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YMI challenges youth leaders to engage people of all ages

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–It’s easy to count them as a lost cause.

Standing before nearly 100 Youth Ministry Institute (YMI) participants at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Ferris Jordan freely addressed the often-quoted statistic that says adults and senior adults are highly unreachable with the Gospel.

To some it might have seemed strange for Jordan, professor emeritus of adult Christian education at NOBTS, to be the keynote speaker at a youth ministry seminar. After all, what effect can youth ministry have on senior adults? According to Jordan, the potential for intergenerational ministry between students and senior adults is great –- and largely untapped.

For a long time, Jordan said, Christian ministry has focused on children and teenagers, with older adults often overlooked. His call for youth ministry and senior adult ministry to work together matched perfectly with the YMI theme for the week –- “Welcome Home.” The workshops emphasized ministry between youth and family and a return to the basics of youth ministry.

Along with Jordan, Richard Ross of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the True Love Waits abstinence movement and others emphasized potential changes in youth ministry that would have a profound effect on all ages during two January YMI seminars at the seminary.

Jordan’s presentation noted strategic changes that must take place before students can begin to impact senior adults.

“We really are operating under this false assumption that adults don’t come to Christ,” Jordan said. “I think the statistic [that adults are a lost cause] exists because there has not been a great strategy of adult evangelism across all the years.”

But a shift in ministry strategy toward involving teenagers would have a great impact, he said, noting the mutual needs between teenagers and adults.

For instance, youth need to appreciate older persons, while seniors need affirmation of worth. Also, Jordan said, teenagers need to serve others, and adults often need certain services. Just as teenagers need knowledge of history, adults have the opportunity to be oral historians.

Jordan underscored the need for youth and adults to interact by sharing some demographic information: “As we begin to think about senior adults and youth ministry and to try to build bridges between the generation you serve and the generation that is referred to as senior adults, I don’t have to remind you that we are in a time when the senior adult population is absolutely booming.”

Richard Ross, in his YMI workshop, spoke about the importance of parental involvement during the teenage years.

“Teenagers tend to embrace the faith of parents who have heart connections with their offspring,” Ross said. “All of you know that, for a parent to influence a teenager spiritually, the parent must be alive and growing spiritually.”

A key suggestion by Ross called for youth ministers to plan a parent revival, with the stirrings that happen in the parents’ hearts in turn spreading to their children.

Though much of the workshop was spent in the classroom, YMI also gave students the opportunity to step into the classroom of New Orleans. On Wednesday, students were assigned to one of three ministry sites throughout the city -– tutoring and playing with children at the St. Bernard Housing Development, taking part in a worship service at the Brantley Baptist Center or doing street ministry in the French Quarter.

Lauren Price, a first-year master’s-level student at NOBTS, was a member of the ministry team that distributed hygiene packs in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter. While there, she met a woman named Angela.

“She said she’d been living down there for 10 or 20 years,” Price said. “She opened up a little bit, and we shared Christ with her.”

Price said that Angela initially showed quite a bit of bitterness toward God, but by the end of their conversation, she let the YMI students pray for her.

Founded by NOBTS faculty member Allen Jackson in 1999, YMI’s mission was originally centered on providing youth ministry training to seminary extension center students who normally would not receive specialized training. Since then, the institute has grown to further impact NOBTS and youth ministry as a whole. In 2002, YMI began a Youth Ministry Certificate Program that offers training to students not interested in pursuing a degree with a focus in youth ministry.

Jackson, assistant professor of youth education at NOBTS, cited several firsts that made the 2005 workshops unique among previous YMI sessions. This was the first year, Jackson said, for YMI participants to do hands-on mission work in New Orleans as a part of the workshop. In addition, this was the first time for students from colleges outside of NOBTS to participate in the workshops.

For more information on other YMI workshops taking place throughout the year, go online to www.youthministryinstitute.org.

    About the Author

  • Michael McCormack