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3 ways to rethink Student Discipleship

A student ministry leader asked me recently for my advice about follow up from a university mission. So here are my thoughts, as usual very open to your suggestions and ideas. The more I think about this subject the more urgent that we get this right not just for the new Christians but for everyone. We are still seeing huge losses in terms of 20-30s from the church and some would argue student ministry needs to take seriously its responsibility not just to help students do evangelism at university but equip young disciples for the rest of their lives.

1. Discover Jesus not a Course

One of the advantages about a university mission week is that you have the opportunity to help a campus to get talking about the significance of Jesus. If you advertise widely, do some creative stunts (see post on my Aussie friends), survey, make the most of social media, empower students to be authentic with their friends about their faith. Then there should be a whole bunch of people that should be up for an informal , investigative exploration of the source material on the person of Jesus. Now I don’t know a single Christian young person that couldn’t benefit from a deeper understanding and experience of the Jesus of the gospels. I would suggest running courses that help Christians and explorers to learn more about Jesus together. Something around food could be good. Students mentored by older students or staff workers could run investigative groups in halls, bars, resteraunts etc. I would suggest this over Alpha and Christianity explored as you can run this is in a less formal structured way, that is less about Christians teaching their mates a set sylabus and more about students meeting Jesus in the text of scripture together.
Jesus will challenge both christians and explorers at the same time. The no nonsense questions of explorers are great for cutting through the excuses we Christians often put up for not taking Jesus’ words seriously so in the encounter of spirit, scripture and seeker God can actually be helping the Christian to discover more about Christ and discipleship. In the interaction of Spirit, Scripture and Student leader – we can help seekers to come to know Jesus for themselves in the context of a community. This approach can mean you run one group that is good for Christians, seekers and brand new christians.
I would suggest Luke’s gospel this year as chances are if your Christian Union is joining in with the UNCOVER themed missions that would have been what someone would have heard at a CU Mission.
I like the uncover material – but would humbly suggest walking students through the whole gospel rather than just picking selective bits. So you could aim to have read through the whole gospel in 5 weeks and each time you meet you could look at some of the questions people had as they worked through it.
When I was a student I got a bunch of guys from my corridoor together as we did a little bit every day and so we literally read through most of the gospel outloud together. Jono a friend of mine who has just started at Oxford uni has been doing this in a kind of Renovare way with a bunch of Christian mates he meets up with. You could try that with explorers.

2. Holistic not Dualistic Discipleship

If you want to try a different approach you could help Christians and explorers to think about what the Christian way of life looks like by trying the 24 experiment.
Working on the principle that Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. How about running a course that works through the different aspect of a student day and thinks about it from a Jesus perspective. Its a kind of what would Jesus do on steroids approach.
You can see a worked example of this in my book Twenty Four – intergating faith and real life. Instead of the experiment of a year of lving biblically we just try to do a day!
Twenty Four is structured around the average day for a person who wants to live for Christ. It could be an intersting induction into Christianity for a seeker who wants to know what difference will the Christian life make to my life but also to a new Christian who wants to know how to follow Jesus.
So instead of the usual (rather dualistic approach) that has a syllabus that goes something like this:
1. Assurance
2. Church
3. Prayer and Bible Study
4. Baptism / Communion
5. Evangelism
6. Giving
These are important subjects to explore in a follow up course, but they are pretty much divorced from the every day experience of a normal person. They apply privately to the spiritual side of their lives. We are encouraging someone from the outset of their spiritual formation to build up the sacred secular divide that is unknown in biblical discipleship. So in a non dualistic follow up course you could structure the subject material based on someone’s actual lived experience and explore how empowered by the Spirit of God living for the Glory of God means emulating Christ in these different contexts. So a 6 week course could explore:
1. Getting Up – motivation / ambition / new life
2. Commuting – journey as metaphor for the whole of the biblical story
3. Work / Study – honouring God with our vocation
4. Leisure – enjoying God’s good creation
5. Friendship and Family – how relationships are transformed by grace
6. Cooking and Eating – hospitality and communion
7. Rest – rhythm of life work relativised by rest
You are asking people to reflect on their day and think about how Christlike living works out in practice. The book is worth a read; even if I say so myself. :o)

3 Discipleship is caught not just taught

Its interesting that for many follow up courses, the emphasis is on the transfer of information from one head to another. Strangely Jesus’ model of discipling others was not just to “read with them” as some of the more conservative groups describe personal follow up. Jesus lived with his disciples, did ministry with his disciples, stretched their faith as well as their minds. Many evangelicals avoid the brain all together in discipleship while others focus on it as the sole organ of spiritual growth – both are mutations of gospel Christianity. Think of ways you can make follow up more than just information transfer but personal, spiritual, social, emotional, theological transformation.
Here’s a format you might find helpful:
There is something special about concentrated time away. So why not think about taking a group of seekers and Christians away for a weekend or even 24 hours if that’s all you’ve got. Somewhere like L’abri would be an interesting possiblity. There within the rhythm of study, food and service within a community context you could get a long way in terms of spiritual development and friendship forming. Probably a lot further than you could if you just tried a meeting for an hour a week in a Bible study. You could try to do Mark in 24 hours or try the twenty four approach reflecting on the experience of a communal meal, service, a walk in the country, a film etc. If anyone wants to try this one – I am well up for giving it a go.
Anyway just some quick thoughts – would love your feedback.

8 thoughts on “3 ways to rethink Student Discipleship”

  1. Hi Krish

    Really interesting thoughts as ever. I’ve been doing some thinking about ‘follow up’ myself in recent days and planned to write something over the next few days. I can’t help but think that – whilst useful – the course has had its day. The success of Uncover has been partly because it feels very much on the turf of the enquirer – even going out to a course feels like too much of a commitment to some.

    I was reading about the history of ‘follow up’. Apparently as a phrase it was introduced by Billy Graham. Culture has moved on so much that I think a much more radical approach to helping those who’ve come to larger events and made some sort of response is required. It would be wrong to throw the baby out with the bathwater – evangelism in the public square can still be massively effective (in CU missions, debates, carol services etc.) but I wonder if the church as a whole needs fresh thinking on what comes next.

    I love the idea of going away to somewhere like L’Abri – oh for a similar sort of place in the north!

    Thanks for the stimulation once again!

    Pete

    1. good to hear from you my friend. Interesting history of the term – that was new to me – so thanks for dialoging – blessings mate.
      Good memories of missioning with you in the North :o)

  2. Thanks for this Krish. I think that, although your comments seem to be directed primarily to students and CUs, much of this is aplicable to church life in general. I would say that the approach you outline is a good one, even “the right one”, for young men particularly. They need mentors and role models who can show them what an authentic Christian life looks like. IMO I would say that reason both my sons (now in their late twenties) have remained connected to the Christian faith is that during their teens and early twenties they had slightly older Christian young men who took the trouble to spend time with them and mentor them. This is far less cerebral than simply reading and studying, and I feel sure that this applies also to older people who come to faith.

    I shall order and read your book with interest.

  3. Krish,

    really helpful reflections here. I wonder if there is a part missing about the interaction with community. In some ways it is implicit in all 3 points above, but I wonder if there is something to be gained by recognising the importance and powerful witness of a community of believers living out the gospel (ala Newbiggin) as a powerful means of “follow up”.

    Christian community lived out well outght to present Jesus to whoever is looking (believer, seeker or skeptic). Community also by neccessity rejects dualism as it forces our faith to have answers for the everyday crises and mundanities of life.

    Finally is there a better place to disciple than in community?

    I wonder if this is where the church has a really significant role to play in student ministry. As many churches, regretably, have left Student work to para-church organisations, is it not vital that they re-engage in order to provide the sort of community that underpins all these points. Also is there a challenge for campus ministries to intentionally engage more with the church by expressing their need/desire for this community?

    1. Great post, and really helpful for our current thinking at SUCU. We have a Follow Up sub-committee meeting on Friday, and this will form a useful part of the discussion.

      Just a thought, linked to the thread that has come through some of the comments already – how big a role does the church play in student follow up? I’d be interested to know your thoughts on how we best encourage the transition from student-based evangelism to church-based discipleship?

  4. *(Didn’t intend to reply to Glenn, apologies)

    Great post, and really helpful for our current thinking at SUCU. We have a Follow Up sub-committee meeting on Friday, and this will form a useful part of the discussion.

    Just a thought, linked to the thread that has come through some of the comments already – how big a role does the church play in student follow up? I’d be interested to know your thoughts on how we best encourage the transition from student-based evangelism to church-based discipleship?

  5. Hi,

    I have just come across your blog and have enjoyed reading it. I work in a CU in the North of England and I mentor students and other men. The one area for the great majority of men that I work with is the area of sexual sin, porn, masturbation, etc… I see this as an area that is not really addressed in the CU’s across this country. I see sexual sin is an unexplored area of discipleship and will cripple any attempt to mature in Christ. Why do you think this area is never explored or addressed/ Appreciate your thoughts in this sensitive area.

    Tim

  6. Thanks for the sharing. Just confirming word I heard from a friend who was seeking to help us disciple some young people in my church. He said the same words as you have said: Discipleship is caught and not taught! Thanks man your sharing just encouraged me.

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