â€œI am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Fatherâ€™s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." John 15:5-8
As I read this passage this morning I was, once again, reminded of the importance of a deep and wide approach to youth ministry. As we equip our teens to grow deeply in Christ they will inevitably bear much fruit (aka "go wide.") Some of this fruit will be in the form of disciples who make disciples. Some of it will be love, joy, peace and the like. But all of it will be a result of a deep connection with the Vine.
So how do you help your teens grow deep in this connection with the Vine and go wide with "gospel grapes" bursting with tasty transformation? Here's three action steps you can take:
1. Teach your teens what it means to "remain in" Christ.
This is helping teenagers to understand that, in the words of one sage, "We can't live the Christian life. Only Christ can live the Christian life through us." We yield to God's Spirit who dwells in us and then allow the life of Christ to flow through us. When we do we will, like the Apostle Paul, be able to proclaim, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
2. Equip your teens to work hard at yielding to the Spirit.
Choosing to allow Christ to live through us is an act of faith but it takes an act of the will to yield control. Ephesians 5:18 reminds us, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." The command to be filled is an active command to be passive.
We have to help our teenagers learn what it means to actively yield control to the Spirit inside them. When we are filled with wine we are controlled by the alcohol in the wine. When we are filled with the Spirit we are controlled by the power and will of the Holy Spirit inside us.
But the flesh doesn't yield control easily. We must fight the good fight by wrestling the steering wheel away from our sinful selves and letting the Spirit drive. And we must help our teenagers learn to do the same.
As we teach our teenagers what this means it will help them grow deeper and deeper in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through a daily declaration of dependence on the Holy Spirit they will grow deeper and deeper and, as an inevitable result, go wider and wider with the gospel.
3. Mobilize your teenagers to go wide with the gospel.
As you push your teenagers to grow deeper in their connection to Christ (think of Him as the Vine) through the Holy Spirit (think of his power as the sap) then the fruit will burst and satisfy the hunger pains of a world in desperate need of spiritual nutrition.
Sharing the gospel is an inevitable result of being filled with the Spirit and connected to Christ. Jesus last words on the earth reminded of this, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" Acts 1:8.
You can see the deep and wide approach even in Jesus' last words. When we walk deeply in the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us we will go wide into our city, region, state and world with the gospel. We can't help ourselves. If we are truly growing deep we will go wide.
Let's push our teenagers deep in their relationship with Christ as we drive them wider into the world to share the gospel. When we do we will see results, lasting fruit to the glory of God the Father.
"In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole worldâ€”just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood Godâ€™s grace" Colossians 1:6.
May the same be said of you and me. May the same be said of your youth ministry.