KRISTEN HATTON | CONTRIBUTOR
Today’s selfie culture fuels ongoing confusion about identity and purpose for our teens. Even for those in the church, there is a disconnected understanding as to how the life-giving truths of the gospel apply to daily life.
I have seen this first hand during my many years of leading a teen girls Bible study. While the girls in my group attend various churches, the foundation of their youth group and church experience revolves primarily around fellowship and fun with teaching focused more on moralistic behavior than the work and worth of Christ. Theological truths left in abstract terms have not saturated deep into their hearts. Therefore, these girls don’t know how to deal honestly with their sin, struggles, shame and guilt. They have no category for understanding idolatry and misplaced identity or seeing why justification matters.
For women in the church, there is a great opportunity to come alongside our teens to help them see the one story of the Bible – the One whom it is all about – so they can grab hold of the gospel lenses necessary to get their story straight. To most effectively speak life-giving truth into their lives, discipleship relationships through one-on-one mentoring and small groups is key.
But first and foremost, just as they need to see his work and worth, we too need to see clearly who Jesus is for us and who we are in him as the grid for interpreting life. This may seem obvious. But in forging discipleship relationships, if we don’t understand his story and know what it means to rest in our own justification, then we will inadvertently further our girls’ tendency toward their own self-effort and moralism, instead of leading them to rest in his righteousness.
Secondly, when we know his righteousness and grace for us, this same grace will permeate through us. And in knowing it is God’s act of grace and mercy that reaches hearts according to his timetable, we are freed from seeking our own self-justification in how good a mentor we are, and instead move toward the girls in love and acceptance.
A Model for Discipleship
Beyond simply being available, I believe there are three foundational characteristics of discipleship we should embrace for ministering to our teenagers.
- Discipleship is Relational
We all crave relationships. Just walk down the hall of any school and you will see girls huddled together, longing to be on the inside and included in the group. These same girls may come home and shut themselves in their rooms, but these days it is rare if they are not still connected through social media. They want to be known, yet so much of what they experience is not the satisfying true community they may not even realize they long for. Through a willingness to just show up, take an interest in them, and work to build a friendship, we can fill their desire for authenticity in relationships.
- Discipleship is Safe
In order to move past the superficial and into rich fellowship of sharing our hearts and bearing other’s burdens, relationships must feel safe. In larger settings among people we don’t know, we tend to stay masked. But in smaller settings committed to building transparent relationships, masks begin to fall off. Feeling safe with one another is what gives us the courage to share. And when this occurs, we see how others are just like us. We see we are in the same boat with similar struggles, sin, guilt, shame, loneliness, and other emotions.
No one identifies better than Christ, who by coming in the flesh and experiencing everything we do, sympathizes with us in our weaknesses and shows compassion for us in our humanity. So as we seek to display Christ through discipleship, may the girls see we are with them, and Jesus is too.
- Discipleship is Gospel-focused
Building a relationship of trust is necessary, but not the end goal. It is the transformative message of the gospel being taught, discussed, and applied where change takes place. By seeing how Jesus identified with them, and exchanged identities for them, gospel grace begins to reorient how teens see God, themselves, and the world around them. With theological truths hitting their hearts, they begin to identify and talk about their sin, struggles, shame, and guilt in specific ways. They see idolatry and misplaced identity as what it is and understand why justification matters. But at any given moment we are all prey to Satan’s lies, which is why we never move past the gospel. It can never be exhausted and it’s always the answer. Again and again, we point them to Christ so they see how getting his story straight is necessary for rightly interpreting all of life, all the time.
One of the beauties of discipleship is the front row seat to the work of Christ in the lives of the ones he has given you as an instrument to serve. Go be blessed by investing yourself in the timeless truths of God’s word for his people!