NEW YORK — Some Christians are more comfortable being in the church than they are being the Church, and are sometimes fired up about serving but reluctant about sacrificing. These are two things that have to change, especially when it come to discipling youth, according to a director for a national outreach organization that focuses on reaching young people on their turf and in their culture.
"There [are] not that many that are called to this. There's not a line of people waiting to do urban youth ministry, let's keep it real. … Ain't that many people," said Luma Haddad, the Young Life urban area director for San Diego South Bay.
Haddad, who works with Latino, black, and Filipino teenagers in junior high and high school, made those remarks Sept. 12 at the Urban Youth Workers Institute's RELOAD one-day training event held at Bay Ridge Christian Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The event, which included various presentations and workshops from urban ministry leaders, was tailored toward equipping and encouraging those who work with youth.
The primary focus for Haddad, and for a few other ministry leaders who presented at the gathering, was discipleship, helping new believers go beyond the surface and grow deep in their faith.
Haddad, who has been a director with Young Life for at least 15 years, told the estimated 200 ministry leaders in attendance that there were many times early in her work that she thought about taking another career path.
"I don't know about this whole urban ministry thing," she said she would think at times. "I could go get a job somewhere and probably live in my little home and be happy, be quiet and make some money and just do what the world tells me to do. But my heart would just ache for these kids, and the calling wouldn't stop. And I had to respond to the calling. I had to."
Urban ministry is "for the chosen. It's for the few. It's for the brave. It's for the men and women who sit in this room," said Haddad, also noting how "messy" it can be.
"It's for those in this room that God has called to fulfill His mission, to go and love students so much that they would know how much their Savior loves them. And that we would tell them, 'We understand. God knows even more so the pain and the brokenness that you've been through. And together, we are gonna journey this out and we are gonna see healing, we are gonna see you become whole in Christ and we're gonna see you become a new person in Him because that's what He promises.'"
But not all Christians are up for the task, she warned, because "some of the Church is sleeping."
"Some of the Church enjoys being in the church rather than being the Church. Just like to be in there, like everyday. … 'I'm a be in Bible study on Monday, small group on Tuesday and Women's Group on Wednesday …' So we are in church every single day."
"I'm kind of confused how we can be light to light," said Haddad. "I'm trying to figure that out, and how we can be salt to salt. That's just not gonna work."
Christians are called "to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to move out and be light to darkness and be salt to the Earth. But unfortunately, some are sleeping," she added.
Haddad referenced Matthew 26:36, which tells of how Jesus took His disciples to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and told them, "Sit here while I go over there to pray."
The chapter goes on to describe how Jesus, in agony over His impending crucifixion on the cross, prayed that "this cup" would pass from Him, yet wanted God's will to be done. Each time He returned to check on the disciples, who were supposed to also be praying, He found them asleep.
"Jesus is over here sweating blood, asking God to take this cup for Him because He's about to be betrayed, arrested and beaten and put to death. And they're sleeping. What a crucial time. Why can't we stay awake? Jesus is looking for those who are awake! Those who want to be (His) hands and feet. There is no better time than now," said Haddad.
The Young Life director went on to share statistics about the divorce rate in the U.S., the number of suicides annually, the number of people living in poverty, and the number of people forced into labor and sex trafficking — all devastating figures. "And some of the Church is sleeping? We can't even be awake?" she asked.
That's when Haddad turned to the subject of service and sacrifice, and how some Christians tend to avoid the latter, which she insisted was a pivotal aspect of discipleship.
"God is raising up those who are willing to serve and sacrifice. Serve and sacrifice. Serve and sacrifice," she said. "The problem is we hear the word 'serve' and we're like, 'Yeah, I know all about serving' and we get all excited, we're high-fiving. … And then we hear the word 'sacrifice,' and our neck starts twitching …"
"Some of us in this room are very familiar with sacrifice, because we do urban ministry. So we're constantly having to sacrifice our pay, our ride, our family, just our life, we kinda layed it down," Haddad continued.
But genuine discipleship requires both service and sacrifice, she said.
"It is so much easier to make converts than disciples. … It's safer, it's not as messy, it doesn't keep folks up at night, it doesn't affect our bank account, it's doesn't interrupt, it doesn't cause inconvenience, it doesn't invade privacy, it doesn't cause us to be off balance," Haddad added, noting that it is easier to invite someone to church than it is to be the Church to them.
"It is a lot easier to make converts than it is to make disciples," she repeated. "It's easier to throw an event, to pass out a flyer, to give someone an invitation and not even know their name or their story or even follow up with them."
It may be easier to convert people to Christianity, "but Jesus asks us to make disciples," she said, before presenting a chart, showing the exponential growth that can come from discipleship versus the accumulation of Christians by conversion over a period of years.
If a disciple goes out and disciples another person and that disciple starts discipling another and so forth, there could eventually be millions more Christians around the world.
"But you know why we can't reach the world?" she asked. "Because we're sleeping!"
"You don't have to be an urban youth worker," she added. "You just have to be somebody that loves Jesus and you can disciple. We gotta do this!"
Haddad also encouraged her audience, "Make sure you are reaching more people and not just discipling the same people for several years."
"Or at the least make sure you're going deep with at least one [person]," she added, drawing a comparison to a shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to go and look for the lost one.
"Know that you are called," Haddad repeated. "We don't have time to be sleeping. We've been called to go and sacrifice, and go after the one. Who is your one?"