Concrete Disciple – 3 Questions to Ask

I’ve had the privilege these past few days to take a few middle school students out for coffee or ice cream – which isn’t unusual in my last five years of ministry. What is unusual is how God has been reshaping my mindset of ministering to middle school students. He has laid upon my heart this idea I call concrete disciple. I began to realize my students knew a lot of things about Jesus but didn’t understand these things about Jesus. They heard a lot of words, had some vague idea based on what someone said in a sermon – either myself or a senior pastor – but no one had every sat down and had a conversation at a concrete level about a very abstract idea. So, I’ve spent a lot of time processing, praying, reading, and dreaming about what it would like if we strived to make concrete disciples of middle school students. Ones who understood at their level, where they were at developmentally, what it means to follow Jesus.

#1 – What if we were alright with simple truths?

What a beautiful picture – God of the universe puts on flesh to become like us. Jesus leaves the Father’s side to become man, to walk among us, to talk among us, to live among us. He comes down to our level – still being fully divine yet fully man. A lot of people don’t get what Jesus is talking about at first – even his own disciples. I desire middle schoolers to have a deep theology – but I also get that a twelve year old boy is only so far developmentally. After all – they still pick their favorite sports teams based on the logo and colors (true story – conversation happened in a McDonalds last week)

#2 – What if we worked harder to understand where they were at than to bring them up to our level?

Remember the first time you rode a bike? Boy – I was really bad. I’m sure I frustrated my parents. In fact, I think I took a year break because I was so bad I couldn’t get it. Discipling middle schoolers is a lot like teaching me to ride a bike. I was really scared and that made me very bad at learning to ride a bike. I didn’t really try, didn’t really get it – and frustrated everyone who taught me. In spite of all that – my parents and my uncle came down to my level, kept talking to me and challenging me to keep trying. When I didn’t get a concept they didn’t yell at me. When I screwed up and wiped out they didn’t wipe their hands clean. Middle School discipleship takes a lot of time – translating the abstract to concrete thinkers is a challenge. And they’ll probably not get it more than they will get it. They may not live it more than they do live it. They need to be welcomed into community nonetheless, they need those willing to come down and meet them where they are – not expect to enter into a state of being they aren’t able to yet achieve.

#3 – What if we created environments to allow middle schoolers to be awakened and invited into something greater – rather than expecting them to be at that point?

It is really difficult for my middle school students to engage in worship. They are really picky, easily distracted, and…well middle schoolers. Even with a week at a great camp like BigStuf – it wasn’t until Thursday, the last evening, that a lot of my male students began to engage in worship through song and with their lives. And BigStuf does a really, really good job at engaging students where they are at. I know I have failed at this – I haven’t provided worship environments in my direct ministry, let alone as a church. Some of this has also led to a feeling of segregation rather than inclusion – I haven’t challenged my leaders that when they stand in the back rather than among the students it doesn’t mirror Jesus coming down to meet us. We have also mirrored an understanding that worship is confined to music and feelings. Music is simply one way to worship God. If we worked to engage middle school students, to embrace them, to transition from what is comfortable for them to what is comfortable for adults – I believe we would see some amazing things happen. Heaven isn’t going to be filled with Hillsong Young & Free songs – but neither is it going to be Paul Baloche. 

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