Annual Youth Ministry Lab will survey “uncharted” frontiers

Organizers for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s 2007 Youth Ministry Lab had the world in mind when they planned this year’s event for April 13-14.

“Nationally speaking, for far too long, youth ministers have been considered babysitters of church kids,” said Matt Hubbard, a Southwestern PhD student and co-chair for the 2007 Youth Ministry Lab. “We’re really trying to challenge student workers and youth ministers in the United States to reach out and get those lost teenagers in their community. And then secondly, to get teenagers to reach [other] teenagers.”

The overall theme for the Lab this year will be “Uncharted,” Hubbard said. He explained that frontiers of “uncharted” ministries will be examined. For example, a girls ministry conference will be part of the lab this year. The conference is new and is designed to offer training to those who want to launch or improve ministries to teenage girls.

“That’s something that came out of a need expressed by the participants last year and the past couple of years,” Hubbard said. “The girls ministry conference has been increasingly one of those things that has been requested.”

The 2007 Lab will be held at The Smith Center on the campus of Southwestern Seminary. The featured speaker will be Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church. Joel Engle will serve as worship leader for the weekend.

Lab leaders will also include Walt Mueller, founder and president for the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, and Merritt Johnston, president and executive director of Sage Ministries, a ministry reaching out both to teenage girls and those in Christian ministry to teenage girls. Johnston will lead three hours of training.

The “Reality Evangelism Experience” was a new wrinkle added to the Lab last year that will be enhanced this year. Last year, teenage YML attendees shared their faith with 100 teenage actors who filled a nearby middle school to role play typical students in an average high school.

This year the idea will be taken a step further with the “Reality Missions Experience.” In partnership with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, youth attendees will first be trained by IMB personnel in how to make initial contact with a people group, how to build relationships, how to meet immediate human needs and also learn creative ways to share the gospel. They will then go to a nearby farm where they will encounter “other cultures” and share their faith in a simulated overseas setting.

Hubbard explained that local international churches have volunteered to help by creating an area on the farm that closely resembles a typical setting from their home countries. Volunteers will dress, act and speak as they would in their home countries. Students will be encouraged to engage them in conversation. At least three different continents and cultures will be represented.

“All they are going to do is act like they are back home,” Hubbard said. “Part of the process is actually getting the gospel over the language barrier.”

Youth Lab organizers hope that student ministers will bring along some of the youth from their churches to participate in the “Reality Missions Experience.” Hubbard also explained that this reality missions experience is just one step in the process of a global perspective for the YML. Organizers have their sights set on one day taking it to other countries.

“We will go and train youth leaders internationally,” Hubbard said. “Seminary and college students from Southwestern would go out into these countries and, using existing churches in the area, will train people not in an American-style youth ministry, but teach how to work with students developmentally.”

Back this year by popular demand will be sessions for volunteer-led student ministries. Introduced for the first time last year, these sessions address the unique challenges faced by small churches that might not have the resources to hire a youth minister.

Hubbard also noted that the student-praise-band conference will again be led by Daniel and Bonnie Hoover (WorshipOne), but it will include all-new content. Hubbard said that those who attended last year’s Lab will see something fresh when they come this year.

Youth Ministry Lab continues to increase in popularity. In 2005, there were more than 1,200 participants. In 2006, there were more than 1,300 students, parents, youth ministers and pastors who attended. Once again, the Southwestern Seminary faculty, staff and students who are organizing the event have been steadily praying and working toward making this year useful and encouraging for all who attend.

“Organizers have been praying since September that God would bring adults and students who sense a genuine passion to take student ministry in new direction,” Hubbard said.

In addition to Matte, Mueller, Johnson and the Hoovers, other leaders this year include Wes Hamilton, Allen Jackson, Neil McClendon, Chuck Gartman, and Southwestern professors Emir Caner, Scott Floyd, Wes Black, Richard Ross, and Johnny Derouen.

For more information on the 2007 Youth Ministry Lab, or to register, log onto, e-mail , or call 817-923-1921 ext. 2522.


Established 1908 Fort Worth, Texas