FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The wrestler enters the ring with a sense of anticipation and fear facing a foe who should not be battled alone. The battle is not one of glamour and show but one in which a loss means the loss of a soul.
“The Ultimate Wrestling Challenge,” Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s 32nd annual Youth Lab April 6-8, addressed the battle that all who minister to youth face.
Through seminars and sermons, the conference used its theme verse, Ephesians 6:12, to emphasize that the youth minister’s wrestling match is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of darkness youth encounter in the world today.
In keeping with its wrestling theme, the conference included exhibition matches by wrestlers from the Christian Wrestling Federation of Dallas.
The conference also included for the first time “Youth Track,” a workshop for teenagers who want to be involved in ministry in their youth groups.
Teamwork is a key strategy youth ministers should use to fight the spiritual battle against the problems facing their youth, keynote speaker Greg Matte of Breakaway Ministries in College Station, Texas, told the 303 youth ministers and teenagers at the conference.
He advised youth ministers to make a team of staff, workers and students who have the same ministry vision and will work toward a common goal.
Citing biblical “teams” like David and his mighty men and Jesus and his disciples, Matte said, “There are not a lot of Lone Rangers in the Bible.”
The apostle Paul was also a team player, Matte added. “Paul had a bunch of teams,” he said, noting Paul’s addresses to many of his “team players” at the end of his epistles.
Having a ministry team benefits both the minister and those he includes, Matte added.
“We want to involve [those in the church] because we are a body of Christ from the top to the bottom,” he reminded the conference participants, adding that a team ministry allows for one person’s strengths to compensate for another person’s weaknesses.
Team ministry means more than one person can lead it, Matte said, citing a ministry coordinated by only the youth minister can be a major downfall.
One of the jobs of the youth minister is to find others to run the ministry with him, Matte said.
“Pray for God to raise up people,” he said. “As you begin to give it away, God will bring you people that will undergird your weaknesses.”
Comparing a ministry team to a baseball team, he said, “When we don’t let the body of Christ support us, we’re on the pitcher’s mound [with no one else in the field].”
Matte said ministers need a good catcher, which he defined as people who are involved in the ministry and the minister’s life, such as a spouse and family.
“So often we run off to ministry instead of running with” others in ministry, he said.
In addition to being team oriented, a strong ministry should also be an overflow of the minister’s walk with God, Matte said.
This way, the minister can witness God breathing wind into the ministry, he said. “Wind comes in our ministry though prayer,” he said. The wind helps propel the ministry like wind in a sail, and it is evidence of a ministry centered on God, he said.
“God is in our corner so that his messages might be fully proclaimed,” Matte said. “It is not all about you, it’s all about him. Quit trying to get God to bless your ideas. Find out what his are.”
Responding to recent occurrences of school violence and other tragedies in America today, Chris Perry, minister of youth at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark., discussed with youth ministers how to handle crisis situations.
Perry was a youth minister in Jonesboro when two boys, 11 and 13, shot and killed four fellow students and a teacher in May 1998.
Although shootings like the one at Jonesboro are the extreme, Perry said youth face crises every day that must be understood so they can be reached for Christ.
“The single greatest crisis for adolescents today is they are destined for hell,” he said.
Noting that the two greatest needs of the heart are to be loved and to love, Perry said by reaching young people with the unconditional love of Jesus and love from the minister, the youth minister can meet their needs.
“Salvation solves many problems,” he said.
In addition to salvation, youth ministers need to help young people deal with problems in other ways, Perry said.
His suggestions included taking young people to a morgue or the scene of a recent fatal car accident to help them see the reality of death; mentoring young people to help prevent problems from occurring; and making sure young people experience a feeling of protection and neutrality when they are at church.