Archive for July 31st, 2007

Disciple Abuse

This is an old article that was written by the late Mike Yaconelli.  It still resounds with me.  See if you don’t agree…


Suppose I took a group of dedicated high school football players and said to them, “If you’re really committed, if you’re serious about football, if you genuinely want to be the best, then I’m taking you to an NFL training camp so you can be a professional football player.”

You would look at me like I was crazy. These young people, passionate and dedicated as they are, would be slaughtered on that football field. They’d be destroyed physically and mentally. And I, as a coach, would be arrested for child abuse.

Then why do we say to junior high and high school students who sincerely want to follow Jesus and give their lives to God, “You need discipleship class. If you’re really committed and dedicated, then attend a discipleship class where you can become even more dedicated and committed. We’re going to make you a disciple.” If we do this, we’re guilty of disciple abuse.

I don’t believe in student discipleship.

I believe in encouragement, affirmation, education, service, and study. I believe in relationship, community, and fellowship. I believe in training, beginning, starting, and learning. I believe in praying together, playing together, talking together, hanging together, and living life together, but I don’t believe in “pouring my life into a student.” I believe in showing my life to a student and living my life in front of a student; I don’t believe in discipling young people.


Young people are too…well…young to be disciples.

Apprentices? Of course. Beginners? Sure. Trainees? Interns? Absolutely. But not disciples.

We’ve convinced adults and parents that we have a program that can produce disciples. We perpetuate the illusion that we can take 13-year-olds and make disciples out of them. We actually act as though we can transform a group of inconsistent, uncommitted adolescents into mature, committed disciples by spending an extra hour or two a week with them.

Not possible.

Are students capable of heroic acts? Absolutely! Can a 13-year-old be committed to Jesus? Yes, as long as we understand what we mean by committed. Can young people make a difference in the world? Of course they can, but we’re still not talking about disciples.

“Discipleship requires…”

Discipleship isn’t about coming to more meetings than non-disciples. It’s not about leadership or getting involved in service projects. Discipleship isn’t about filling out a booklet. It’s a way of living; it’s the process of figuring out what it means to believe in Jesus in the everydayness of my life.

Because most students in our youth groups have been protected from suffering (Remember all the parents who showed up for your Mexico orientation concerned about whether or not the trip would be safe? And you lied and said it would be?), because most students have been continually rescued by mom and dad, and because most students haven’t been prepared for the real world, they’re not prepared for the complicatedness of life.

Discipleship requires maturity, experience, and depth. Discipleship requires extensive time. Discipleship requires intensity, isolation, and independence. Discipleship requires spending time with Jesus, not with you and me. Discipleship requires a lifetime of figuring out what it means to follow Jesus.

“Ruin their lives…”

Before the mail starts, by all means, spend time with young people, study with them, pray with them, introduce them to Jesus, affirm them, encourage them, challenge them, attract them, motivate them, suffer with them, cry with them, and push them. Ruin their lives by introducing them to the compelling, attractive, demanding, frightening Jesus.

Most of all, love them. Believe in them. Trust them. Be an example for them. Stick it out with them over the long haul. And some day, when they’re older, when they’ve weathered a few storms, when they’ve been beaten up by life a bit, they may actually start looking like a disciple—not because you discipled them, but because you refused to give up on them.