When I became a parent I was told, “You’re not raising the child. You’re raising the adult they’ll become.” Good parents develop a parenting strategy that is intended to guide their child toward becoming the adult they want them to be
The same is true of good disciplers. Paul talks about his goal to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Jesus had a goal in mind for his disciples before he called them. So every ministry leader must ask what kind of “adults” are they trying to raise.
Here are four of the most important things (in my view) we can instill in our students (or anyone) and why they are particularly important for this generation.
A Deep Love for Jesus
This might be obvious. I’d hope this is everyone’s foundational goal for their students. But I’d argue that it’s an easy target to miss (I have). If we’re not careful we will disciple our students to love our programs, our teaching and our vision, but not our Lord.
Our calling as shepherds under the Shepherd is to guide our flock toward Jesus, where they will find what they need.
The culture our students have grown up in and will be graduating into is not one where it is easy to be a faithful follower of Jesus. Good music, attractive worship services and other strategies we come up with to keep our people engaged won’t cut it for them in the long term. Only a deep and transformative love for Jesus will.
Fluency in the Biblical Story
Barna reports that only 4% of Gen Z have a “biblical worldview.” This is probably no surprise to you. I guess you’ve noticed the biblical illiteracy of even the Christian students coming into your ministry. This has dramatically affected my teaching strategy.
A few years ago, I set the goal to teach through the whole story of the Bible every week, every year and every five years. Every week I want to set up the passage we’re reading in its context of the whole story of the Bible. Every year I try to cover the main movements of Scripture in our teaching, even if I’m doing a topical series. And the plan is to cover every genre of Scripture by the time a student graduates. Every student who sticks with our ministries through their college career should hear the whole Bible taught to the point that it becomes the lens by which they view the world.
For the first generation with no memory of the world before smartphones and social media, it’s never been harder for Gen Z to connect and grow spiritually. It’s no wonder college campuses are facing a mental health epidemic. Likely many of us ministry leaders struggle here as well.
I’m convinced the spiritual disciplines (the practices of Jesus, as some might call them) represent the largest gap in the growth of most young people. They’ve been taught how to believe in Jesus and share him with others, but they haven’t been taught how to live like him. Think of the difference you’d see in your students’ lives if they’d just practice a weekly Sabbath!
Of course, I don’t just want to teach these. I want to model them.
A Compulsion To Mission
When Jesus sees the crowds he has compassion on them because they are like sheep without a shepherd. He’s moved with a compulsion toward them. When it comes to reaching the lost, Jesus isn’t motivated by a sense of accomplishment or even duty. He’s compelled by love.
If you’re like me you’ve trained your people in how to share the gospel and even why they should do it. But even the most inspiring speech will only motivate them for so long. I don’t want to develop disciples who have to be regularly prodded to share the gospel with their classmates. I want to see churches filled with people who can’t help but say yes to whatever God’s calling them to.
Now let’s ask the obvious question. How do we raise up disciples who look like this? Our strategies often will fall short here. Leadership pipelines and great systems won’t develop these things in people. The only thing that will make this true of the people you lead is them seeing that it’s true of you. After all, children most often become like their parents.