This article is the third in our Discipleship/Mentorship Series. In this series, we aim to explore various paradigms we use for discipleship/mentorship, discuss how the gospel informs how we relate to it, and share some of the experiences that have grown and shaped how we understand it. The last article can be found here.
Andrew Root, associate professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary, once said in his book, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, “Ministry, then, is not about “using” relationships to get individuals to accept a “third thing,” whether that be conservative politics, moral behavior or even the gospel message. Rather, ministry is about connection, one to another, about sharing in suffering and joy, about persons meeting persons with no pretense or secret motives. It is about shared life, confessing Christ not outside the relationship but within it. This, I learned, was living the gospel” (15).
As I have examined the way that youth workers and pastors can disciple students, I have become convinced that small groups are essential to youth ministry. I also believe that I need small groups. And quite frankly, I believe you need small groups too.
I was once asked the question “How do you do small groups?” from a man who served with me at a youth camp in Alaska. I replied, “You implied that I have small groups!” He laughed, and then said, “Yes, youth crave deep relationships.” I think that both Andrew Root and that man were on to something. Youth long for community and deep relationship. I wrestled with the question, “Should I have small groups?”
My Road to New Light
I don’t think we have to look very far to see how intense the desire for relationship in our students is. However, what has struck me more powerfully is the fact that I had missed the point of small groups. I realized about a year ago that I had viewed small groups in a very shallow way. I will admit that I used to believe that small groups were good, because the youth seemed to crave relationship. I figured that the best way to cultivate deep relationship was through small groups, which I still believe, but my reasons were shallow.
My logic went something like this: “Small groups are good because that is how youth work, nothing more.” Now, I think I see small groups in new light.
I believe that small groups, when done rightly, depict the gospel in a way that displays God’s glory in Christ even more. This is a picture that seems to evade my eyesight all too often. How can I really live the gospel in order to teach and capture the hearts of youth, to display God’s incredible glory and offer satisfaction for the human heart?
My first stop on my road to new light was my encounter with D.A. Carson’s short essay on John 17 in the book, The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World. Carson brought forth five petitions that Jesus made in his prayer. First, Jesus prays that his father will keep his followers safe. Second, Jesus prays that his father will make his disciples one. Third, Jesus prays that God will sanctify his followers. Fourth, Jesus prays that his followers will experience the full measure of his own joy – that is, joy in the father. Fifth, Jesus prays that his followers will be with him forever.
What strikes me as so plain is the fact that each petition is saturated in Trinitarian truth. The trinity is quite present. And it seems that Jesus never shies away from acknowledging his relationship with the father. Jesus prays as if he has perfect harmonious communion with the father. And rightly so, as scripture explains: Jesus exists in perfect communion, in perfect love and harmony within the Trinity.
Love is anchored into Eternity
In John 5:16-30, Jesus claims that he has the right to act as he does because of his heavenly father. Jesus claims the very prerogatives of God, prerogatives that only belong to God. The Pharisees who engaged Jesus in conversation were outraged and found him blasphemous. Throughout the scriptures, we see both that there is one God, and that God is one. Carson sums up his arguments with this statement, “He is truly God; he has all the prerogatives of his Father; he is to be honored as God; yet he is distinguishable from his Father; and there is but one God” (94).
Jesus goes on to argue that he is utterly dependent on his Father, and his dependence on his Father is utterly unique. He says that this Father-son relationship is bathed in unfathomable love. Here, Jesus testifies, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does” (5:20). From this love, Jesus insists that the world must learn that he loves the Father and that he does exactly what his Father commands him to do. All of this is to be understood by the time we reach John 17. Only then can we say with Carson, “Here we witness the role of Jesus Christ within the Trinitarian experience of God’s love—a love that is anchored in eternity.”
This love is anchored into eternity. The perfect union between the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit proves that it is not just students who desire for deep relationship, but it is the desire that God has weaved into the hearts of all of mankind. The love found in the trinity had turned the light switch on in my heart and mind. Small groups are powerful because they tap into who God is. Small groups are effective because God has designed all humans to share in communion with one another. I have found that person-to-person interaction saturated in the gospel of Christ encourages and cultivates a mindset of grace in students.
So, today, I hope to leave you with one simple thought as you reflect on the love and communion of the trinity and the resulting implications towards small groups. My prayer is that as you think about discipleship, you would take a look at the beauty of God and consider the relationship between father and son. Got small groups?
Join us for Rooted 2015, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore how the good news of God coming to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ offers student ministers and teenagers, hope, healing and connectedness.