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‘Reality evangelism,’ prayer fuel Youth Ministry Lab

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–It was a Saturday morning, yet more than 270 young people were excited to be at school. They had gathered at Rosemont Middle School, across the street from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, for a “Reality Evangelism Experience,” an entire day set aside to train young people how to witness for Christ at school.

The day of evangelism training for youth from across the nation was part of Youth Ministry Lab 2006, a conference entirely organized by Southwestern Seminary students, which this year recorded one the largest enrollments in its 38-year history: Some 1,320 youth ministers, volunteers and youth.

In the Reality Evangelism Experience, which was new to Youth Ministry Lab this year, the youth practiced evangelism in a mock setting at the school. They went through events of the average school day, going through classroom, cafeteria and campus club settings. In each setting, they spent time intentionally witnessing to other youth who had volunteered to act as non-Christian students.

“Students were incredibly engaged in the experience,” Edward Willoughby, student leadership conference chairman for Youth Lab, said. “I got to talk to about 30 students at the end of the day, and they were just excited about what they’ve learned….

“It’s just been great to sit back and just watch the students get a passion to say, ‘People have always told me that I need to be witnessing in my school…. I’ve seen how to do it and now I feel I can go back and do it.’”

Those who played the role of unbelieving students during the training went away with a new perspective, he added.

“They got to see how a person feels when they are being witnessed to,” Willoughby said. In this way, they learned what “not to say” and do, as well as what ought to be done while sharing the Gospel.

Jenni Kennemur, a freshman at South Grand Prairie High School, Texas, who participated in the day of training, said, “Usually when you go to a youth conference someone just talks to you about how to witness and share with your friends. But this time it was realistic and challenging. We got to actually do something, not just listen. By practicing, it helped give us confidence in going back to school and sharing Christ with our friends.”

Johnny Derouen, associate professor of student ministry at Southwestern, said student ministers “appreciate the quality of training they receive at Lab. This year, they got to see their core teenagers receive training at that same level of excellence.”

On the first evening of the April 7-8 conference, Southwestern President Paige Patterson entered the “Lion’s Den” — another innovation this year – to provide students an opportunity to find answers for difficult religious questions. Questions during the freewheeling sessions ranged from the doctrine of predestination and dinosaurs in the Bible to the end times.

“The students that came to Lab perceived that they are going to be leaders, so they just soaked up the teaching on that,” said Richard Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern and one of the founders of the True Love Waits movement.

“At the same time, speakers such as Doug Fields, Ken Davis and J.R. Vassar “created … hope in the youth ministers that a generation really can be brought back to God,” Ross said, referencing the Lab’s theme of “Reunion: Bringing a Generation Back to God.”

Youth ministers and volunteers have a strong sense of the brokenness and “pain that fills the lives of the young people,” he said. In the midst of this pain, the conference resounded with the hope that, with God’s power, “this generation can be brought back to God.”

Wes Black, another professor of student ministry at Southwestern, noted that prayer was an essential in preparing for the conference.

“No one who was part of the planning process for Lab believes eternal impact flows simply from quality planning. Prayer was the key,” Black said in an e-mail sent to Southwestern faculty and staff. “Those involved with Youth Lab committees prayed from bedtime to sunrise two Friday nights. They also prayer walked on the campus, praying over every room and in many cases every chair as they prepared for the conference. Southwestern Seminary students also met for prayer at daybreak one day each week for months.”

The emphasis on prayer extended throughout the Lab weekend. As conference attendees arrived at Southwestern, they were met by a prayer committee member who prayed for their group. Lab organizers also used prayer bracelets to ensure that each attendee was being prayed for. Those who attended the conference also had the opportunity to spend time with God in a prayer tabernacle set up on the seminary campus.

“Perhaps the largest conference attendance in Southwestern’s history is related to what may have been the most expansive conference prayer strategy in the seminary’s history,” Black said.

Roy Fish, professor of evangelism at Southwestern, said that prayer is essential to bringing a generation of youth back to the Gospel. Fish, speaking in a session for volunteer youth leaders, noted that the Great Awakening across the United States during the mid-19th century began with an emphasis on prayer among laypeople, he said.

“Newspapers reported what was going on in terms of it being a prayer revival,” Fish said. “You want to bring a generation to God? That’s the starting place. That’s the place in which it’s kept going, the prayer room.”

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  • Benjamin Hawkins