Youth Discipleship: Caring for the Flock
“How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?”
Judges 13:12, KJV
When we approach youth ministries, what do we ask ourselves? Do we seek God in prayer and study, or do we do as the world does? Do we follow the sentiments of society, or the word of God?
As a young person with a young point of view, I would argue that we are aligning our strategies with those of the world rather than with the methods of heaven. And as a youth, I can honestly say this – it does not work.
Our churches seem only concerned with getting the young people in – not necessarily keeping them in. As long as we see youth in the pews, we are content. We feel that this is better than the alternative: being on the streets, being in the world. So we find ourselves settling for a lower standard; and following it is contemporary society. Baptisms result, commitments are renewed, spiritual vitality is seen and felt. But then it dies away. Why? “For the love of Christ controls us…” (2 Corinthians 5:14, ESV).
Why are we doing this? Why are we operating this way when the Savior Himself has given a formula for making disciples?
In John 21 starting at verse 15, we find an interesting conversation between Jesus and Peter. In the midst of this conversation, the Savior is teaching. Later on, Jesus gives the great commission to go into all the world, preach the gospel, and make disciples for Him. Now, as He speaks with Peter, He outlines the process of discipleship: feed My lambs, feed My sheep, feed My sheep. Looking in the original Greek manuscript, we will notice that the meaning of the word “feed” shifts each time it is said.
The first time (when Jesus says, "Feed my lambs"), the word feed in the Greek is a prolonged form of the verb "to graze". In other words, we are to constantly be feeding our youth with the Word of God, constantly nurturing them, and constantly fitting them for the heavenly kingdom. Hebrews 5:13-14 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 tell us that as babes in the faith, we are inexperienced and need the "milk of the word". Just as newborns need to constantly obtain sustenance in order to foster physical growth, so we constantly need spiritual food in order to grow spiritually.
To My Generation:
“Desire God's pure word as newborn babies desire milk.
Then you will grow in your salvation.”
1 Peter 2:2, GW
The second instance of feed (when Jesus says, "Feed my sheep" the first time) in the Greek means "to tend as a shepherd" or to nurture. As humans move on from infancy, they begin to be taught all of the important rules of life; do we stop feeding them? Of course not! They are cultivated physically just as much as mentally and morally. “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul [prospers]” (3 John 1:2). The same should be true for our youth. Just because we as young people are mature in the eyes of society does not mean that we are mature in the faith! As we are introduced to spiritual solid food, we need to be kept under the wings of our church leaders and friends. We need guidance as we grow up into spiritual maturity.
To My Generation:
“Never use harsh words when you correct an older man, but talk to him as if he were your father. Talk to younger men as if they were your brothers, older women as if they were your mothers, and younger women as if they were your sisters, while keeping yourself morally pure. My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother.”
1 Timothy 5:1-2, GW & Proverbs 1:8, KJV
When Jesus again says "Feed my sheep", He is this time referring to the "prolonged grazing" definition. We need to again be constantly fed. We are past the stage of babying, yes – but even adults have to eat. So, spiritually, the youth need food even now; but this time with the meat of the Word (as opposed to the milk).
To My Generation:
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.”
2 Peter 3:18, KJV
The Next Generation
This system of discipleship is as eternal as the gospel – for in every place where the gospel is preached, the disciple will be empowered to make disciples. Activity is what keeps our youth in. And when we are allowed into the process of making disciples, we grow spiritually. Thus, the cycle continues, and each succeeding generation is fitted to lead others to the kingdom and to enter it themselves.
The method does work: And He has given us this promise--
“I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.”
Revelation 3:8, KJV