The other day, I was having a conversation with a parish youth leader about discipleship, and I started mentioning some of the basic fundamentals of discipleship (i.e. meeting youth where they are, in small groups, in an atmosphere that helps them grow deeper). Before too long, they responded with “that sounds a lot like what Father is doing.” I hear this kind of response often, but usually after we begin to dig in to what I mean when I say “discipleship,” we find that what “Father is doing” is not exactly what I mean when I speak about discipleship. Typically this means he has picked a curriculum or program that he feels will be the most engaging to the youth involved. It also usually means he is picking topics and discussing them in a way that is more interesting than how other teachers have done it in the past. This pastor may very well be helping these young people grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, but the way he is doing it, it is not what I would call “discipleship.”
So what is the difference between “discipleship” and “discipleship?”
One way of speaking about discipleship is discipleship of Jesus Christ. This is done through practicing the disciplines of a disciple (daily prayer, devotion to the Sacraments, reading of Scripture, loving your neighbor, etc). Following Jesus with this commitment and accountability is a discipleship relationship.
I propose through Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry that the way we can most effectively lead others in becoming disciples of Jesus Christ is through discipleship itself.
Discipleship is way of teaching. Jesus’ disciples followed Him because he knew the Father and was teaching them His ways. The closer and more committed the disciples were to Jesus, the closer they were to the Father. In a similar way, we seek to create this sort of relationship through discipleship groups. When a youth commits to a healthy and properly ordered discipleship group, they commit to doing what it takes to deepen their love for Christ and the teachings of the Church and they are communicating their desire to be held accountable in that way as well. The leader facilitates this by establishing the Four Earmarks of Discipleship in their group as well as modeling and sharing their own faith.
It is time to look for this deeper commitment in our parishes, especially from those youth that are desiring it. Discipleship is willing to push them out of their comfort zone and challenge their commitment to the difficult teachings and demands necessary to go even deeper (see John 6:60). When we begin doing that, we can start calling what we do discipleship.