JENA, La. (BP)–Five young preachers caught the eye of Jimmy Keene, pastor of Temple Baptist Church, during the revival that swept into Jena, La., from mid-February into April.
Keene took note that the five preachers were regulars in each night’s crowd -– and that numerous young adults were drawn to the spirit-filled meetings.
In response, Keene, who also is moderator of the LaSalle Baptist Association, planned a Monday-through-Thursday revival hosted by Temple Baptist with contemporary music and four of the five young preachers filling the pulpit.
“[T]he response was tremendous. These guys had sermons bottled up in them for nine weeks of the revival,” Keene said, “and when they had their opportunity to preach, they preached hard and long. It was a great week.”
Several decisions were made and the altars were filled just as they had been during the nine-week revival in a town that, last year, was pushed it into the national spotlight by racial tensions.
Prior to each of the services in May, the young preachers gathered in the church’s prayer room. After one of their prayer meetings, the five men, from various local churches, began talking about meeting regularly for prayer.
“We were just talking in the hallway and realized that none of us have a church [to pastor] but we all wanted to minister,” said Daniel Breithaupt, 35, who surrendered to preach several years ago at East Jena Baptist Church.
“It was as if God opened the door for us to come together and showed us what direction we needed to take,” Breithaupt said. “We just wanted to come together and worship Him and be a group of young ministers that reaches others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
They’ve adopted the banner of One Faith Ministries for their unfolding efforts.
Many young adults “grew up in church but at age 18, when they were too old for the youth group but too young for adult programs, they left the churches,” Breithaupt said. “All across our parish we have young adults that are not involved in church and haven’t been for some time and they are now raising children out of church as well.”
Derek Kitterlin, another of the five young preachers and a member of East Jena Baptist, noted that another large group of young adults have never attended church.
“I know a lot that have no interest in the things of God, never have, and unless we reach them they will never know of the saving, delivering and forgiving power of Jesus Christ,” the 27-year-old Kitterlin said. Although he grew up in church, his own life took a downward spin after high school and he soon turned from God and to alcohol and illegal drugs.
“I was messed up pretty bad, using meth daily, and would probably be dead or in jail right now had Jesus not saved me and brought me out of that life,” Kitterlin said. “I know there are many others out there just like me and unless we reach them with the power of the Gospel, their fate is already determined.”
Josh Chapman, a member of a praise band from Maranatha Assembly of God that has become involved in One Faith Ministries, said being the same age as those they’re trying to reach allows them to understand what others are going through.
“When they graduate from high school, they think they’re free in their minds and they begin to live their lives with the purpose of making money and getting things,” Chapman said. “People are so busy trying to achieve things, they forget about God.”
Clint Norris, 32, who also strayed from his faith but then discovered the forgiveness of Christ, said the miserable lives of 20- and 30-year-olds are everywhere.
“We want to let them know there is a way out of that mess,” said Norris, of Midway Baptist Church. “And in reaching that group, we’re also preserving the biblical lifestyle for future generations. Many in this age group have small children and if we don’t reach those young parents we’re going to lose the generation to come.”
His 30-year-old brother Todd hopes to help those in his age group experience the God of second chances. “I know in my own life God has been merciful and has given me a second chance,” he said. “There are many my age that have blown it and think there is no hope for them. Well, our message is filled with personal testimonies of how God not only forgave us for terrible sins but also gave us second chances at ministry. I know I’ll be forever grateful to Him for what He’s done in my life.”
Todd Norris, also from Midway Baptist, said he was saved when he was 20 years old but then embarked on a long road of disobedience and running from God before “coming to himself” as in the story of the prodigal son.
“God is a God of second chances and third and fourth chances,” he said. “We’ve got to do everything we can to reach people with this wonderful message.”
Many 30- or 35-year-olds are coming to realize it’s time to get their lives right with God. As Chapman put it, “In the 20-year-olds, we see a lot of sowing the wild oats, as it’s called. But when they reach 30 or 35, most have children and they realize they need to get their lives right and want to settle down. The trouble is, without Jesus, they’ll never be able to do it.”
There is constant turmoil in the lives of young adults in LaSalle Parish, Clint Norris said. “If they’ve never truly been born again, then there is the battle for their soul taking place every day as Satan does everything he can to keep them,” Norris said. “If they’re saved and not living right, their soul is in constant turmoil. [They’re] trying to fill a void with money, material possessions, alcohol and drugs that can only be filled by Jesus.”
Through their One Faith Ministries, a worship service is held every other month or so, in which contemporary worship songs are combined with their old-time preaching.”
“It’s basically a traditional worship service except, instead of hymns, most of the songs are contemporary style,” Breithaupt said. “But whoever takes to the pulpit has come from Bible-preaching conservative churches that stay true to the word of God. Plus, we’ve got Bro. Jimmy [Keene] there to make sure we stay straight.”
The young preachers unanimously adopted Keene as their senior accountability and spiritual partner, with Breithaupt noting, “He had a heart for young adults and wanted to give us young preachers an opportunity to preach.”
“I’m just here to help guide them and encourage them,” Keene said. “I also make sure they don’t get off-base theologically and make sure they don’t get into competition with local churches. That is not the purpose of the group and they know that. They really are committed to doing what God has led them to do.”
For Breithaupt, having a senior spiritual leader not only is comforting but enlightening, as they learn from Keene as a seasoned pastor.
“It helps to have guidance from someone who has been where we are,” Breithaupt said. “He was once a young, just starting preacher, so he knows what we’re going through. Plus, he has the experience necessary to help guide us.”
Breithaupt said help in preparing sermons is appreciated but he especially values the lessons on dealing with people.
“Getting up and preaching is one thing. But learning how to deal with people and issues that come up in the church is something else,” Breithaupt said. “By studying under Bro. Jimmy, we’re able to learn things that will really help us later in ministry work.”
Keene said while he helps provide guidance, he reminds the young preachers of the correct order of authority according to God’s Word.
“They answer first to their individual pastors,” Keene said. “Until they become a pastor, they will always be under the authority of their pastor.”
The young preachers and several other who have become involved meet for prayer each Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Temple Baptist’s prayer room.
In addition to periodic worship services, the group is planning other activities such as a family fun night to provide young couples with fellowship while volunteers take care of their children.
“It was not an accident we were all brought together,” Todd Norris said. “The Lord had a plan and we are simply working together to fulfill His purpose in our lives at this moment in our walk with Him.”
Keene said that all of the young men are praying and preparing for God to place them in a church one day.
“Everything that they are doing now is in preparation for future ministry work,” Keene said. “For instance, Derek will be leaving in August to attend seminary in New Orleans and others are looking at other opportunities. The experience they are gaining through One Faith Ministries will help them no matter where God places them.”
“We just know what God did for us and we want everyone to experience that same salvation and restoration,” Kitterlin said. “Especially those our age who we know are seeking for truth in this very evil society.”
John L. Yeats, communications director for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, said the young preachers’ One Faith Ministries is “the very kind of activity that is needed not just in Louisiana but across the landscape of Southern Baptist life.”
Yeats, who also is recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “I read about the need for younger leaders in our great convention. Here is a tremendous opportunity. Young adult leaders leading young adults to pursue the heart of God and from the springboard of revival in our churches, leaders rise to influence many others. I would think that from this small nucleus could rise future leaders in our state convention and perhaps our national convention — leaders with a passion for revival and holiness before God.”
Craig Franklin is associate editor of the Jena Times in Jena, La.