Youth ministers must produce disciples, student minister says

Communications Staff — May 7, 2003

LOUSIVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Youth ministry must move from merely making converts to growing disciples of Jesus Christ, said youth minister Rob Shelton.

For Shelton, this truth has meant investing 19 years as minister of students at Parkhills Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. In those 19 years, Shelton has led students at Parkhills take part in-depth Bible studies, participate in intensive discipleship groups, and read college-level books on the Christian worldview, he said at a youth ministry conference at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., April 15.

Making disciples, Shelton said, means helping youth understand that the Christian life involves more than just going to heaven when they die. Rather, it is about living a kingdom-focused life on earth and being the church in a lost world.

“The ministry itself is built around making disciples,” Shelton said. “The first step in discipleship is becoming a convert, but that’s not the end step. That’s not the thing we’re aiming at. We’re aiming at making disciples with the first step being to deal with the sin in your life and repent as Christ commands so that you can follow Him.”

To help other youth ministers produce disciples effectively, Shelton reflected on his own experience and cited four concepts that a youth minister must contemplate.

First, a youth minister must evaluate his role as a pastor.

“What does it mean for me to be a pastor?” he said. “I came to a stunning realization that I will be judged by Almighty God for what I produce. I’m going to be judged for what I do and how I do it and for what I’ve done to train these students who have been placed in my charge.”

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 3, Shelton reminded youth ministers of their responsibility to build upon the foundation of the Gospel in students’ lives.

“The foundation’s laid and I’m supposed to build on that foundation, and I can choose what I’m building,” he said. “And it came to my attention that I better make sure I’m not producing stubble and straw and hay because the fire’s going to come in these kid’s lives.

“It’s going to come when they leave the walls of the church. It’s going to come when they go to college. And I’m going to be judged for how I’ve prepared them to be the church in the world,” said Shelton.

Second, a youth minister must reflect on his methodology. Too often, Shelton said, youth ministers focus on acting youthful to the exclusion of fulfilling their pastoral roles.

A youth minister’s primary task is to produce active followers of Christ, he said. Yet many youth ministers present the Scriptures such that students view the Christian life merely as a safeguard against going to hell, he said.

“I could fill a room, and I could get converts, but there were very few people who were following Christ,” he said. “They were just converts. That kind of struck me. I was presenting Christianity as a present for those seeking postmortem bliss. That’s how I was presenting it. There was no understanding of why Christianity was relevant now.

“Given the task, I changed how we presented what Christianity is. We’re still presenting the Gospel, but in a fashion that will motivate wanting to be a follower of Christ.”

Third, a youth minister must implement a specific plan for the task of disciple-making. More specifically, he must consider whether his current methods of teaching are compatible with producing disciples.

By using mass media and images from popular culture as teaching tools, youth ministers often inadvertently portray the Gospel as a commodity to be consumed rather than truth to be obeyed, said Shelton.

“I had to evaluate popular culture because I found that I was merely aping what was going on in the culture in order to try to teach how to be a disciple,” said Shelton. “I basically came to the conclusion that I couldn’t possibly produce the kind of disciples that are needed using the tools I was using.”

Fourth, a youth minister must know the final goal of ministry.

If you don’t know the goal of ministry, “then you’re just going to spin your wheels and go nuts,” he said.

“The goal in producing disciples is holiness. We’re to be a holy people. That word’s never emphasized any more, is it? We want to be relevant. We want to be creative. We want to be fun. We want to be all those things, but we are called to holiness. I keep that in mind all the time.”

Ultimately, leading teenagers toward holiness will cost a youth minister tremendous time and energy. But that investment will produce a glorious result one day, Shelton said.

“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “You’re going to stick out, but I think when you stand before the judgment seat one day, it will be worth it.”

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