By Phil Allen
Discipleship is the foundation for all I believe God has called me to do as a pastor. My own experience as a new Christian tells me every Christian needs someone to show and not just tell how to honor God with his or her own life.
When I say discipleship, I am talking about life-on-life, transparent and genuine, not-afraid-to-get-messy mentorship. A professor of mine said, “How can you change something that you’re afraid to touch?” I took that to heart and began this quest to invest beyond the pulpit in the lives of young people.
A culture of discipleship ultimately is the fruit we are hoping to produce and reproduce. We are not trying to reproduce a program or another Bible study, but a culture where the understanding and expectation is relational mentorship. This must be the new norm, the kind that connects the dots between theology and what it looks like in practical application. Whether mentorship is in the form of a seasoned leader reaching back to invest in a young adult, or a peer-mentor who can walk alongside a friend to help him or her mature in the faith, creating the culture is what matters.
Why We Model
The one constant I hear from young adults (ages 18 to 30), and particularly young singles, is the question “What does that look like?” What does “praying without ceasing” look like? What does forgiveness and loving your enemy look like? What does serving look like? What does it mean to date with purity and be prepared for marriage? How do you treat a woman? How do you identify a quality, God-fearing man? These folks need to see it.
These young adults oftentimes believe what the Word says, but have no model in their lives for how it is practically lived out. Many believe church leaders have become too distant and too busy. But while they are young adults, it is prime time, and the right time, for church leaders to model godly behavior for them. If not, the young person might begin to live out the ungodly behavior he sees being lived out all around him.
A young drug dealer learns the ropes from the dealers who went before him. A young gang member learns the ways of the streets from more experienced gang members, and they impact his actions and attitudes. Likewise, a rookie athlete tries to learn all he can from the veterans on his team. And 12 men were discipled by Jesus and then continued the legacy of his model to multiply Christianity throughout the world.
Why is this so significant with a ministry to singles?
Most young singles have time, energy, passion, thirst for God, and the willingness to give their undivided attention to a cause they believe in. At Shepherd of the Hills, we figure why not maximize the time we have with them, not just for the benefit of the ministry, but to maximize character and leadership development?
It’s well-known that 75 to 85 percent of high school students walk away from the faith within a few years after graduation. My heart is burdened for those who fall into this category, because I was one of those “Christian dropouts” for a season of my life. I’m continually meeting young adults who are returning to the faith and want truly to surrender and live for the Lord. They join our young adult ministry knowing there will be someone accessible to walk with them through this maze called life.
To be honest, I am not a fan of singles ministries. My advice for young adult ministry is serve! A single person has the time to devote to giving himself or herself to help others and to be the hands and feet of Jesus. For those who desire to someday marry, it is the time to actually learn how to serve. A servant’s attitude is what a person should want to take into a marriage. With that said, most people who are part of the college/young adult ministry are also single, so there is no way to escape having a “singles” ministry.
How We Disciple
At The Vine, our desire is that through personal experience, prayer, and Scripture study, these young adults will begin to understand what discipleship should look like, so that we can take people on a journey that continually becomes more intimate.
Let me explain.
A young adult visits The Vine, has a great worship experience, and after a few weeks decides to settle there. The first step is to plug this person into a small group where he or she will find community.
The person attends a small group (which we call Life Groups) and after months or perhaps even a year, decides to grow even more and go deeper. We introduce this person to the “72 Group.” The name is taken from Luke 10, where Jesus appointed and sent out 72 disciples to preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick. This is a class where young adults learn foundational doctrines of the faith. It is 20 weeks of teaching, questions and answers, accountability, and exercises to challenge them. The goal is to prepare them for and lead them to a smaller, more intimate group, under a seasoned believer, for a year of intense mentorship.
Our hope is that each person who goes through this process will eventually want to replicate it by leading a Life Group in the near future. This, too, is discipleship. As the pastor of this ministry, much of my energy goes into developing our leaders. Even while leading a small group, these young adults are still being developed. They are now engaged in what I mentioned earlier, peer-mentoring. But it does not stop there. The ultimate goal is for them to mature to a place, after some time in leadership, to be able to teach others, to model and practice the word before them, and to develop future leaders and mentors.
A young man preached in our worship service recently. I’ve had the privilege of watching him grow from a scared babe in the Lord, who did not consider himself a leader, and develop into an excellent preacher, a mentor to young men, and a passionate worship leader. He has experienced every part of our discipleship process over the last four years. And he is just one of many stories.
Discipleship made the faith real and tangible for me. I learned how to pray by having my mentor pray with me every day for nine months, showing me how to pray. I learned how to preach by traveling with my mentor to the churches and conferences where he preached. I learned how to love and serve my wife by watching my mentor love and serve his wife. I was finally able to see faith lived out practically. This is what The Vine is about.
We are ministering to what many call a fatherless generation. Many of them have not seen Jesus. Discipleship is critical to the health of an entire generation. They need to see faith! The great thing is they are hungry for it.
Phil Allen is college/young adult pastor with Shepherd of the Hills Church, Porter Ranch, California.