Youth Ministry Discipleship is More Than Filling in the Blanks

Discipleship = learning to live the life of a Christ-follower.  It’s one definition and definitely not the only one.  But if we’re using this as a working definition for training up the next generation of faith-walkers, then we must assess HOW we’re doing that.


Looking at modern day youth ministry distresses me.  We’re sitting students in a room and talking to them for an hour and expecting them to absorb, by osmosis, the conviction and character it takes to follow Jesus in all areas of life.  If we’re especially organized, we’re even giving them an outline with some of the answer left blank – knowing that if they’re writing down the notes we’re giving, they’re truly being transformed.


This is NOT the way Jesus discipled.  Jesus lived life alongside His followers.  He seized teachable moments.  He answered questions as they arose.  He challenged, rebuked, encouraged, and prayed.

And I wasn’t there, but I’m guessing there wasn’t a single blank to be found anywhere.

Growing up, I came from a completely unchurched family.  I had zero faith base.  As I look back on those student ministry days, there are only a few ‘lessons’ or ‘messages’ that I remember – that truly influenced HOW I live my life for Christ.  What truly changed me was running errands with my youth pastor and talking about stuff I was reading in the Bible.  Being called out by someone I loved and who loved me on seeming inconsistencies in my Jesus-walk/talk.  Wrestling with questions over a period of time with no simple answers in sight.  THAT’S discipleship.

Sermons and lessons and fill-in-the-blanks aren’t bad.  Possibly, they aren’t even obsolete.  But they SUPPLEMENT a life of discipling – they cannot, must not, replace it.

Do you agree with me? What would you add to this? Have I struck a nerve or ticked you off?



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  • Paul Turner

    Notes should not not be in the metrics of determining the follower-ship of any believer, adult to student. Sinners can take notes. Notes can determine engagement with the message but not whether a kid is following Jesus. Jesus said love will be the mark of any of His disciples. It’s just a harder value to measure.

  • philbell

    Paul, yes love is harder measure isn’t it? I think traditionally our pursuit of formulas and simple processes has caused us to lose sight of the needed messiness of discipleship. Discipleship is messy!

  • Veteran YouthMin

    Thanks Paul! And you know, in my own life I sometimes know that note taking doesn’t always equal engagement…sometimes I can be filling in the blanks and not even realizing the words I am writing. :) It’s the danger of multi-taking in my brain!! ;) Thanks for weighing in!

  • Theresa Mazza

    Thanks for this post Darren. It reminds me that the most dynamic teaching comes out of life together! Discovery of truth through God’s word. It’s easier to tell kids to fill in the blanks. It’s harder and more time consuming to discover God and his truth in our everyday life. You were blessed Darren to have people who joined you and cheered you on as you learned through discovery. We should approach youth ministry and discipleship with the objective to facilitate discovery not just talks.

  • Veteran YouthMin

    I was blessed….and God continues to bless me with people who encourage and challenge me to follow close! :) Thanks T!

  • philbell

    Theresa, I loved what you said, “We should approach youth ministry and discipleship with the objective to facilitate discovery not just talks.” This is so pertinent! When we help students become discoverers of their faith, they begin to become self-feeders of their faith. We can simply spoon feed them all the time…