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Church commissions students to live their faith daily

WOODSTOCK, Ga. (BP)–Big church, medium church or small church: it makes no difference. Youth leaders everywhere share common challenges.

Can you expand a Christian young person’s idea of service so that it includes more than just an annual mission trip or going to Sunday School? How can you get youth to be evangelistic in their schools?

The needs that give rise to these challenges are obvious and prevalent throughout the United States. Marty Lively, director of high school ministries at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., not only has gotten to know the needs of young people in his community, he has developed a way to motivate Christian young people to lead lives centered on serving Jesus Christ.

Lively says he is motivated by youth research like the 1999 Barna survey indicating that 44 percent of American young people do not attend any church.

“Within a 15-mile radius of our church alone there are [thousands of] high school and middle school kids,” Lively said. “That means there are a lot of lost kids right here in our sphere of influence.

“We challenge our kids to see that their influence is daily. You come to church once or maybe twice a week, for a couple hours or so. But they are spending most of their time in school. So, the real game is in their schools, that’s where their influence will be,” he said.

Lively wants the young people at Woodstock not to be just mission-minded, but to be missional. His goal is to commission Woodstock youth as school campus missionaries.

“We ask our kids, ‘Will you pray about getting up early and going to the campus clubs that are established — whether its Fellowship of Christian Athletes or First Priority, whatever the already-established Christian clubs are at that school — will you do that?'”

Many students respond to the call each semester and they are given training in how to be a missionary in their school and what their commitment means.

“We have training for two or three meetings. We get commitments to be a good student. We tell them to let their testimony be that they aren’t bad-mouthing the teachers and causing problems. We don’t want them to say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to evangelize the campus,’ then be a jerk,” Lively said.

Beyond joining and leading campus clubs, the campus missionaries are called to set an example of service all around campus.

“Serve your school, serve your fellow student,” Lively said, describing the attitude he encourages from the campus missionaries. “Look for the student who is alone in the lunchroom and eat with them, or who has a broken leg and help carry their books. That’s the mindset we are trying to keep in front of the kids.”

Missionary commissioning services happen nearly every Sunday evening at the church.

“Every Sunday night, these kids see missionaries being commissioned,” Lively said. Watching the church send out short-term and long-term missionaries is a common part of a young person’s experience at FBC Woodstock.

Student campus missionaries are commissioned in front of the whole church in the same way as a career missionary or adult short-term missionary would be. This past fall semester, 50 young people were commissioned as campus missionaries.

“Just like missionaries have prayer cards for prayer partners who put the cards on their refrigerators with a magnet, we want to do the same thing with these kids,” Lively said. “We are saying, ‘Hey, you are a campus missionary. Here is your prayer card, put your prayer request on it, and we’ll take a digital picture of you.’ After our commissioning services we have those available for people to take to support these kids.”

He sometimes visits high school campuses in the area to eat lunch with campus missionaries and encourage them in their walk with Christ. Youth ministry interns from colleges and seminaries are part of the encouragement aspect of the campus missionary ministry, too.

“We have college students and seminary students who are interns…. Part of their accountability to me is to meet with the campus missionaries,” Lively said. “The interns are getting mentored [by me], and the campus missionaries are getting mentored by these seminary students who are going to be in ministry. [These interns are] kind of saying, ‘Hey, how’s it going? Are you making it to your campus clubs? Are you getting up early?’ It’s not a legalistic kind of thing; it’s more of just friendly encouragement.”

The church makes commissioning services available twice each year, at minimum, for campus missionaries. The fall commissioning service coincides with the launch of the new school year. The spring commissioning service is good for several kinds of students.

“Maybe there is a kid who just joined the youth group. Or maybe a kid blew it. Maybe he signed up [to be a campus missionary] in August, but he faded in his commitment. He can say, ‘Hey, I want to re-up,'” Lively said.

The commitments young people make to campus missions often turn into longer-term and deeper commitments to missions.

Students choose from some 19 local ministries in order to earn credit toward eligibility for short-term overseas mission trips, Lively said. These local ministries include Meals on Wheels, a food pantry, clothes closet, orchestra and a variety of other hands-on, weekly outreaches to lower income neighborhoods.

Eventually, older youth become eligible for longer-term mission opportunities.

Several young people from FBC Woodstock each year go to a one-year language school in Monte, Argentina, to immerse themselves in the Spanish language and do mission work in that country. Lively said that since the 1999-2000 academic year, more than 50 Woodstock young people have participated in this program. A few of them have even stayed on for extra years to help teach the next group and continue ministering.

“This really stretches the idea of ‘baby dedication’ for our parents,” Lively chuckled. “But, the kids do come home for Christmas. The great thing is that when these young people return to stay, they also are able to get college credits for the Spanish they learned. But best of all, they get plugged into Hispanic ministries with a deep, unique level of concern and commitment.”

Lively said that the idea of commissioning young people as missionaries where they are and overseas emerges from a three-point youth ministry philosophy. He said the first part is to teach them to be “close and clean.”

“We emphasize their need to seek the Lord with all their hearts” Lively said. “If they stay close to Him, then they will be better able to resist temptations.”

The second point he emphasizes is training.

“We want them to get their head in the game,” Lively said, referring to missions and evangelism. “They need to understand things like family dynamics, post-modernism, comparative religions, and stuff like that.”

Finally, he encourages the young people to be focused outwardly — to be a witness for Jesus Christ among friends, the community and throughout the world.

“We challenge them, ‘Are you going to be keepers of the aquarium, or fishers of men?'” Lively said.

City of Woodstock, Ga.
— Location: 30 miles north of Atlanta, Ga.; 10 miles north of Marietta, Ga.
— Population: 10,050 (2000 Census); 13,192 (July 2003)

First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.
— Senior Pastor: Johnny Hunt
— Average church attendance: 5,500
— Local high schools: Woodstock High School: 1,981 students, Etowah High School: 1,681 students
— Number of high schools represented in youth group: 23
— Local middle schools: Woodstock Middle School: 1,127 students, Booth Middle School: 1,027 students
— Number of middle schools represented in youth group: 25

    About the Author

  • Brent Thompson