A while ago Greg Stier told me to check out the Deep & Wide ministry strategy and asked me to share my thoughts with him. I honestly put it off for a while just because of time and priorities, but a couple weeks ago I read the 34-page thesis and was actually surprised how much it coincided with what’s already taking place in my youth group. We’ve been taking a natural shift in this direction already — Deep & Wide just put words to what we’re already experiencing.
Deep & Wide is not another ministry philosophy. It’s not intended to be a formula for youth groups. It’s not the newest, latest, wave of ministry hype. It is simply an approach to ministry that moves spiritually apathetic teens to spiritually passionate teens. And it truly is simple. Just as the book Simple Church advocates, our modern approach to ministry is very cumbersome: we have purpose statements, vision statements, mission statements, core values, target audiences, various strategies, blah, blah, blah. It’s all supposed to fit together somehow, but yet the average Joe in our church has no idea what any of it means, and often we don’t either. Deep & Wide is simple: the vision is the mission, is the purpose, is the values, is the strategy and everything else rolled into one cohesive approach.
But most importantly, it’s straight from the Word of God. As my own ministry has discovered, it’s funny how God works when we actually do what His Word tells us to do in ministry and stop focusing on all the other fabricated stuff we add to it.
Lest you think scripture isn’t foundation enough, Willow Creek and REVEAL are finding that the typical approach to church ministry is not moving people toward a closer relationship with Christ. All their research and statistical data backs up Deep & Wide exactly.
I’m not going to explain to you what Deep & Wide is since you can read it yourself. However, I do have some reactions to it that Greg and I have already discussed extensively. He agrees with my critique and plans to make these changes as they go through an evaluation process and release a revised copy later this summer.
1. The role of the Holy Spirit, although mentioned, seems largely removed from the process. It’s mentioned a couple times, but I think He deserves more credibility in the process than the thesis mentions. Absolutely none of the Deep & Wide stuff happens without Him. That’s actually a problem I have with most ministry philosophies out there — they come across as almost being a methodical approach to coercing the divine into doing something.
2. Although I think the 30 core truths are good, basing it on a survey from leaders in various denominations strikes me as being a bit too human-ordained. Where does the issue of spiritual identity come in (being made in His image in Genesis, being “in Christ” in Eph, etc.)? It seems like a lot of good topics to cover from a systematic theology approach, but a student could possibly go through every issue listed and never come out knowing what it means to be a responsible, growing and effective believer except to have a list of stuff they’re supposed to “do,” rather than knowing who they “are.” What we “do” should flow from who we are, not the other way around. Identity in Christ comes first.
3. Deep & Wide has a sense of methodicalness to it, almost as if it promises that if I do A, B, and C, that means X, Y, and Z will happen, but we all know that spirituality a lot messier than that. The graph of spiritual growth over time is never a straight upward climb. The thesis needs to reflect the bumps and setbacks that will take place in real life and not unintentionally create unrealistic expectations.
4. I’m a little more careful with the book of Acts than the Deep & Wide thesis is when making a defense for what the church should be like today. Acts was an abnormal time period for the church, a period of transition characterized by elements that aren’t and can’t be a part of us today. However, the point that God wants to bring thousands into a relationship with Him is well taken and understood.
5. Teenagers are looking for adult sponsors who can answer “yes” to FOUR questions — the three questions the thesis mentions, plus “Are you reflecting Christ more accurately every day?” I’ve had youth leaders who loved Jesus, loved kids and were real, and I’ve had to kick them out leadership for gross immaturity issues. Youth leaders must be growing in Christ if they’re going to be the spiritual role model that I (and the Lord) expect.
Of course, people usually only respond to points of disagreement, which is essentially what I’m doing here, but I wholeheartedly support and agree with the big picture of Deep & Wide. In fact, it’s the only required text to read and discuss in my youth ministry leadership mentorship program.
If you’ve read the Deep & Wide Ministry Thesis, Greg and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, especially now as it goes through revisions.
Posted on May 7, 2008