Discipling Teenagers

Posted on: 08/7/13 3:01 AM | by Jonathan McKee

In the nineties youth ministry was so focused on ‘effective outreach,’ often ‘effective spiritual growth’ was moved to the back burner.

This went on for about a decade, until the church had to begin doing triage with kids who had been raised in the church, but never discipled to own their own faith.

Now the most common questions I hear from youth workers and parents are:

“How can we equip teenagers to truly live out their faith in a world full of distractions?”

“What is the secret to helping kids own their faith by the time they move out on their own?”

“How do you actually disciple teenagers today, connecting them with positive adult role models who will mentor them how to walk like Jesus?”

A few years ago, in our book Ministry by Teenagers, my good friend David R. Smith and I addressed the proverbial elephant in the room: the growing number of teenagers raised in the church who will walk away from their faith during or shortly after high school. It’s a sad reality, one plagued by conjecture of “what the real problem is.” Rather than throwing stones, David and I offered some tried and true methods to disciple teenagers, help them live out their faith in word and action, giving them opportunities to serve on their own as well as in a student leadership team.

But what does this specifically look like?

In other words, we can use words like “disciple” and “mentor” all day long, but what does this look like with teenagers in the church today? Simple questions like, “What discipleship material works well with today’s kids?”

I think that’s what my blog reader Rich was asking:

I’ve been reading your book, “Ministry by Teenagers” and I totally love
it. I’m going to be modeling my Student Leadership Team after those
principles this school year. It’s been a tremendous help as I seek to
give my SLT some structure, direction, and purpose.

I did have a question for you. What kind of discipleship materials do you recommend for the student and mentor to use?

Good question Rich. This blog is a good format to give specific and current examples of effective discipleship material. I find that there isn’t just one rubber-stamp “catch all” discipleship material that I use. It really depends on the kid, their gender, their age, their maturity, their passion, their questions, their struggles…

So I really try to adjust the content to the kid.

Here are some examples of effective discipleship material I recommend:

  • If I have a kid who has a lot of questions about faith or Jesus, I might take them through Lee Strobel’s A CASE FOR FAITH or A CASE FOR CHRIST. Or Tim Keller’s A REASON FOR GOD (Is it just me, or do you think Tim Keller might just be the C.S. Lewis of the new Millennium?)
  • If I have a kid who is a showing great leadership potential, I might take them through a John Maxwell book about leadership, or one of my favorites still, FINISHING STRONG by Steve Farrar (I still think this is the best book to take a leader-guy through)
  • If I have a normal teenager (guy or girl) who is going through typical teenager stuff (peer pressure, temptations, disagreements, enduring through difficult times…) then I’d probably take them through my brand new THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR TEENAGERS, coming out in two weeks. In this fictional premise I was able to deal with real world issues that teenagers struggle with today. The book is a devotional that tells the story of three teenagers struggling to survive “against the odds” and it comes with 27 sets of discussion questions pointing them to the truth from the scriptures. It’s laid out so kids can read it and go through the questions on their own, in a small group, or with a mentor. Doug Fields describes it well: “Jonathan’s Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenagers is exactly the type of devotional teenagers will actually read. In a fun and interesting way, Jonathan helps teens tackle tough issues like coping with pain and depression, drinking, loving difficult people, and the temptation to indulge in fleshly desires. The teenagers in my small group will be blown away that there’s a Christian author who uses the popular post-apocalyptic fictional premise to address their real-life issues.”
  • If I had girls that were going through the typical pressures girls face, I’d probably have my female adult leaders take them through books from Hayley DiMarco. Doug Field’s daughter Tori recommended some of her books to my daughter Alyssa and she really liked SEXY GIRLS: HOW HOT IS TOO HOT? and anything from the GOD GIRL series.
  • But I also like to use scripture. Sometimes I’ll just take a kid through the book of Matthew or Galatians or Ephesians. If I have an adult leader who would prefer a “study guide”, then I might give them something like the WELCOME TO THE FAMILY book that we provide as a FREE download on our website on this “FOLLOW UP” page. I’ve used this with brand new believers and kids that have been in the church their whole life.
  • I just wrote another devotional for guys called, THE GUYS GUIDE TO GOD, GIRLS…AND THE PHONE IN YOUR POCKET. New York Times Best selling author Nancy French called the book, “refreshingly brutal.” Exactly what today’s guys need to hear.

In all of these situations I like to meet with the kid regularly in a casual place (an ice cream shop, Taco Bell…) and talk about real life. If we go through a book, we’ll say, “Read chapter 1 by next week and let’s talk about it.” When we meet, I start with laughing, joking, asking about his week (doing way more listening than talking). Then we review what we read. If it’s a book with discussion questions, I’ll go through those discussion questions.

Discipleship goes way beyond youth ministry. Followers of Christ are going to be compelled use the model that He used so effectively: Go and make disciples.

My church is learning this right now. We’re developing some mentor programs that go beyond the typical “youth leaders.” We’re trying to train adults from all over the church and connect them with young people who have a desire to grow in their faith. Last month we had a training after church and had about 30 adults (mostly non-youth-staff) attend. Our hope is to have these 30 people sitting in coffee shops and Jamba Juice with a kid several times a month this next year, talking about real life and even using some of the materials I recommended above to help young people draw closer to Jesus.

What are you doing to make disciples?

What resources do you use?

4 Replies to “Discipling Teenagers”

  1. Great post, Jonathan!

    Some of the resources I have found helpful for teens are:

    1. If You Really Loved Me: 100 Questions on Dating, Relationship, and Sexual Purity by Jason Evert

    This is probably my number one resource that “clicks” the most with teens. It’s full of all kinds of relevant questions and answers and, even though it’s a bigger book, my teens absolutely devour it.

    A few shorter, cheaper ($1-2) pocketbooks from the same author that I often order in bulk and hand out are:

    Pure Love
    Pure Manhood
    Pure Womanhood

    Each can be found here: http://www.chastity.com/store/booklets/booklets

    2. Tim Keller might have some C.S. Lewis street cred, but I think Peter Kreeft might have more. 🙂 Kreeft’s website (www.PeterKreeft.com) has tons of articles, talks, and books for adults, but I’ve found four of his books in particular to be good for use with teens:

    Because God is Real – http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/158617200X/theofficiapet-20
    Your Questions, God’s Answers – http://www.amazon.com/Your-Questions-Answers-Peter-Kreeft/dp/089870488X
    Prayer for Beginners – http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0898707757/theofficiapet-20
    Before I Go – http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1580512240/theofficiapet-20

    3. Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons? and it’s counterpart, Did Jesus Have a Last Name? (Q&A books) are great for kids who have more intellectual road blocks in their faith life and are looking for credibility for Christianity.


    4. For the more “plugged in” kids I encourage them to subscribe to a sermons podcast by Fr. Mike Schmitz. Time and time again I hear my teens telling me how much they learn and how encouraged and challenged they’ve felt by Fr. Mike’s sermons. More info and a link for his podcast can be found here: http://catholicreligionteacher.com/fr-mike-schmitz/

  2. Really enjoyed your post!

    The questions, “What discipleship material works well with today’s kids?” is very interesting because it depends on the kid. Each teen is different with a variety of interest. It’s hard to find a one solution fits all approach.

    I would like to suggest Big Shiny Planet Bible studies for those teens that love music.
    Music is a very influential part of a teen’s life and can often dictate their actions, attitudes, friends and more. Big Shiny Planet Bible studies builds Bible studies from the music of Christian artists and then films the artist (BarlowGirl, Todd Agnew, etc) teaching the message behind their song.Right now all the DVDs are free, you just have to pay shipping.

    You can learn more about it at http://www.bigshinyplanet.com.

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