The 5 Needs of Discipleship for Teens

Discipleship is at the very heart of what we do in youth ministry, but too often we try to make our discipleship efforts fit the programming that’s already in place. That’s backwards. Instead, start with how your ministry will reach students for Christ and grow them as His followers and then build a program that meets those needs.
To build a discipleship plan begin by thinking through how you will meet these 5 needs of your students:

experiences like these, at our fall retreat, are one of the critical components of discipleship

experiences like these, at our fall retreat, are one of the critical components of discipleship

NEED #1 - A path to follow
If we want our students to develop as disciples we need to give them a path to follow. Show them what a fully developed follower of Christ looks like and then give them a path to get there. Of course, discipleship isn’t a perfectly linear journey. But, there are still markers along the way that we can point our students to, like: salvation, baptism, Bible study, praying, connecting to church, giving, serving, etc. Carefully craft the language and path that your ministry will use - make it clear and make it compelling. 

NEED #2 - A Community to Belong to
In his book, Youth Ministry 3.0, Mark Oestreicher outlines the 3 Tasks of Adolescence - Identity (who am I?) Autonomy (How am I unique?) and Affinity (to whom and where do I belong?). In his view, Affinity has become the most important of these 3 tasks to teenagers. I think he’s right. We need be intentional about making our youth ministries a community. In our ministry we (Students and leaders) often refer to our group as family. We reinforce that idea with our values and rules that define and protect who we want to be. Teens today need to belong before they believe. So, our discipleship of students needs to include building a community they can belong to so that they can explore what they believe.

NEED #3 - Moments to Experience
intentionally create places and moments where students can experience God and his work. Take them on retreats so they can set aside the stresses of home and school to better hear from God. Engage them in service and missions projects so they can experience what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Involve them in different types of worship and prayer to help them find ways to connect with their saviour. Do ridiculous things together as a group to make memories and forge bonds of friendship that lead to deeper community. We once took did a road trip with our grade 12 guys solely to pee off of waterfalls. Yep, they still talk about that.
These moments of worship, service, and fun will help to form a solid foundation when our students faith is tested later in life. It is these moments, when everything else seems in question, that they’ll be able to point back to and remember that God is real and has spoken.

NEED #4 - A Grasp of the Story
teach students the whole counsel of God. Show them how the entirety of scripture works together to tell the story of God’s redemption of humankind through Jesus Christ. Show them how God was at work in those days and how he is still at work today. Help them to see how God's word can teach and guide them today.
To do this, you need a plan. Sitting down 2 hours before your youth meeting to figure out what to teach that week won’t cut it.  We have been given the task of communicating God’s word to his people. Take it seriously. Lay out a plan. Carve out time during your year to pray and think through the teaching plan for the coming year. Even better, lay out a plan for multiple years at a time. It’s a discipline I’ve employed for several years and it’s incredible how helpful it has been and how much time it actually saves me.

Need #5 - Space to Wrestle
I strive to make our youth ministry a place where doubts are welcome, questions are expected , and failure is embraced.Our students need to know that they are not alone when life doesn’t make sense. They need to know that it’s perfectly normal to doubt. They need to see that our lives aren’t perfect, that we have struggles, that we have failures, but that God still loves us and we’re still pursuing Him. Give them space to wrestle with their faith, to ask - and be asked - tough questions. Creating this space will be uncomfortable, messy, and frustrating. You may want to bang your head against a wall when you hear the same questions and discuss the same issues over and over and over again. However, this space is essential to the development of a robust faith that will stand up through the trials that our students will face.

Thinking through these 5 needs and how to meet them within your unique ministry context will go a long way toward developing a great discipleship plan for your students. When you know what you need to do to disciple your students decisions on programming become a lot easier.