Forming disciples versus simply telling people what to do requires a different skill set than we are used to drawing upon in youth ministry. I have spoken with hundreds of different youth leaders who have, to certain degree, perfected the various models of youth ministry. I’m sure it’s been said several times already on this site, but the reality is that there is no way to mass-produce disciples. This means that there is no program or system that we can set up in a parish that will be able to push out the results we are looking for.

This hit me one day when I was in a coffee shop for the third time in a week. Every time I was there, the manager was training a different person. At first I thought, “Man, it must be annoying to continue to have to train people coming in” and, “People must not like working here if they continue to have to find new employees”. But then I thought of the many people I have helped over the years and how frustrated I get when the Lord seems to call them somewhere else, meaning that I have to start all over in working with that new person who has been hired in a parish or that new volunteer who needs help getting started with discipleship.

It didn’t take me long to realize 1) that the role of the manager is, in a sense, to strive to perfect the systems in place at the organization, but also that 2) she would probably never succeed in building the perfect team of people who “get it” and will never leave. The same is true for us. Our job is to strive to cultivate an atmosphere for discipleship in the parish and do this as well as possible, but our work will never end. God never tires in his work of formation, and neither should we.

But how can we even begin to lead so many different people with unique needs? This is a daunting reality, requiring us to remain open to the Lord’s will and calling us to step out in faith, especially when we do not feel that we have the answers. However, I believe that if we look at how organizations like this coffee shop do it, we can recognize two essential skills that will enable us to enter more freely into our role as “formators” and be able to build a culture of discipleship over time, regardless of the ever-changing circumstances in which we find ourselves. And the beautiful thing is that we can all grow in them every day.

Skill One: Understanding the Vision

If you are going to lead others, it is important to understand where you are going and have a basic understanding of how you are going to get there. It is vital that whomever is leading the efforts of discipleship in the parish clearly understand the fundamentals of discipleship, what it looks and feels like, and be able to communicate that vision well to others.

Skill Two: Resetting the Compass

Discipleship is multi-layered, meaning that it can’t entirely rely on you and your efforts. We see this in the Gospels as Jesus begins to entrust his mission to the apostles. He gives them direction and instruction but also sends them on their way to experience it and learn on their own (promising of course that he will provide anything else that they need). Sometimes, they come back and report the good that they did. Other times, they are ratted out by those they serve, and Jesus has to redirect their efforts or correct their mistakes.

The skill that is needed as you work to entrust this mission of discipleship to others is to be able to help them reset their compass. When a leader is doing things incorrectly, runs into problems, has frustrations, or simply does not understand something, the parish discipleship coordinator must develop the skill and ability to help that leader get back on track. This is rarely accomplished by repeating the same things over and over again but is done by listening to the discipleship leader, learning to ask the right questions, and helping the leader learn to follow through a growing awareness of who they are and who God is calling them to be.

Both of these skills are simple and basic but must be perfected through humility, wisdom, and experience. It is important that every leader “sharpen their axe” and continue to deepen their own understanding of discipleship even as they become more of a disciple themselves.


If you are interested in deepening your understanding of discipleship focused youth ministry and growing in your ability to lead those in your parish, I’d strongly encourage you to check out the training course that has been designed specifically for parish discipleship leaders. It is open now but will remain open only for a limited time.  You can see the course here.

As a thank you for following this blog (and for making it to the end of the post!), I’d also like to offer you 20% off the course. You can save the 20% by entering the promo code THANKYOU during checkout.  This code will expire Friday at midnight and will be the biggest savings that we will offer throughout the enrollment period.