On May, 5 2021
One of the most important things I learned in my time working as a campus minister, is the necessity for implementing discipleship in one way or another on campus. While events and programs definitely have their place, I have never seen more growth in ministry than when our students are actively living out discipleship. It fosters deeper personal relationships with Jesus, strengthens friendships, and is a major part of building a thriving community.
The word disciple actually comes from the Greek word mathetes meaning pupil or student of the master. Discipleship is an apprenticeship in faith to the master, Jesus Christ. There is no better way we can learn what it means to be a disciple than in the word of God, looking at the life of Jesus and the way He modeled it for us. This might sound simple, but I’ve learned by trial and error that there are many different components to living out discipleship, and it is vital to really grasp it yourself and learn to effectively communicate the vision to students.
Here are 5 main points that helped me as I navigated teaching and building the discipleship program on a college campus:
- At the heart, discipleship is about friendship & living in authentic relationship with God & others. While it is helpful to have a model or framework for discipleship, especially when you are operating out of a ministry, it is so important to remember that it all begins from-and is sustained by-personal relationship with Jesus through prayer & receiving the sacraments. Pope Francis articulated this perfectly when he said:
“Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.”
- Discipleship isn't a temporary “position”, but part of our identity through the grace and faith of our baptism. It is important to note, especially when communicating to students, that while their involvement in a specific discipleship program might be temporary, it is meant to be something we each participate in as Christians. It will look different from time to time, but (hopefully) we will remain disciples for the rest of our lives.
- You are probably already living out discipleship in one way or another! On campus, your students will specifically have the opportunity to participate in discipleship in a more direct way, but it is helpful to point out (especially if they feel unqualified or hesitant) that even without realizing it, they are probably already living out discipleship in many ways (in their families, with roommates, classmates, etc.)
The two main types of discipleship are often referred to as formal and informal discipleship. For example, if you have been investing in a friend or younger sibling, inviting them to mass with you, sending encouraging bible verses or book recommendations to help with a problem they are struggling with, or sharing your faith in class with someone who is interested, that is a form of informal discipleship. While formal discipleship is pretty similar, the main aspects that make it “formal” are the direct invitation and scheduled meetings. This type of discipleship requires greater commitment and is great for ministry teams and student leaders on campus. Most likely, the students you will ask into discipleship are going to be the ones already living it out informally on their own.
Pro tip: A fun and easy exercise to help students identify discipleship: Ask them to recall who has played a vital role in their faith lives, whether it was a personal invitation to an event, a friendship with a bible study leader, or even just a coffee date. Reflecting on the small ways they were first invited into a deeper relationship with Christ and His Church can help them to see where and with who they are doing the same.
- It is simple and practical (and can even be fun!). While being a disciple is probably the most important thing we will ever do, it is also is very simple. We see that over and over again in scripture. In fact, we will never get a more accurate picture of discipleship than looking at the life of Jesus Christ himself, who led by example with His disciples in the way He lived His life and ultimately in the way He loved them. We see that Jesus spent much of His time either in prayer with the Father or just BEING with His disciples: breaking bread, fishing, traveling, and even attending weddings together. Spending time with your disciples (even doing everyday things like going to work out or watch a movie) is good and important. Don’t be afraid to have fun! A great tip for sharing this with students is to study a chapter in the Bible where Jesus was modeling this with His disciples, such as John 21.
- You don’t have to be “perfect”! I’m convinced that the longer we walk with God, the more we really grasp this sentiment. In all honesty, some of the most fruitful times of discipleship I’ve experienced was when I felt the most broken. People aren’t looking for perfection, they are looking for authenticity. It is absolutely necessary to always get back up when we fall and strive to pursue virtuous lives, but there is no such thing as perfection in the life of the Christian.
Like the apostle Peter, we must remind ourselves and our students that our weaknesses and failings don’t disqualify us. In fact, the very things we think disqualify us are what God will use to transform our lives and the lives of those around us. And even if it is hard to grasp, the truth is, God is not afraid of our brokenness and it can actually deepen our capacity to walk with him and others in discipleship, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open.
These are just 5 of the points I think are most crucial to understanding, teaching, and living out discipleship with your students. There are other aspects and tools that can be helpful on the practical side of things (such as resources, topic suggestions, etc.). It would be beneficial to start by creating a plan for your own discipleships first. This looks like setting the boundaries you want your students to imitate, such as determining the vision and time frame for your discipleship meetings, duration, frequency, meeting place, and other practical items.
If you are interested in learning more about implementing discipleship on campus and/or working with one of our Newman Coaches to talk through it all, sign up for our Discipleship coaching plan!