Programming Like Jesus

If Jesus Christ were to create a student program what would it look like? 

This is no small question and our responses to this question are worthy of deep thought, meditation, and prolonged periods of prayer. This question should lay before every pastor, church leader, and volunteer who has a voice in helping shape what worship looks like in their specific contexts and communities. This question is not an easy one to answer, especially, when you consider all of the many beautiful differences that exist in local churches across the world. The purpose of the student ministry worship experience in the church, the task of programming, is great and carries with it the weighty responsibility of honoring Jesus and of shepherding human hearts. 

So, how do we, as Kingdom leaders, effectively accomplish this goal of creating, leading, and facilitating spaces of worship for our students to engage God in spirit and in truth? What are the Gospel-centered principles that give guidance to our focus and purpose to our creation processes? There is no better way to learn how to program like Jesus than for us to turn our attention to the dusty roads of Palestine and explore the Gospels and follow in His footsteps. If we can begin to see and extract some of the core movements and ways of Jesus in His ministry and apply these principles to our own lives and ministries, I believe we’ll become better equipped to program for our students.


As I watch Jesus move in the Gospels, it becomes very clear that He does not hang around in surface level conversations for long before He cuts through the smoke screens that are often put up and quickly gets to the heart. He passionately desires to restore us to His Father in Heaven. He does this through leading us in perfect love into the territories of trust, vulnerability, and intimacy. In these places, He offers powerful grace and truth through the clearly communicated Gospel that brings heart transformation. His vision for ministry is clear and undistracted. He aims to transform our hearts through giving us spiritual sight to see the glory of God in Heaven and to naturally respond in worship. Jesus desired above all else for us to gaze upon God the Father in surrendered, joyful, and passionate worship. For us to accomplish ministry out of a vision like Jesus, whether through intentional one on one discipleship, small groups, expository preaching, or team building, we must have a clearly articulated spiritual vision for our programming to help us to define goals. Jesus’ life was built upon a clear vision and our programs need the same healthy foundation. Do your goals seem to match the goals of Christ?


Jesus was a relational magnet. This reality displays itself everywhere in the way that all kinds of people desired to be with him. They wanted to eat with him, listen to him, dialogue with him, walk with him, and spend sustained time around him. It didn’t matter if they sat in the highest seats of religious authority or if they were beggars and tax collectors roaming the streets. People rushed to Him. The question is, why? What could be so compelling and engaging about a person, that would draw such eclectic groups of people to Himself? I think the answer is perfect love. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is the embodiment of perfect love. People felt relationally, emotionally, and spiritually safe around Him knowing that they were wanted and valued in ways they had never experienced before. As Kingdom leaders, who hopefully replicate this reality in our programs, we will begin to create environments and atmospheres that reflect the heart of God and that draw others in. The conditions and environments that we not only create but maintain in our programs matter. Do your students feel safe in your ministry? Do they get the sense that they are loved just as they are?


In the economy of the Kingdom, relationships are the gold standard. Jesus lives, breathes, and models this and so should we as we facilitate our programs. I think one of the greatest reasons why Jesus could connect with both a Pharisee and tax collector is because He understood the complexities that went into each one uniquely. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, the religious expert, looks radically different than his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. Like Jesus, the better we can understand people, than the better we can love people. Embracing this Kingdom value and principle, I believe enhances our programs because it allows us to fine tune how we engage who’s actually in the room with us. The better I know a person’s needs, whether spiritual, physical, emotional, than the better I can connect with their hearts. Do you really have a good understanding of your audience in my program? How does that audience impact the way you set up your program?

Programming that seeks to imitate Jesus through His clear vision, His understanding of people and deep love for them, produces a template for us to begin programming like Jesus.