How to Move Students Into a Deeper Relationship With Jesus

Sometimes I think we think it’s only about the physical stuff we need to do with our students or for our students in order to move them into a deeper relationship with Jesus.  When, really, I think the initial step starts with us, as their small group leader, peer, or friend.

Building that trusting, open, and honest relationship with our student(s) is the first step.  And like building a relationship with anyone; it takes time and it takes some bumps in the road to figure each other out.

Give yourself some grace in this process.

Enjoy the beauty of the journey to get there.

Take time to get to know them one on one.  In fun, silly settings.  In serious settings.

Trusting, open, honest relationships are not solely based on telling each other your strengths and weaknesses, joys and hurts.  It’s going through life together and seeing those strengths and weakness; those joys and those hurts.

Next, I believe we should remember that it’s okay to call our student(s) out on things.  A wise youth leader, Steve Anderson, makes a good point in a previous post.  We’re not supposed to be best friends with our students, where we become the kid.  We are the adult, the one that’s shepherding them, and that sometimes means making hard decisions and saying honest things to your students.

There will be times you need to challenge them and call them out on non-wise decisions.

We, as the leader, need to not base our actions out of concern but out of conviction from God.

Sometimes a student needs a push in the right direction, based on what God is telling us to do, not worrying about if we are going to hurt their feelings or how it might make us look.

When this happens, show them love through it all.  With words and with action.

Remembering that having a relationship with them first, may make these things stick a little better, because they trust you and respect you.

Overall, we do need to be their biggest fan.

Their number one cheerleader.

There for them through the ups and the downs.

Celebrating with them in their joys.

And surrounding them with love and a listening ear in the trials.

Move your student(s) to think deeper.  This is one of my biggest passions.

Get them thinking of Jesus every second of every day.  Again, this takes time.  But, ask those questions.  “What is God teaching you this week?”  “What are you thanking Him for today?”  “Where have you seen Him move this week?”  And that’s asking those questions to ourselves as well.  We set the tone.

Let thinking about Him all the time be out of habit.

And let praying and talking to Him all the time be out of habit.

Take some time and think through these three things even more practically.
How are we as their small group leader, peer, or friend moving our students into a deeper relationship with Jesus?  Are we setting the tone?  Are we taking the time to build those trusting, open, honest relationships with them?  Are we being honest with them and calling them out on things when need be?  Calling their bluff.  Casting out lies.  Are we getting them to think deeper?

And most importantly are we praying for them?


Wow. What a powerful thing.

Are we praying for our students daily?  Praying that they will put Jesus as number one in their lives and continue to strive to want to know Him more and more.

Let’s help guide the process to know him deeper and deeper and to want him closer and closer in students’ lives.

An Honest Approach: Small Group Leaders
There’s a handful of things that make a great small group leader, such as one that brings awesome food to group, one that takes their kids to the movies, and one that will TP their students houses.  (Just Kidding!)  I mean those things are added bonuses.  But I think that honesty is a key component, if not the pivotal point, in a small group leader.

Honesty comes in two ways:
1. Being honest with your students and
2. Being honest with yourself.

Let’s start with the being “honest with our students” part.

Many times, we may come to group and try to fake it till we make it.  Covering up whatever we have dealt with that day and try and put on a good face by asking the right questions and giving the wisest of answers.  But, that’s not always going to work.

Being honest with your students is going to set the tone to receive honesty back.

Tell them if you’re having a good day or a bad day.  Respond back when asking those tough questions to them.  For instance; talking about struggles.  When we ask our students to share what they are struggling with, tell them your struggle as well.  It can even be as simple as participating in highs and lows. (going around the circle and giving the best and worst part of your week)

Honesty also comes when not knowing the answer.  Say a student asks the tough question, why do bad things happen to good people?  We may not know the answer.  We should honestly say, “I’m not sure about that one, but let me look into it for you and we can tackle that one together.”  Or maybe it’s a life question.  Your student is telling you some heart felt stuff and you really don’t know how to respond.  This could be a good chance to get the others in your group to pitch in to the response.  Have them come around that student, encouraging them or even giving them some relatable things that have happened in their life.  A lot of the time I feel like they often have better responses then I do.

Now, let’s move into being honest with ourselves.

When I say, being honest with ourselves, I mean feeding ourselves truth and eliminating the lies from our head. God has entrusted us with this job, to shepherd young minds in this pivotal point in their life.  He’s going to equip us.  He’s not going to leave us.  We need to remember that when we walk into those groups or one on ones, it’s not longer what we can do, but how we can let God move.

That He’s going to direct the conversations.

He’s going to give you the words to say or not to say in response to a situation.

He’s going to protect you.

He’s going to ensure that you don’t have anything too big that you can’t handle without Him.

Doesn’t mean we won’t have hard situations.  Or ever be without words to say.  It means that we have someone there right with us in the midst of it all.  It means that when hard times do come, we’re ready to strike them with truth and call on Jesus for our strength.

Lastly, what I want to say is that YOU are YOU and only YOU.  You can’t be another leader. God’s give you this personality with these strengths.  You’re not (__name of a other great leader__) and you’re not going to do the same things that they are going to do.  You’ve got to be the best YOU that you can be.  Pushing yourself to be a better leader in your own ways.  Listening to the Holy Spirit’s promptings to what you need to do or not do with your small group.  Think of ways that tailor to your students.  How will they better see Jesus because of that?  Maybe it’s spending more one on one time with them.  Maybe it’s larger group settings.  Maybe it’s sending out a text every day with an encouraging word.  Figure out what works with a little trial and error.

Be honest with yourself and feed yourself truth, because that’s all that Jesus wants us to hear; His voice and only His voice.

Strive to be honest with your students and with yourself.  Setting the tone for your group with honest questions and honest responses.  Practice this inside and outside your group.  It’s crazy how God can move when we are listening to His truth and His leading.

Becca Ebenhoch
Guest Blogger
Becca has done youth ministry in various places across the US, and is currently doing youth ministry in Modesto, CA.

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