Jesus was modeling for the disciples the importance of going deep and wide. To go to all nations. To go wide. To make disciples. And then it says to teach them to obey my commandments. So we must teach students to walk with God and dig deep into Scripture and to dig deep into walking in obedience.
Another familiar passage is where Jesus in Mark 12 is quoting from the Shema in Deuteronomy: “‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
So again, Jesus is talking about what’s most important is helping students see the importance of loving God first and foremost, going deep in their relationship with Him but then in turn also loving one another and caring for those around us.
So as I was thinking about this topic and both of those passages and the concept of a student ministry that is both deep, where you’re digging your roots in and growing as it talks about in Colossians, but also going wide and making disciples and reaching others, I wanted to offer some practical ways that we can go about doing that.
As far as going deep, something I have seen that works well in our student ministry and the things that we’ve attempted to do (but by no means have we perfected!) to help students to grow, is to do for some what you wish you can do for all. All of us have a desire to be all things to all people and reach as many students as we possibly can, but at times we know we are limited in the amount of time and resources and energy we have. So it’s okay to focus on a few of them.
Jesus certainly modeled that with the disciples. He had the twelve but then He had the three that he really focused on. Take time and be intentional even if it’s with a few students because ultimately they’re going to multiply themselves, and so by investing in a few you allow your student ministry to grow. You’ve got a few that are getting it and are going deep and it multiplies and there’s a ripple effect among your student ministry.
Another huge thing is to invest in people and not just programs. A lot of times that’s easier to say because we get busy with preparing for events, retreats and the next Wednesday night or Sunday morning, so sometimes it’s easy to be task-driven not people-focused. So find time to be intentional about people. Those details and that planning can wait when a student is need of something. To help your students to go deep, model that you’re there and you’re with them, and that you’re invested in them.
Another practical thing, especially in this generation of teenagers, is they get easily distracted. We’re in a YouTube generation of chasing rabbits and getting focused on certain things, but our students are wanting to be challenged. They’re wanting to go deeper than I think we give them credit for. So challenge your students to dig deep into God’s Word and expect big things from them. Most of them want to be challenged and rise to the level that you’re going to allow them to go, so dig deep into God’s Word and bring out these truths to challenge your students to do that.
The fourth element of that of going deeper is we’ve got to partner with parents. We must be intentional with our parents and as we’re speaking truth into the lives of our students at church, we want our parents to be doing the same thing at home and vice versa so that we’re partnering with them. That way, students are seeing a well-rounded example not just at home and not just at church, but both sides are encouraging each other to go deep.
As far as going wide one of the things I’ve found can be very challenging but also super rewarding is to be very intentional about investing in people to multiply yourself. I’ve seen so many of our students that say “I have an interest in (fill in the blank).” Whether it’s helping with technology or helping as a greeter. When you give people opportunities to serve, they buy in. They have ownership in what you’re doing. When they’re doing that, they’re excited to bring their friends in. They’re excited to invite people to come and be a part of it because they have ownership in what’s going on. So always be looking for ways to give ownership and in a way you’re multiplying yourself in that way.
In the same way, invest in your leaders and equip your leaders to step up, whether it be Sunday School teachers, volunteers on Wednesday nights or events or counselors for trips, spend time pouring into your leaders because you can’t do everything for everybody. As you’re investing in your leaders there’s going to be a ripple effect that they’re going to be multiplying themselves and you’re going to see the width of your student ministry grow. So they’re going deep but also as you’re multiplying yourself in your leaders they’re going wide.
Finally, one of the things that I always try to keep in front of our students is the phrase “Make Jesus famous” in whatever it is you’re doing. Encourage your students to live their lives in a way that honors Him and to speak the truth of the Gospel to those around them. In doing that I think there’s mindset shift that our students don’t just think about bringing their friends to church but that they can go and be the church wherever they are. So as you’re encouraging and equipping your students to invite everybody to come to church, also remind your students they have a platform to share their faith – whether it’s family, friends, sports team, those different things that they’re invested and involved in – and that will help your student ministry be wide not just on the campus of your church but in the schools, in the activities you’re students are invested in, that they will go and make disciples wherever they are.