ALPHARETTA, Ga. – In the face of a challenging, changing culture, young people often wrestle with how to process the pressures that face them as they grow up. Church youth leaders often are the ones there to help students apply the Bible and the Gospel to the issues they encounter.
Shane Pruitt, national next gen director at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), and Clayton King, teaching pastor at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., created the Youth Leader Coaching Network (YLCN) in 2020 out of a desire to equip those leaders as they minister to the next generation.
“Students are hungry for answers to the biggest questions, and they are searching for hope,” Pruitt said. “We started this network as a way to connect with and encourage people across the nation who are doing whatever it takes to reach the next generation with the hope of the Gospel.”
The YLCN offers two three-month semesters each year – one in the fall and one in the spring. Space in each cohort is limited, but there is no cost to join. Virtual calls happen once a month for three months, followed by an in-person gathering in Alpharetta.
On Oct. 18-19, NAMB wrapped up the 2021 fall semester of the YLCN with the gathering of nearly 200 youth pastors and other leaders. The gathering featured talks from Pruitt, King and a host of others who served as coaches during the two-day event.
Topics of discussion included what King, Pruitt and their wives have learned in ministry, recruiting adult volunteers, some of the must haves in ministry and tips for sermon or teaching preparation.
In the lesson on teaching or sermon preparation, Pruitt and King both emphasized the need for utilizing text-driven sermons or lessons – whether preaching to the entire student ministry or teaching a small group.
“You need to learn how to preach,” King said. “You need to learn how to open up the Bible and teach a passage of Scripture.”
Most student leaders ask the question about how to cut through the constant barrage of information that most students encounter in their day-to-day lives, and Pruitt emphasized how preaching and teaching the Bible stands out.
“If all they hear at your church is a bunch of self-help talk with some Bible verses thrown in, that’s white noise to Gen Z,” Pruitt said. “Self-help is what they hear everywhere they go. So, how do we cut through the noise? Preach the Bible. Teach the Bible. That’s something they won’t hear anywhere else.”
Participants in the YLCN ranged from pastors leading ministries of hundreds of students to bivociational leaders serving dozens of youth and students. Being a part of the network not only allowed them to connect with some well-known leaders but also to network with fellow pastors and ministry leaders from across the nation.
“One of the greatest takeaways of the youth leader network was how ministry should come out of an overflow of our relationship and our time with Jesus,” said Nathan McCoy, next generation pastor at Peavine Baptist Church in Rock Spring, Ga. “It truly is about abiding in Christ. Without Him, we can do nothing, and that’s been a great takeaway for me.”
Wil Moore, lead student pastor at Longhollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., praised the intentionality of those leading the YLCN and described how it has provided the encouragement he needs to be intentional in his own ministry.
“One of the things I’ve regretted was not allowing people to be intentional in my life because of my pride,” Moore said. “What I love about the intentionality from Shane and Clayton and the others who are leading is they care about your soul. They care about longevity. They care about you being a Gospel influencer to the generation that we are investing in now.”
Youth leaders looking to sign up or learn more about the Youth Leader Coaching Network can do so atYouthLeaderCoachingNetwork.com . Paul Worcester, NAMB’s national collegiate evangelism director, is in the process of developing a similar network for collegiate leaders as well.