Discipleship is Not a Program

I once attended a Christian ministry conference and since I am me, I scoured the listing of workshops to see what I could find that was related to Next Gen. Bingo! “Holistic Discipleship for the Next Generation.” That sounded perfect and right up my alley so off I went.

The session started with some brief introductions and testimonies from the leaders, one of which was a young man who had been influenced by the program they were going to talk about. In his introduction he mentioned a number of things that were most influential on him as he grew up and all of those were people. He talked about the adults and mentors that came alongside him and spoke into his life; how they showed up at his games and took him on family trips and spent time talking to him and engaging him in his growing faith.

In most Christian circles, we’d call that discipleship.

So, I got excited because surely if one of the main presenters spent most of his introduction talking about the discipleship relationships he had experienced and the deep impact they had on his faith and spiritual formation, then this workshop would most certainly include these things in their “holistic” approach.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. In fact, for the remainder of the workshop, the words “discipleship”, “mentor”, or “intergenerational” were never mentioned. Not even once. We did talk a lot about programming, curriculum, activities, and fun and creative ways to teach kids about God. We practiced some fun imagining, talked about format and presentation, ran through some kidmin scenarios and were given insight to a lot of content.

But never once did the presenters talk about ways to encourage intergenerational connections with children and youth outside of the programmed times. There was no conversation about mentoring and the importance of giving kids access to those who are more mature in the faith to help them to grow or about how we could put into practice activities or even programs that were geared toward growing those relationships and creating intentional space in our churches for them to mature and develop.

Discipleship was described as programmatic, aimed primarily at increasing knowledge and, frankly, getting kids to say a prayer so that they’d be “saved” with little to no conversation about how to take that faith deeper through intentional relationship.

Please don’t hear this as me knocking this group. They are doing great things in their city and God is using them.   But if we are talking about “holistic discipleship” and we are not talking about actual discipleship, mentoring or generational connectivity, we are missing the mark.

Our faith is primarily passed from one generation to another and it’s not passed in a class or an after-school program or a club that meets once a week.

All of those things are good and helpful and even needed, but those things are not discipleship.

Discipleship is first of all relational; it requires time spent building in relationship, learning and growing and worshipping together. Generational connection has to be more than just someone who volunteers to teach a class or host a club once a week. It must cross over into a meaningful relationship where love is experienced and pain is processed and life is shared.

Holistic discipleship had to be more. It has to take the next step.

Covid-19 has both complicated and simplified this reality. In the absence of our normal schedules, we have been pushed to expand our discipleship options. However, I still see so many trying to find just the right curriculum or program or activity to make discipleship happen.

But at this time, perhaps more than any other, we need the community of faith to step in and begin to press forward with intentional relationship. This is our chance to connect one another in new ways as we are not held back by long-held traditions, rigid schedules and age-specific classes and curriculum. Many people have multiple generations present in their own home and others can connect virtually, but relationships can be built around faith, even during Covid times.

What are some ways we can encourage this to happen?

1. Bible Study or Book Study with multiple entry points (Zoom, phone, or safely in-person). Instead of focusing on a specific age, focus on a topic and allow multiple generations to join. For best results, invite a youth or young adult to co-lead with a member of an older generation (40+).

2. Church Family Movie Night  – Some streaming platforms allow for groups to watch a movie at the same time. Put together a discipleship movie guide (You can get a FREE example by filling out the form below with the Message: Movie Guide). This would be good for January when cold and dark outside.

3. Prayer Meeting – Sometimes, I think when we hear “Prayer Meeting” we think Wednesday evening service. But even if it’s just a 15 minute check-in or a simple 30 minute guided prayer time over Zoom, gathering for prayer is a way to begin to build relationships, especially if the chat feature is used to share requests. Zoom Rooms are a great place to pair people up to prayer for each other as well. Families could be recruited to lead prayer once a month.

 4. Dinner Together – Put out a Zoom invitation for church members to eat dinner together over the internet. Make it even more fun by having the church help contribute part of the meal such as pizza or chicken or dessert for everyone. Set it up so that three families/individuals from different households would eat together. Provide Ice Breaker Questions and a suggested Scripture to read and common prayer to pray so they can participate in communal spiritual formation as they eat together.

5. Fort Fellowship – At the beginning of Covid-19, one of our church members organized a time for families with kids to gather once a week and study a Scripture together and catch up with one another over Zoom. Families built a blanket fort somewhere in their house, crawled inside with the computer and shared about 15-20 minutes together with their friends. This would be a great Advent activity to read through the Christmas story together!

8. Get to Know Me Videos – Ask members of different ages to send in videos of themselves sharing their favorite winter activities, recipes, family game, or stories about past faith or family experiences around a theme. Don’t worry about quality; focus on story. Each week, spotlight one or two people and share their video with your church family. Who knows? Some people just might “meet” a member of their church family for the first time!


The reality is discipleship can’t just be found in a Sunday School class or an after-school club. It is found when hearts connect in a relationship that leads to faith formation and spiritual growth both in the home and in the church.

It’s found when we get outside the program or curriculum or church walls and learn each other’s names and eat a meal together and show up to cheer each other on.

It’s found when we take time to develop our connections and move beyond the starting point that classes and clubs might be and into relationship.

That’s how Jesus did it with his disciples and that’s how they did it with their disciples and that’s how we must do it with the next generation.

Holistic discipleship is not a program. It’s so much more.


Looking for a way to help parents capture those discipleship moments at home?

ReFocus Ministry is excited to offer “Everyday Discipleship: A Workshop for Parents/Caregivers.” 

This one-hour workshop covers an unlimited number of parents from your church to join us for a seminar including an Everyday Discipleship worksheet and follow-up resources for parents/caregivers focused on helping support and equip parents for faith formation in their homes.

This workshop has been widely attended by both ministers and parents alike with positive feedback on how it changed their perspective on discipleship in the home and got them excited about sharing their faith with their kids.

This webinar uses a Zoom format and is set up with an individualized code for your church only. All resources will be emailed prior to the webinar so you can distribute to parents with your regular communication.

Interested in learning more?

Fill out the form below with the Message: Everyday Discipleship and we will be in touch!

For More Information About…

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.

With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.

Remember, The Kids Are Watching

It hasn’t happened yet, but I know it will soon. I’ve already been Facebook “stalked”, Instagram-investigated, and Iphone-snooped by my teenagers. It’s only a matter of time before they put my name into Google to see what pops up.

What will they find?  

Will they find the same person who they knew as “mom”, the person who has nurtured them and instructed them, disciplined them and discipled them, laughed with them and corrected them…or will they find something that confuses them?

Will they find consistency between what I tell them and what I tell others?

Will my words in the online world match my words in our conversations at home and with them?

For instance, I tell them to love God and love others.  Will that be evident in my online profile?  I tell them to be kind and to consider others more highly than herself.  Will my words reflect that type of heart?

I tell them to always seek to good, to defend the poor, to love the hurting, to stand up for the weak, to befriend the friendless.

I tell them that calling people names, making fun of others, criticism and ridicule, treating people as “other” and showing people disrespect are all, for lack of a better term, the actions of a bully and not how we are to live or act in this world.

I tell them that God loves them, has a plan for them, has a plan for us…for this whole world. That He is God. He is good. He is sovereign. He is our hope. 

And I have to consider, “When she googles me one day, will she find my social media self, my written words, are consistent with these things I am teaching her as truth, as right, as good?”

Friends, we are in the middle of some very difficult weeks in this country.

Behind us lies an election like no other we have ever seen. Passion in so many areas runs deep and runs wide. And words, often written on various social media platforms, are where those passions are often loosed and proclaimed.

May I humbly encourage us, all of us, no matter where our passions lie, to intentionally consider before we post, that one day our children will google our name? 

To ponder, “Is what I am about to post online in line with what I am teaching my children about loving God and loving others?”

To pause and wonder, “Am I using this post to build up or to tear down?  To call people names, make fun of them in any way, ridicule or poke fun, or belittle them as a person?”

To think, “If my child said this to another child, would that be okay or would they be in trouble?”

One day, our children will google us.

Let’s make sure that what they find shows them a faith that doesn’t waver with elections or compromise in fear.

Let’s strive to post our passions in a way that honors the fact that each person who reads them is made in the image of God, is loved and beloved of God, and is worthy of respect because of that simple fact.

We owe it to our children to give them a consistent message of who God is and who we are no matter when or where they hear/see our words. 

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me (Paul), what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. Philippians 4:8,9 (The Message)


Parents, are you looking for a way to engage with your kids in everyday discipleship at home?

ReFocus Ministry is excited to offer “Everyday Discipleship: A Workshop for Parents/Caregivers.” 

This one-hour workshop covers an unlimited number of parents from your church to join us for a seminar including an Everyday Discipleship worksheet and follow-up resources for parents/caregivers focused on helping support and equip parents for faith formation in their homes.

This workshop has been widely attended by both ministers and parents alike with positive feedback on how it changed their perspective on discipleship in the home and got them excited about sharing their faith with their kids.

This webinar uses a Zoom format and is set up with an individualized code for your church only. All resources will be emailed prior to the webinar so you can distribute to parents with your regular communication.

Interested in learning more?

Fill out the form below with the Message: Everyday Discipleship and we will be in touch!

For More Information About…

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.

With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.