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Youth leaders’ needs on conference agenda

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The “main reason” for the National Youth Workers Conference “was to answer a need that Southern Baptist youth workers had been making known to us,” said Paul Turner, national student ministry leader for LifeWay Christian Resources.

“As we traveled around training and learning from youth leaders, they were telling us that they wanted something to attend that would inspire, encourage and provide training that would be doctrinally sound.”

The three-day conference in September, in addition to times of worship and fellowship, explored such topics as Sunday School’s relevancy for students; youth ministry mega-trends; spiritual practices for teen girls; and whether marketing a ministry is biblical.

Jeff Pratt, LifeWay’s director of student ministry training and events, challenged youth workers toward spiritual development of their students versus just the development of a student ministry.

“Statistics show that there are more teenagers today than ever before, and yet our baptisms are going down,” Pratt said. “The solution is not to find a better plan for student ministry, but find a biblical model for student development.”

Pratt noted that the Bible tells of Jesus as a youth growing in three main areas relevant to today’s teens –- wisdom, stature and favor with God and man.

These correlate to KNOWN, LifeWay’s student development strategy, which highlights knowing God through biblical disciplines and understanding His lordship; the inward development of character and discernment; and the outward development of making Christ through relationships and influence.

“For development to be biblical, it has to be relational,” Pratt said. “You can’t love your neighbor until you love yourself. When you understand who you are in Christ and what Christ has done for you, you want to share it with others.”


“In every major study, parents are the primary influencers of teens, for better or for worse,” Turner said, with Pratt challenging youth workers to remember that parents are primarily responsible for the spiritual development of their teens.

“God gave the responsibility of developing kids to the parent, not the student leader,” Pratt said. “You are not supposed to be the primary spiritual developer of those kids. Sometimes it drops down to us as the secondary spiritual developer, but we can’t bypass the parents.”

As a parent of two teens himself, Pratt spoke of his appreciation for youth leaders who come alongside him to partner in the spiritual development of his children.

“We as youth workers come and go, but moms and dads never do,” Pratt said. “For the most part, parents want what is best for their kids. They don’t even have to be believers, but they love their kids, and when they see that you love their kids, they’ll support you.”


Grace and how God handles brokenness and failures also were addressed by speakers at the Sept. 22-24 conference in Nashville, Tenn.

“God does not see us in our failures and define us by that,” worship leader Todd Agnew said. “God knew all of our failures before He created us. He can’t be disappointed because He already knew we were going to fall. We may feel like failures, but He sees the potential.”

VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer shared spiritual lessons he learned after creating the company Big Idea and then watching the business fall into bankruptcy.

“Have you ever had an idea, like a new way to reach kids, and it really, really worked and it took off and then it died a painful death?” Vischer asked the crowd. “If God gives you a dream and shows up in it and the dream dies, maybe God is trying to see which is more important to you –- the dream or Him.”

Derwin Gray, a National Football League veteran and a pastor, said, God is attracted to brokenness. “We don’t have to hide in the shadows or pretend we are something that we’re not,” Gray said.

Gray asked the youth workers about their marriages and their personal spiritual lives, warning against isolating themselves from others.

“Ever feel like you’re alone with no one to talk to or to be vulnerable with? That is a tool of the enemy — isolation,” Gray said. “Some of you are tired and at the end of the rope. You’re tired of hiding and can’t fix yourself. That is a good place to be. Now God can work and God can heal.”

Experiencing grace in their own personal lives was a critical focus of the conference, Turner said.

“Youth workers have a tendency to not slow down long enough to allow God to speak directly to them,” he said. “Without God’s grace, there would be no reason for any of us to be involved in ministry.

“It is easy to get caught in the ‘doing the next thing to help students’ that we forget to experience God’s continued grace in our lives,” Turner added. “Grace is amazing and many times forgotten and overlooked in the busyness of life. This week youth ministers were just reminded of the grace God has so freely offered.”
Jenny Rice is a writer based in Nashville, Tenn. For more information about the KNOWN student strategy or other LifeWay resources for youth leaders, visit www.lifeway.com/students.

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  • Jenny Rice