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SWBTS: ‘YML’ is ministry training ground

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Youth Ministry Lab (YML), which draws more than 1,000 participants annually, makes better ministers through both the organizing of the event as well as through the event itself.

“As far as we know, this is the only conference in the country that uses students to do all the planning and logistics for putting the conference together,” said Wes Black, professor of student ministry at Southwestern.

Black and the other professors and administration who facilitate YML wanted their students — many of them also serving as youth workers and ministers in local churches — to have their fingers on the pulse of the yearly event, slated April 9-10 at Southwestern’s Fort Worth, Texas, campus.

“It taps into the passion and creativity of students who bring a freshness to this that we could never come up with,” Black said. “We’ve held on to that tradition, not just because it’s tradition, but because it’s excellent training and experience.”

The reliance on student input and footwork goes back to YML’s start in 1963. Don Mattingly started the conference while he was a doctoral student at Southwestern, and it has since been under the auspices of the school of church and family ministries staff and organized completely by Southwestern students. The emphasis continued when Black took the reins in 1985, followed by fellow faculty members and student ministers Johnny Derouen and Richard Ross.

Carissa Jones, who is pursuing her master of arts in Christian education at Southwestern, is in her second year of YML service. As chair of the breakouts committee, she is one of 69 students involved in the brainstorming, assembly and execution of this year’s event.

“This has definitely given me a tremendous amount of experience in planning and organization,” Jones said. She said she was able “to be a part of something that is so much bigger than any one person and … to see how God is orchestrating every detail to all come together and then to see that weekend happen.”

YML brings in world-renowned speakers and authors as well as local ministers and musicians. Jones’ team is in charge of providing support to the speakers and breakout session leaders during the teaching parts of the event.

“We make sure they have all their needs met so they can focus on what they’ve been brought in to do, which is sharing the Word,” Jones said.

Student involvement for each YML starts even before the curtain closes on the current year’s event, with YML workers giving their ideas for speakers and bands for the coming year. The chairs and professors, along with Southwestern administration, make it a point to commit to pray over each speaker, vendor and attendee for YML, knowing that without God’s presence at the event, their efforts prove fruitless.

“The greatest blessing I’ve received is hearing all the reports of the people who came in to attend the conference, and how refreshed they were,” Jones said. “People who were ready to quit ministry altogether gave one last chance, and God did a complete transformation in their lives, and they went back rejuvenated for their ministries. People would fill out the response forms and say, ‘It’s obvious that you prayed.’ It’s just a huge testimony of what God did at Lab.”

Youth Ministry Lab enrollment information can be found at www.youthministrylab.com. Speakers and breakout session leaders for 2010 include J.R. Vassar, Wes Hamilton and Ergun Caner. Full lists of the breakout sessions — including conference tracks made specifically for the student praise band leaders, volunteers, girls ministers and more — can be found on the website, along with information for a Korean track and pre-conference sessions that deal with correctly interpreting Scripture, counseling teenagers and specialized leadership training.

PLATT, GAINES, VINES ON EXPOSITORY PREACHING — Pastors from three generations joined with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s preaching faculty to examine the future need and roles of text-driven preaching during the sixth annual Expository Preaching Workshop at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus.

Pastors David Platt, Steve Gaines and Jerry Vines also fielded questions about preaching during a panel discussion moderated by Southwestern’s dean of theology, David Allen.

Platt, 31, pastor of The Church at Brookhills in Birmingham, Ala., challenged the 250-plus pastors and students at the March 8-9 conference to preach for radical obedience with radical urgency. Describing the overwhelming spiritual lostness in the world coupled with the physical needs to which Christians are commanded in Scripture to minister, Platt stated that, if pastors really believe the Bible is true, then it has radical implications on their lives and ministries.

“If this is true,” Platt said, “then we do not have time to play games with our lives. We do not have time to play games with the church. We do not have time to waste our lives or our ministries living out a nice, comfortable, Christian spin on the American Dream. We have a Master who demands radical sacrifice and a mission that warrants radical urgency.”

Jerry Vines, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., discussed his approach to preaching a series through 1 Thessalonians, later demonstrating it by preaching a message from the second chapter of the book during a seminary chapel service.

During the Q&A panel with Platt and Gaines, Vines responded to a question about whether younger generations hunger for expository preaching over topical sermons, saying, “I’m encouraged by what I see. I’m finding a real receptivity to the Word.”

Gaines, 52, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, took workshop participants methodically through his preparation and delivery of sermons. He emphasized the need to preach apologetically to a biblically illiterate culture and added other practical tips for preaching. Answering the question about how to make the Gospel culturally accessible without compromising, Gaines said Christians must “take the never-changing Gospel to an ever-changing world.”

Southwestern President Paige Patterson concluded the workshop with a session on the genuine effects of expository preaching. Using Nehemiah 8:1-12, he said the response of the people to the anointed preaching of Scripture — regardless of time period — is brokenness with repentance followed by joyful obedience.

In addition to main sessions, the workshop offered breakout sessions by seminary preaching faculty. Steven Smith, dean of the College at Southwestern, spoke on his research relating to the history of Southern Baptist preaching. While the content may have drifted between topical and text-centered, the history of Southern Baptist preaching, until the 1980s, reflected similar sermon structures, Smith said. Since that time, this traditional approach to preaching has given way to a wide diversity in pulpit styles, most prominently evident in seeker and emerging churches. These movements were produced from weaknesses seen in other models, but some preachers have progressed away from preaching the text in the process, Smith said.

“We have a phenomenal legacy,” Smith said, “but at the same time, a great heritage comes with great liabilities. And one of the liabilities is that if we are not lashed to the text, we create vacuums and those vacuums will be filled.”

Matthew McKellar, associate professor preaching, led a breakout session on the preaching of the late W.A. Criswell, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas. McKellar noted that Criswell held a powerful grasp on the English language, but “Dr. Criswell’s most effective use of persuasion occurred when he was expounding, expositing, exposing, leading out the truth of a text.”

Audio of Southwestern’s Expository Preaching Workshops and other conferences is available for download at www.swbts.edu/conferenceaudio.

PSALMS FIND CONTEXT IN BOOK OF HEBREWS — The use of Psalms in the New Testament’s Book of Hebrews was the focus of scholar John Taylor’s presentation during the Biblical Studies Colloquium at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary March 26.

Far from taking the Old Testament out of context, the author of Hebrews drives his readers to understand the context of the Psalms and their messianic implications, said Taylor, assistant professor of New Testament at Southwestern. “The author shares with other early believers not only a core of common texts, but a common set of convictions and beliefs about Jesus,” Taylor said.

“But Hebrews is not simply recounting common beliefs,” he added. “The author reads the Psalms in an exploratory and creative process which is driven by these shared theological convictions but which is also alive to discovery. This reading strategy leads directly to some of the most distinctive contributions Hebrews makes to the New Testament, with the most important being the idea of Jesus as priest.”

Taylor said the author of Hebrews accepts the messianic interpretation that the early church generally assigned to various Old Testament texts, for example, from Isaiah and the Psalms. In using the common “proof texts” gleaned from the Psalms, the author of Hebrews confesses with the early church that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God. Taylor argued, however, that the writer of Hebrews carefully examined these proof texts in their contexts and discovered their rich implications.

“While a few key texts became part of the central Christological tradition of the early church, commentators, following C.H. Dodd, have stressed that New Testament writers paid close attention to the context of their Old Testament quotations,” Taylor said. By exploring the contexts of Psalms used commonly as proof texts, the author of Hebrews applies their messianic implications to other Psalms, Taylor said, noting that the author often linked the proof texts to other Psalms through similarities in language and theme.

“By the way in which Hebrews combines standard messianic texts and formulations with unique readings suggests that the letter is deliberately written to move readers from the known to the unknown,” Taylor said. “The author has moved from proof text to context — from familiar messianic passages to the unfamiliar — and takes his readers on the same journey.”
Based on reports by Keith Collier, Rebecca Carter and Benjamin Hawkins of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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