FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) –Southwestern’s 46th annual Youth Ministry Lab (YML), April 4-5, brought together youth leaders from 175 churches from across the United States, including those as far away as Missouri, Wyoming and Virginia.
“We had more than 500 youth pastors and volunteers attend this year’s conference,” says Doc Hanberry, who, along with his wife Sara Lynn, led the student volunteer effort to organize, plan and execute the conference.
“We were only expecting 400-450. In fact, we had to scramble on Friday night to find places to put chairs so that people could have a place to sit. It was a really great problem to have.”
“No one who was part of the planning process for [YML] believes that our efforts at quality planning automatically generate eternal impact,” explains Richard Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern, who coached the students in preparing YML. “The power of Christ released through prayer was the key.”
This year’s main stage speaker was Ben Stuart, executive director of Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M. Jeff Johnson led worship.
During the opening session, Stuart clarified that there is no inherent power in conferences.
“I don't think a conference solves anything,” Stuart said, “but I think Jesus does, and He brings the dead to life, and He makes things that look forever bent, straight. What we need more than some techniques and methods is Jesus.”
Preaching from Philippians 3, Stuart warned about the dangers of formulating plans and techniques for ministry.
“If I were to ask, ‘What does a successful youth ministry look like?,’ I imagine all of us could come up with a pretty easy answer,” Stuart said. “We can come up with a list of things. And they're all good things. But the problem with the list like that is that these are all great methods, but they're horrible masters.
“And if we make that what we're all about—if that's what ministry becomes—it'll look like what Christ intended, but if what we start doing is just compiling series and ideas and methods to build our kingdoms for our power and our glory because we think that'll give us life, it won't.”
Referring to Paul’s statements in Phil. 3:7-11, Stuart encouraged attendees simply to focus on Jesus.
“There's things we can say, but ultimately, at the end of the day, what I'm asking us to do here is wake up every day and say, 'I live to pursue the surpassing worth, the greater thing, which is knowing Christ Jesus.’”
In addition to the worship sessions, YML also comprised an exhibit hall, specific times devoted to fellowship, and breakout conferences. While all attendees participated in worship together, breakout conferences allowed them to get training in specific areas of interest. These conferences included those for student ministers, girls ministry, a wives conference, Hispanic and Korean conferences, and, new for 2014, an urban conference, which focused on student ministry in an urban context. Speakers for these various conferences included Southwestern professors Richard Ross, Johnny Derouen, and Terri Stovall as well as Southwestern graduate Carlos Francis.
While not all of YML’s impact is tangible, Hanberry says multiple people verbally expressed how God had changed their hearts and lives and were fired up to get back home to share their experiences with others. Specifically, Ross says, seven volunteer youth workers sensed a clear call to enter full-time vocational ministry.
Regarding the success of YML, Ross concludes, “All glory to the God who may be preparing this generation of adults and students to bring revival to the church and awakening to culture.”