One of my favorite trips I ever took with my family while growing up was a weekend to Six Flags and White Water in Atlanta, GA. One year, my parents let my sister and I both bring a friend on this annual weekend of adventure. I chose from my group of friends very wisely because I wanted to make sure to have the most fun possible. So, I picked my buddy, Brandon. But before my decision was final, I had one last interview question for him: “Can you swim?” I asked because I didn’t want Brandon slowing me down! I had big plans for White Water’s slides, diving pool, but especially the wave pool. Brandon’s answers was, “Like a fish.”
I will never forget jumping into the deep end of the wave pool as soon as we got to White Water. Brandon jumped in right after me. I watched him sink “like a rock” to the bottom…where he stayed. Life guards began blowing whistles, they shut the waves down, and a fleet jumped into save my fish-less friend.
“Like a wave pool, if you shove your students into the deep end too quickly, they will drown!”
HERE ARE FOUR WAYS TO TAKE YOUR STUDENTS DEEP WITHOUT DROWNING THEM:
- Start in the shallow end. If you want to teach someone to swim, you’ve got the ease them in from the shallow end. This doesn’t mean that you have to keep your student ministry shallow, surfacy, and elementary. That type student ministry is a waste of everyone’s time. It also doesn’t mean that you begin your student ministry in the shallow end your first year, and your seventh year is spent in the deep end. That’s the perfect way to never keep any first timers. Instead, every sermon and small group session should be starting in the shallow end for first timers, then slowly take them out to the deep end, and then bring them back to the shallow end. Trust me, if you strategically take your time, every time, you will be able to lead your students to the depths of God’s Word as long as you start them in the shallow end.
- Play in the waves. The best part of playing in the waves is where they break. Everyone loves for a huge wave to crash on them, get rolled up, and thrown down. There’s nothing like riding the top of the wave, or letting the wave ride you all the way back to the shallow end. We all love to play in the waves, so have fun with your students! Start off your lesson or sermon with a funny story or personal illustration from your own life. Make sure to relate it masterfully back to the message, and you’ll be able to guide them away from the shallow end and out a little deeper to where the waves break.
- Take them to the deep end. Everyone loves the deep end because you can’t touch the bottom. Its a way for us as humanity to feel like we’re conquering the water. Do not be afraid to guide your students to the depths of the water where they can’t touch, where they need to swim, where they need to exert effort. I believe the “deep end” of Scripture is the Gospel (Luke 24:45-46). Don’t be a Gospel-only ministry, but be a Gospel-always ministry who connects every story of Scripture with the person of Jesus, the work of Jesus, and our response to Jesus.
- Bring them back to shore. While its important to take your students out to the deep end to teach them to swim, you’ve got to guide them back to the shallow end to get out of the pool. We weren’t meant to swim all the time, but we’ve got to get out of the pool and back to real life to live out what we’ve learned. Bring them back to the shallow end and help them out of the pool by giving them practical ways to live their life for Jesus from what they’ve learned. Tell another personal story from your life where you’ve gone through what you’ve taught. Summarize everything for them so that they get the big picture.
I believe every student ministry should go deep, but you should never go deep and drown your students. We can have a ministry that both goes deep and keeps first timers. Start in the shallow end, play in the waves, take them to the deep end, and bring them back to the shallow end. Student pastors, I hope you can swim.