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)