Youth Ministry = Making Disciples?

Youth Ministry = Making Disciples?


The words of Great Commission in Matthew 28 should have a particular motivation for all Christians. However, for many of us involved in youth work or youth ministry, it is the principal purpose of our work:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28: 18-20

What does it actually mean to make disciples?  The word mathētēs (μαθητής), which we translate into ‘disciples’, is better translated into everyday English as ‘learners’, and so we may read Jesus’ commission as “go and make learners of all nations …”  In practice, however, most of us translate this passage as “go and teach all nations”.  But anyone who has been involved in any form of teaching for a significant amount of time will know that just because teaching is happening, it doesn’t mean that any learning is taking place.

Peter Jarvis, an adult learning specialist describes learning as:

“The combination of processes throughout a lifetime whereby the whole person – body (genetic, physical and biological) and mind (knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, emotions, meaning, beliefs and senses) – experiences social situations, the content of which is then transformed cognitively, emotively or practically (or through any combination) and integrated into the individual person’s biography resulting in a continually changing (or more experienced) person.” (Jarvis, 2010: 39)

It is entirely possible to teach young people, or people of any age, by exposing their minds to knowledge about Jesus and the Gospel, but this does not mean that such knowledge is ‘integrated into their biography’, nor that they are a disciple.  The process of ‘making disciples/learners’ is not focussed around our teaching, although it may include teaching, but is much more than that.

If I want someone to become a learner of physics, then I need to able to inspire them about physics, put them into situations where they have a sense of wonderment about physics and experience something of what physics can do.  Likewise, if I want someone to become a learner/disciple of who God is, then my role is to organise activities etc. in which they can experience what God is doing and allow them to be awe-struck at who God is – His power, His love and His character.  The best way to do this is to empower them to be missional.

In Luke 9: 1-6, Jesus sent out the learner/disciples, after giving them power and authority, to be missional and tell others of the good news.  It is clear from the passage that the disciples did not know everything, in fact immediately after they exercise a lack of faith in the miracle of the feeding of the crowds with five loaves and two fish,  however they did go out and came back excitedly reporting about what had happened on their journeys.

As those involved in Christian youth work or youth ministry, sometimes we spend too much time ‘teaching young people’ rather than ‘making learners/disciples’, continually filling their heads with more and more knowledge about God, and not spending enough time allowing them to experience who God is and empowering them to reach out to others.

There are a range of courses in youth and community work that you can study through SSCM, including:
–          PDA in Youth Work (Part-time, next intake 21st April 2016)
–          HNC Working with Communities (Part-time, next intake Sept 2016)
–          BA Theology, Youth & Community (Full-time, next intake Sept 2016)

Baptism & Youth Ministry

Baptism & Youth Ministry


Today, I will be attending the baptism of one of our HNC students leading me to reflect a little bit on the role of baptism (whether as infants or as believers) in youth ministry.


Baptism is one of the key sacraments in most Churches, but yet is rarely understood and its significance is rarely discussed as we are often anxious about getting into discussions of whether baptism should be done as infants (paedobaptism) or on a confession of faith (credobaptism).  However the Paedobaptism/Credobaptism debate disguises the significance of this act.


When discussing baptism in reference to the Bible most people will either refer to Jesus’ baptism (e.g. Matthew 3: 13-17), the Great Commission (“… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit …” Matthew 28: 18-19) or examples of baptism in the book of Acts (e.g. the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8).  Such New Testament references lead us to arguments about the importance of Baptism because (a) Jesus did it; (b) we are told to do it; and (c) the disciples gave us examples of doing it.  Each of which are important but to some extent miss the point of what baptism is about.


To understand more fully what is being represented in baptism, we have to go to Joshua 3 & 4.  This is the story of Joshua and the Israelites coming to the Jordan River, having spent years lost in the wilderness following their captivity in Egypt.  As the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant reached the Jordan River the water cut off upstream and the Israelites were able to cross over into Jericho safely, into the Promised Land.  The Jordan was symbolic, as it represented moving from the wilderness into the fulfilment of God’s promises.  This significance was not lost to the Gospel writers who were recording the events of Jesus (a version of the name Joshua meaning ‘the Lord saves’) with whom God proclaims at his baptism that Jesus is God’s beloved son with whom he is well pleased, and who came to fulfil God’s promises of a messiah (rather than of a promised land in Joshua’s time) such as the one made to David through Nathan:

“I declare to you that the Lord will build a dynastic house for you!  When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom.  He will build me a house, and I will make his dynasty permanent.  I will become his father and he will become my son. I will never withhold my loyal love from him, as I withheld it from the one who ruled before you.  I will put him in permanent charge of my house and my kingdom; his dynasty will be permanent.” (1 Chronicles 17:10-14)

Given all this, what are we doing when we are conducting a baptism:

  • We are highlighting that the same God who saved the Israelites in the Old Testament, is the same God who was revealed in the life, death & resurrection of Jesus, and is the same God who saves us and works in our lives.
  • We are proclaiming that ‘the Lord saves’.  As Christians, we believe that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are saved from a life that ends in death, but rather we have a hope that we will be resurrected, grounded in the resurrection of Jesus.
  • We are acknowledging that we are neither captives (such as the Israelites in Egypt), nor are we lost in a wilderness, but rather we have been set free by God and are walking in faith (like across the Jordan) in fulfilment of his promises.
  • We are declaring that the baptisee is included in the fulfilled promised, that is that they are included in the kingdom of God (in the same way as those crossing over into the promised land were to be part of the kingdom established there).

In relation to youth ministry, whether our Church conducts infant baptism (paedobaptism) or a believer’s baptism (credobaptism), we have a responsibility to educate the young people on what baptism may mean, the responsibilities and hopes of being part of the kingdom of God and how baptism includes them in the life and work of the Church.

For many young people who feel like they are in a wilderness or have been held captive by peer pressure, mental health issues, baggage from the past etc., then this can be quite a liberating experience, and if they are preparing for baptism themselves can be a proclamation of hope in which they can leave many of the things that have held them back at the other side of the Jordan.

Making a Deep Impact on the Frontiers!

Making a Deep Impact on the Frontiers!


At the end of January each year, a Christian Youth Work conference called ‘Deep Impact’ takes place in Aviemore.  Approximately 300 full-time, part-time and voluntary youth workers venture the potentially wild and wintery conditions into the beautiful surrounding near the pistes of Aviemore in order to retreat, re-energise and be inspired in their Christian youth work service.


This year (22nd-24th January 2016), SSCM’s involvement is slightly different.  There will be no seminars this year, but instead there will be a series of learning streams and we will be partnering with ROC (Redeeming our Communities), the Message Trust and Forge Scotland in order to deliver a learning stream on Frontier Youth Ministry.  This learning stream draws on how Jesus looked at discipleship, working with those who had not even considered his teachings and engaging them in what would be considered at the time to be an unorthodox discipleship programme.  This learning stream will be filled with stories of how people across Scotland (and beyond) are reaching out to young people who would not normally have contact with the Church sharing both the successes and the frustrations.


There will also be an opportunity to meet with Graeme McMeekin from SSCM to hear more about the new BA(Hons) Theology: Youth & Community programme that is being launched this September.


Bookings close on Monday 11th January, therefore if you want to come along then you need to book quickly here and we look forward to seeing you there.

New Year Resolution – Study Youth Work!

New Year Resolution – Study Youth Work!


Last week, I was standing at the start line of a 5k run and a friend who was standing next to me asked “what is your goals for next year?  My friend was referring to setting my running goals, e.g. was I going to beat a particular PB (Personal Best) time for a 5k? Was I going to complete my first Ultra-marathon? Was I going to run 2016 miles in 2016?  However the question is much greater!


As an Ultra-marathon runner (running 60-100 miles at a time), he was very aware of the need to set goals, targets and objectives in order to improve his ability.  Aiming to run longer, further or more often means that our muscles, joints and bones adapt in order to achieve more, however if we do not aim for development, then at best we are simply going to remain at the status quo, and at worst lose some of our skills and ability.


The New Year is traditionally an ideal time to set these new goals and objectives, however they are not restricted to physical development, they include spiritual and mental development such as new books, new courses and new routines which shape the new you!


Could the new ‘you’ be a youth worker or community worker?  If so then one potential goal would be to sign up to study a new course.  This could be a:

If you are thinking about further study then please complete our (no obligation) online form and we will explain the process to you and answer any questions you have.

What is Christian Youth Work?

What is Christian Youth Work?


One of the things that SSCM focuses on is training in ‘Christian Youth Work’.  Although the term Christian youth work may seem like a simple term, it is not as easy to describe as you may think.

Some people would understand it as doing work with young people that is distinctly Christian, that would mean leading Bible Studies with young people, evangelistic and worship events, prayer groups, taking young people on mission etc.  This type of youth work is often referred to as youth ministry.

Others would describe ‘Christian Youth Work’ as youth work that is performed by Christians as an outworking of their faith.  This form of work does not preclude youth ministry, but would consider youth work as much broader than any particular method or approach and would not be limited to just spiritual issues.  This form of Christian Youth Work would also value young people’s physical, emotional, educational and social development alongside their spiritual development, and would have a theological reasoning that would argue why this holistic approach is important.

In either case there are a number of values that Christian Youth Workers would agree as important:

1)      Our work is theologically informed

The work we do is both informed and inspired by our understanding of who God is, and how he interacts with his people.  This means that as Christian youth workers, we need to ensure that we continually learn about and grow in our relationship with God.

2)      Spiritual development is important

Youth work is not simply a functional approach that focuses on preparing the young person for the workplace or in changing their behaviour so that they are more socially acceptable, but cares about the young people’s spiritual enrichment in ways that they may more fully appreciate their lives, their relationships and their maker.

3)      Self-determination / Free Choice

Young people can and should be able to make choices about their lives.  This includes decisions about their friends, their future careers, their time and their faith.  We may not always agree with choices that a young person makes, however we acknowledge that it is still their choice to make.  In regards to faith, young people should have access to information about the Christian faith in order to make a decision for themselves.

4)      Empowerment

Whilst youth workers may serve young people, they are not there to ‘do things for young people’.  The best way to serve young people is to provide them with opportunities to develop their skills, abilities and to grow.  This may be by taking on leadership roles themselves.

5)      Equality and Inclusion

Youth Work should be accessible for all young people, this doesn’t mean that we do not have specialist groups, it simply means that all young people should be able to access some level of service.  This means that we do not limit our work to the churched young people, the well-behaved young people etc.  but rather we ensure that all young people can be served by us, no matter what their background is.


At SSCM we have three different programmes which can help you develop these values and skills in order that you can serve God and the wider Church.  These are:

BA(Hons) Theology (Youth and Community)

HNC Working with Communities (Evenings)

PDA in Youth Work (Evenings)

More information can be found at:

We need more Friars!

We need more Friars!


In the tradition which I grew up in, the term Friar was almost unknown.  In fact the only Friar which I was aware of was Friar Tuck from the Robin Hood stories and he was not portrayed in a good light.

Within the Roman Catholic tradition, Friars were different from Monks and Priests.  Monks would traditionally withdraw themselves from mainstream society in order to seek God away from worldly pleasures, whereas Priests would serve God through enabling others to seek God in the performance of particular sacred rites and rituals.  In contrast to these, Friars would serve God by simultaneously serving society, working among those who are not ordained and often spending their time amongst the poorest of society who are frequently ostracised by the rest of society.

Many of us wish to perceive ourselves to be like the Friars, committed to working with the neediest in society as an act of service to God and making a tangible difference to their lives, however there are two major traps that we could fall into.  Firstly, is the trap of ‘justification by works’, believing that by serving God in the toughest of circumstances that we are more likely to justify ourselves, however we can never justify ourselves, such justification can only come from God.

The second trap that we may find ourselves in is that by working with those who are neediest we can have an inflated view of ourselves as better than those that we work with.  This causes us to do things for others or to others rather than with others.

Francis of Assisi was a Friar, rather than a priest or monk and Richard Rohr writes:

“Francis had to be so adamant about the poor and poverty because he knew that “spirituality”, in itself and apart from others, without service and concrete love, often leads people to immense ego inflation and delusion.  Wanting to be thought holy, special, right, sage, or on higher moral ground has a deep narcissistic appeal to the human ego.  These false motivations are, ironically, the surest ways to actually avoid God – all the while using much God talk and ritualised behaviour”

Radical Youth Ministry

Radical Youth Ministry


Radical Youth Ministry

In the last decade or so, ‘Radicalisation’ has been considered by both media and government as being a threat to our society and a key tool in training terrorists.  Instead of training radicals, it is less risky to inculcate conformists – those who do not challenge the status quo or those in authority.  In sociological terms, a radical is one who challenges the ‘dominant ideology’, whereas a conformist subdues their opinion and changes their practices in order to fit into this ‘dominant ideology’.

As Christians, we are called to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).  Within youth ministry, our solution tends to be discipleship.  Discipleship is simply another word for teaching, and this teaching tends to focus on teaching young people about the Bible, how to pray and how to act like a Christian.  Such discipleship programmes are designed to help the young people to be different from the non-Christian world around about them and be willing to challenge what are becoming norms in society.

However the risk of these types of discipleship programmes is that we do not so much encourage young people to be “transformed by the renewing of their mind”, but rather to conform to our way of interpreting the Bible, our way of praying and acting the way we do, including all of our own bad habits.  John Howard Yoder highlights that this becomes a ‘them and us’ approach between the Church and ‘the world’ and in his book Radical Christian Discipleship argues:

“The difference between the Christian and the world should serve as a podium, not as a fence. If our nonconformity is forbidding instead of inviting, law instead of gospel, calculated instead of creative, then we may well ask whether it is founded in hope or in fear and despair.”  (Yoder JH, 2012, p. 128)

In youth ministry, our role should be to equip young people to be radicals, reading scripture afresh for themselves and asking for God’s leading in their lives, so that they can stand against drifting into conformity but rather to be radical, asking the challenging questions of society and the Church so that we all may be involved in the renewing of our minds.

Faith in Celebrity?

Faith in Celebrity?


Celebrity Culture and Shopping: two things I love!! Some might possibly say that I appear shallow for admitting this, however, I think these subjects raise huge issues that the Church needs to learn to deal with. Each month I intend to focus on certain issues that arise out of Celebrity Culture and Consumerism, and what an appropriate Christian response could be. To begin with, I will focus on Celebrity Culture.

I have grown up in a generation where celebrities are role models, people we should aspire to be like. I wanted to know what my favourite celebrities were doing and I especially wanted to meet them. To me, this was simply a hobby but as I have grown in my faith my view on celebrity culture has altered. I have concerns over celebrities becoming like demi-gods and the power they appear to have over young people in particular, through the rise in social media and the advances in technology.

My definition of Celebrity Culture is this: Celebrity Culture has the ability to reach many types of people by creating an image of what the ideal life seems to looks like. In particular, celebrity culture uses media and representation to place importance upon certain individuals deemed to be important. What it obviously fails to do is teach about the dangers and the impact of this culture.

This definition will help us to try and understand Celebrity Culture and the impact it has. However, many questions arise which I hope to explore such as:

Should Christians become involved with this culture? What is fuelling this culture and keeping it alive? How is Celebrity Culture impacting young Christians? And, dare I ask, would Jesus be considered a celebrity in this day and age?

Elyse Mackinnon (former student)

4 Views of Youth Ministry and the Church

4 Views of Youth Ministry and the Church


If you are involved in youth ministry, by this I mean working with young people by means of the church context, then how would you describe your ministry?

In this book, Mark Senter (ed) draws alongside three other highly experienced individuals from the field of youth ministry (Wesley Black, Malan Nel & Chap Clark) from across the world, to present four different views of the purpose of youth ministry. Each view is formed by whether the emphasis is on building leaders in the church (fellowship) or evangelism (mission) and whether it is for the purposes of the here and now or for the future. The four views that they refer to are summarised as follows:

• Fellowship now (Inclusive Congregational Approach)
Focusses on how we can be more inclusive of young people within the practices of the church in order that they are not merely an add-on, but that they are an integral part of the church body.

• Mission now (The Missional Approach)
Using responsible evangelism to disciple young people into church.

• Fellowship in the future (The Preparatory Approach)
This is an approach by which we are discipling and training our young people into being the leaders of the Church in the future and giving them foretastes of this now (e.g. youth-led services).

• Mission in the future (The Strategic Approach)
This view sees the youth group as an offshoot of the church that itself could become a church plant.

Whilst I would argue that these four views are not comprehensive and that each one is a caricature of a particular approach, there may still be some value in considering whether our youth ministry is closer to one or other of these approaches and indeed whether that is also the view of the church leadership. If we have been taking a preparatory approach and providing young people with more opportunities to lead, but they are not getting such opportunities in Church services, then this could be a source of frustration. Likewise, if our ministry is focussed upon the strategic approach and creating a new ministry, but the church’s emphasis is on an inclusive congregational approach, then there clearly needs to be a conversation about expectations.
One of the biggest issues that I see in relation to youth ministry is that the Church leadership and those involved in youth ministry do not spend time discussing their expectation. If we do not discuss these expectations and the merits of different approaches then we end up seeing frustrated congregations, youth ministers and young people.

Graeme McMeekin
Vice Principal Scottish School of Christian Mission

Universal Youth Work

Universal Youth Work


In theological terms, the subject of universalism (the theological principle that ‘all will be saved’ rather than an elect) has been a hotly debated issue in evangelical church circles, however within youth work, universalism has a very different meaning and has not been as well discussed within the Church.
Universal youth work are interventions that are open, at least in principle, to all young people and not targeted at specific participants, although in many cases the activities may only appeal to particular participants.

The Edinburgh Youth Work consortium in partnership with the University of Edinburgh have recently been doing some work on this subject ( and write:

“It is widely argued that universal youth work provision exists on a spectrum moving from open access work with an equally open purpose and curriculum to a pre-determined focus on specific intervention outcomes. That said, it is important to recognise that in reality much provision lies somewhere on a spectrum. Similarly, provision that is universal in principle may in reality target specific groups, whether this targeting is tacit, implicit or otherwise.”

For Christians engaged in youth work or youth ministry done in and on behalf of the church, we ought to consider to what extent is our work universal or targeted. If we don’t have a clear target group then does that mean that the services we offer become so generic that it doesn’t help any of them to grow and develop? The flip side is that that by targeting our work, we are at risk of becoming an exclusive group.
For many engaged in youth ministry, there is a tendency to have a universal approach to outreach activities with more targeted activities focusing around discipleship and spiritual development for those who have made a decision to become a Christian, however perhaps we need to re-think how we do this and whether our discipleship can be done in a new and fresh way that is not just targeting those that have made a decision but also those who may simply be enquiring at this stage.

Graeme McMeekin
Vice Principal Scottish School of Christian Mission