Becoming Disciples of Christ

May 30, 2003 09:29 AM EDT

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Youth minister Rob Shelton guides students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to lead others toward Christ during a Youth Ministry Conference at the Louisville campus, April.

Making disciples mean more than just thinking of the heaven after death, but about living a kingdom-focused life, said the 19-year youth ministry veteran. In the 19 years as minister of students at Parkhills Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, Shelton led students to lead comprehensive Bible studies, participate in intensive discipleship groups, and develop a deep understanding of the Christian world view.

"The ministry itself is built around making disciples," Shelton said. "The first step in discipleship is becoming a convert, but that's not the end step. That's not the thing we're aiming at. We're aiming at making disciples with the first step being to deal with the sin in your life and repent as Christ commands so that you can follow Him."

Shelton summarized four concepts for powerful and effective youth ministry.

The first step for the youth minister is to evaluate his role as a pastor.

"What does it mean for me to be a pastor?" he asked. "I came to a stunning realization that I will be judged by Almighty God for what I produce. I'm going to be judged for what I do and how I do it and for what I've done to train these students who have been placed in my charge."

Shelton reminded the youth ministers their responsibilities to build on the foundation of the Gospel as Apostle Paul built upon the foundation of Christ.

"The foundation's laid and I'm supposed to build on that foundation, and I can choose what I'm building," he said. "And it came to my attention that I better make sure I'm not producing stubble and straw and hay because the fire's going to come in these kid's lives.

"It's going to come when they leave the walls of the church. It's going to come when they go to college. And I'm going to be judged for how I've prepared them to be the church in the world," Shelton said.

Next, the youth minister needs to reflect on his methodology. Shelton said youth ministers, in the effort to act youthful, do not fulfill their pastoral roles. Often, youth ministers present the Gospel such that students view the Christian life as merely a safeguard against going to hell, he added.

"I could fill a room, and I could get converts, but there were very few people who were following Christ," he said of his past approach to youth ministry. "They were just converts. That kind of struck me. I was presenting Christianity as a present for those seeking postmortem bliss. That's how I was presenting it. There was no understanding of why Christianity was relevant now.

"Given the task, I changed how we presented what Christianity is. We're still presenting the Gospel, but in a fashion that will motivate wanting to be a follower of Christ."

Third, a youth minister must implement specific plans for disciple making, and check to see if his current methods of teaching are compatible with producing disciples. According to Shelton, youth ministers, by using mass media and images from popular culture as teaching tools, often inadvertently portray the Gospel as a commodity to be consumed rather than as absolute truth.

"I had to evaluate popular culture because I found that I was merely aping what was going on in the culture in order to try to teach how to be a disciple," Shelton said. "I basically came to the conclusion that I couldn't possibly produce the kind of disciples that are needed using the tools I was using."

Fourth, a youth minister must know the final goal of ministry. If a minister doesn't know the goal of ministry, "then you're just going to spin your wheels and go nuts," he said.

"The goal in producing disciples is holiness. We're to be a holy people. That word's never emphasized any more, is it? We want to be relevant. We want to be creative. We want to be fun. We want to be all those things, but we are called to holiness. I keep that in mind all the time."

Lastly, ministers must be ready to invest tremendous time and energy for their ministry. The effort will one day blossom into glorious and holy fruits of faith.

"It's not going to be easy," he said. "You're going to stick out, but I think when you stand before the judgment seat one day, it will be worth it."

By Pauline J.