Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
In ancient Jewish tradition, children would attend Bet Sefer where they would memorize the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy) from 5 – 10 years of age. The best of those students were selected to attend Bet Talmud (at 11 years old) to begin learning the interpretation & application of the scriptures. If you weren’t selected you went home to learn the family business. The best of the Bet Talmud students were chosen by the Rabbi for Bet Midrash about the age of 15. The Rabbi would declare, “Lech achori.” or “Come, follow me.” The Rabbi would train, teach, worship with, live life with, and mentor his students in the ways of God & faith. “Lech achori” was the phrase every Jewish child dreamed of hearing from a Rabbi. This command meant more than physically following the Rabbi. It meant the Rabbi thought you were capable of becoming like him. It was a statement of the Rabbi finding worth & value in you.
We see this clearly with Jesus & the disciples. But Jesus didn’t call the best of the best. Jesus called the rejects. He called the ones who had been sent home to learn the family business. And then He commissioned them to go and do likewise.
This concept of following the Rabbi looks very different in our western culture today but the need is still the same. Our children need someone who believes in their value and worth to follow along with on this journey to become like Jesus. We must train those coming behind us and we must also allow ourselves to be trained by those who have gone before us. But the latter is a story for another day.
For today, the practical challenge we’ll spend time with is how do we disciple children in the middle of their busy lives & in our own limited time with them each week? Today, we’ll explore what a Discipleship Model is and why it’s necessary in our ministries. On Thursday, we will unpack how the team set about creating a model.
What is a Discipleship Model?
Simply stated a Discipleship Model is what steps or tangible core values & skills you as a ministry are going to take or put into practice so that the children God has entrusted into your care will intentionally journey & grow in their relationship with God. How can we help students encounter God so that their lives will look like His when their time with us is through? God is God, and He will work in & through whatever Discipleship Model (or lack thereof) we already have in place but when we are highly intentional we create environments that open our students’ hearts & eyes to Him.
While a Discipleship Model will look different for everyone in practice, it is so much more than “programs.” Before we get too far in our discussion today take a look at the Discipleship Model we used at Sycamore View Church. If you have one in place it‘ll probably look drastically different than ours, and that’s awesome. This is simply the one we’ll use for example purposes today.
Why have a Discipleship Model?
If you have a mission and/or vision statement for your ministry, a discipleship model goes one step further and puts flesh on the big picture. How are you going to make your mission statement a reality especially where it pertains to creating Christ followers?
A discipleship plan also gives you a filter for evaluating your ministry. Does what you’re doing fit into your plan or not? Does each “program” or structure within my ministry help meet one of our Discipleship Values? Have you only focused on one Value of your plan and neglected another Value? Does someone have a great idea? Then filter it through your Model & Values and see if it fits.
Let’s look at the Missional Value for example. Through this Value we want our students to confidently serve outside of their comfort zone both locally & globally. We continue to find ways to help our children practice this Value based on their developmental level. Obviously we aren’t going to take a group of 1st graders on an international mission trip, but we did have our 1st graders create gift baskets to be auctioned off to raise funds for the Youth Ministry’s trip to Panama. Although someone came up with an amazing idea for our 5th graders to experience & encounter this Missional Value, since it could only be accomplished on the night of our 5th Grade Blessing (under the Developing Value), we didn’t do it because what we were already doing was important and for Children’s Ministry the Developing Value is weaker than the Missional Value in terms of how well we were creating opportunities for our kids to encounter the Developing Value. Clear as mud?
Having this model in place also allowed me to discontinue some things we were doing because it didn’t fit into the model, either not at all or not as well as something else. In a lot of ways it also kept me from being the “bad guy” when I told someone ‘no’. All of our volunteers & families were very familiar with these Values and were (mostly) comfortable with allowing it to be the filter for all new and old structures, programs & ideas.
Discipleship Plans Build Bridges
A Discipleship Plan works okay if it’s only used for a few years of a child’s life. But when this Plan spans 18 years the results are exponential. As a Children’s Minister I no longer feel the pressure to do everything before I hand my kids off to a Ministry where who knows what will happen to their faith. I now know that I’m handing my students off to a ministry that will be just as intentional as I’ve been. Youth Ministry now knows that they are receiving children who have a solid framework that they can build upon. And we both know that our high school seniors are likely to graduate with skills that developed a lifelong faith in God.
Evaluating the Process
Possibly one of the most challenging pieces of a Discipleship Model is this: How well can we really evaluate our effectiveness? The work the Holy Spirit is doing in students’ heart is not really quantifiable. Ideally we would see a change in their actions & words but it’s easy to learn the expected responses around certain people. How do we really know this Discipleship Model is making a difference? The hard truth is we don’t and we never really will but that is not for us to judge & assess anyway. All that we can honestly assess is whether or not we are creating enough opportunities for our students to encounter these Core Values & ultimately bump into God.
Core Values Assessment
We administered a Core Values Assessment in an attempt to try to evaluate how effective the Discipleship Plan was working. Students take this assessment in 5th, 8th, & 12th grades. It is anonymous and purely for our own reflection. But here’s the piece that always bothered me: Between Sam’s 5th & 12th grade assessments he’s (hopefully) grown emotionally & mentally and he’ll be more mature & self-aware so his answers might not accurately reflect whether or not he has actually grown spiritually. It is a flawed test, but it’s the one we currently have to work with so we embrace the margin of error. If anyone out there knows how to create an assessment that accounts for developmental growth & awareness over 8 grade levels, I’d love your help!
Ultimately my point is this: find some way to try to measure how well you are accomplishing your goals, but also realize the work of the Holy Spirit in our student’s lives isn’t measurable.
Jesus is saying to all of us “Lech achori.” Come, follow me. But He left His disciples with the command to go and do likewise. Following Jesus can’t stop with us. Jesus was intentional with His disciples & we must be intentional with those we disciple, too.
Join us on Thursday as we explore how to create a Discipleship Plan. I’d love to hear from you! What is your current model? What has worked for you? What challenges do you face when even thinking about creating such a model?