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Two Overlooked Success Factors in Discipling

It’s safe to assume that for most of us in youth ministry, the goal is to see spiritual growth in our students. Discipling is the name of the game.

Too often, we assume a wrong equation though. We think that information, knowledge, will lead to spiritual growth. We think discipling means cramming our teens’ heads full with Scripture.

Well, God can work wonders and the Bible does day that God’s Word never returns empty, but inspiring our students to take the next step in their spiritual journey would be more effective if we’d remembered these two overlooked factors in discipling.

1. Anchors to Existing Knowledge

We can’t remember something, let alone apply it, unless we can link it to something we already know. It’s why teens have no problem spouting facts about Taylor Swift, but have a hard time remembering the books of the Bible. When we teach without linking to existing knowledge, teens will dismiss the new information as irrelevant.

Every time we teach Biblical truths, we need to ‘anchor’ these to existing knowledge teens have. And that may be a lot less than you assume! I vividly remember a teen who had never made the connection between John the disciple, John the author of the Gospel of John, John who wrote the letters in the New Testament and John who wrote the Book of revelation. He was truly flabbergasted when he discovered these were one and the same person.

Whenever you prepare a talk or small group study, ask yourself what teens already know about this topic and how you can link to this. I’ve written about anchoring Biblical truths in more depth in another post.

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2. Emotions

Research shows time and again that we don’t make decisions with our ‘intellectual brain’. We make them with our ’emotional brain’. Emotions, how we feel about something or someone, are way better in inspiring us to act than mere knowledge.

There’s a catch here, obviously. It’s fairly easy to manipulate emotions and sort of emotionally blackmail students into making a choice for Jesus for instance. All you need is a sad piece of music and a videoclip of the crucifixion (The Passion of the Christ works wonders here…) and voila, you’re all set.

In my youth, they used a scare tactic, like showing the left-behind-type movie ‘A Thief in the Night’. When they played Larry Norman’s ‘I wish we’d all been ready’ in the movie, I was so scared to be left behind I gave my heart to Jesus all over again, just to be on the safe side!

So emotional blackmail is not the way, but you do need to access teens’ emotions if you want them to make a decision on a topic. How do teens feel about your Bible passage, key message, or application? What are their objections, reasonings? What’s holding them back? Addressing these is far more effective than bombarding them with a theoretical-Biblical line of reasoning.

Anchoring to existing knowledge and appealing to students’ emotions on a topic, these are the two most overlooked ‘success factors’ in discipling. And not just for students by the way!

Are these two discipling tips new to you or were you already applying them? Do you agree?

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