Mentoring is Better than Curriculum: Seven Steps to Better Discipleship

How to implement Jethro’s plan and Jesus’ process to turn believers into disciples; whatever size your church is.

Pastoring a small church is not for the timid.

Even the tools that are supposed to help us can leave us feeling more discouraged.

Discipleship curricuum, for instance. Whether it’s designed for kids, youth or adults, most of it seems to target bigger churches. Small churches often don’t have the space, the money or the minimum number of students and workers to do the program right.

The good news is, discipleship is possible in any size of church by using the most proven, time-tested, successful discipling process of all. The process Jesus, Paul and the early church used.

A process called mentoring.

But mentoring has been replaced by curriculum for several generations in the western church. It’s been so long since mentoring was a normal part of many church’s lives that many of us have forgotten how to do it. In fact, many of us have forgotten that we can do it at all.

The Mentoring Preference

Yes, we need curriculum that’s better adapted to smaller churches. But, as I pointed out in my previous post, Serious About Discipleship? Mentoring Is Better Than Curriculum, curriculum should be used to supplement mentoring, not replace it.

We need a serious attitude adjustment about the value of mentoring.

Small churches don’t have to mentor, we get to mentor!

Small churches don’t have to mentor, we get to mentor!

If we want to feel sorry for anyone, we should feel sorry for the big churches. They have too many people to mentor, so they’re stuck using curriculum. (Not really, but it’s nice to think about, right?)

Jesus didn’t use curriculum. And teaching big crowds was not his preferred discipleship method. In fact, he never discipled people in large groups. Because you can’t disciple people that way. Yes, you read that right. Even Jesus couldn’t disciple people in large crowds.

The biggest group Jesus ever put serious time into was 70. But he focused on 12. And even those 12 were often narrowed down to three.

Yes, Jesus taught crowds. And he loved them. He even had pity on them.

But he trained the disciples. He walked with them. He explained “why” to them.

Jesus never gave us a point-by-point list of how his mentoring process worked. He didn’t need to. That had already been done thousands of years before he was born.

My seven points are my best shot at taking the best from Jesus and Jethro and combining them into something I can follow. They aren’t perfect. But they’ve worked for us.

1. Start With One

When Moses’ father-in-law Jethro saw Moses answering all the disputes for a nation of 2,000,000 people (600,000 men plus women and children) he told him “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”

So Jethro proposed an ingenious plan. Put others in charge of groups of 10, 50, 100 and 1,000, leaving Moses to deal with the Level 1,000 issues. (Ex 18:17-26)

This plan is often referenced by megachurch pastors when they talk about how to organize a church in rancher mode. But those references usually leave us small church pastors feeling left out – again. We’re not ranchers, we’re shepherds. And we don’t need Level 1,000 Leaders. Many of our churches don’t even need Level 100 or Level 50 leaders.

But every church needs – and can disciple – a Level 10 Leader.

So start there. With one. Find one person who has exhibited the smallest seeds of an ability to lead 5-10 people. Like any parent or grandparent in the church. Parenting is Level 10 leadership, after all. Or the teenager the other teens follow.

Don’t be intimidated or discouraged by the lack of Level 50 or Level 100 Leaders – or even the need for it in a church of 25 people. Start with one person who can become a Level 10 Leader. Every church has one. Even yours.

2. Listen – A Lot

Maybe the biggest mistake we make in mentoring is teaching people to become like us, instead of like Jesus.

Helping someone become like Jesus doesn’t start by talking at them, but listening to them.

Helping someone become like Jesus doesn’t start by talking at them, but listening to them.

Notice how many conversations Jesus had. If anyone ever had the excuse to say “I don’t need to hear what they want, I have the answers,” it was Jesus. But he never did that.

Jesus did what we need to do. He had conversations. Conversations in which he listened to people’s ideas, preferences, fears and hopes.

When we listen, we learn things. Like what gifts, skills and personality traits God gave them. Then we can use one of the primary advantages mentoring has over curriculum – personalizing it.

3. Do Ministry With Them, Not For Them

Mentors don’t spend a lot of time alone.

If you’re an introvert, that last sentence just gave you the creepy-crawlies. I know. I’m one, too. I need serious alone time to be able to function.

But even introverts like us can pull this off.

Jesus did this with the disciples. After teaching crowds in parables, he’d gather the disciples around, answer their questions, explain deeper truths and even tell them why he taught the way he did. Then he’d go off to a private place to spend time with the Father.

Mentoring has no shortcuts. It takes relationships. And relationships take time. Time spent together.

4. Tell Them Why

If all we want to do is teach people what they should know, we can keep relying on curriculum. But if we want to raise disciples, we can’t just tell them how to do things.

They need to know why they’re doing it.

“God said it, I believe it, that settles it” isn’t enough any more. It never was.

It’s not disobedient, stubborn or nosy of people to ask us why we do what we do or believe what we believe. It’s smart.

In fact, if I start mentoring someone and they just follow me blindly without asking why, I start wondering if I’ve picked the right protégé.

We’re training disciples of Jesus, not clones of ourselves.

Remember, we’re training disciples of Jesus, not clones of ourselves. If they don’t know why they’re doing things, they’ll never be able to adapt and improve on it when needed.

We need an army of believers who can adapt, adjust and do things better than we did them.

5. Trust Them To Do It Without You

At some point you have to send them off all by themselves.

They won’t do it exactly like you did it. They’re not supposed to.

But don’t end the mentoring here. Thinking we’re done at this stage is one of the great danger zones of mentoring. Instead, we need to do what Jesus did. Send them off.

The biggest word in this point is “trust.” At some point in our mentoring – and it needs to happen earlier, rather than later – we need to trust. Trust them, trust our mentoring and trust God that they can do it without us.

6. Give Them Feedback

Jesus sent off the 72 in pairs (we’ll look at the importance of partnering in a future post), but he didn’t leave them there. He had them report back, then he gave them further instruction on how to do it better the next time. (Luke 10)

Here’s a small example.

In our church, we’ve recently instituted a program for rotating Service Hosts. A Service Host is a regular church attender – usually a college student – who does two important things in our Sunday morning services. They give a greeting and the announcements at the start of the service. Then, later on, they receive the offering, including delivering a two- to three-minute mini-talk about giving.

Before they do it the first time, we walk them through it, including hearing and editing their mini-talk. After each of the first few times they do it, we sit down with them and assess how it went.

7. Help Them Mentor the Next Person

Discipling that first person is the hardest part. It’s likely to take a few false starts before you find someone who will really follow through with it.

In every step of this process, the student should be reminded that they will eventually be the mentor for someone else. Knowing this helps them focus on their own training and it helps them keep their eyes open for who the next student might be.

This is where it starts getting fun. Usually – in fact, almost every time – the second student comes along because the original student finds them. And it’s almost always before you think they’re ready to start mentoring.

Don’t wait. We need to turn disciples into mentors as soon as possible. Sometimes while they’re still in the middle of their own mentoring process.

Disciples mentoring other disciples. That’s when you know it’s working.

Disciples mentoring other disciples. That’s when you know it’s working.

What If I Don’t Have One to Start With?

There are many struggling churches that are barely in survival mode. The idea of mentoring sounds great, but you look around at your small, discouraged, maybe aging congregation and you can’t see one believer to mentor.

What do you do then?

My next two posts (which could be considered prequels to this one) will take a practical look at this problem:

  • A Simple Five-Step Follow-Up Process for New Believers
  • How to Delegate When There’s No One Around: Six Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

We can do this.


The Experiment – Tuesday night Sunday School

The Experiment. – reposted from HOPE4CE

August 26, 2015

We arrive at church for Sunday School early. While I assemble two large salads, my children set up for our feast. The scent of pizza wafts through the door ahead of the steaming boxes. People of all ages gather in a circle to share laughter, prayer, and grace. Tuesday Night Sunday School begins.

It started out as an experiment. Sunday School teachers were difficult to find. Parents were choosing between dropping children off for Sunday School and attending worship, as doing both seemed too time consuming. We wanted worship to be the family focus on Sundays.

Sunday School was banished from Sunday mornings, participation by parents or guardians insisted upon. Amidst skepticism from Church Council members, Tuesday Night Sunday School was born.

Steyer TNSS Picture 3

After sharing a meal, the lesson begins, perhaps involving a skit, a song or a short video. Always, we — families, singles, couples, and friends — learn together. Each lesson, planned during a monthly meeting of the TNSS Planning Team and taught by our Pastor, Planning Team members or guests, is based on the theme chosen during the summer. This allows us to tailor lessons to fit our group’s needs.

Some evenings lead us to the Sanctuary for a quieter lesson and another Meal. Sharing Communion among this tapestry of people is a reminder of how blessed we are to be part of God’s family. Many can’t make it to worship on Sundays, making these nights even more special for some.

We end each night as we started, in a circle, this time passing a blessing from person to person as we make a sign of the cross on their foreheads, “Child of God, Jesus loves you and so do I!”

Steyer TNSS Featured

It began as an experiment. Now, in our fifteenth year, we can call it a success.

Amanda Steyer, Tuesday Night Sunday School Planning Team,                                                        Our Savior Lutheran Church, Thomaston, CT

How To Deliver an Effective Children’s Sermon

Along the Journey

How To Deliver an Effective Children’s Sermon

By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning
I received an email from a pastor asking about children’s sermons. He just accepted a call to a church at which he’ll need to deliver a children’s sermon as part of the worship service pastoral duties. I think that’s a great thing. And I appreciate his seeking counsel on how to do it well.

I’m not quite sure about what makes children’s sermons such a universally bad practice in congregations. I suspect a lot of it has to do with two things: (1) a lack of understanding of the developmental characteristics of children, and (2) a lack of a clearly articulated theology of children in the church. A little effort in those two areas can go a long way in helping church leaders and members be more effective in the way they minister to, and with, the children in their congregation.

Here are the suggestions I share with pastors on how to deliver a children’s sermon. There are other concepts and points that can be made, but these address the more egregious sins committed in this regard:

1. Do not use objects in your children’s sermons. Using objects as props in an attempt to use the “object lesson” approach is misguided and inappropriate. Children are concrete thinkers and younger children are unable to conceptualize that “one thing is like another.” In their minds an object is what it is, it is not “like” something else. A tree is a tree, an egg is an egg, a key is a key, and a bell is a bell—they are not both an object and a metaphor for something else. Because children are concrete-operational thinkers, they cannot process symbols deeply, so a cross is a sign and not a symbol. Baptism is an act (behavior), and not a symbol (read Jung if this concept doesn’t make sense to you).

2. Never, ever, begin your children’s sermon with a question. Beginning your sermon by asking a question:

Leaves the child confused (like the time a pastor, wearing a robe for the first Sunday in Lent, started the children’s sermon by asking, “Who can tell my why I wore this robe today? Child’s answer: “How the heck should I know?”, or “Because you feel cold?”)

Insults the child’s intelligence (like the time a person held up a picture of a tree and asked, “Who can tell me what this is?” Child’s answer: “O.k., I’ll play along and help you out by answering the obvious: “It’s a tree!”)

Puts the child on the spot by requiring them to answer a question without context. There’s little worse for a child than to be put “on the spot” to come up with the “right” answer.

They’ve been dreading that in school all week, and now they have to fear that in church too? And, of course, they have learned by now that the “right answer” to anything is always, “Jesus” or “God,” a tragic habit which has taught them that faith is uncritical—you don’t really have to think about it, the answer is always, “Jesus.”

3. Don’t focus on concepts; rather, focus on feelings. A child’s faith world is a world of feelings: happy, hurt, sad, angry, scared, confused, uncertain, excited, feeling safe, loved, cared for. This is what a child “knows.” Children do not know, nor are concerned with, abstract concepts: redemption, salvation, justice, loyalty, courage, predestination, supralapsarianism, etc. When telling your children’s sermon, focus on feelings, identify them, acknowledge them, illustrate them, talk about them. Other feelings that help children grasp the experience of faith are wonder, awe, delight, anticipation, and thankfulness.

4. When giving a children’s sermon, just tell the STORY! Children need narrative, “the Story,” in order to make meaning of their experience and feelings. Your children’s sermon should primarily be a story. When telling the story, TELL THE STORY, do NOT interpret the story for the children! Do not end your children’s sermon by saying, “Now, this means that. . . . “ Children don’t need you to TELL them what something means—they just need the story. Stories let you focus on feelings and wonder (“I wonder how s/he felt when…!”). Do not be concerned about telling a Bible story over and over again. The more familiar the story, the more satisfying it is to children (this is why children beg parents to read that bedtime book for the 1000th time. They never get tired of it because they NEED the narrative to make meaning).

5. The pastor needs to deliver the children’s sermon. As with all sermons, the children’s sermon serves a function. One important function of the children’s sermon is to give the children in the church exclusive access to the primary god-figure in their faith communities. For most children in your church, those few minutes with the pastor will be the only time they have an exclusive time with and access to the pastor, their church’s spiritual leader. We tell children that they can pray and go to God any time they need, and yet we teach them that the pastor, the primary god-figure in the church, is not accessible to them. Which do you think they really come to believe? Comments like, “I’m not good at it; my staff member is better at it,” or, “I’m not comfortable around children,” or, “I need to focus on the main sermon” are often just “excuses.” The bottom line is that the pastor needs to do this because it is a pastoral FUNCTION.

This is not to say that no one else can ever be allowed to give the children’s sermon. On occasion there may be a good reason for a staff person or even a guest to deliver the children’s sermon. But there should be a good reason (purpose) for it and it should be the exception and not the rule.

6. The children’s sermon is for the children, not for the benefit of the adult audience. Do not “use” children for the entertainment of the adult congregation. You will only confuse the children, and they will sense that you are not really talking to them. In effect, they will know that you are ignoring them and using them rather than talking to them. Theologically and liturgically, using the children’s sermon as a way to communicate with the adults or as a way to entertain them turns them from being a “congregation” to an “audience.”

7. Sit with the children. Do not stand towering over them.

8. Use a conversational tone of voice, but don’t “talk down” to them. Take your cue from Mr. Rogers.

9. End your children’s sermon with prayer. Teach children the proper posture of reverence for prayer (“Let’s close our eyes, bow our heads, and fold our hands.”). Children learn religious practices through modeling and practice—you can offer both during a children’s sermon. Your prayer should be no more than three or four sentences long. Consider asking the children to “repeat after me” when you pray. It helps inculcate the language of prayer and helps ensure the children are paying attention and engaged during the prayer.

10. Don’t be droll or use sarcasm when talking to children. Young children cannot handle sarcasm. They don’t understand it and are confused by it. When an adult uses sarcasm or tries to be “clever” or “droll” with children it’s an indication that the adult is anxious and more focused on him or herself than on what the children need.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deansHow To Deliver an Effective Children’s Sermon.


Color Coded Paper Chain Prayers

– reposted from Flame: Creative Children’s Ministry

 by Mina Munns
This is a very easy and visual way to pray.  You can use it as a prayer station for ages, as a collaborative piece in a children’s group or at home with the family.  The best thing is that you can keep on adding to it for as long as you want!
You will need: Strips of colored paper, glue, pens and pencils
Encourage children to help you assign types of prayer to different colors of paper e.g,
Red- sorry
White- people who have upset you who you want to forgive
Yellow- thanks
Pink- please
Blue-other people
Green- the world
Write or draw your prayers onto the paper strip and then add it to the paper chain!

Children & Youth Resources for Faith Formation

In Case You Missed It – Faith Formation

by Lindsay Elenbaas

As the summer sun is still heating up our houses and runs, here are some COOL resources our team has found this week. Some are exciting things to look forward to as we see fall approaching, while others remind us why we love summer and the stories that we share from this season.

In Case You Missed It (8/14/15):

Best Youth Ministry Blogs

by Lindsay Elenbaas – reposted from CRC Network

 In this day and age we have so many choices. We make thousands of decisions every day choosing between mundane things such as what to wear that day or what direction to take. With so many choices out their it is hard to know what is the best of the best. As Faith Formation Ministry interns, Libby and I have been making a resource list that meets the needs of anyone from a head pastor, to a parent, to a teenager. While forming our list, we quickly found that there is an overwhelming amount of youth ministry blogs on the internet. Many of them were just variations of each other while others catered to certain audiences. In hopes to narrow searches for indecisive youth workers everywhere and our own resource list, we decided to look through many of them to find the best of the best. Here are some of the best youth ministry websites we could find for a youth workers with a variety of needs:

  • The Source for Youth Ministry– Run by Jonathan McKee, this site uses culture clips to explain Biblical topics and gives reviews on what teens like. This site is great for youth workers and parents alike.
  • Youth Specialties– Includes a job bank full of youth ministry positions, hosts the largest youth worker conference and has an extensive amount of resources
  • Youth Ministry 360– Full of curriculums, resources for parents, teens, and youth workers, runs a discipleship magazine, and has a blog full of helpful training topics
  • Vibrant Faith– Youth/Intergenerational ministry advice and strategy giving through blog posts
  • Fuller Youth Institute– A blog that was birthed from Sticky Faith, an intergenerational youth worker book
  • Urban Youth Workers– tips and testimonials for how to do youth ministry in an urban setting
  • Youth Ministry Media– Helpful ways to relate to teenagers in a digital culture, resources, games, and research trends

Can’t find what you are looking for? Check out this list of The Top 25 Youth Ministry Blogs posted by Youth Cartel or check out the CRC’s own blogs YALT and posts from Youth Ministry on The Network.

Posted in: Faith Formation > Youth Ministry; Blog photo courtesy of Melissa – Image: See Credit