“Change starts with a conversation.” I heard this phrase a few years ago at church camp and it has stuck with me ever since. You never know what conversations will come up throughout the day or where a conversation may lead. Some conversations we walk away from feeling challenged or even changed with a new perspective. Look back on your own story and you’ll see some of the conversations that helped shape you. In discipling teenagers, we often look for those impactful, homerun conversations. Yes, a single conversation can be powerful and life shaping. But the reality is these sorts of conversations only happen from time to time. However, small conversations with your kids happen everyday. While they may not seem like much, small intentional conversations, by God’s grace, will accumulate over time into the deep discipleship of our teens.
A simple way to think of discipleship is the grace-driven journey of growing to reflect Jesus in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Every follower of Jesus is on the way to becoming more like Christ. Think of a line that is drawn from left to right. On the left side of the line you have the starting point. The far right side represents the end point of our discipleship (the day we see Jesus face to face). We’re all in the growth process, and on any given day there will be several discipleship moments where you have the opportunity to help move your teenager just a little bit more to the right.
The gospels record for us many conversations Jesus had, and I admire how he interacted with people. Jesus was observant. He seemed to have the right question to draw people out, setting them up to receive a life shaping truth. He also used questions to help people search their own hearts leading to a deeper understanding of themselves. In the gospels we find Jesus creating discipleship opportunities in a variety of ways. Here are a few things we can learn from him.
Observe and Question: Draw out the Heart
In the gospels we see that Jesus is observant. He used birds and flowers as illustrations (Matthew 6), he observed conversations people were having around him (Mark 9:33), and he asked straight-forward, thought-provoking questions (Mark 8:29). Jesus created discipleship opportunities, and we can do the same. Pose a question that sparks your teenagers’ curiosity and trust the Lord with where the conversation goes. Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” Good questions draw out the heart. In Providence Students, one of the ways we hope to help you with this is our “For The Ride Home” resource. Each Wednesday we spend a couple hours with your student and then we pass the discipleship back to you. Cultivating the skill of asking thoughtful questions is a small but strategic way to guide conversations towards the things that matter most.
Help them Choose Kingdom Values Over Cultural Values
In Mark 10:35-45, Jesus and the disciples have a conversation about greatness and honor. The disciples see greatness as having the place of honor and authority while Jesus sees greatness as humbly serving others. Jesus steers the conversation towards correcting their value system. Greatness in the world’s eyes is exercising your power and authority for yourself. Greatness in the Kingdom is exercising power (no matter how big or small) to humbly serve others. Jesus challenged the values of the world and instilled the values of the Kingdom into the disciples by laying out a simple gospel truth: Greatness is serving.
Observe what the culture values and challenge it with Scripture. Did a commercial, a song, or a movie communicate a message contrary to the Christian worldview? Take the opportunity to explore the message with your student. What is being promised behind the worldview that Christianity has a better answer for? This is an opportunity to help our students compare what the culture promises to the promises of Scripture. For example, the culture says freedom comes through expressing and exploring your feelings. Romans 6 would argue you’re a slave to whatever you serve. Therefore, true freedom is found in submitting to the right King. The options are clear; my elusive and ever-changing feelings can be my master or the good, loving and never-changing God can be my master. Little conversations like this will help them see the world through the lens of Scripture and it will help reorder our values to line up with the Kingdom.
Show Them the Beauty of the King
Discipleship isn’t limited to conversations. It is both taught and caught. Right now your student has a front row seat in the theater of your life. Yes, we disciple by showing what it looks like to reflect Jesus, but don’t miss the opportunity to show them your own need for Jesus and His grace.
One of the best lessons I ever learned was how to get back up in response to failure. I remember watching a pastor blow up in anger at some students at camp. No doubt, he failed in that moment. But what he did in response to that failure has stuck with me all these years. He revealed he needed grace and forgiveness. I saw an example of humility, repentance, and forgiveness. Our failures put God’s grace and mercy on display, and by God’s grace he uses sinners to disciple sinners.
What a beautiful opportunity to show your kids that you too are a sinner saved by grace. Daily we will fall and sometimes we’ll fall hard. But for every fall God provides new mercy and grace. Think about that: in your failures you have the opportunity to highlight the grace and love of Christ. God can redeem our failures into a powerful discipleship tool for both our teenagers and us. How amazing is that?
Play the Long Game
Growing up we had the birthday tradition of having our height measured by my mom and dad. The pantry door in our kitchen is where we would be measured and they would draw a line on the door to represent our height that year. Now, it wouldn’t make much sense for my parents to measure us each day because there wouldn’t be any noticeable growth. But to compare our growth over the span of a year or several years we saw a big difference, and that was exciting. Similarly, you may not notice the spiritual growth in your student by comparing days, but over time those consistent gospel conversations and examples will accumulate. Discipleship is a long game, and by God’s grace he’ll use the big and small moments of life to develop the hearts of our kids for their good and his glory.