Thursday, January 13, 2011

Five Disciple Types in Your Youth Ministry

I had a difficult conversation after our junior high gathering last night. A group of students I've been discipling for the past three years, a group filled with potential and who have taken great strides in maturity over the years, were--to put it bluntly--disrespectful jerks to everyone around them. They showed no sign of remorse or repentance when called out, only offering shallow excuses and wearing looks of "whatever, we've heard all this before" on their faces before leaving without apology.

I can imagine what Jesus felt like when, at the climactic and most painful moment of his ministry, those he had spent three years discipling betrayed or disowned him. Three years, all seemingly a waste.

Or were they? Jesus didn't seem to think so. He loves his disciples, even the ones hardest to love. The disciples seem to have various responses that correspond to the faith journeys of our students. I've come up with five disciple "types" that you'll find in your youth ministry:

John: The disciple whom Jesus loved, John stuck with Jesus through thick and thin. He was there at the foot of the cross, available and willing to love Jesus's own mother in the midst of this difficult trial. Johns in our ministry are the faithful students who won't abandon Jesus, regardless of your mediocre youth talk or the waning summer camp attendance. These students are easy to love because they're committed to you and to the ministry.

Thomas: The doubter in the group. This is the student who asks those annoyingly difficult philosophical questions that only lead to more questions. They need evidence or experience, and their faith journey is one filled with tension and conflicts. It isn't that they're trying to frustrate their youth leader; their questions are authentic and their faith is genuine. It's just hard to know what question they'll ask next.

Bartholomew: The faithful student who is always overlooked. Whenever we talk about the disciples, no one mentions Bartholomew. He's just a name in the list of apostles, seemingly anonymous and unimportant. Yet he is still an apostle, one of Jesus's chosen few, and one listed again in Acts as a leader in the early church. The Bartholomews of the group are those who are faithfully attending and quietly maturing under the radar of the youth leader. They don't stand out, and don't seem to need a lot of attention, but they're still in need of our love and guidance.

Peter: Peter was the loud leader of the group, only to seemingly bail on the faith in the critical moment of Jesus's trial and crucifixion. The Peters are those students who seem to be on the fast-track to church leadership, yet make a huge blunder or misstep that seems to hurtle them away from their faith. They require patience and grace. In John 21, Jesus lovingly restores Peter to the position of shepherding the early church, reminding him that his past mistakes do not define him. We're called to do the same for the Peters in the youth group.

Judas: Judas is so similar to Peter, yet their stories dramatically diverge in the arrest of Jesus. Where Peter betrays Jesus then repents, Judas completely bails on his faith and his community, choosing to take his own life rather than face Jesus. For three years, Jesus loved and discipled Judas, only to have Judas stab him in the back. The Judases of the group are those that seem to be faithful believers--even choosing to be in leadership roles--only to ultimately betray the group and reveal the shallowness of their faith in moments of crisis. Like Jesus, we are to love the Judases (Jesus washed his feet along with everyone else in John 13) but also allow them to make their own choices, even ones that may lead to spiritual self-destruction (Jesus also tells Judas, "what you are about to do, do quickly" in John 13).

Jesus loves all of his disciples, and we are called to do the same for the students in our ministries. Which disciple type is hardest for you to love?


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  2. The kid who tries to lead your youth group. He has good intentions but often over steps his boundaries.

  3. Thoughtful list and descriptions, Joel. This could be a really useful resource to provide to adults who are new to working in youth ministry and need a broader view of the varied needs of teens. Thanks.

  4. mayward all types of youth today face serious questions about everyday life and vary much by each individual as you pointed out in the types of five. but one voice knows is there when needed to answer their questions in a friendly way, you know him well our free SPREAD THE WORD TALK WITH THE LORD program inspires these daily talks. our blog posts being used free for youth ministry discussions plus our cool song lyrics free for asking g. hubbard p.o. box 2232 ponte vedra fl 32004

  5. Hey man, I shared this with my team this weekend. It's a cool idea, and they loved the illustration. Thanks man!!