in my life since I got interest in lifting weights. Like any good student minister (note the sarcasm), I had a few pictures of me pre-weightlifting days that I showed him. He literally laughed out loud at me. I was pretty heavy, but the pictures also revealed my lack of muscle. Once he stopped laughing, he then got serious and told me he wanted to start working out with me. Translation: if you used to look like THAT, and now you have made these transformations, then you have learned how to do something of value. We cannot miss this as it relates to Christianity. When others see the transformation that the Gospel has brought about in our lives, they are at the very least, intrigued.
How do we take these basics from lifting weights and implement them into our student ministries? Well, we make community a natural part of the structure of our ministries. Because we go farther when we go together, we structure so that our students are constantly in groups. From the time they enter our ministry, we are asking the tough questions about their walk. We want it to become natural for our students to know that we care about them and want them to experience the fullness of the Gospel. In addition, we encourage our older students to invest in the lives of younger students and serve as their “spotter” to help them navigate their growth process. As this happens, we also encourage adults whose lives have been radically changed by the Gospel to invest in our students so that they are constantly encouraged by the transformations they see.
While I think we would all like to read a blog like this or a book, and find the silver bullet that answers our questions regarding discipleship and provides a step-by-step how-to, the reality remains that discipleship is much like weightlifting: the transformation we seek will not come overnight. For maximum effectiveness in our discipleship efforts, we need the right equipment (a life transformed by the Gospel), the right personnel (a “spotter”), and then we will see the desired results!