RICHMOND, Ky. (BP) – Something good is brewing at Purdy’s besides coffee.
The Richmond coffee shop is home to the High School Seminary every Tuesday morning, a project of First Baptist Church Richmond youth pastor Steve Coleman that far surpasses the norm.
Imagine high school teenagers giving up an hour’s sleep – or maybe an hour of TikTok? – to dig deep into the Bible for 45 minutes before school begins. It is more than a Bible study, Coleman said, with expectations including a paper at the end of the semester and theological discussions normally reserved for seminary students.
There are no games played, like in a youth ministry event. Coleman teaches on subjects like defending their faith, apologetics, becoming a disciple and making disciples. Coleman doesn’t make it easy on his students either. He requires their attention, attendance and commitment in openly studying God’s Word.
“It is the best thing, in my estimation, that he does,” said FBC Richmond Senior Pastor Travis Farris. “How does he get them to come an hour before school even starts to study a Charles Spurgeon book? They eat it up. Steve is phenomenal. The best I’ve ever seen.”
In the first fall meeting, Coleman was greeted with 28 students from four different schools and four different churches. They were sprinkled all over the room the coffee shop has reserved for them.
Coleman made it clear that he wasn’t trying to “steal” anybody’s youth.
“I do not build my youth ministry by stealing your kids from your church,” he said. “I’m there to do kingdom work, and not my kingdom.”
Participants are asked to bring an envelope with their order written on the outside and money inside if they want anything from Purdy’s. That way nobody is waiting in line and the studying can begin at 6:55 a.m. sharp.
Coleman said he likes to set a high bar in his youth ministry and in the high school seminary where the students are challenged theologically beyond what they ever imagined.
“I told Travis, here is my philosophy with youth ministry,” he said. “Too many youth ministries set the bar and hold up their hand to about their knee. Here’s what I’m doing, here’s my bar, holding my hand way above my head. Even if they don’t reach the top of the bar, it’s OK. Don’t dumb it down.”
High School Seminary has a challenging curriculum and the instructor is trying to get the best from the students.
“It creates a platform for those students to be discipled and really challenged to be disciples and disciple-makers,” said Ian Carrico, a church evangelism associate with the Kentucky Baptist Convention whose son, Elijah, is in the program. “I attribute it to pastor Steve Coleman and his incredibly faithful and strategic leadership in his discipleship into students and students’ lives. He sets the bar high and creates an intentional expectation. What I’ve learned from pastor Steve is sometimes we don’t ask. We don’t set the bar high enough.”
Coleman said students pay $5 for a study book, just to have some investment in the program, and then the fun begins. This is the seventh year for the High School Seminary, which has become highly popular with youth at FBC Richmond and is beginning to spill over into other churches.
“Every youth pastor I know hates the summer camp high,” Coleman said. “You come back from youth camp and you’re ready to charge hell with a squirt gun, read your Bible every day, and then three weeks later, the CIA can’t find them. One year I was tired of the camp highs and I said, ‘Are you guys ready to put your money where your mouth is?’ They said, ‘What do you mean?’”
Coleman said he explained to them that the Mormon church does seminary for their students five days a week at 6 every morning.
“I’m asking one day a week for 45 minutes before school,” he said.
He was hoping for a dozen the first year and 19 showed up, with 17 making it all the way through the eight-week class, including writing a paper.
Only high school students are eligible to come, but it has become something the middle school students at FBC Richmond look forward to doing, Coleman said.
“I’ve had eighth-graders come up and poke me in the chest and say, ‘I’m coming to your Bible study next fall,” Coleman said. “It’s created an excitement for them to be part of that.”
Nobody is surprised at Coleman’s enthusiasm for sharing his energy for the Tuesday morning studies. His mantra has always been: Stay in the Word.
“The content he’s leading students through is seminary-level content and material,” Carrico said. “We’re talking about theological truths that a seminary student would wrestle with and be equipped to think through, to have a mind and heart for God.”
As a father, Carrico said nothing was better than watching his son work on a paper about theological truths. “These are eternal truths as he walks through high school and beyond.”
Students leave the program more confidently equipped to defend scripture in an ever-changing culture.
“Four or five have gone on foreign mission trips and one became a missionary,” Coleman said. “Several have been called to ministry and at least two are in seminary. They’re getting the vision of what God can do for them. The Bible is not true because we believe. We believe because it is true.”