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Professor stresses importance of students in today’s church

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Strong youth ministry emerges not from viewing young people as “the church of tomorrow,” but as an important “part of the church today,” a youth ministry specialist told students of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

Philip Briggs, Distinguished Professor of Collegiate Ministry and Youth Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological seminary, was guest speaker at the Mill Valley, Calif., seminary’s Elaine Southerland Boling Christian Education Enrichment Series. He cited Luke 2 as a passage that “speaks boldly to us” about Jesus’ own youth, providing guidance for youth, parents and the church.

The event was historic for Golden Gate Seminary because the enrichment series was officially named for Boling, honoring the wife of long-time Christian education professor Dan Boling. Endowing the fund over the last several years through a “payroll deduction method,” Dan Boling worked with seminary officials to recognize his wife for leaving her ministry to children in order to follow his ministry over the years.

“It is a privilege to honor the love and dedication of a husband and wife who have sought to minister together these past 28 years at Golden Gate,” said seminary president William O. Crews. “Dan has an obvious love for his wife and we are blessed to have a part in showing her the regard she deserves for her tireless dedication to children in Southern Baptist churches, to children in public schools and to the families of Golden Gate Seminary.”

While Dan Boling served as a faculty member at Golden Gate, Elaine Boling worked as a teacher and principal in the local public school system and as a children’s minister in nearby local churches.

During ceremonies establishing the series’ new name, seminary officials presented Mrs. Boling with a plaque commemorating the event. The Boling Enrichment Series is designed to explore present and future concerns related to the educational purposes of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. The series is scheduled every other year and includes lectures, workshops and other means of instruction.

Continuing the theme of working to serve families, Briggs advocated churches taking a strong interest in ministry to youth and young adults.

“Youth are not ‘the church of tomorrow,’ they are part of the church today” Briggs said.

He said churches sometimes underestimate teenagers: Youth want “something to believe in … something to give themselves to … something that answers the big question … something to live by.”

Too often, Briggs said, churches opt for less than what youth are looking for and actually need.

He also advised caution on approaches that worked effectively in the past:

— Emphasis on entertainment. “When youth ministry focuses only on playing into the entertainment culture, it encourages passivity and reduces it to just another consumer item,” he said.

— Reaching high profile high school leaders. “When youth ministry focuses only on reaching the high profile teenagers such as athlete/cheerleader types with the hopes that other teenagers will be attracted, it is failing to realize that there is no longer one group in high school that asserts an influence over all the others,” he said.

— Emphasizing numbers. “Now the question is, ‘Where are those kids?'” he asserted. “The problem is assimilation into the life of a church. The answer is found in church-based discipleship.”

Briggs listed three emerging models of youth ministry that has the potential for greater effectiveness in the future:

— Teenagers ministering to teenagers. “Shifting youth ministry from entertainment to long-term maturity and the discovery and implementation of spiritual gifts for church leadership, guided by a team of spiritually mature adults” is a better method for the future, Briggs said.

— Celebrating the established church. “A model that celebrates the established church while finding ways of integrating teenagers into its tradition” is better for long-term church health, he said.

— Teenagers and adults sharing leadership. “A cell-group model with an adult mentor and a student leader who meet weekly to pray and plan for the group meeting” is a strong model for youth ministry, he advocated.

One of the strongest forces in shaping youth ministry for the future is to become a “family-friendly” church. “This must be a primary part of youth ministry,” he said. “One of the biggest mistakes we make in youth ministry is to forget the parents.”

There are six imperatives, Briggs said, for churches seeking to become more family-friendly: become need-responsive and not program-focused; adjust staff assignment; give support to “home-centered” staff; train parents to be “faith-shapers”; create a “homey” church environment; and see the church as a change agent in the community.

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