Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Following Jesus - Andy Blanks

This is part of a blog series on discipleship. I asked a number of youth ministry and church voices to share their answers to these two questions: 1) What is discipleship? and 2) What is the greatest barrier to discipleship we're facing in youth ministry?

First up: Andy Blanks:

What is discipleship? I try and make this very, very simple for students. I help students understand that discipleship is followership. This goes right to the root of the Greek word for “disciple,” mathetes. Mounce says that up until Jesus, mathetes had most commonly meant “a learner. “ But Jesus infused the word with additional meaning. Disciple came to mean “follower.”

I love teaching discipleship as simply being a follower for a couple of reasons. First, the idea of following speaks primarily to proximity. By definition, we can’t follow nothing. I try and make discipleship in students primarily about close proximity to Christ. About abiding in Him. It’s helping students encounter Christ through Bible study, prayer, worship, service, and so on. In this light, spiritual disciplines don’t take the form of ends, but of means. Means to very literally draw near to Christ. So, first off, discipleship is about proximity.

Secondly, the idea of following speaks to action. You can’t be still and follow someone. To follow you must move. Discipleship is movement. And it is movement in the pattern of the one going before you. I like the way Paul describes in Ephesians 5:1-2 the goal of our movement forward as followers. Ultimately we imitate Christ. We walk as He walks. We engage with others as we observe Him doing. Our words mimic His. Our thoughts are in line with His. How do we know? Because as followers, we’re close enough to see Jesus and His ways. 

Maybe the biggest barrier I see is that students don’t seem to believe that discipleship is a viable or vital option for their lives. I see students who believe in God and demonstrate certain fruits of their faith. There’s a lot of hope here. But I believe many students seem to see a vibrant followership of Christ as something that is very much out of touch with the reality of their lives.

Unfortunately, I believe (and studies back me up), that this primarily stems from the nominal faith of their parents. I simply don’t not know a majority of parents of our churched students who truly make following Christ the most important aspect of their lives. I’ll take this a step further. I think parents’ faith is generally weak because a very weak form of the Gospel preached in many of our churches today. As I survey the landscape of culture and overlay it on current discipleship methodology and philosophy, I see many of our churches failing to wrap the timeless and life-invigorating truth of the Gospel in a cultural skin that resonates with their congregants.

I believe many parents aren’t living real faith for their children. And I believe the effect is that their students see faith as (at worst) a stage, and (at best) a feel-good, nebulous, moralism that can’t stand up to the scrutiny of the world.

How to address it? I believe churches have to have a top-down discipleship vision and strategy that impacts every level of the church. Parents need to challenged and equipped to disciple their children. And children need to understand that discipleship is actually God’s plan for them to realize the truest calling they have in this life.

Andy Blanks is the co-founder of youthministry360. Andy has worked in youth ministry for 13 years, writing and developing curriculum, and training youth workers. Andy is a volunteer leader with his church's youth group, leading small groups and speaking and teaching whenever he gets the chance. Andy blogs about discipleship and spiritual formation daily at You can follow Andy on Twitter at @andyblanks.

What do you think? Share your response to Andy's thoughts in the comments!


  1. Love me some Andy Blanks! This post sounds like one of our breakfast conversations.

  2. Ha! I just saw this after commenting on your post today! I was thrilled to see Joel had asked you and loved your response. Challenging and deep as always.