Discipleship & Identity (Part 1)

I admit I just do not get Lady Gaga or the fascination so many have with her. But whether I ‘get’ her or not, she has become more than a singer or performer. She has become a movement. Arguably her most adored hit, “Born This Way,” has evolved from lyrics sung to a full fledged foundation. On its website, the foundation states its purpose as “building a kinder braver world that celebrates individuality and empowers young people.” I have been amazed at the response of our younger generation to this mission.

Watching this movement unfold has awakened a reality within me concerning the way we approach discipleship with young people. Today’s young people are passionate about two areas: self-identity and self-expression.

Lady Gaga has tapped into that in an enormous way, enabling her to speak directly to the most passionate parts of that generation’s hearts. This has caused me to think about the way today’s church approaches evangelism and discipleship, especially among that younger generation. My fearful realization is this as I consider these things: I believe that many young people walk away from Christ or are reluctant to follow him because they have come to the conclusion that to do so would be to forfeit their pursuit of both self-identity and self-expression.

The reason why is simple, at least from an honest assessment of my own ministry. We tend to focus more on the negative aspects of discipleship rather than the positive. So much of what is conveyed to students consist of ideas that begin with “You can’t do _______________.” or “You have to stop doing ______________.” This paints a picture of abandoning self-identity and unique expression and simply conforming.

Now, before you jump to conclusions, I do believe that we are called to conform to God’s Word. A big part of sanctification has to do with that. But that conformity is supposed to also awaken us to the unique creation we are in Christ, not lost all sense of individuality! The difference is that any identity found outside of Christ will lead to death and any expression will include idolatry and promote death. Self-identity in Christ, however, must be founded in the Imago Dei (the image of God) and union with Christ in salvation, and self-expression in learning how God has uniquely created us to worship him and call all peoples to join in with us in that worship. How are we doing at conveying these truths to students? Are we awakening these types of dreams within their hearts? Are we resonating with their youthful passion?

I do not believe that we must do away with all ‘negative’ discipleship statements. I am simply saying that we need to do a better job of balancing the negative with the positive. By positive I mean promoting all that is ours in Christ. Promoting Jesus as our greatest treasure and the only treasure worthy of pursuit. I mean awakening students to understand their identity in Christ, which is the only place they will truly understand their identity, be fulfilled (in him), and know the abundant life that Jesus offers. I mean calling them to dream God-sized dreams for their life, coming to understand how God has uniquely equipped them, gifted them, and is calling them to respond to him in worship in this life.

So, how do we do that? I think this is a conversation worth having today in student ministry. I believe that this small shift in seeking to balance our discipleship approach could hold an important key in empowering our students to join in and even complete the Great Commission in their lifetime!

In order to paint a picture of this from the Scriptures I want to spend my next couple of posts working through one of my very favorite passages that, I think, expresses this idea so well. This passage is Ephesians 2:1-10. I then plan to spend some time over the coming weeks working through some key passages that deal with the ideas of self-identity and self-expression for students to consider as they begin to dwell upon the positive aspects of following Jesus as Lord.

I Married my bride, Erin, in 2003. We have 3 children: Emma, Elijah, and Lydia. I have served full-time on staff at Westwood Baptist Church, in Roxboro, NC, since summer of 2006 as Pastor of Students & Discipleship. I am currently enrolled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, pursuing my Doctorate of Education.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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