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Deep and Wide Youth Ministry

Greg Stier
Greg Stier

“Deep and wide. Deep and wide. There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.”

OK this ancient Sunday school song is kind of corny but it is definitely “sticky.” I guarantee it will stick in your brain the rest of the day, reverberating from your cerebral cortex into your frontal lobe relentlessly. Just when you think it’s faded your corny song memory trigger will twitch and it will terrorize you once again throughout the day (you’re welcome.)

I’m sure this song has some kind of significant spiritual reality behind it but, at four years of age, I had no clue what it could be. All I knew is that I enjoyed the hand motions and couldn’t wait for the humming parts of the song.

Now that I am in my forties I still have no clue what that song is about. What I do know is that I absolutely love the phrase “Deep and Wide” when it comes to youth ministry. Why? Because it sums up, in an easy to remember statement, what youth ministry should be all about, taking our teenagers deep into the Word through discipleship while we push them wide into the world through evangelism. Of course the role of the Holy Spirit is central to this process. Without His transforming power we have no hope of seeing our teenagers truly grow deep and go wide.

This is what you clearly see in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Here, Jesus tells his disciples to go wide (“make disciples of all nations”) and to help those who become followers of Christ to grow deep (“teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”) Let’s take a longer look at this last and lasting mandate from our Lord Jesus Christ as it applies to youth ministry:

Go Wide:

Are your teenagers going wide with the gospel of Jesus and making disciples of their friends? Have you equipped your teenagers to be able to explain the gospel to their peers? Are they at the point of being able to engage in a discussion about the basic tenants of the gospel?

These are tough questions but I have a tougher one for you: are you actively sharing your faith? Too often I talk to youth leaders who have either excused themselves from having to do reach out with the gospel (“I don’t have the gift of evangelism”) or have marginalized it’s importance (“It’s God’s job, not mine”), or redefined it (“It’s all about social justice”) or made it a program instead of a lifestyle (i.e. the annual missions trip or quarterly outreach meeting.)

But our prime directive is to make disciples who make disciples, to produce spiritual reproducers, to multiply multipliers. We are not called to be event coordinators, babysitters or lecturers. We are called to make disciples and to make our teenagers disciple makers. This means that we must be about the business of equipping our teenagers to evangelize and set the pace with our own personal evangelism efforts.

Grow Deep:

Going wide with the gospel is only half of the disciple making equation. Growing deep is the other half. What’s interesting about the words of Jesus is that He commands His disciples to teach them “to obey everything” that He had commanded them. In other words, growing deep in your relationship with God is not just a matter of learning more but of obeying more of what you learn from God’s Word.

Theology is meant to be tenaciously applied to oiur lives. Maybe that’s why the writer of Hebrews (whoever he or she may be) wrote this rebuke to the scattered Jewish believers, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Maturity is a result of digesting the meat of doctrine and then putting that spiritual protein to use through obedience.

What does this mean for you and your teenagers? It means that we must challenge them not just to learn truth but to obey it. We must, like James, challenge them to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. The more they obey sound doctrine the more mature they become.

So here are some questions to wrestle with when it comes to helping teenagers grow deeper. Are you teaching them sound doctrine to begin with or the flavor-of-the-month candy coated curriculum? Are you pushing your teenagers to obey these truths and not just hear it? Do you have a plan to help your teenagers understand the basic tenants of the orthodox Christian faith and how these apply specifically to their lives? Are you setting the pace with your own life of what it means to know and live the truth as you grow deeper in your relationship with Jesus?

These are all tough questions and they deserve honest answers. As you ponder and struggle through the question of whether or not your youth ministry is deep and wide why not check out the full Deep and Wide page and paper?

In the meantime remember these words, “Deep and wide. Deep and wide. There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.” May these words reverberate in your brain the rest of the day.

You’re welcome.

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