In Matthew 28, Jesus is clear in the command he gives his disciples, which echoes down to us. And as disciples, whether we are 62 years in age or 12 years in age, we too are commanded to make disciples. So what does that look like for a middle school student? Specifically in context of being in relationship with non-believers. Because, in order to make disciples you must go where there are not disciples. Throughout the New Testament we see the message of the Gospel being brought to both Jews and Gentiles, in temples and on mountainsides, in prison cells and in the house of the official, even in the desert (Acts 8).
The difficulty in creating concrete disciples is that for some, a middle schooler may not be seen as in a place to be around non-believers. This is something I have been wrestling with as I seek to lead our team in discipling middle school students. I myself was sent to a private, Christian school and then home schooled for my entire school career. However, my parents (knowingly or not) grasped still the call to discipleship in our family’s life. At the time, we lived in community with our neighbors, who did not know Jesus.
As I struggle with how to invest in concrete disciples – let me break apart a few arguments I have been making myself which others may try and make in regards to Matthew 28 and middle school students.
#1 – The best thing for a middle school student is to avoid non-Christian friends
False. I went to a homeschool group with quite a few “friends” whose parents believed this. What we forget is all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. With those friends were the first drinks and smokes I had. When some finally found freedom, they had no safety net and went off the deep end. Throughout scripture, we see the inherit sinful nature man is born with – regardless of familial context. Cain kills Abel. Jacob is born as a deceiver, grasping the heel of Esau. Noah’s sons. Simply sheltering a student from things does not change the truth of our sinful nature. You don’t have to teach anyone to sin – they are born with a sin nature. Homeschooler, private schooler, or public schooler – sinners.
#2 – Students just need to pray to accept Jesus and live good lives
We can’t take the nice part of God’s word and pick the parts we don’t want to. Plus – there is nothing scripturally accurate about “praying a prayer to have Jesus come into your heart.” We repent of our sins – recognizing we are sinners – confess with our mouth and believe in our heart that we are saved. Belief is faith and understanding I am a bad person and I need saving – even if I haven’t “done those bad things others have done.” I am inherently born a sinful, evil person.
With this – a life surrenders to Christ compels us to not just “live a good life” but live a life where Christ is proclaimed. Throughout the Gospels, we see those whose lives were truly changed by Jesus in turn running out to tell anyone and everyone what Christ had done in their life. They didn’t stay in their circle of people who also knew Jesus – they went to those who didn’t know Jesus and proclaimed His name.
Middle Schoolers who are being discipled should be challenged by their leaders and their parents to follow Him with all they have. It doesn’t mean they only spend time with those who (due to their young age, true) might influence them to stumble – and faith in Jesus doesn’t compel us to simply attend a church service, attend a Christian school with Bible classes, and go on a “missions trip” once a year where we are free to serve but free from relationship.
It does not matter that they are in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade – a follower of Jesus is commanded to love God and love others – to make disciples through being in relationship with those in their schools, neighborhoods, sports teams, etc. This won’t happen when we withdraw from the world – but only when we set rhythms in our lives to create disciples.