It breaks my heart that so many young youth pastors who enter youth ministry are not being discipled by their pastors, deacons or mature men or women of the church. Sadly, lead pastors hire youth pastors with an expectation that they have it all together without committing to further developing them spiritually.
Are you one of these youth pastors whose spiritual development has been tossed aside and instead been replaced with an emphasis on your management skills, talents and abilities? I understand completely, so let’s take this journey, together, from the top.
What is discipleship? Discipleship, in its broadest terms, is one person or a group of people learning the doctrines, practices and values of another person or organization. A learner or student. A practitioner.
A Pastor’s/Christian’s calling is to make disciples. The process of discipleship is varied but usually involves classes, books, small groups, missions and outreach opportunities and relationships. The hope is that all of this participation, on the part of the new believer or seasoned saint will result in a change of heart/mind/behavior.
Classes, small groups, etc. are what I would call the outer core of discipleship, but I want to talk about is the inner core of discipleship but not just so you can take it teach it to your students; I want you to examine your own discipleship path in light of these inner core elements.
Discipleship focused youth ministry begins with the youth pastor. If the youth pastor is so focused on youth ministry games or outreaches to get students to attend, youth discipleship programs are forgotten about.
These examples of discipleship, metaphors for the disciple’s life, should be applied to yourself first and then include this series as part of your youth peaching ideas.
So, what do I mean when I say that a youth ministry discipleship plan begins with the the youth pastor? It means several things,
- the youth pastor must examine how he was discipled and whether that style meets the needs of this generation.
- the youth pastor must ask if they are being discipled, currently, by someone, their pastors, older people in the church, etc. If discipleship is not currently happening for the youth pastor, that youth pastor is discipling others on fumes.
- the youth pastor must look beyond man’s design for discipleship via class, books, etc, and dive deeper into how God himself is discipling them.
And that lead us to what I believe the tools God has used from the beginning to develop us into mature, lifelong followers of Jesus.
Examples of Discipleship As Told Through Blacksmithing: Fire, Hammer, Water and Anvil
So many people fall away from faith when their expectations are not met or when life get’s too hard. They feel like God has left them or that his commands are too restrictive. Trials and trouble are not going anywhere, so it’s best for you to know that they are going to continue to shape you, even in a church environment.
Although most of the examples of trials and trouble in the New Testament focus on persecution, and you might experience some of this, not to the extent that the early church did, yet. T rials and troubles, in addition to things like death, sickness, relationship or family problems, or what happens to youth pastors at the hands of other “believers”.
Sinners have never treated me as poorly as believers have. Yes, I’ve been mocked but sinners have never tried to make my life miserable the way “christians” have.
These trials and tribulation are the fire the Blacksmith lays us in, to heat us up, to make us malleable under the Hammer of the Blacksmith. Without fire there is no change. There is no character development in scripture with out the trial.
Without the fire of the whale, there is no Jonah
Without the fire of betrayal, slavery and imprisonment there is no Joseph.
Without murder and the 40 years in the wilderness there is no Moses.
Without the fire there is no you.
Without fire there is no me.
I remember most every harsh word and incident that has happened to me in the church. They heated my heart up to where God could shape me by them. I wish I could be shaped without the fire, but change cannot happen without it.
So, what kind of fire are you in right now? Is a parent giving you hard time? Are you having trouble attracting students? Is your pastor being a jerk? This is the fire of youth work and you must enter it and endure it, for a season, so God can shape you for what’s next, your purpose. Not success, but the work that He has prepared in advance for us to do.
If you don’t understand the purpose in the fire of everyday troubles or the troubles of ministry, how will you know how to handle the fire for following Jesus?
Understanding “the fire”, and the God behind it, is the beginning of wisdom.
Think about the trials you are going through as a youth worker, are they driving you to be shaped by God or driving your heart to bitterness and hardness?
Go through the fire knowing that God is at work in the fire with you, just like He was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abendigo. God is not done with you. He is using the fire to drive you into his arms to be shaped by Him because he loves you.
The Hammer represents both God’s written word and the voice of the Holy Spirit. Both shape our internal compass with the hope that our steps lead to a more Christ-like life.
Students do not read their bible often enough to understand the ramifications of not reading their bibles. They just know “Reading bible good. Not reading bible bad.”
You, on the other hand, know what you’re missing out on if you avoid or become forgetful in spending time in God’s word.
The hammer is a visual of God’s intent to shape you and make you, not with only with the written word but by the Holy Spirit. Scripture says,
“Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? Jeremiah 23:29
Do you see the Bible as a way to tamp down on your sinful behavior (as in the game Whack-A-Mole) rather than a vehicle of spiritual formation? God, The Blacksmith, doesn’t use His hammer to beat the metal into submission, as if the Blacksmith hated it, but uses the hammer to shape, with love and integrity, the metal to a desired end.
The Crafter and the crafted have mutual goals. You want to know what your purpose is and God is trying to bring out your purpose through His word.
The tool you use shape students must shape you first.
Youth Pastors throw around the phrase, “Spending time in God’s word” to students, but what if it’s not about time spent, but depth?
Reading God’s word is one thing. Studying God’s word is another and meditating on God’s word is another. Yes, you can do all three, but it is the latter that forms and shapes beliefs, convictions and behavior.
When was the last time you read God’s word and it hit you like a hammer? When did you last feel a part of you bend in a way that you knew wasn’t going back the way it was? God’s word has that kind of effect.
It affected Peter when Jesus said “feed my sheep” and “Get behind me Satan”
It affected Gideon when an angel of the Lord called him “a mighty man of valor.”
It affected the woman in adultery when Jesus told her, “neither do I condemn you”
It affected Cain when God told him. “sin crouches at the door of your heart”
When was the last time God’s word affected you? This is not condemnation for not reading your Bible or for only reading the Bible when you need to preach a message, this is a reminder that the Hammer of God’s word is always ready to shape you if you’re willing to let it.
As I explain in my new series, The Process, once the Blacksmith heats the metal and begins to shape the metal with his hammer, cools (quenches) it to prevent brittleness and breakage. This may be, to some, a poor illustration of baptism, and that is surely their right but my goal is not to be cute, jamming a staple of the Christian faith into a series just to “make it work”.
My desire was for you and your group is to dig deeper into the importance of publicly declaring their faith, in a loving environment of believers, so as to solidify their connection between themselves and the Body of Christ. With a steady departure of teens from the faith, baptism can strengthen their faith.
The anvil is about patience. Like blacksmith working with metal, there is nothing quick or easy about discipleship. My friend Don, who has a degree in history and a fondness for swords, tells me that in medieval times, to make a stock sword, it took around a week.
But God is not making a basic sword, he is crafting his Son within your hearts. This is no easy task when the young hearts you have to work with keep jumping off the anvil. Where is your heart?
God takes a lifetime to craft us, in fact, he keeps crafting us until the day we die. The fire does not stop, the hammering never ends and water does not run dry. What is left is for the believer to do but, daily, submit to the anvil, with patience.
Students must know that the process of faith is on going and never stops. Unlike a sword, there is no finished product. The grand reveal of The Blacksmith’s work will be showcased in eternity.
If this is the kind of series you’d like to do with your students, grab the first lesson for free by signing up for my newsletter The Youth Ministry Round Up.