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Youth conference speakers address truth, witnessing, communicating

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Just as North Carolinians must learn new ways of coping and living after having suffered the devastating effects of Hurricane Floyd, youth ministers need to learn how to deal with an era devastated by religious relativism, conference speakers said during “Culture Shock ’ 99,” Sept. 20-22 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
Among the speakers during the annual three-day event were David Burton, director of the personal evangelism department of the Florida Baptist Convention; Nelson Searcy, team leader for evangelism and church growth, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina; Brian Richardson, the Basil Manly Jr., professor of Christian education at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.; and Voddie Baucham, a youth ministry conference speaker from Sugarland, Texas.
Baucham addressed the challenges youth face today due to the combination of religious relativism with tolerance and the lack of absolute truth. “Religious relativism by itself would be harmless, but he’s got a friend and his friend’s name is tolerance,” Baucham said.
“Tolerance says not that we must put up with those things we don’t agree with, but the new definition of tolerance says we must celebrate those things that we don’t agree with, not just put up with them.”
As if religious relativism and tolerance weren’t enough to deal with, “their big brother, the lack of absolute truth, is always with them,” Baucham said. So many versions of truth exist today, he said, because the lack of absolute truth is telling people, “Nobody knows what’s true. Truth changes from situation to situation. Truth changes from age to age. There are not those things that are true for everyone and every place and at every time.”
Students who believe in Jesus Christ are told, “Don’t talk about this name anymore,” Baucham said. The reason for this persecution, he said, is that authorities “recognized that there was something about that name.”
Baucham said youth ministers are failing their students “because we are trusting in government to restore our right to speak the truth, and we’re failing our students because we sit back and want to find out what we can do through the courts.”
Someday, a time will come “when all we’re going to be able to rely on is the fact that we know something we’ve seen, and that we know something we’ve heard, and that the power of God has manifested itself so that God could be glorified,” Baucham said. That time will come “when we rely on the gospel itself and the power of God itself to move within our culture and within our communities.”
The world does not find Christianity to be socially acceptable, he said. “It is counterculture.” However, “the beautiful thing about the power of God is when God begins to move in our midst, the society that does not accept us simultaneously can never deny us because they see things happening that only God can take credit for.”
Searcy told youth ministers to train and equip students to spread the gospel since they freely can go places a youth minister cannot go, such as the public schools.
Instead of focusing the bulk of their ministry on the 12 percent of youth who are faithful in church attendance, Searcy urged youth ministers to focus on the 88 percent who “generally are not being impacted by a church of any type,” the students in the public schools.
First Priority, a new evangelism partner with the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, works with youth ministers to train students to reach public school students with the gospel, Searcy said.
“No matter how much we as youth ministers, as leaders within our churches, would love to be able to go into the public schools and stand right in the middle of the public school cafeteria and hold up the Bible and start proclaiming our faith, we just can’t do it,” he said. “It’s against the current laws that we have. But what we can do is train our students, equip our students to go in and to use them as the resources, as the tools to spread the gospel to their unchurched youth.”
Over the years “our mind-sets have to change,” he said, and “from time to time our methods have to change. What works today may not work five years from now, and what worked five years ago may work again five years from now,” Searcy said. However, the gospel message and the man of the message — Jesus Christ — do not change.
Servanthood evangelism — performing “intentional acts of kindness” — is one of the most practical ways Searcy said he knows to impact the lives of unchurched people. Since many unchurched people think the church is out to get money, Searcy takes groups on mission trips to give things away for free, such as the “Jesus” video, “and that totally blows them away and then that opens the door for us to share [the gospel],” he said.
Burton urged youth ministers to live lives of integrity, intensity and individuality. “The culture is shocking us, but what we need to do is shock the culture, and the way we shock the culture is by lifting up Jesus,” he said.
Burton told youth ministers to continually give teens and college students “the tools and the how-to’s” for effective witnessing.
For his own personal witnessing tool, Burton put a little plastic red dot on the face of his watch, “representing the blood of Jesus,” he said. He wants to see youth by the thousands with red dots on their watches. “It’s going to kind of be an identification, kind of like the ichthus fish of years ago.”
“Be radical for Jesus,” Burton said, “but if you don’t [tell others about Jesus], don’t expect your students to do it.”
If someone tells him, “I’m just not geared that way,” Burton says, “Well, get geared that way. Change gears.” While encouraging youth ministers be themselves, he also said, “being you can be intensified.”
Burton said youth ministers need to train their students and their adult leadership “to be active doing what we’re teaching and preaching and compelling them to do,” not passively sitting around waiting for people to come. Instead, “be active in finding people,” for “everywhere we go we ought to be trying to share Jesus.”
Some people might call it witnessing and others call it soul-winning, but to Burton, “It’s just talking to people.”
Richardson focused on the imbalance among a teen’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual maturity levels. “The big problem is these kids are physically mature when they’re not mature in any other way,” he said, which sometimes makes teens act in ways parents and teachers often have a hard time understanding.
However, Richardson said, “We’ve got to realize the source of the problem so that we don’t attack the individual instead of the problem.”
For instance, Richardson said, internal chemical fluctuations, combined with rapid growth spurts, cause a teen to be tired and sometimes irritable, seeking isolation, but parents may accuse their teen of being lazy. Such false accusations shut down communication at a time when teens need their parents as a good source of information.
An effective youth minister will serve both the teens and their parents, Richardson said, helping parents to understand what’s happening in the life of their teen, “so they realize that this is not something unusual, something out of the ordinary.”
Richardson emphasized keeping lines of communication open, if a parent wants the teen to ask advice at home. To keep communication open, “don’t talk negatively about each other; talk in a positive manner,” he said, and look for things to praise teens.
“Don’t try to intellectualize it all the time,” he said. “Just show them that you care” by giving a simple hug when they are sad over a break-up with a friend.
Richardson urged youth ministers to do what they could to give teens a Christian home to start with, and said, “You’ve got to help those parents to know how to raise their kids to walk with the Lord.”
But most importantly, “You’ve got to be saturating yourself with the Word of God,” Richardson said; “otherwise you really have nothing to give to them. It’s the Word of God that makes the difference.”

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  • Debbie Moore