Don’t Practice Helicopter Discipleship by Andy Blanks
A while ago I was teaching our 7th grade a Bible study lesson from Matthew’s account of Jesus sending out the 12. I was caught by this one verse, a sentence Jesus spoke to His disciples before sending them out to practically apply some of what they had been learning and observing.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.”—Matthew 10:16
I was struck with a thought that I think has some significant implications for us as we think about our youth ministry and our discipleship efforts. Here’s why . . .
I think the same cultural influences that have given rise to “helicopter parents” have given rise to “helicopter discipleship.”
We know what “helicopter parents” are. (Heck, you may be one yourself.) These are the parents who hover over their children, correcting their mistakes, smoothing out their paths for them, keeping things good, and safe, and happy. This isn’t the place to discuss or debate the whys or the how’s of this brand of parenting that is so predominant today. But, I think we’re seeing the same tendencies in our ministries.
The same influences that have lead parents to create cocoons of exclusively positive feelings, emotions, and experiences for our children lead us to similar practices in how we structure our youth ministries. And let’s be clear: these motives come from a good place. We naturally don’t take joy out of seeing the teenagers we care about fail, or be wrong, or be uncomfortable.
But in our zeal to take care of them, we isolate them. We keep the life of a Christ-follower safe and sanitary. I don’t know that we do it on purpose, or always knowingly, but we do it.
And by doing this, we fail.
Listen, I love to build-up the teenagers I minister to. I want to see them succeed. I want them to be safe, comfortable, and happy, both in life and in their spiritual development. I don’t want to see them ostracized or picked on for their faith, or for taking a stand.
I don’t want them to experience those things . . . And that is precisely the problem. See, I know that risk, and failure, and discomfort are an inherent part of living the Gospel. How do I know this? Jesus said so.
. . . like sheep among wolves . . .
Jesus, the very one who created the disciples, who cared deeply for them, who knew them in their mother’s womb, who saw the entire span of their lives before they were even a thought . . . this Jesus looked at these men and said I’m about to put you in harm’s way. Sheep among wolves. What a vivid picture of the perilous predicament living our faith will often put us in!
Why would Jesus do this? Simple: Jesus knew that test and trial are the incubators of real discipleship.
If you ask me, my hunch is that “helicopter discipleship” is one of the many factors that contributes to teenagers leaving the church in young adulthood. I believe that for many of them, faith has never been anything more than ideas, in part because we as a Church (I’m including their parents here) are unwilling to intentionally create or tacitly allow situations that makes them rub their beliefs up against the world in a high-stakes environment. Because we’re scared life may be uncomfortable for them if we do.
Jesus knows a little more about disciple-making. And this wasn’t a concern of His.
What do you think?