Are We Doing Youth Discipleship Wrong?

August 31st, 2017

As youth pastors, I think most of us feel like we do an adequate job in discipling the youth in a student ministry. Humbly, we say there is always room for improvement but we are usually somewhat satisfied with how discipleship is being taught. This is especially true for youth pastors who have been at one church for a prolonged period and have had a chance to implement a discipleship program. The question is, has the church done a good job in discipling the next generation of students who will be the future of our faith? I think most of the frank youth pastors would say no, even though we find our own discipleship programs fine.

This article is not meant to scold youth pastors of the past or to say I have all the answers, I obviously do not. With this caveat being set, empirically it is clear that church has failed to disciple youth. We all know the statistics that say a majority of youth will leave the church during college but do those statistics motivate us to change? A large group of youth pastors, myself included, have seen those statistics and have done relatively little to change it in our communities.

We as youth pastors oversee the discipling of young people in the student ministry in our churches, but do we really know what that means? What is discipling and what is not discipling? Here is a list of what discipling is, and what it is not.

Discipling is not….

Having a youth ministry that only does “events”

I admit by the title this point is hard to understand, so let me explain what I mean by “events.” An “event” based youth ministry is when the only extracurricular activities that take place are camps, retreats, bowling, pool parties, etc.

These events are all great, and I organize these kinds of events for my student ministry. But if this is the only “discipleship” students are getting, then we are selling them short of that a true disciple looks like. Many churches get caught in doing only event based student ministry because of tradition or the church views youth ministry as a babysitting service.

Only on Wednesday night

Every youth pastor can identify with feeling like you gave a Charles Spurgeon-like sermon and when the invitation comes and no decisions are made. It is frustrating and sometimes disheartening. The cold truth is this, most of the youth you preach to every Wednesday night will remember little of your sermons five years from now. They will not remember that killer joke you made last month that they are still talking about. Preaching on Wednesday night is important but we cannot make it the end all be all of discipleship.  A spirit-filled sermon can do amazing things and can help bring people to Christ. But when we are not being relational with the people we are preaching too, then we become just a faint background noise in the annals of their memories.


Scenario: You have fifteen kids that are regular attenders in your youth group, and you finally realize that you are not discipling them correctly. You attempt to correct this problem by trying to disciple each and every student in your youth group. You think you can do this all of yourself, so you create a detailed chart on meeting with each student. You start this new venture and a month goes by and you realize that discipling students is more than just names on a chart/list.

We cannot as youth pastors simply reserve a few hours after school during the week for discipleship. Discipling followers of Christ cannot be compartmentalized like we do with other aspects of our lives. Students are complicated, messy, rash and a myriad of other adjectives. They are all of these adjectives because they are fallen like we are. When we dedicate ourselves to real intentional discipleship, we need to be prepared to die to ourselves.

Discipleship is….


Matthew 28 tells us to make disciples, not just to make converts. We are commanded to make disciples and to help grow them into the likeness of Christ. We as mature Christians understand this, but we do not always practice it. We, myself included, get too complacent with what we are doing in our ministry and we do not see the urgency of discipleship. This lack of urgency of discipleship has led us to the road we are on today.

What does discipleship look like? What is the goal of discipleship? We need to look in 2 Tim 2:2 for where we see what our goal for discipleship is. Paul tells Timothy “Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” We are commissioned by Christ to make disciples who make disciples. Disciples who replicate is the way we know if a church or community is healthy in Christ.


At the risk of sounding cliché, being relational is one of the most important elements of discipleship. Think about the New Testament for a second, and think of all of the discipleship that is happening. Jesus and the twelve and Paul and Timothy come to mind. The discipleship that is happening in these relationships does not require a program. It requires a relationship and walking in a daily life together. A discipleship program is not bad, but when a program takes the place of relationship it can become it. When we as youth pastors are only discipling on Wednesday nights or at events, then we are not being relational in our discipleship.

Not a part we play, but who we are

When Jesus ascended into heaven, and he commissioned his disciple to go make more disciples. When Peter preached a Pentecost. When Paul was at the gallows ready to be martyred for his faith. When we think of all of these great biblical figures, we sometimes forget that they are just disciples of Jesus Christ like you and me. We aren’t just disciples Monday-Friday and not one on the weekends. Being a disciple of Christ is who we are, it is the sign of a matured faith in Christ. We do not reach Christian prize on earth when we achieve the title of disciple of Christ. We are not disciples because it is what a Christian should be, we are disciples because it is who we are.

ETHAN WINFIELD is a Student Pastor in Tennessee at First Baptist Church of McKenzie. He has a passion for developing people to be more like Christ. His hobbies are naps, eating popcorn, and watching Alabama football!


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.