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(Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Disciplemaking With Guys)

One Sunday night I was late for our high school guys’ Bible study. When I came into the room, the guys were playing catch with a baseball they had made from playdough. When I asked them to put it away, Trevor asked, “Can we throw it one more time?” The guys bargained. Cade had made a playdough target and the guys wanted to see if Trevor could hit it. “You can throw it one more time, but throw it easy,” I said. 

Instead of soft tossing it, he scorched it like the last pitch in World Series game seven. Though he had the full confidence of a closer, he lacked the accuracy. The playdough ball went a full five feet to the left of the target and smashed through the second-floor window. Playdough and shattered glass fell on a car in the parking lot. It was at this moment I realized I needed a new model for discipleship with these guys. After a full day of church activities, another “sit still while I instill” Bible study was just not working.

These guys were going to be future leaders of our ministry. Fast forward about six years and Trevor would be riding on a plane with Mitt Romney as one of his key interns. The guys in that group have grown up to become engineers, policy lobbyists, and doctors. Many are using their professions to the glory of God, like the one who runs a free medical clinic for those who cannot afford healthcare. Obviously, lots of other factors played into where they are now vocationally, but the potential was always there. This is why disciplemaking matters so much. It is so easy to view our teenage guys as troublemakers and glass-breakers, or write them off as being disengaged or hopeless, rather see them as who they are: created by God with the potential to be used by Him both in their teenage years and throughout the rest of their lives. 

After the playdough incident, I began asking myself some questions. I know these guys have been uniquely created by God with a purpose and design for their lives. I also know they are affected by sin that points them away from maturing in Christlikeness. So how do I best disciple them? What ministry programs do we need to create or modify to best help them?

Around the time I was asking these questions, I began Ph.D. research into adolescent male learning theory. I read the works of authors who have led the way in researching the welfare of adolescent boys in the United States. 

In today’s world, boys are not doing well. Boys receive more Ds and Fs than girls, comprise 80% of the discipline problems, and make up 70% of the children diagnosed with learning disabilities. As adolescent boys graduate, the issues become magnified. Sociologist Michael Kimmel labels the collegiate landscape for males as “guyland.” In guyland, men refuse to accept the responsibility of adulthood and remain in a lengthened state of adolescence. They attempt to prove their manhood by partying hard, dating with little commitment, hazing other students, and having big dreams but no idea how to accomplish them. 

This generation is hurting and in need of gospel-centered adults who will show the way. This generation also has incredible potential that can be achieved when they are given a path to follow as they grow in their relationship with God. It’s important to develop the skill of disciplemaking in the parents and leaders of the next generation of guys.

Intro to Disciplemaking

Through Jesus’ example and teaching, we find a framework for disciplemaking. Jesus selected a group of guys to disciple. They were young as evidenced that only Peter and Jesus paid the temple tax (twenty years old or older). He gives us the example of how to disciple young men into faith maturity and eventually ministry leaders who shaped the early church. Our guys today are hungry for this same pattern of discipleship.

Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations, which includes the next generation of adolescent guys. Teens are to be evangelized and discipled. They are to be taught the gospel and challenged to go and make other disciples. We have understandably celebrated our teens’ response to the gospel and to the Great Commission. If we stop there, however, we simply celebrate a head knowledge of discipleship, rather than the active disciplemaking we ought to pursue.

Although the Great Commission gives a rallying cry to disciplemaking, Scripture also calls us to reflect on the cost of discipleship. In Mark 8:34 Jesus states, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” We tend to minimize the cost of discipleship. This verse likely sounds foreign to an adolescent guy, who typically has had a smartphone since an early age, received participation trophies, and was given little to no boundaries on screentime and online gaming. Disciplemaking with adolescent guys is not only about helping them know things about God but also challenging them to deny themselves and follow God wherever He leads and deny anything that takes the place of God in their hearts.

Mapping Guys’ Discipleship Journeys

When I was a youth minister, one of my favorite events was taking our graduating seniors on a ski trip. We had a model to help unfamiliar students learn how to ski. First, every new skier went to ski school where they learned the basics of putting on their skis, skiing the pizza wedge, and getting on and off the ski lift.

After lunch on our first day, the newbies and some of our more experienced adults would go out on the slopes together. Those of us who were experienced would give them personal training on how to read the ski map, ski under control, and most importantly, how to stop! Once our beginners learned to ski under control, their learning accelerated. We could ski alongside them, slowly allowing them to advance to more difficult slopes. With our guidance and plan, even a few beginners were able to ski down some of the most difficult slopes on their first day!

This approach is a good roadmap for discipleship for guys. Many of our guys are sent out into their world with no training or support structure. They are strapped into their skis and pushed downhill. The carnage can be significant. The students on the trip who thought they could figure out skiing on their own without instruction ended up bruised and beaten, possibly injured. Sometimes they even injured others. Instruction is even more important in our walk with God. Many of our guys today are living out what it says at the end of Judges: “Everyone did whatever seemed right to him” (Judges 21:25). They have been sent out into the world with no guidance or map. No wonder teens are often doing whatever seems right to them. What else are they to do?

To learn more, you can order your copy of Diciplemaking With Guys by Jonathan Denton here:

Jonathan Denton
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