Evangelism Myth #5: My primary responsibility is discipleship, not evangelism
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that most youth ministry discipleship strategies tend to be heavily informational, rather than transformational.
What do I mean by that? Well, as a youth leader, it’s no surprise to you that you can download all the right information to your students (Bible stories, theology, character traits, lifestyle choices, etc.) and still find them unfocused and unengaged in a real, passionate, personal commitment to Christ.
In fact, even your steady attendees sometimes seem to miss the point of it all, and they are the ones who’ve grown up in the church, sat through endless hours of Sunday School and maybe even go to Christian schools. (FYI, I went to Christian school and so do my kids, so I’m not bashing a Christian education.)
I’ve seen this happen over and over and it distresses me. Our discipleship efforts often are creating teenagers who have all the right knowledge, but lack the passion of true disciples. They are like sponges who soak up the milk of God’s Word, but never learn to wring themselves out for others. As a result, the milk turns sour and they can run the risk of starting to stink a bit. And if they’re not careful, they can end up becoming little Pharisees who know the truth, but lack the heart and passion to live for Christ and to share His truth with others.
Evangelism as a Catalyst to Discipleship
So what are we missing? What will help instill the passion and commitment to their faith in our teenagers that we all long to see take root in their hearts? I believe the “missing link” in most discipleship strategies today is evangelism. When teens share their faith it will accelerate the discipleship process like nothing else.
Of course, it’s no surprise that the “evangelism guy” would say that. But hear me out.
I believe that much of what passes as disciple-making today is a faint echo of Jesus’ approach. And that’s happened because we’ve divorced evangelism from discipleship. Jesus “discipled” His group of twelve in the midst of His mission to seek and save the lost. And that’s what we need to get back to.
I believe that just like those early disciples, when a teenager is put in a position of sharing their faith with their friends, everything changes. Suddenly they have purpose. Suddenly they have a vested interest in understanding their faith so they can explain it to others in a clear and compelling way. Suddenly they are hungry for spiritual truth that can reach into the lives of their lost and hurting friends. Suddenly they are motivated to pray with passion as they see that heaven and hell stand in the balance when it comes to their friends’ souls.
Launching your students into the “dangerous” world of sharing their faith will help them experience intimacy with God (Philemon 1:6), pray with passion (Romans 10:1) and trust in God in ways they’ve never experienced before (Matthew 10:19-20). And isn’t this exactly what we all want for our students? Isn’t this what we hope our discipleship efforts yield in their lives?
Avoiding a Legacy of Little Pharisees
The very premise of e-myth #5 is flawed. One is not a higher priority than the other because evangelism cannot be segregated out of the discipleship process. If you want your teens to be like Jesus—to really be like Jesus—they must develop a heart like His. One that burns and breaks for the lost. Otherwise, deep down where it really counts, they’re really nothing like Jesus at all. They’re just hearers of the Word and not doers.
So here are a few ideas to help you build a youth ministry discipleship model that is more holistic and takes a both/and approach:
- Explore this e-myth further
- Check out the “Deep & Wide Youth Ministry Paper” for loads of practical ideas on how to build a ministry that goes Deep and Wide (discipleship AND evangelism).
- Pick up a copy of my book, Firing Jesus, for insights on what Jesus’ discipleship model might look like in youth ministry in today.
- Try this strategy with your group
- An easy way to jumpstart this process in your youth group would be to bring your students out to a Dare 2 Share conference. They’ll get a chance to go out and do some evangelism.
I believe that youth ministry is on the verge of an explosion. One that will blow away some of the traditional approaches to discipleship and allow us to get back to a more Christ-centered model. And when that happens, watch out! Things will get crazy, teens will be owning and sharing their faith, and our jobs will be the most exciting ones around.
Where do you stand on the issue of discipleship versus evangelism? Do you see them as two sides of the same coin, or are they totally separate from each other?