Discipling Students by Reading Books Together

So often, our passions and drives in ministry are the byproduct of an experience or story from our own adolescence. In this series, we asked student leaders what shaped and enlivened their faith as teenagers, and how that has informed their ministry as adults. This is the first article in the series.

It is true that most student ministry leaders see their students as younger versions of themselves. We often look back and see what pulled our hearts and minds closer to the Lord and the Church when we were young. Whether we realize it or not, the people and even events that shaped our love for Christ when we were students becomes a driving force in how we look at the world of youth ministry, and sharing the gospel to students.

Our culture sometimes says that it takes a village or a community to bring up a child, and the church could also say that it takes godly parents who plant themselves and their family in a local healthy church. The truth is, it takes a number of things to disciple teenagers – everything from the Scriptures and mentoring, to mission trips and weekly youth gatherings.

I was blessed enough to grow up in a church where I had all of that and more. I grew up going to the best summer camps, great weekly youth gatherings, and I had plenty of godly friends around me going through all of it together. However, what made all the difference in my life were older male mentors who met with me on a regular basis, one-on-one, to guide me through a Christian book.

Looking back, I can’t remember how these meetings actually began. All I can say is that these mentors from my church community started to put books in my path that made me want both God and the Bible more. Reading these books as a teenager was almost like walking through a mansion for the first time and opening a door that I thought would be a small closet, but in fact it opened up to another wing of the house that I never knew existed.

Each book that was handed to me, whether it was on prayer, the Bible, or leadership, all taught me a little more about the character of God and how to feed myself spiritually. Each book was chosen by a person who knew me, and knew exactly what God might want me to learn and see.

Some of the most influential books I read alongside an older leader were:

Desiring God by John Piper
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis
Knowing God by J.I. Packer.

All of these authors were not necessarily on the exact same page theologically, however all four books seemed to sing the same song and theme: intimacy with the Almighty.

Godly conversation flowed naturally from a good book in the hands of a disciple-maker and his disciple. From a godly book comes godly talk regarding what we love about God, and what we want to see the church become. However, the hardest but healthiest part of these relationships with my mentors was that, in time, there was no escaping honest conversation about our own sin.

You see, when we commit to meeting with students one-on-one, and then go through a godly book together, our weaknesses, fears, sins, and struggles naturally surface. Once that happens we are guaranteed to travel to places that we might not have wanted to go, but that can only benefit us in the long run. I remember the days of going into a guy’s office with my sunflower seeds and Mountain Dew, just to go over another chapter of another book, and finding myself seeing for the first time blind spots in my life that I never knew I had.

We tend to think that teenagers only want to be entertained, and would not want to handle something so radical as reading another book. However, if it is through the funnel of relationship, we would be surprised how deeply our students would follow if we would only ask.

I cannot remember every single sermon that my mentors preached, but all of the books they gave me are sitting on my shelf. My love for God and the Bible has only increased because of them. I have not only seen this true in my life as a student, but also as a minister. I have seen teenagers’ minds and hearts develop a deeper and more profound hunger for God because I took 30 minutes each week, over breakfast, to read through a book about God with them. What would it look like in your ministry to invite a student or two to engage in a book that would fuel and enliven their walk with the Lord?

John is the Pastor at Jackson Way Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. John is a candidate for a Masters in Divinity at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. John has been serving in ministry for the last 13 years as a Student Pastor. John's heart is to preach and communicate the Gospel to the world by serving the church and making disciples. John's writings have been published on The Gospel Coalition website, and The Vision Room website.

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