Tuesday, November 16, 2010

From Fuzzy To Focused

Jasper Speaks:
This is a research paper for my Foundations of Education class at Midwestern:  I think there is some really good truth here that might help you in focusing your ministry.

From Fuzzy to Focused:
Developing a Process for Discipleship in Student Ministry

Student ministry has evolved in the past three decades. A major movement from program based models to discipleship based models has changed the way ministries look at how they define success in reaching and discipling young people.  In response to statistics saying as many as 64%-94% of teenagers are leaving the church when they graduate high school[1], student ministries are taking a sharp turn toward more Bible based ministry and less programs in an attempt to develop life transformation among this generation. The days of over packed schedules heavy on entertainment and light on substance are fading away in favor of programs focused on creating lifelong, fully devoted, followers of Christ. Effective student ministries cast visions strongly, evaluate regularly and implement the change needed to develop lifelong disciples for Christ.
Much has been written that would persuade those ministering to teens that there can be a packaged formula to help them reach the goal of creating disciples for Christ. Mega Church models have been applied in churches of varying sizes all over the United States. Student Pastors and volunteer youth leaders have been inundated with the latest fads and trends all with the promise of changing this generation. A clear return to Biblical principles and a focus on the spiritual health of a church’s ministry however, is the first step to seeing true transformation occur.
A New Scorecard
For years ministries have looked at attendance and giving as the primary ways to evaluate the effectiveness of their work for the Lord. These methods of grading seem short sighted. These evaluative methods only deal with the physical aspects of growth and not what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of people. In their book, Transformational Church, Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Ranier, encourage ministries to look to a new way of evaluating their effectiveness. A new measure of effectiveness is suggested giving more credence on how well ministries are making disciples. Where churches once focused on numbers, Stetzer and Rainer suggest that the new scorecard needs to focus on disciples. [2]  The goal of our ministries is not focus on numerical and financial growth but to develop genuine Christ followers.
            These same principles should be applied to student ministry. The measure of the health of a student ministry must be held to the standard of how well students grow in their relationship with Christ. Rather than just focusing on tangible results, student ministries need to look to ways to measure the intangible as well. No longer can a list of those who attend programs be an accurate view of the health of a ministry. Effective student ministries evaluate the quality of their discipleship to understand where strengths and weaknesses lie. Attendance is important, growth is a natural barometer of a healthy student ministry, but effective student ministries implement ways to measure things like the quality of worship, the building of community, the role of missions, and the rate of commitment within its students to accurately gauge the health of the student ministry.
            A discipleship plan with the end result in mind is key to developing students. Student ministries must begin to ask, “What do we want our students to look like spiritually after they leave our ministry?” Evaluation of the programs they have in place to make sure they are focusing the proper time and energy into those which are most beneficial to the discipleship plan is also important.
            Not only are “experts” recommending these changes, students desire more discipleship substance in the ministries in which they are involved. When Group magazine recently polled churched students across America, deeper connections, orthodoxy, and a return to systematic Bible studies were high on the list of the things that help them to grow in Christ. Programs did not make the list of helpful resources. In fact students indicated the number one distraction from their faith was busyness and hyper-activity.[3] Students are calling out for a change in how ministries disciple and if lifelong growth is an aim, the church’s response needs to be one of well thought out and effective alteration.
Where To Begin
            Ministries that produce make a plan of discipleship. These ministries make their goals clear and easily maneuverable. In order to begin this plan some hard choices need to be made. A comprehensive evaluation of current programs will lead to clarity of mind in structuring a vital discipleship model. As they evaluate themselves, student ministries should decide what the desired outcome should look like when accomplished. Ministries will benefit from deciding the goal before structuring how to achieve it.  It would profit ministries to decide what attributes they hope graduating students possess then discuss what programs can best foster those attributes.
Effective discipleship ministries are evaluative in nature. These ministries are not afraid to look at themselves and make changes accordingly. Asking questions such as, “What events are being kept because of tradition?’ and “What are we doing because we are expected to do it?” are crucial to examining where the ministry can best begin to declutter and better disciple students. Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton explain it this way, “Most of our student ministries are known for camps, retreats, programs, choir tours, ski-trips, fund-raisers, and all-nighters. And few are known for the sweet aroma of Christ in the lives of teenagers.”[4]  Effective student ministries are willing to move away from routine programs and toward intentional discipleship. Focusing on the end outcome will help to make the process of this movement clear.
Making A Clear path through the process
            After the goal of the discipleship process has been determined, effective ministries begin to decide what is most important to making that goal a reality. Discipleship will never be outdated and the Bible is the seedbed of creating a vital process. Methods may change but there are certain principles that effective student ministries embrace that transcend those methods. When we understand that the process is meant to help students move from point to point on their faith journey, planning how to execute the process becomes simpler.[5] Effective student ministries understand that in order to reach the goal, students and leaders need to understand the process that leads to that goal. A successful discussion of the process keeps effective discipleship of students as its aim, the Bible at its center and lifelong disciples as its goal.
            Identifying the movement involved in the discipleship process is vital. Effective student ministries realize that the process begins with a clear entry point where the spiritual water is shallow and ends where the waters are deep. Many student ministries find it helpful to produce an easy to remember mission statement that reminds students and leaders what the process is. Geiger and Borton refer to this as “sequential programming”. This type of programming moves students through the process of discipleship in small, bite size steps that build on one another.[6] Starting with a program that is nonthreatening and evangelistic in purpose, moving to intentional discipleship methods, and ending in service is an effective sequential model. It is vital that the student ministry makes it clear that there is a next step in the spiritual growth of a student and shows them the way to make it to that step.
            Starting with evangelism is key. A student cannot grow spiritually without a relationship with Christ. An open and nonthreatening entry point is the best way to offer an evangelistic element in programming. Many student ministries use their mid-week programs to offer an open door to pre-Christians. At this point, follow up becomes important. Group Magazine’s interview with students found that a caring and investing ministry was highly desirable among young people.[7] Today’s students live in a world that is filled with ways to disconnect from real relationships. In this day of cell phones, internet based social media, and iPods, students desire real relationships with people who care. Responding to a student’s visit helps him or her feel that the student ministry cares about them and this feeling is often the first step towards understanding that Christ cares as well.
When students become Christians, the discipleship process truly begins. Student ministries need only to return to God’s Word for the model that needs to be implemented for effective discipleship. Geiger and Borton suggest Acts 2:42-44 stressing the importance in the discipleship process of being accepted into the community of believers, hearing solid biblical teaching, praying together with other Christians, and investing in one another.[8] Once a student has accepted Christ it is crucial that student ministries make clear how they continue the process of growth. A new believer will need to see the path clearly knowing what programs and aspects of the student ministry will best help him or her grow. Participation in a small group and regular church attendance are vital.
            Effective student ministries realize that a desire to serve will become evident as the student continues in the growth process. Teaching students that their lives should be lived on mission is important.[9] Students who are taught that everyday the Lord presents them with opportunities to serve continue to grow and become reproducing Christ followers. Students also need to become aware of formal mission opportunities and see how their discipleship path makes mission the next logical step. As students who have become Christians grow through becoming part of the body they will continue to grow when they see the next step along the journey is to serve. Service opportunities help students to see that their faith is something that is active and God can use them to change lives. This knowledge is crucial to the goal of developing life long Christ followers.
          Once the goal of the process is identified and the path of discipleship is laid out, effective student ministries begin the process of aligning staff and students around the process. Alignment is the process of building unity and support of the process. Many student ministries have not recruited leaders with this process in mind. Often in student ministries workers are recruited for their ability to breathe and willingness to put up with teenagers. When leaders are recruited for process driven ministries a need is present to find those who will invest in students with the process as a priority. A clear process can become your greatest recruiting tool.[10] Quality leaders will be impressed that there is a process and will be committed to seeing the process through.
Holding leaders accountable is also important. A regular review of your leadership team will benefit the process. Effective student ministries regularly check the health of the leadership team. A consistent evaluation of leadership helps to guarantee alignment with the process and can intervene where there may be questions about the process. Accountability is also important to the development of new programs and the
evaluation of existing ones. Ministries who ask hard questions about their programs’ place in the process are more likely to remain effective in meeting the end goal.[11]
            Over scheduling can impede the discipleship process. Ministries striving to develop lifelong Christ followers frequently review their programs and refine them to
assure that these programs are moving the ministry along the process in an effective way. Many times focus comes with some pain. When ministry is re-focused sometimes much loved programs are removed because they do not meet the vision of the discipleship process. The old program model of student ministry created an atmosphere of big events being key to discipleship. Students were encouraged to participate in large events so that they might be inspired to grow in their relationship with Christ.[12] A process driven ministry realizes that discipleship is progression of growth. Time invested on in ongoing manner is much more valued over one stop fix ups.
            Geiger and Borton remind us that bringing a ministry into focus is not an easy one time task. There is rigor required but the authors argue the work is worth the time. They explain it this way:
                        “Fully committing to your discipleship process requires time and
            investment. Unlike events, the development of the essential programs in your
            student ministry process is not a one-time investment. When time is invested
            in the steps that facilitate movement, the results are ongoing. Energy that would
            be spent planning extra activities is poured into what is essential. Programs are
            creatively developed. Steps between programs are simplified. Leaders are trained.
            None of this is possible when there is the constant pressure to perform and
            produce the next big event.”[13]

            Creating focus will aid the process by helping students and leaders to see in a simple way what programs exist to move from one point in the process to the next. It will help them to understand what programs lie along each point in the process. This will enable both students and leaders to understand what type of program is best for a person
to invest in where they are along the process.

At the heart of discipleship is the teaching of God’s Word. It is important that the primary leader of the student ministry have a clear plan in mind when deciding what the ministry will teach in order to develop lifelong Christ followers. A haphazard method of teaching that is not intentional will destroy the focus of the discipleship process. It is vital that the ministry understand what essential truths that will develop disciples are. The teaching ministry of the ministry is at the center of moving towards a more focused plan of action.
To develop a teaching program that permeates a ministry’s process, leaders must commit to letting content drive the context. Relevance is important in successful process oriented ministries but it should never supersede the message ministries want students to live.[14] As a ministry evaluates its methods it must always evaluate what is being taught. When the content of teaching is biblically based and exigent, students will be challenged to live out those teachings. From entry point events to programs with students on mission, the content is the basis that drives discipleship.
Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall have identified seven principles every student should know when they graduate: Authentic Faith, Spiritual Disciplines, Moral Boundaries, Healthy Friendships, Wise Choices, Ultimate Authority and Others First.[15]
Each of these principles is grounded in Scripture. The principles can help to guide the process of effective discipleship by reinforcing Truth in the context of a student’s life. Identifying a set of principles that the leaders in a student ministry can build the discipleship process around will provide the much needed content for the context of the process.
            Stanley and Hall suggest that each checkpoint be returned to at least once a year. The checkpoints can be put into a calendar year and leave room for Christmas and Thanksgiving, five “free” weeks to make way for schedule conflicts that arise and most importantly ten weeks devoted to two Bible book studies a year, choosing books that have one of the seven checkpoints as a central theme.[16] Utilizing a plan such as this insures an organization to teaching and provides a framework for discipleship.
            Such a plan can be utilized as a theme at your yearly camp experience, the devotional material produced for mission endeavors and weekend discipleship retreats.
Having a plan of teaching helps adult leaders see the teaching aspect of the discipleship process more accurately. When a consistent teaching plan is used in Sunday School,
small group and large group teaching sessions it helps guide the discipleship process a ministry has developed. Teachers will know what to teach and what is next and this will equip them to spend time in study while freeing time to build relationships with students. Using a thought out teaching plan in multiple facets of ministry will make the ministry stronger.
            In order to change the startling retention statistics regarding young adults and the church, effective ministries will need to implement a process with a clear vision and focus.  Rather than basing success solely on attendance, effective student ministries are beginning to evaluate the growth in a student’s commitment. The evaluative process becomes clearer when a ministry has a plan for discipleship that is clear and easily maneuverable. This discipleship plan is successful when based in the content of Scripture and placed in the context of relevant ministry. This generation of students has indicated that they desire to be challenged and cared for personally. It is the responsibility of Christian student ministries to fulfill that desire and preserve the cause of Christ for future generations as well.


Dean, Kenda Creasy, Chap Clark, and Dave Rahn. Starting Right. Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2001.

Geiger, Eric, and Jeff Borton. Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship. Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009.

Lawrence, Rick. “Going Super Deep with Teenagers.” Group Magazine, November/December 2010/Volume 37.

Sherman, Rob. “Up to 94% of Teens Leave Church After High School.” Chicagonow.com. http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/godless-in-chicago/2009/08/up-to-94-of-christian-teens-leave-the-church-after-high-school.html (accessed October 22, 2010).

Stanley, Andy, and Stuart Hall. The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders. West Monroe: Howard Books, 2001.

Stetzer, Ed, and Thom S. Rainer. Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations. Nashville: B&H Books, 2010.

[1] Rob Sherman, “Up to 94% of Teens Leave Church After High School,” Chicagonow.com, http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/godless-in-chicago/2009/08/up-to-94-of-christian-teens-leave-the-church-after-high-school.html (accessed October 22, 2010).
[2] Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer, Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations (Nashville: B&H Books, 2010), 31.

[3] Rick Lawrence, “Going Super Deep with Teenagers,” Group Magazine, November/December 
2010/Volume 37, 40-41

[4] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 9.

[5] Kenda Creasy Dean, Chap Clark and Dave Rahn, Starting Right (Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2001), 390.

[6] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 68-69

[7] Rick Lawrence, “Going Super Deep with Teenagers,” Group Magazine, November/December 2010/Volume 37, 40-41

[8] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 78

[9] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 79

[10] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 90-92

[11] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 104

[12] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 114

[13] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 121

[14] Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall, The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders (West Monroe: Howard Books, 2001), 8.

[15] Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall, The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders (West Monroe: Howard Books, 2001), 10-12.

[16] Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall, The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders (West Monroe: Howard Books, 2001), 216-217.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Cartoon Speaks:

You know you want to come!