“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
— 1 Timothy 4:7-16
Disciplemaking is not limited by age. We know this for a fact because in 1 Timothy 4, Paul exhorted Timothy to not let anyone look down on him because he was young, but to continue to devote himself to Scripture and teaching. Paul did not see Timothy’s youth as a detractor from his ability to make disciples.
There is perhaps nowhere as important to remember this truth than in our relationships with our children.
According to “Parents and Pastors: Partners in Gen Z* Discipleship,” the recent Barna Group Study, “Fewer U.S. teens than adults believe core theological tenets of the Christian faith—and teens who do make orthodox faith claims are not quite as sure about them as adults. Most of us form our values and assumptions before the age of 20, so it’s vitally important to reassess our discipleship priorities and methods—and adjust as necessary.” According to the same study, “More than nine out of 10 engaged Christian parents (those who identify as Christian, regularly attend church and have orthodox beliefs) say it is important that their child ‘is equipped to explain the Christian faith’ . . . But parents, like Gen Z, don’t all feel comfortable having conversations about difficult topics. Surprisingly, one in five says they do not feel prepared to address ‘tough’ questions about Christianity, God or the Bible. One in seven feels unprepared to talk about the foundational beliefs of Christianity. And about the same number struggles to address spiritual and moral relativism.”
And perhaps even more alarmingly, according to “Atheism Doubles Among Generation Z,” another Barna article, 1 in 3 Gen Z Christians say that things like attending church are not important to them because they can teach themselves what they need to know about the faith.
We believe that a healthy, lasting walk with Jesus cannot occur outside of Christian community. We also believe that it’s never too early (or too late!) to start investing in a child’s spiritual maturity. But sometimes, it can feel awkward, especially if we don’t know how to start because we’re not even sure what they need in order to grow in maturity.
That’s why we reached out to our partner, Eagle Lake Camps, to see where they start in identifying spiritual needs and how they connect with Gen Z to help them develop a strong faith. What they shared with us is so practical and helpful that we want to make sure you have it – even if you’re not a parent!
Each year, Eagle Lake trains over 250 staff to meet over 8,000 youth (ages 7-18) wherever they are on their spiritual journey. With their permission, we’re honored to provide you what they shared from their Core Ministry Model: their “No-Know-Grow” method of determining spiritual needs.
Typically, it’s not hard to figure out whether or not someone believes in Jesus Christ as his or her Savior. The hard part is moving a conversation from the daily to the spiritual. We’ve actually already written about this very issue! Check out our blog post “A Good Discipler Asks Questions” to read about how you can move a conversation into deeper waters.
Our very favorite approach in introducing someone to Jesus is not to pull out deep theology, but rather to simply share our testimonies, or the story of how we met Jesus. It doesn’t need to (and probably shouldn’t!) be anything long or fancy; rather, simply share what your life was like before you surrendered your life to Jesus, what prompted you to make that decision, how you did it, and how your life changed after you gave it to Him. (In this last part, please don’t read “happily ever after”, because we all know that’s not how it works. Rather, be honest about the struggles and hardships you still experience, but how life in Christ better equips you to meet these “opportunities” head-on with courage, endurance, joy, and peace!) Often, simply sharing our stories in the context of committed relationship opens the door to many more important conversations down the line.
The other tool we love to use is The Bridge. The Bridge is a simple illustration that clearly demonstrates God’s free gift of salvation. We have a great guest post by Scott Morton on this handy little tool here.
Sometimes, you are meeting with someone who is eager to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Maybe they are an immature Christian – they’ve just recently accepted Christ as their Savior (perhaps you even got to be the person to walk through that with them!) – or maybe they are just now beginning to take ownership of their spiritual growth. But where do you start? What they need most as a new believer (or believer who wants to “know” more) is a strong spiritual foundation that will protect their faith house when spiritual storms blow.
The two best tools you can give them are to teach them how to spend daily time in Jesus’ presence through the Word (we call these Quiet Times – check out one of our favorite Quiet Time resources here) and through Prayer. We also are thoroughly convinced one of the best, most dynamic spiritual disciplines to equip any believer in abiding in Jesus’ presence and walking in loving obedience with Him is Scripture Memory.
However, there are many, many people out there who’ve accepted Jesus as Lord but have done nothing much to advance their faith. Many have little interest to do so. This is truly a tragedy. The author of Hebrews writes, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God…” (Hebrews 5:11-6:1).
Additionally, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. . . . For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, 11-15).
Yet Jesus is faithful even when we are not, and part of the beautiful work of reconciliation He invites us into is coming alongside our spiritual siblings and encouraging them in their faith- no matter where they are on the spectrum of knowledge. Just like young believers, immature believers also need that “pure spiritual milk” of the simple truths of the Gospel, and again, the best way to help them to build a lasting foundation is by equipping them to spend daily time in the Word, in prayer, and in memorizing Scripture.
And then there are the Christians who maybe haven’t been Christians very long, or who have been spiritually immature for a long time but the Spirit prompts their hearts, a life-event becomes a catalyst for growth, or they simply want to know Jesus and make Him known- they feel the call to go and make disciples of all nations and want to respond!
If we’re honest, these are often the more “exciting” discipleship relationships because together you are eager to advance the Kingdom of Christ!
But, even growing and maturing Christians need to actively pursue development. That’s where tools like The Hand and The Wheel come in. The Hand illustrates how many wonderful ways we can diversify out time in the Word, and The Wheel is an excellent picture of what a holistic Christian life looks like, and helps us pinpoint our strengths and areas for growth. Additionally, equipping them to share the Gospel through Evangelism is key to preparing them to go forth and make disciples.
Finally, even though they’re not on the chart, we also really like Conviction Capsules, Transforming Thought Patterns, and Establishing Your Apprentice to both equip growing disciples and to provide them with resources they can in turn use to equip others! Because the key is not to make disciples, but to make disciple-makers.
We’re glad you’re on this disciplemaking journey with us!
*Gen Z is defined as anyone born from 1999 to 2015.
The Apprentice Approach is about helping every-day people master the art of disciplemaking and grew out of the fact that…. Many Christians struggle with making disciples, they feel busy, overwhelmed and not qualified. We understand this struggle which is why we created a Bible based framework so any believer can master the art of disciplemaking! One of our outcomes is seeing the folks we engage with walk away saying, “I can do that!”