Editor’s note: Sunday, Oct. 29, is Student Baptist Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.
NASHVILLE (BP) – It’s a familiar scene for Jay Barbier. He’s a youth minister, driving down the road to a speaking engagement where he will preach to a room full of students.
His teenage son Caleb is with him, and Jay uses Caleb as a sounding board for his sermon.
“I would practice my sermons on him in the car as we would drive places,” Jay said. “It was good for me because I was able to hear a youth perspective. He would say, ‘Hey Dad, do you think maybe you should say it in this way? Or what about this story?’”
Fast forward a few years, and Jay, now the youth specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, has seen how those experiences helped shaped and form his son. Caleb is the student pastor at Springfield (Tennessee) Baptist Church, following his father’s example as a minister to young people.
As Southern Baptists prepare to celebrate the second annual Student Baptism Sunday on Oct. 29, Jay and Caleb Barbier both know how crucial youth ministry is in the life of the local church.
“It’s important because we have the opportunity to raise the next generation and have godly influences in their lives,” Caleb Barbier said. “It’s not just me as a youth pastor trying to reach 50 kids by myself, but it’s trying to get the whole church passionate about reaching the next generation.”
“If they don’t come to faith by the age of 18, it’s very unlikely that anything will happen spiritually after that,” Jay Barbier said. “If they can hear the Gospel, if they can be influenced by the Gospel and believers in Christ, they’re more likely to surrender to Jesus and live for Him if they do that before they’re 18.”
Though Jay knows that from statistics and research, he also knows it from personal experience. He was raised as a Roman Catholic but was saved as a teenager and joined First Baptist Church in Ponchatoula, La. It was there his passion for youth ministry began, as he watched the youth group leaders and pastors and saw the differences they were making in students’ lives.
Jay eventually followed God’s call into full-time youth ministry, and he made a point to include his family in the work as much as possible. Jay’s wife Natalee often discipled girls in the church youth group, and the whole family would travel on mission trips whenever possible.
“We got to showcase to (Caleb) the beauty of the church and the beauty of Jesus,” Jay said. “You want your kids to love Jesus and to make Him known. It’s a constant prayer. … And to know that my son has surrendered his life to Jesus and surrendered his life to ministry, it brings me joy.”
Jay’s commitment to his family and to reaching youth with the Gospel had a profound impact on Caleb, though maybe not at first.
“Growing up, I think the last thing I wanted to do was probably youth ministry,” Caleb said.
But the older he got, and the more he witnessed the example from his parents of what a godly family looked like, the more he was drawn to helping families follow Jesus. He and his wife Whitley had given some thought to serving on the mission field, but then the opportunity opened a few months ago at Springfield Baptist Church for youth ministry.
With a growing passion to see people come to Christ, Caleb knew this was God’s leading in his life.
“Students, especially the next generation, are increasingly leaving the church,” he said. “I want to be part of the reason why those kids stay, just pointing them to Jesus, and being faithful like my dad. … He’s paved the road for me in a lot of ways, and I’m very grateful for that.”
On Oct. 15, Caleb baptized Amber Dean and Aiden Tschann – a mother and teenage son – at Springfield Baptist Church after Caleb and his wife had led them to Christ. They are the first people Caleb has baptized, and he hopes there will be many more.
“In order for us to reach the next generation, I think we just need to be praying for the next generation,” Caleb said. “I think the whole church should rally around youth ministry. … It’s important to really put an emphasis on going out and building relationships, and just loving youth and telling them about Jesus.”