Discipleship & Mountain Biking… do they need a coach?

For years I’ve had a lot of buddies tell me, “You’ve got to get into mountain biking…it’s amazing! You’d love it! A lot of ex-athletes wind up doing it.”

My usual first response is, “Who you calling an EX-athlete?” But, my second response was always, “I’m too busy with my own kids’ sports to have one of my own.” That would usually shut them down for another year or two before they’d come back with that maniacal look and say once again, “Dude, you’ve got to try it–it’s awesome!”

A year ago my doctor didn’t tell me to begin mountain biking, but he did say, “You’ve better find some type of exercise program that you like or you’re going to die.” (I’m not sure those were his exact words, but they’re close.) Then, I was dumb enough to tell my wife what my doctor said and she told me, “If you don’t find an exercise program you like, I may kill you before you have a chance to die.” So, with that external motivation I sent an email to some mountain bike-friends and asked if anyone had a spare bike I could borrow to get me started (they all replied in similar language, “Dude, yeah…awesome!”).

Fast forward to today: I now own a bike (I bought one from a buddy), I have a helmet, shoes, clothes, gloves and most of the gear that is “required” for this sport. Basically, I have everything needed except for… the needed skills and the personal coaching.

After my first ride I realized mountain biking is not like the type of bike riding I did when I was a kid. It’s not “jump on bike and ride all day.” It’s much different! In addition to the extreme terrain, there are so many moving parts that add to the confusion: 3 front sprockets, 5 or 6 back sprockets (I can’t remember), 2 brake levers, and 4 shifting systems. I’ve developed decent cardio conditioning, but I desperately need coaching to get answers to my questions.

You may be thinking, “Does this have anything to do with discipleship or has Doug lost all blood to his brain?”

Well, here comes the connection: on today’s ride I began to think about how little I know about this sport/hobby. I really need a coach/mentor. I have so many technical questions. I’m not always sure when is the best time shift on different slopes. I apparently have a tubeless tire that I wouldn’t know how to fix if I got a flat. I have front shocks that need to be adjusted based on the terrain and I don’t have the slightest idea what to do. I know I’m supposed to clean my bike, but there are so many different products at the bike store that I’m not sure which one to use. Basically, my list of “how to” questions could fill pages.

As I was riding and thinking about my need for a coach/mentor, I began to think about the teenagers represented in our ministries. What are we doing with all their questions? Do we even know the questions they’re asking (or not asking)? Or, do we assume they’ll catch everything about Jesus as they begin their “ride with him”?

Much like I need a riding coach, teenagers (or new followers) need a “Jesus coach.” While mountain biking is much more complex than “jump on a bike”…so is following Jesus much more complex than a simple “come to church.”

For a year I’ve been riding a couple times a week, tinkering around at the local bike shop, reading magazines and web-sites to try to find coaching tips, downloading trail guides to my iphone, and asking a lot of questions… AND, I’m still confused, frustrated and wanting someone to coach me. I want someone else to care enough to care about me.

Could it be that we have become good at getting teenagers to come to church… but, we’re not so good at coaching them on how to walk with Jesus? Then, if they don’t know how to walk with Jesus, they graduate from our ministry and graduate away from church.

1. Do the kids entrusted to your care (as a youth pastor over several or as a volunteer over a few) know that you want to coach them in the ways of Jesus?

2. Do they leave your youth ministry knowing that there is a caring, loving and available adult who wants the best for them?

3. Do they know they can ask the dumbest and most simple questions and have a confidence that there are people who will care enough not to laugh at their questions?

4. Do they know they will have someone to “ride with” even though they struggle and occasionally fall?

If you answer yes to these questions… way to go! Those teenagers are blessed.

If you’re answer is “no” or “I’m not sure”… what might need to change within your youth ministry and your personal leadership style so teenagers will know that they’re not a number to be counted or a seat-filler?

How do they know that they are a valued, young follower of Jesus who needs a little help with the call of Jesus to “follow me.”

Jesus spent most of his time with the few. Yes, he spoke to and fed the masses, but his most common audience was the few. Who are the few that need you right now? They don’t need to be invited to church, they need you…coaching, listening, loving, and caring you.

Walking with Jesus is an adventure… but it’s one that requires more help and coaching than we’re probably aware of. I know it does for me.

Question: What are you doing to assure that they teenagers in your ministry are being discipled in the way of Jesus? Would love to read your thoughts here.



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  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    One thing that we do is teach about Jesus. I know, I know, that sounds like a “duh” statement. But we always make sure that in one of our weekly meetings (Sunday or Wednesday) we teach on Jesus. We have found that so many of our students have no church background and we REALLY want these kids to know who Jesus is and to know that He loves them. So we go through Jesus’ life. What did He teach? What did He do? How did He treat people? What did He say about me? It makes for some great discussions. This may not be the only thing we need to be doing but we have found it to be very helpful!

    • Dougfields

      That’s great…way to go! I try to do the same thing…point everything back to Jesus.

  • michaelbest

    As someone who has been riding and racing mountain bikes for years this might be my favorite post you’ve written!

    I think a huge parallel between mountain biking and discipleship is the need for someone to teach you in the moment and by example. It’s one thing to say shift before hitting the steep part of a climb or brake before the turn and accelarte out of it, but having someone take us to a corner, ride it, then watch and coach as we do it is an entirely different thing. In youth ministry, it’s not enough for us to simply “coach” from the stage on Sundays or Wednesdays. So much of the impact we have comes from when we let kids see our lives, how we are handling and working through things, and helping process and guide them through specific things in their lives as they come up.

    We lay forth Biblical principles every time we teach, but we always need to be looking for ways to specifically help teens process and apply these to their lives.

    • dougfields

      I can tell by your response that you’re tracking with me. So, you’re supposed to accelerate out of a turn? That’s the kind of coaching I need. :)

  • Dleandre

    I spend time with Teenagers!!!! Go where they go with them. I also develop a staff of young adult leaders who have the same heart and passion for teenagers that I do, and train them to do what I am doing… Hang out with teenagers and spend time with them… We call this discipleship groups in out student ministry… you may call them small groups, but either way it is spending time with students. Seems like all I hear lately is about discipleship and coaching students… In the AG in NY we are all thinking along the same lines. Discipleship happens when we spend time with them, and coaching happens when we ask intentional questions that will bring them to action.

    Doug I love your blog! Thanks for doing all this!

    • dougfields

      Thanks for what you’re doing with kids and for who you are as a follower of Jesus. Are you doing our “Speaking to Teenagers” 2 day workshop next week in Syracuse?

      • Dleandre

        Yes sir… A chance to be judged by Doug and Duffy… I wouldn’t miss it, haha!

  • Derrick

    I love the way you presented this and it’s so true. We can teach kids how to follow God, but it is so much more practical to live Jesus with them. I know my biggest times of growth in God have been when I have spent time with others who are “older” in the faith and ask them questions or share my heart with them. Usually that spawn some prayer and accountability that changed my life. Teens are no different. I hope more and more youth pastors can grabb a hold of the idea that just as much work if not more can be done just spending a little 1 on 1 time with teens as a teaching at youth group.

    Thanks for Sharing Doug. Keep it coming!!

    • dougfields

      well said…thanks.