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Keep Planting: Student Ministry and the Gospel

This week the blog is sponsored by The Gospel Project. This post is written by Emma McLeod, who shares how Christ-centered Bible study changed how she disciples teens.

Seventeen tenth-grade girls and I sit in a circle of chairs lining our small group room, which is warm and almost humid-like from the body heat and lack of extra space. Voices reverberate, sound waves bouncing so violently across the room that one can only make out the words of the person next to her. I can always guess the topics without actually understanding the words, though: that annoying teacher, the assignment due in algebra on Monday (“You haven’t done it? Good, neither have I”), upcoming volleyball games, boys.

“Alright, let’s bring it in,” I gently yell (if gently yelling is a thing). Nothing changes. A few minutes later, I try again, slightly louder and maybe with the help of another leader. “Okay, are you guys ready to start?” This time, the room goes silent.

Knowing that about 15 out of the 17 girls in the room go to a Christian school influences my mindset with preparing the lesson. Many of them have Bible classes every day, and a few brave souls have been vulnerable enough to tell me that Jesus can become like any other historical figure to them if they’re not careful. Adults won’t stop telling them about Him. But they rarely introduce them to Him.

In the three years that I’ve been in student ministry, this tends to be the story. These teenagers know all of the Sunday School answers and how to sound and look like a Christian, and they apply that knowledge flawlessly to the delight of their parents. But, nothing has pricked the heart. And the thing is: they crave someone to come along and show them what happens when it pricks the heart. The worst part? Often, no one ever does.

Everyone opens their Bibles to Acts, and we begin reading about Paul’s conversion, talking about what transformation could look like for us—right here, right now. “To see Jesus and to really encounter Him changes us,” I say. “We don’t leave the same.” It’s clear in their eyes that many of them haven’t known this for themselves.

The desire to show them Jesus and what life with Him could look like drove my ministry, and as our youth group worked through The Gospel Project, the study plan helped me as a group leader to draw connections with those tenth-grade girls to see Him just a little closer. I was equipped to stop being only a Bible teacher and start being an older friend pointing them toward Jesus each week.

Student Ministry is tough. Maybe I’m biased because I’ve felt its wrath. But I’ve also felt its blessing, and it far outweighs the difficulty. Student Ministry requires meeting teenagers where they are, whether you’re welcomed or ridiculed, invited or rejected. It requires faithfully being an example of what walking with Jesus looks like instead of teaching them “the rules.” And often times, you might not see the fruit for yourself. But we keep planting the seeds, knowing that God waters in His time, and resources like The Gospel Project helped me to keep pointing my small group girls toward Jesus.

In my move to Nashville, I had to leave the tenth-grade small group that I had come to love so dearly. I remember wondering that last Sunday if the past year with them had even mattered if I could’ve done more if they had seen Jesus.

I received a text a few days ago from one of my small group girls, one of those “I miss you” and “thank you for being in my life” kinds of texts. It was simple, but it reminded me that there’s so much that Student Ministry leaders don’t see, things that happen in the hidden places of the heart where only God can see. We must keep planting and trusting. Pointing to Jesus is never a fruitless work.

As you work to point your own students to the gospel, I encourage you to give The Gospel Project for Students a try. You can download a free one-month preview at

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