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Youth workers exhorted to persevere amid times of discouragement, failure

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (BP)–Youth ministers from four states were exhorted to persevere in their work during “Conclave 2000 – Fuel the Fire! Feed the Soul!”

The Feb. 17-19 conference’s featured speaker, Doug Fields, youth minister at Saddleback Valley Community Church, Mission Viejo, Calif., and author of “The Purpose Driven Youth Ministry,” acknowledged frequent battles with discouragement.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to quit youth ministry,” Fields told the 450 participants at the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Clarion Hotel, joking that he thought several times about being an Amway salesman.

“To be influential, you just can’t give up,” he stated, referencing 2 Timothy 4:7.

Youth workers should strive to be influential rather than impressive, and people of character rather than charismatic, he told the conference, which was sponsored by the Baptist conventions of Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia.

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People are impressive from a distance, but they influential up close, Fields noted, adding relationships and some transparency are integral for youth ministry.

Perseverance needs to be a goal of ministers because so many of them leave the calling, Fields said. To avoid discouragement, he counseled avoiding comparisons with others, not being competitive, building on strengths, resting when tired, ignoring frustrations even when they entail people and Christians, acknowledging failures and building their faith.

To maintain their influence, they also should balance their lives by acknowledging their roles, always taking a day off each week, neglecting the unimportant, controlling their time and enlisting the help of others, Fields said.

They should learn to say no, but he added, “I hope you’re not saying no to your family.”

Concerning the need to neglect the unimportant, Fields used Jesus as an example. He spent most of his time with 12 followers and focused primarily on three of them. “And he was God; he had that going for him,” Fields said.

Failure is part of youth ministry, he reflected from his 20 years’ experience, admitting he accidentally left a teen at a site in Mexico during a mission trip and during another event found a boy and girl in a sexual encounter in a church van.

Most people fail because of lust, power, money or pride, so Christians avoid those and enlist people to hold them accountable, Fields said, noting that he doesn’t travel alone in order to avoid such pitfalls.

Finally, Fields submitted that even when they are out of balance and discouraged, they can be productive youth ministers.

If you’re called by God, you are never “a failure in youth ministry until you quit,” he said. “Never doubt in the dark what God has given you in the light. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.”

In numerous seminars, youth workers learned how to minister to youth in the new millennium.

Allen Jackson of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary spoke on trends of youth ministry in the future.

Youth ministries will become more family based, reaching out to youth and their families, Jackson predicted. For example, he said he does not advocate worship held just for youth, noting it isolates them. They need what they can learn from other generations, he asserted, suggested that churches integrate youth-led activities such as drama and other gift groups into worship services to involve teens.

Ministries will provide more missions-based projects, Jackson continued, in response to the decline of Acteens and Challengers church organizations which resulted in most of the missionaries serving today. Such ministries also will respond to the 9,400 teens who identified a missions call at YouthLink, the seven-city Southern Baptist youth event at the turn of the millennium.

Ministries in the future will focus on relationship building, such as coffeehouses, and purposeful evangelism strategies and leadership development to engage students, Jackson predicted. Today’s youth have a lot of options, so they need choices at church, Jackson said, and they have access to a lot of information so they need the right information.

Youth workers should realize teens in the new millennium will desire constants and belonging because they will be raised by virtual parents in an increasingly virtual world. Teens will place less value on knowing content and more value on knowing where to access it and how to use it in their life settings, Jackson reported.

Finally, teens will need advocates as the negative behaviors of some teens clash with adult culture. Legal issues will grow in importance even in teen ministry, Jackson said, while homosexual/bisexual issues will demand more attention.

Scott Kindig, youth pastor at Brookwood Baptist Church, Lawrenceville, Ga., submitted that youth work is important because only 12 percent of teens attend church and 85 percent of those leave after high school graduation.

Only 10 churches in the United States baptized 100 or more youth last year and the average church devotes only 3-7 percent of its budget for youth evangelism, Kindig said.

Teens are looking for meaningful service opportunities, are very sympathetic to the hurts of others, hungry for love and want adult friends, Kindig said. However, they do not automatically trust leaders, he noted, and they won’t attend church just because the doors are open.

Youth evangelism must be intentional, Kindig said, because only one out of every 18 people led to God by chance encounter will remain in the church. The need also is great, he said, because each day six teens commit suicide, 135,000 students bring weapons to school, 1,295 unwed teenage girls become mothers, 1,512 teens drop out of high school, 500 adolescents begin using drugs and 100 begin drinking alcohol.

Ann Cannon, a writer/consultant for youth ministry and a youth worker at Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta, meanwhile noted that cultural shifts among today’s teens include a shift from autonomy to community, as well as shifts from truth to preference and from religious literacy to religious ignorance.