Fruitfulness for Students and Youth
Whether you’re in school, at sixth form, on the school run, unemployed, or working long hours, God can use you right where you are. In partnership with Festiv...
Steve Rouse, Church Team Director, LICC
Evie is one of the sweetest 6-year olds you could ever hope to meet. She’s bright, funny and has a wonderfully inquisitive mind.
One Sunday evening, after having been with us at church that morning, she was home being tucked into bed by her dad. Evie was in the mood to fire one of those parent-stretching questions that only six year olds can – you know the sort: How did people make the first tools, if they didn’t have any tools? Where do thoughts come from? Why don’t crabs have eyebrows? Those kind of questions.
Well, Evie’s question floored her dad: ‘Daaaad! What do you think God has on his duvet cover?’ It’s a great question and one day I’m going to write a book for parents using that title!
Equipping our young people to be everyday disciples is about helping them make connections between their faith and their everyday lives. But how do we equip them when the landscape has shifted so far? Young people are trying to navigate a world that is broadly computer-based rather than book-based, a world where social media has reshaped the way they do relationships, a world where they might never own a home and a world where their sexual identity is often determined and decided in the playground at school. How do you equip young people to be disciples when this is the landscape?
I’ve spent the past 23 years leading a church in south west London, where on any given Sunday a young person will join us for worship, sing with passion, say the right words – but will be carrying a weapon in their pocket because they’re meeting up for a gang fight in the local park when we’ve finished.
I’m also the dad of two incredible young humans, Brianna (22) and Jackson (20). We have worked hard to help them navigate the challenging terrain of their teenage years and it’s been a focus on whole-life disciplemaking that has given us the framework to do this well.
What does discipleship really mean?
The natural question is: what is an everyday disciple? What is your definition of a disciple? If we don’t know what sort of person we’re trying to shape and form, then we’ll have no idea how to equip them.
The definition I would offer is: ‘someone who is learning to live the way of Jesus in their context at this moment’. It’s a simple definition but it contains so much.
The way of Jesus is learned: it doesn’t happen automatically, as I thought it did. The day I was baptised in May 1986 as an 18-year-old, I was convinced that I was about to become ‘Super Christian’, able to handle any temptation, able to evangelise with ease and confidence – but what I discovered very quickly was that I still struggled with temptation and it was still hard not to lose my temper on the football pitch.
Discipleship is also about context and moment. It’s about the stage of life we’re at and the places we are in our everyday life – and that will vary person to person. What if a child discovers that God loves dance or football as much as they do? What if they discover that the classroom they occupy and the clubs they belong to are places where God wants them to help others flourish?
Equipping young people is about realising the importance of these two depictions of church life. Each red dot represents a Christian. On the left is the gathered church – the community where we meet to stir each other up to live for God. And on the right is the scattered church – the church as it is Monday to Saturday, in all the places where we live, work, study and play. We need to help our young people to recognise that they are not just part of the church on a Sunday: they are part of the church every day of the week, wherever they are.
How do we equip young disciples to make a difference?
The other question that comes up for me is: how do we equip young disciples? The only fruit I was expected to bear as a young disciple was ‘converts’ – it was all about sharing my faith and bringing my friends along on Sunday.
This was epitomised by our youth leaders’ efforts to put on embarrassing Saturday night evangelistic events that I was to bring my friends along to. The youth leaders, who were mostly my dad’s age, would form a ‘band’ and try and look cool by wearing baseball caps the wrong way round, and they would play terrible music from their era – like the Beatles! And they always used the same line to persuade us to get a friend to come along: “Just imagine if your friend doesn’t come and on Monday they get run over by a BIG RED BUS!”
That phrase was always enough to put the fear of God into me, but I still couldn’t get up the courage to invite my best mate Kevin along. And here’s the funny thing – it took me years to realise that there were no BIG RED BUSES in our town – Kevin was never going to get run over by one!
If we are going to equip our young people today, then we need a broader framework. LICC has developed the 6Ms as a way of igniting people’s imaginations for how God might work through them right where they are.
In their schools, with their friends, in their sports clubs, how might the young people you know:
1. Model godly character – showing the fruit of the Spirit in their actions, words, and thoughts?
2. Make good work – doing everything they do to and for the glory of God?
3. Minister grace and love – going the extra mile for others?
4. Mould culture – finding ways to make changes for the better?
5. Be a Mouthpiece for truth and justice – combatting lies, snuffing out gossip, and working for justice?
6. Be a Messenger of the gospel – sharing the hope that they have in Jesus and the difference he makes in their lives?
It’s about envisioning our young people with an understanding of a gospel that embraces and gives purpose to the whole of their lives. Equipping them so that they can go and naturally bear fruit with confidence that God will be good news through who they are, how they do their work and how they help others to flourish.
Like Naomi who always felt uncomfortable with the way people treated Alice. She would see Alice walking to school on her own, sitting on her own at lunchtime. Everyone knew that Alice had learning difficulties.
But then something happened. Naomi started to follow Jesus, and it changed the way she saw people around her, including Alice. This inspired Naomi to do something brave – she started to walk to school with Alice and make sure she was included in her friendship group. Naomi’s actions contributed massively to Alice’s growth in confidence. And it changed Naomi’s friends too.
Why does the church need to help young people grow as whole-life disciples? Because the biblical mandate inspires us to live out our identity in Christ here on Earth. As Gabe Lyons, head of Q Ideas in the USA, says: ‘the next wave of influence will come from the pews.’
Whether you still have pews or not, we need to equip our young people to be everyday disciples. Disciples who understand that God is working to redeem and restore this broken world; and that he wants to partner with them wherever they are, whoever they are, in order that his Kingdom comes and his will is done on Earth as in heaven. He even cares what people have on their duvet covers!