Being transparent and real with your students is a key component in their discipleship process. Your students need to see that there are things you struggle with. They need to see that you’re a real person trying to follow Jesus instead of seeing you as a spiritual superhero who has everything under control. They need to see and know that you are in the trenches of the Christian life with them and that you are leading them from the trenches rather than just from the stage. Real discipleship takes place in the midst of real life. We miss discipleship opportunities when we as leaders hide our real lives from the students that we are trying to disciple.
This isn’t a new thought. Students have always wanted us to be transparent with them, to be real with our struggles as we seek to lead them and follow Jesus alongside them. Throughout my years as a student pastor it’s the students that I’ve really lived life with that I’ve been most effective in discipling. In a recent interview with students, found on our blog here, this very thing was brought to the surface as something that these students said made a big impact in their discipleship.
Be transparent with your students, except when you shouldn’t. Have you ever met someone who was a chronic over-sharer? There’s a point where it just becomes uncomfortable, and in our social media culture things seem to be leaning more and more in that direction. As you think about the discipleship of your students, it is important to remember that there are some boundaries. Yes, they need to see that you are following Jesus alongside them but you need to remember that you are also meant to lead them. Here are some boundaries to think through as you live life with your students:
- Be age appropriate. If you are dealing with a group of students who are too young to hear some detail of your past life, then don’t share it. Talking about the situation broadly instead of in detail is always the best choice when you are unsure if a group of students can “handle it.” You also don’t want to inform a group of students about some struggle that you’ve had that they’ve never heard of. This will only cause them to be curious and seek to learn more. Not a good situation.
- Be developmentally appropriate. You may have a group of students who are old enough to talk about what you want to talk about, but just aren’t there developmentally. Maybe they’ve been sheltered (not necessarily a bad thing) or maybe they just won’t treat the issue with the level of maturity that’s needed. Either way, know your students and their backgrounds so you have context in how to disciple them in the midst of real life.
- If you are sharing about a sin that you’ve struggled with in the past make sure that you aren’t exalting the sin. I’ve seen this too many times in small group leaders or people giving their testimony. You never want the student to walk away from the conversation thinking more about the sin you dealt with than the forgiveness of Jesus and what He taught you through that situation. Make sure you share in a way that glorifies Jesus, not the sin you struggled with.
- Never share or disciple in isolation a student of the opposite sex. Avoid being alone with any student for an extended period of time or in a situation where you can’t be easily seen. This isn’t being extreme, it’s being smart. In our culture when people work with minors in any context, but especially in the church, we have to be extremely careful. For the sake of your family, your ministry, and the Kingdom, choose the careful route and disciple students through real life in a small group. Even in this setting, if it’s co-ed, make sure you filter your sharing to that audience. Some things are better talked about in a guys only or girls only situation.
- Center everything on God’s word. Discipling students this way is great because it allows you to take your past (and current) experiences and show them how God’s word directly applied to them. It also allows you to show them how God’s word applies directly to their own experiences. It gives them an ongoing example of how God’s word truly is living and active.
- Don’t try to do it all yourself. It would be very difficult for you to disciple all of your students in the midst of real life all by yourself. It is truly an impossible task. To be an effective discipling ministry you must recruit and train leaders to come alongside you as discipleship partners in your student ministry.
Real discipleship happens through real life. Walking with a group of students and showing them how God’s word has transformed your own life, has rescued you from your own sin, has brought you joy, and has done a multitude of other things in your own life will have a greater impact on your students than any sermon you preach.
This post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Student Ministry