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Youth lab’s focus: God’s Kingdom, role of parents in youth ministry

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Student ministers should shift the focus of their programs from entertainment and busyness to seeing the Kingdom of God come to earth, speakers said at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual Youth Ministry Lab.

“Our desire for this year’s lab was to challenge leaders, teens and parents to seek God’s Kingdom through the student ministry of their churches, by moving the focus from entertainment and busyness to mobilizing students to be agents of change for God’s Kingdom,” said Richard Ross, professor of student ministry at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary. “Some leaders have said that this may be the revival generation, but regardless of God’s timing [for revival], we are here to call youth leaders, youth and parents to boldness and courage as they seek God’s Kingdom in their schools, youth groups and homes.”

More than 600 students, youth ministers, church leaders and parents attended this year’s Youth Ministry Lab, the only student-led conference of its size in the nation. Two student leaders and nine student conference chairpersons worked alongside Ross and fellow student ministry professor Wes Black to select the theme, leaders and goals for the April 2-3 gathering.

Worship and training sessions throughout the weekend revolved around the theme of seeking “God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven,” from Matthew 6:9-10.

“This year’s training was designed to refocus our ministry attention on God’s Kingdom and not on what we can get out of the ministry,” Black said.

In order to empower student ministries for this type of change, specific training was provided to assist every person involved in student ministry, with a new track this year on the important role of parents.

Prompted by the increasing concern over the exclusion of parents from the majority of youth ministry models in the churches today, the parent track addressed several issues in parent-teenager relationships.

“Youth ministers and leaders must not focus exclusively on teenagers in the student ministries,” Ross said. “It is important that youth ministers develop relationships with parents, become an advocate for the parents and partner with them in the spiritual development of their teenagers.”

Parents at the conference were challenged to be the spiritual leaders in their homes as teenagers gathered around and prayed for the parents. Student ministers stood as the youth prayed for God’s strength and wisdom to guide their ministries. Students called to vocational ministry were invited to confirm God’s call and join in a time of dedicatory prayer.

The youth lab featured guest speakers Frederick D. Haynes III, senior pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas and Ken Hemphill, national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative.

Haynes encouraged participants to set themselves up for “out-of-the-box ministries.” His message brought tears, cheering and shouts of affirmation from participants. “We cannot do what we have been doing in ministry, just because we’ve been doing it,” Haynes said.

Breakout sessions included Calling Students to Sexual Purity; Conflict and Criticism; Making A Spiritual Impact on Your Teenager; Ministering to Post-Moderns; and “A High-Tech Room Without a High Price.”

The Company, Southwestern’s drama team, closed the weekend with dramatic vignettes. Actors portraying Lottie Moon, the Apostle Paul, 29-year-old Baptist worker David McDonnall who was slain in Iraq, contemporary student ministers and other Christian role models asked, “Who will fill our shoes?” A pile of empty shoes was left center stage to serve as a reminder that the future of God’s Kingdom awaits another generation of youth to step forward and fill them.
Melanie Athey is a writer at Southwestern Seminary.

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