In our youth ministry articles, we are focusing on following the disciplemaking ministry patterns that Jesus modeled and then commanded his disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
What is often overlooked is the process Jesus outlined—the same process he used in his earthly ministry that culminated in commissioning the disciples to go and do likewise. If the Gospel accounts only shared that Jesus called and commissioned his disciples, we would be left wondering how he did it. Thankfully, however, the Gospels give us many details about Jesus’ disciplemaking ministry. They provide us with a rich source of direction as we seek to follow Jesus in obeying his command to make disciples.
Hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry
Hallmarks of the early years of Jesus’ ministry include the following:
- News about him spread throughout the region (Luke 4:32).
- People were amazed at his teaching and authority (John 2:23-25).
- Crowds gathered to see and listen to him (John 4:39-42).
Somewhere around the middle of his ministry, Jesus began to focus his attention on those who wanted more than to simply eat the food he provided or watch miracles. He began to invest in a few in an intentional way. He challenged these few to become fishers of men.
We find, for instance, that Andrew, Peter, James and John became a priority of Jesus’ ministry. He ate in their homes (Mark 1:29; 2:15). He spent additional time with them (Mark 9:2). He withdrew from the masses to spend time with just a few (Mark 7:17; 9:30-31). He was intentionally equipping those who showed a level of interest beyond simply wanting to sit in the audience. Such equipping doesn’t happen by accident. It is a strategic component of the development of a disciplemaking ministry.
Jesus’ strategy for equipping believers to become active in his disciplemaking work can be summarized by the acronym CPR.
C refers to cultivating. Jesus set an example of investing time in developing enduring relationships with the few who wanted more. Although this took time away from the masses, it was Jesus’ intent to build an enduring ministry. To do so required equipping and developing a cadre of those who would enthusiastically continue a disciplemaking ministry once Jesus’ own earthly ministry was complete.
P refers to planting. The Gospels have numerous accounts of Jesus sharing with his inner core of disciples the attitudes and skills necessary to become productive workers in Jesus’ harvest ministry. Jesus set up and capitalized on what we sometimes refer to as teachable moments. Such teachable moments are most productive when the teacher has cultivated an enduring relationship with the student. The disciples also sought teachable moments with Jesus. In Matthew 17:10, they ask him questions about the teachers of the law. In verse 19, they ask why a demon could not be driven out. In 18:1, they ask about the kingdom of heaven.
R refers to reaping a life-changing harvest by holding each other accountable to walk like Jesus walked. In John 13:12-17, Jesus set an example for his disciples, and gave instructions that they should follow his example of humble service. Accountability was increasing as Jesus’ ministry neared an end. Expectations were on the rise that the planting and cultivating would ultimately produce a disciplemaking harvest.
Equipping those who want more
Effective youth ministry does not end with bringing students to Jesus or in nurturing those students in the faith. Rather, effective disciplemaking youth ministry includes following Jesus in identifying those who want more, and investing in equipping them for active participation in Jesus’ work on earth. This equipping occurs through sharing teachable points of view that are biblically based, and then holding the student accountable to do something with what they are learning.
How do we identify those who want more? Candidates for equipping have some distinct characteristics. For starters, they make themselves available. Being a disciple who makes disciples becomes a priority. They clear time to learn more. I was once told: “You can hear what people say is a priority to them, but the best way to validate this is to check what they do with their money and their time.” Those who want more demonstrate a greater level of commitment by freeing their calendar and other resources to engage more actively in ministry.
Candidate for equipping will show themselves to be faithful. They have track records that demonstrate an eager desire to focus on things that are important to Jesus, not just themselves. The fruit in their lives begins to reflect Christ’s priority in their day-to-day conduct.
They are teachable. Jesus’ disciples demonstrated this characteristic as they began to ask more questions of him. They had a thirst for learning.
A final characteristic is that they are responsive. Jesus provided what some might see as mundane expectations associated with service, such as passing out the loaves and fishes, to observe how his disciples responded to his leadership in their lives.
It is difficult if not impossible to pour oneself into the lives of hundreds or even dozens of people for equipping purposes. Jesus’ own example was that he invested in a small group that he expected would, in turn, invest themselves in equipping a small group to become disciplemakers—thus perpetuating the disciplemaking cycle.
Jesus’ method for equipping went far beyond offering a two-hour workshop. For Jesus, equipping was a life-style—a 24 hour a day, seven days a week investment in the lives of his inner circle of disciples.
Following Jesus’ methodology for equipping workers presents significant challenges for us. How do we find the time and the appropriate places? The answers are not easy, but when it comes to equipping youths and the adults who serve in youth ministry, I have found that time away together for concentrated equipping is of great value.
One such place is a summer camp, which provides an immersive experience where youth leaders actively equip youths who want more. If you are a teen, older preteen or college-age young adult who is hungry to be equipped to participate in youth ministry, I encourage you to come to camp. If you are a youth ministry worker who wants to be further equipped and to help equip our youths, I invite you to apply to work on the staff of one of our camps.
Another option for intensive equipping are youth ministry conferences. While such conferences do not take the place of long-term equipping relationships, they are significant short-term and intensive equipping opportunities for those who want more.
In Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus said: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Please join us in asking for these additional workers, and please consider whether God is answering your prayer by asking you to be one of them. If you sense God asking you to seek equipping, be sure to let your pastor or youth ministry leader know—they will be happy to help you get the equipping you seek.