Youth Ministry: Programs Versus Discipleship

There is something so cheap about a program that graduates

Maybe it’s just that I don’t like to let go? Or maybe it’s just that I
can’t reconcile the theological ramifications of shoving a copy of My Utmost for His Highest in a kid’s hands and
saying, “Thanks for the memories. Have a nice life!”

The way my youth ministry career has gone, in many ways that
relationship is just getting started when they walk across the stage to
accept their high school diploma. It’s not over, we’re just changing

And yet, the programmatic approach to youth ministry depends
on me pushing kids through the system.
Freshmen take steps 1-2,
sophomores steps 3-4, juniors do step 5, seniors do step 6. We’re
always working kids through a system. We say we love them… but that’s a
short-term love that lasts as long as they are in high school. Sayonara,
I’ve got a whole slew of incoming freshmen to look after!

The way I see it, that type of program is a cheap Wal*Mart
edition of discipleship
. Real discipleship is taxing. It’s tough.
It’s costly. It’s complicated. It requires more commitment than getting
assigned to eight kids for a small group year or running a program at work.

When I think of the way Jesus discipled I think of a process that was
open-ended. They ground it out over time. It wasn’t a wheel or bases
that he ran those young men through. It was life shared. Three steps
forward, two steps back. But together they got there.

From my own ministry experience, you just know when you have a
few kids who get it and want to be discipled long-term.
don’t get assigned these kids. A pastor doesn’t have to bestow anything
on you. It’s just natural, you pick it up, and you see where the
relationship goes.

Maybe I’m just an abnomality, but my ministry to those kids continues
long after I hand them a book and a graduation card. To do anything less
would seem cheap. Like I didn’t even mean it.

“Programs are short-term. Discipleship is long-term.”

Why are we trying to redefine discipleship instead of
trying to redefine youth ministry?

Am I alone in this? Should we start looking at youth ministry
as a long-term investment instead of a program?
(This article appears edited with permission of the author. Original article appears here.)
Adam McLane is the online marketing dude at Youth Specialties with
nearly a decade of working on-staff with a church under his belt. You
can find him online on Facebook, Twitter, and his blog adammclane.com