Are you ready and willing to be a living exhibition of what life with God is like? Jesus invites you to join him in this adventure. Connecting in our World is the contact of the eternal with the mundane—and it can be a transforming adventure that we unwrap everyday.
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore 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 28:18-20
The command here is to “make disciples.” The context expects us to be out in our world accomplishing this ultimate priority. While going, we are to multiply ourselves by making new disciples, baptizing them and guiding them until they are living out these truths in their own lives—making disciples themselves! Jesus demonstrated his own commitment to “going” by his birth and life among us. He identified with those he loved as he sought to make disciples. I wonder if instead of following Jesus’ example, we practice a “Great Omission” today—we post a sign or run an ad and wait for the lost to find their own way to us. As shepherds, let’s go meet the sheep where they are.
Scriptures emphasize going. John 15 focuses on going and bearing fruit. In Mark 16 Christ says, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.” In John 20:21, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Yet we often say, “Come, come, come. Come to our ___________ program. Come to our beautiful facility. Come to our activity.” We even have it turned around so that we find ourselves getting mad, disgusted and discouraged with our friends because they don’t come—yet Jesus told us to go. We have no right to expect others to draw close until we have been faithful in going.
HUNGER FOR GOD
The Bible teaches that our lives are “letters” read by those people around us (2 Cor. 3:2). The disciplemaker must take time to cultivate the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer, evangelism and spiritual breathing (confession of sin and complete yielding to the Spirit). We should be able to say, as Paul said to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Students can sense the intensity of my relationship with God when they spend time with me. My personal time with Christ spills over and affects people around me more than any other time investment I make—students know when my quiet time is going well, and they can tell when it isn’t.
COMPASSION FOR PEOPLE
Jesus lived in a world of hurting and needy people. Matthew 8:14-15 describes an instance when Jesus was at Peter’s house, and he saw Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed with fever. Jesus touched her hand and the fever left her. The teen years are hard. The challenges students face are only intensified by struggles with self-image, acceptance and meaning in life. We must compassionately understand the basic needs students have if we intend to minister to them. In Five Cries of Youth, Merton Strommen details these basic needs and how we as disciplemakers and even youth workers can deal with them.
Strommen surveyed more than seven thousand teenagers about their values, beliefs, opinions and concerns about themselves, their friends, their world, and their God. He writes, “If you listen, you can hear cries, rising out of the data with compelling insistence: sobs, angry shouts, hurrahs, protests and jeers.” Our love for hurting students should come from an overflow of our personal relationship with Christ.
Mark 1:40-45 refers to this principle: “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees… Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.”
Likewise, we need to let compassion come alive in us as we interact with students.
Leaders must be prepared to confront the questions students are facing: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? In Leadership, Barry St. Clair describes a leader’s role in the lives of students:
Webster defines leadership as the ‘ability to show the way or guide the course of action of another by going before or going beside.’ As you examine that definition, one thing becomes apparent about being a leader. You can’t show someone else the way to go unless you have been there (or are going there) yourself. In other words, the quality of your life will determine the quantity of your influence. As you minister to students, you must catch hold of the concept that, ‘If I take care of the depth of my spiritual life, then God will take care of the breadth of my disciplemaking adventure.’ Simply stated, leadership is a life-style. God can use you to influence others, but your influence will be in proportion to the type of lifestyle that you lead.
My connecting skills are only valuable when they are supported by a meaningful relationship with God.
RELATIONAL ABILITIES OF A DISCIPLEMAKER
Because of the significance of the connecting intentionality, we realize that disciplemakers need to develop several convictions:
WILLINGNESS TO SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE (for example as Youth Workers with Students)
Many students today lack significant relationships with adults due to the breakdown of the family, economic pressures requiring both parents and teens to work, and the development of a youth subculture that tends to breed mistrust and misunderstanding between generations. If people only see us on Sundays, and we are “phantom” Christians the rest of the week, they may easily conclude that we don’t really care about them as individuals. We must earn the right to be heard and show our concern for them by learning about their interests and becoming involved in their lives.
SENSITIVITY TO PEOPLES’ DEVELOPING IDENTITIES (for example as Youth Workers with Students)
Like many of us, students are people in transition. As disciplemakers and youth leaders, we need to be aware of the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual makeup of our students (and our friends & neighbors) and their various stages of development. Be careful not to stereotype or categorize others—each deserves individual attention and care. This individual love means accepting students even with their imperfections. It’s common to know students, family and friends who are struggling to form their unique identity—and to see them undergo personality changes and try new fads. We must strive to accept each individual as God’s creation rather than condemn or judge their self-worth.
Our sensitivity should include speaking the truth in love when a student’s new individuality infringes upon the rights of others. Remember that discipleship and discipline are as closely related as they sound.
A DOSE OF AGGRESSIVENESS
Growing up, my mom and I used to go fishing. We never just sat in the boat waiting for fish to jump in. Of course not! We aggressively went after them, making an effort to find out where the fish were, and then caught them. “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.’” —Matthew 9:36-38
Jesus called us to join him in fishing for men, not waiting for fish to swim up to us. We must aggressively, but lovingly and tactfully, go after them. In John 4, Jesus said, “Lift up your eyes. Look into the fields. See that they are white unto harvest.” Often we are so busy planning our own programs and looking at our own problems that we fail to see how ripe the harvest is. That’s why Jesus urged us to look around and see how ready the harvest really is. Compassion should lead us to vigorously pursue Christ’s example and commission.
WILLINGNESS TO IDENTIFY WITH THE ANOTHER’S WORLD
For example, Teenagers can easily develop a dichotomy in their minds—the church world, and the “real” world. What goes on in the church world is good and valuable; but it doesn’t relate, in their minds, to the real world. When we penetrate the real world that students live in by going on their turf, the dichotomy breaks down. Our teaching has new value as they realize that a daily walk with Christ does relate to them. A side benefit of entering the world of students is that we gain a better understanding of what life is like for them. Too often we teach from theory or old personal experiences rather than dealing with the real issues this generation is facing this month.
CONSISTENCY IN CONNECTING
We must have the conviction that connecting is as important two years into our friendships and ministries as it is during the initial months of our friendships. We must guard against the “sigh of relief” syndrome that says, “I used to do that, but thankfully, I’m past that stage.” Connecting is a continual process that expresses the value we place on people. Threats to consistency:
Connecting takes time and effort. Building relationships and penetrating circles of friends does not come naturally. If we fail to take the time or encourage other leaders and students to make intentional contacts, we soon will become an ingrown group without any non-Christian friends or fringe students close enough to impact.
Connecting takes courage and boldness.
A problem that we face in maintaining a connecting intentionality is what Pat Hurley refers to as the stomach problem—visiting a high school campus, students’s homes, local hangouts, etc. all require a certain amount of guts.
Perhaps this is what Paul was experiencing when he wrote to the Corinthians: “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Fear is a natural response as we leave our own spiritual and peer comfort zone to “cross-culturally” contact teens. But if we are afraid to go to them, isn’t it easy to see why they would be terrified to come to a church or church-based group? Remember Christ’s promise: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Results may come slowly. We must face the possibility that we will not see the impact of our connecting intentionality for a long time. I remember my first contacts well. Not only was I nervous, but I felt awkward and out of place; yet I was always praying and asking God to help me know what to say. I wanted students to know that I was truly interested in their lives and cared enough to spend time with them. Connecting is slow and often discouraging, but trust develops over time.
Remember the wisdom of Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
—by Dave & Rennie Garda, Cadre Missionaries, email@example.com
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I finish preaching at a church and I am invited to attend a Sunday school class. Since one of the great passions of my life is to see Jesus-like transformational teaching happen in Sunday schools and small groups, I say, “Are you kidding? I’d LOVE to.”
￼I’m escorted to a very nice classroom where about 20 energetic adults are milling around engaged in what seems like good conversation to me. I hear lots of laughter and see lots of smiles. Many of these folks seem to know and love each other. I’m able to meet the volunteer teacher and several other sharp, articulate and fun-loving people before the class starts. I sense energy in the room.
I grab my cup of coffee and donut and find a seat. The subject today: God’s Word on marriage. I think to myself: This is going to be good. I can’t wait to see how this group tackles this.
A missed opportunity
Ten minutes into the class, the energy, engagement, and enthusiasm that once was, is no more. It feels like someone pulled the plug in a ￼bathtub full of fun, relationships, and learning. The longer the class continues, the stronger the vortex of disengagement becomes. I watch one very sincere and well-studied volunteer teacher stand at the front of the room… and continue to talk. He doesn’t seem to notice that the smiles, energy, and, worst of all, the learning—like Elvis—have left the building. Not once in 50 long minutes does he ask anyone to respond or participate. I look around the room to study the glazed-over faces. Just minutes ago, these eyes lit up as they conversed with each other about God and life.
My heart deflates—for both the teacher and those being taught. I ponder the tragedy unfolding before me: an untapped gold mine of biblical understanding and life experience sitting in the room… wasting away… right under the teacher’s nose. I sit and wonder. (I know, I should have been listening to the teacher.) I wonder how any of them may have enriched the learning with a personal story of God at work in their marriage. I wonder if anyone might have a related passage of Scripture to share. I wonder what could have happened-what God might do in our lives if we could stop the lecture long enough to break into groups of 4-6 people and study what the Bible has to say about marriage for ourselves first…before the teacher tells us.
And I suspect that a number of those in the class would have something biblical, fun, and pertinent to offer… something life-changing to share…. if only they had a chance.
But they never got a chance.
The class is over. Now I walk out of the room and, at my next thought, I feel a slight chill run down my spine: I wonder who will come back next week… and, more importantly, who won’t?
Here’s a wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee moment for you: The fate of your ministry is in the hands of volunteers. And it’s utterly foolish not to train them well.
This week I had the privilege of hanging out with Zach Hummer and Ryan Baker of the When you gonna be a real Pastor? podcast, along with my friend Betty, to chat about empowering volunteers in your ministry.
You can listen to our conversation here!