By David Dawson
Baptist & Reflector
“The students are getting saturated with the Word of God,” he said.
Oliver is the student pastor at The Glade Church in Mount Juliet, and his church is one of the hundreds of Tennessee Baptist churches that participate in Disciple Now — a weekend-long gathering for junior high and high school students.
The ministry, which has been a part of the Baptist youth curriculum for decades, can be defined as a spiritually-driven “weekend getaway” for students — without ever leaving town. The event is typically held in the home of a church member, and generally includes multiple worship services (held at the host church), in-depth Bible study sessions and missions work/witnessing in the community.
“If it’s an effective DNow, the students are getting God’s Word every time they turn their head — whether it is through worship, through evangelism, or through service to others,” said Oliver. “And when you have an experience like that, and you are put in a situation where you are being washed by the Word of God, things are going to happen.”
The two objectives of Disciple Now are clear-cut and non-negotiable: (1) Introducing Jesus to spiritually-lost teenagers, and (2) helping believers strengthen their walk with God by diving headfirst into Scripture.
“There’s the evangelistic piece, and there’s the dedication to holiness piece,” said David Evans, evangelism specialist at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “And for me, it is just so exciting to watch people who are willing to sacrifice normal life, by giving up a weekend, in order to see students come to Christ or see them strive for personal holiness.”
In many cases, the simple act of inviting a friend to attend DNow can lead to a life-changing experience, which is exactly what happened during a recent DNow/United Weekend at First Baptist Church, Concord, in Knoxville.
Three teenage boys, all of whom attended the event on the invitation of their friends, made first-time professions of faith either during or following the weekend.
The boys play basketball together on a local team, and three of the boys on the team who were already believers — Jacob Norvell, Derek Jacoby, and Ethan Atchley — enthusiastically and persistently invited their teammates to come to DNow. Clay Spencer, another ninth grader, was also instrumental in getting friends to attend. And the results were eternal.
“It was a group effort,” said Rodney Norvell, who is a life group leader for ninth-grade boys at FBC, Concord, and is also the BCM director at the University of Tennessee. “These are an incredible group of young men who are on fire for the Lord and seeing the fruit of friendship and discipleship.”
The DNow weekend included attendees from FBC Concord and its sister church, Shoreline. The decisions made at DNow led to multiple baptisms in recent weeks.
“This is a great example of church with a big ‘C’,” said Norvell. “For stories like this to happen, it takes all of our churches working together.”
At many churches, Disciple Now is promoted through social media platforms and announcements from the pulpit. But the biggest “marketing tool” of DNow are the grassroots, word-of-mouth promotions from students.
“When a student invites a student, that’s much more effective than when an adult invites a student,” said Oliver.
One of the main factors in determining the success of Disciple Now revolves around the willingness of the students to disconnect from their normal routines. In some cases, they might even be asked to cut off their cellphones — gasp! — for a certain period of time.
In other words, it’s all about being unplugged.
“The really cool thing about DNow is the fact that students block out time to back away from the noise of life,” said Evans. “The students dedicate hours, and days, to focusing on the Lord, spiritual disciplines and the body of Christ. Those are the three focuses of the weekend.”
Evans said the format of Disciple Now was constructed to help students emulate Jesus.
“The model and principal of DNow can be traced back to when Jesus got away to the mountain to pray,” said Evans. “And that’s what this is. It’s a very intentional moment for student pastors to strategically get their students to the mountain.”
The weekend is often an eye-opening event, Evans added.
“Some of the kids who attend don’t even know there is a mountain,” said Evans. “But with DNow, they’re getting a chance to make this journey with their friends. Some of them might just be tagging along, but when they get to the mountain, they get to meet a real-life Jesus.”
Oliver said many of the teenagers who attend DNow might not be accustomed to such intense Bible study, but he believes that is part of the appeal of the event. It’s a chance for young believers to dig deeper into the Bible than they’ve ever been.
And since many of the normal “distractions of life” are absent, students have time to examine the material.
“The students are in small groups, thinking critically about what is being presented to them,” said Oliver. “Unlike a Wednesday night or a Sunday or most other events, where they just go home when it’s over, this is something where they’re going, they’re hearing and they’re digesting.”
Oliver, the youth pastor at The Glade Church, has implemented a parents’ conference that coincides with Discple Now, and he encourages other churches to do the same. For more information on the conference, Oliver can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.