Context, Dental Hygiene & Discipleship.

In recent years I’ve become pretty serious about dental hygiene. As cool as it felt as a kid to rebel and allow bits of food to rot in between my teeth while various bacteria took home on my tongue- both my marriage and relative maturity have shown me that is, well, disgusting. Oh, there’s also the fact that I work for a church and dental insurance is as much a part of my life as owning a lake cabin and taking annual trips to the Caribbean. Dental care is expensive and apparently I’d rather have cable then professionally cleaned teeth- so here we are.


I now brush at least 2x a day. And, get this, I floss! Every single day. And, get this, there is gross stuff hanging out between my teeth. I can’t imagine not flossing each night now. My nightly tooth brushing routine is pretty thorough. I make sure to brush for the recommended 2 minutes. I get the front, back and side of each tooth. I even feel around with my tongue in case I can feel any fuzzy hanger-ons and re-brush if necessary. I don’t drink soda but I do eat an occasional handful of straight sugar so I’ve learned to be tedious in my brushing. Again- No. Dental. Insurance.

However, when I brush in the morning it’s often for a completely different purpose. I rarely make sure to brush carefully, in fact I’m pretty sure I often skip a tooth here and there. I often let the toothbrush just hang out in my mouth as I pull clothes out of my dresser and off the hangers rarely stopping to brush it around before I let it sit there again in my cheek. And as it sits there in my cheek my mouth is being coated with minty fresh layer of paste & spit. In the evenings- it’s all about cleanliness. In the mornings- it’s all about having good breath. That’s it. In the mornings I brush so that my coffee/banana/crusty saliva concoction doesn’t cause me to lose friends and dissuade people.

In our high school ministry we have 14 current small groups that exist to promote discipleship. Discipleship is a loaded word but we’ve chosen to define it as “choosing to learn to know and follow Christ for a lifetime.” Each of our 14 groups are truly engaged in discipling students but just about every group goes about it in a different way. Though I brush my teeth twice a day, the means and the goal of each brushing is different. Similarly, while all our groups meet together weekly the means and the goals of each group are different. Each group carries its own context and place along the faith journey; some are newbies hearing the story of Jesus for the first time, some are agnostics searching for truth and some are fully sold out to being Love to this world.

trash bag fashion show

I lead a group of freshman guys alongside a high school senior who has chosen to pour himself into the freshman instead of being with his consistent peer group of the past 3 years. Last week we ‘roadtripped’ to a Hawaiian BBQ joint (maybe 3 miles) ordered our food and roadtripped it back. We ate, caught up on life then simply had a session of “No Dumb Questions, No Easy Answers.”  That was it- our entire time together. But during those 90 minutes we laughed, celebrated the blessings in our lives and one of the guys shared a personal struggle that had previously been kept a secret for a over year.

We started an experiment this past school year in hopes to shake up the student’s expectations of their D-Group being a place for fun and community first, and discipleship second. Or third. Or fourth. This bold experiment consisted solely of taking at least one Wednesday a month “off” from youth group. D-Groups still meet, they are just banned from meeting inside the 4 walls of the church. We even came up with a super catchy & hip name for this experiment: “D-Groups In Homes.” One of our D-Groups with senior guys watched a video by Propaganda, opened Scripture together and discussed what it means to live out the gospel. A girls group read a section of Blue Like Jazz and ate homemade cookies. A group of guys who don’t really ‘fit in’ met in a park to look at the first chapter of John, grabbed pizza then walked to a student’s house to play Super Smash Bros. Oh, did I mention a group of senior girls had a Pajama Tea Party complete with dolls and fine china? And that after tea they had a lively discussion on how to give/receive love and if their actions are guided by a heart that is fueled by God’s love for others and themselves.

Addie's Dgroup

I have come to love hearing the stories from my leaders as we debrief their group’s time together as they shared life and Jesus together away from the church. This seemingly simple experiment has paid off more than I could have imagined. I truly believe the key is to use the same model for each group to achieve the purpose of discipleship while allowing them to function in different ways that are appropriate and engaging for each of their contexts.

I make sure to brush twice a day. The way I go about it is different but the stated purpose is always met. Our D-Groups achieve discipleship in different ways but the purpose (choosing to learn to know and follow Christ for a lifetime) is always met.


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