Questions about Deep and Wide Youth Ministry

Deep and Wide Youth MinistrySomeone recently emailed me with some good questions about my youth group’s vision to go Deep and Wide. Thought I’d share them with you here, along with my responses.

1. What difference has the deep and wide program made to your youth ministry on the ground compared to any program you used before?

Going “deep and wide” is not a program. Taking kids “deep and wide” is our mission statement, purpose statement, core values, strategy, and our philosophy all in one simple vision for teenagers. It directs and determines our programs, the content we teach, the relationships
we build, and every other aspect of our ministry, but it is not a program.

2. What are the positive (and negative) you could share with me about it?

There’s really nothing negative about it. It follows Jesus’ commission to “go into all the world” (go wide) and “teach them to obey everything I have commanded” (grow deep). It’s also the great commandment to “love the Lord your God” (grow deep) and “love your neighbor as yourself” (go wide). Everything is wrapped up in those two inseparable aspects of Christianity: worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, missions, everything.

If you want to read more about it, Greg Stier (of Dare 2 Share Ministries) wrote a thesis on it that goes into more detail.

3. One concern I have about the material is [your] use of the word “push” which could potentially have negative connotations in terms of “pushing” young people to make a commitment. Maybe this is a difference in our theologies but there have been several ministries…over the years (of which I was involved in one as a young person) that have “pushed” young people and for many this has had long term negative fallout. I agree that we ought to be hastily encouraging young people to have relationship with Jesus and to share it, but I am keen for that relationship to be long term. Do you have any thoughts?

I understand your hesitation with the word “push” and I agree with what you’re saying. Too many churches are very passive when it comes to encouraging teens in their faith. We think that if we talk with them once a week at church for an hour about it, then that’s sufficient to help them grow. But in comparison to everything else in their life — academics, athletics, band, family, relationships, whatever — they are definitely pushed. There are expectations and boundaries for each of those things that are much more rigorous than what we expect of teens spiritually. Mormons, for example, expect their kids to go to seminary for classes every day early in the morning before school and the Mormon drop-out rate is almost 0! We barely expect that they show up at youth group.

So, when I use the word “push” I mean we need to raise the standards and expectations of spiritual growth in kids lives. According to my theology, we are all naturally sinful and rebel against the things of God. Pursuing Him does not come natural for any of us. That’s why it requires some gentle, sometimes forceful, pushing. In my experience, never has a kid rebelled against that. In fact, they always rise to the challenge and start seeing Christianity as something more than just a wussy thing on Sunday mornings.

The kids who are spiritually apathetic need to be challenged the most. Jesus said, “teaching them to OBEY everything I have commanded.” Sometimes we have to challenge kids to just try what Jesus commands in an area of their life, and as they see that it really works, that this
is real and not just old Bible stuff, they start to become more interested. As they continue to obey and follow the Lord and see Him at work in their lives, then they move to becoming more excited about their faith and then passionate. That doesn’t mean teens (and even myself) don’t fluctuate spiritually, just that we are striving to obey the Lord in every area of our life.

Ultimately, you’ll have to be sensitive to how much you “push” a kid. It’s different for every teenager. Some need a lot of accountability, challenges, and follow-up. Some only need to be “pushed” once.

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Posted on June 29, 2009

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