If you’ve had the privilege of seeing a young person or a group of young people you work with take that first step of faith and commit their lives to Jesus, you know it is unbeatable. It’s everything we work for, all we long to see. It’s those moments of absolute elation that makes every late night, every tough conversation, every disappointment and rejection completely and totally worth it. It’s the rocket fuel that drives and sustains us for the year ahead, the memories we treasure forever and the sparks that can light fires in so many others around us.
So hear me when I say that I am celebrating and rejoicing too. I’m there at the party, I’m dreaming about all the ways those 1,527 young people will change their families, change their communities, change the world. We absolutely should celebrate it, it’s incredible. God is alive and moving and drawing people to himself and it’s glorious. Boom.
But (you knew a but was coming!) there is something Will said in his blog that I can’t not respond to, something actually quite dangerous: “Sadly some of these young people probably won’t still be walking with God later down the line [i]but these things are not for us to worry about; that stuff is all in God’s hands”[ei].
In my opinion, these are exactly the things we are called to worry about. These are the things God has placed in [i]our hands as his body. In Matthew 28, we read of the Great Commission in which Jesus sends out his disciples to: “Make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”
We were never asked to make people into Christians or converts. We were commanded to go and make disciples, and how do we do that? Baptising and teaching… or initiating them into the family of God and helping them live out everything Jesus taught. That’s our call, that’s our commission and we absolutely must stick to it, and not get distracted with the easy, adrenaline filled, fast-food business of convert-making.
Let’s be honest, getting converts is actually quite easy. We all know the emotional persuasive power of a room full of thousands of your peers, away from home, with the lights, the music, the talks - getting hands in the air and bodies to the front is not that hard.
But while making Christians is easy, making disciples is messy and difficult and takes flipping ages. In fact it takes forever. Hear me right on this: I’m not dissing Soul Survivor. I’m not even saying that emotive music, lights and altar calls are bad things, but they are bad when they are isolated, when they are not part of a bigger plan, a more concerted effort, a strategy and passion for the ultimate goal of making lifelong disciples of Jesus. They are bad when that is what we aim for, when the decision is the end goal rather than the beginning of something amazing.
So let’s have a giant party, let’s laugh, dance, celebrate and rejoice. But let’s remember that while these moments feel good, they are just a small part of the bigger mission we’re called to. Let’s allow our joy to fuel us into that mission, the long term and often difficult daily grind of journeying with our young people as they learn what it means to let that summer decision impact every part of who they are. It’s in this that we see true fruit, the fruit we’re called to produce, fruit that will last.
Jo Dolby is a youth worker in Bath and works for Bristol CYM as a youth and community work lecturer.