I must confess that over the years I have struggled with finding the balance between “outreach” and “discipleship”. Like many youth pastors, I cleverly created and labeled two distinct programs to accomplish these goals in hopes of finding that happy medium (like ordering extra large fries and then a Diet Coke!)
In my mind, “outreach” meant putting on sweet events that targeted the “unchurched” and “unsaved” students in our community. Our music and message needed to be cool and relevant and not too churchy. If we could get 50 kids to show up at something and somehow through the semi-controlled chaos, speak to them about Jesus, then we had done our jobs.
This mindset then carried over to our mid-week programs and our “open door policy” aimed at community kids coming to youth group.
On the flip side, discipleship would occur Sundays (seemed like a good day to do spiritual things). Sunday mornings we had Sunday school and Bible Study, and then during the evening our small groups met.
The challenge was always to get the mid-week students somehow interested and committed to becoming “Sunday” or “core” students. Perhaps this model sounds familiar…thanks Doug Fields!
Seriously though, I do thank him because it worked and has worked in many situations and contexts.
It just doesn’t work anymore for me.
The quandry I found myself fighting was how deep and spiritual do I get at youth group. I still wanted to have this open-door policy and provide an atmosphere conducive for new kids to come, yet now I wrestled with how much real life-change and transformation was taking place during Wacky Whiffle ball and What is the Bible? messages.
Here is what I am convinced of. As a youth leader, we should take our students as deep as we have gone…and are in the process of going (meaning that we ourselves must continue to grow)
Even though we may hinder the masses from coming, those who do come will put themselves in opportunities each week to let the Holy Spirit work in their hearts and lives.
Remember, we are striving to not just to see 15-18 year Christians, but to produce 30-40 year old Christians.
Let’s not short change long term spiritual growth for the sake of making things “cool”. Ultimately it may hurt our students in the long run. We want them to experience the fullness of partnering with God in a broken world and bring wholeness and health in every way.
Provide atmospheres in what you do to allow the students to connect with each other and with God in ways to bring about restoration, renewal, and reconciliation.
Now, I still have a real long way to go, but just over this past year, we have witnessed tremendous spiritual r. Healing, transformative prayer times, deeper spiritual insights, and alive and active faith leading to action. Our pond may be small, but we are doing deep and who knows what lies at the bottom (besides bigger fish)
I would rather have a small but deep pond with some really good fish in it then a wide and shallow lake full of tiny guppies.