There was no ear tickling or feel-good, smile-your-way-to-salvation theology to be found at the 44th annual Youth Ministry Lab (YML) conference in March but only biblically submerged and sifted teaching on the tough topics that face youth ministry.
During the two-day conference, youth ministers and their students learned better how to be in the world but not of it—a premise taken from John 17:14-18. Several conference tracks allowed attendees to engage in breakout sessions that put action verbs in the “In Not Of” theme, teaching them how to deal with issues such as same-sex attractions in the youth group, subtle but devastating bombardment of cultural messages and how to create a theologically sound music ministry.
Southwestern President Paige Patterson did not shy away from the difficult topics either. He allowed students to take to the microphone during “The Lion’s Den” and ask him any question on their minds. Patterson fielded questions ranging from the gap theory and the judgment seat of Christ to predestination and what Luke meant in Luke 14:26 when he wrote that unless people hate their own father and mother, they cannot be a disciple of Christ.
By the end of the weekend, two people made decisions to follow Christ and to live “In Not Of” lives for the very first time. Six others recommitted themselves to following Christ, and 25 sensed God calling them to enter ministry.
Professor of Student Ministry Wes Black said 946 people —303 of which were students—came from 190 churches from coast to coast to attend YML. Senior pastor at Houston’s First Baptist Church, Greg Matte, and College at Southwestern Dean Steven Smith preached during the event. The David Gentiles Band led worship.
Professor of Student Ministry Richard Ross said the dual nature of the conference makes it beneficial for both youth groups and Southwestern students. Southwestern students take responsibility for the year-long planning process. Registration and Publicity Chairperson and Master of Arts student Craig Barrack agreed with Ross.
“It really helped me appreciate the art of delegation and the unique attributes of the body of Christ,” Barrack said.
Master’s student Courtney Cameron, who served as co-chair of the event with fellow master’s student Tony Bianco, said she was encouraged to hear that many who came to the conference feeling drained left refreshed and energized.
“What is such a blessing is to hear from people who were challenged in their ministry and people who have come here and were refreshed to go back rejuvenated for their ministry,” said Cameron.
Mark Tissue, youth minister at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Big Spring, Texas, said YML helps him re-charge and re-load each year and that the 2012 conference proved to be no different.
“I enjoy getting to come and just relax a little bit and listen to some different ideas,” Tissue said. “Just about every year I get a new idea or two.”
Warren Samuels, president of NEXT Worldwide, a group that works in tandem with the local church to help the next generation reach unevangelized people groups, led a session for ministers about helping students catch God’s vision for missions.
“There is no greater call than to give our lives caring for the people who will be carrying the banner of Christ long after we’re dead,” Samuels said.
Yet, many of those whom the Lord wants to use to carry that banner, Samuels said, will ignore the call of God in the name of safety—demonstrating that they are in and of the world, adhering to the world’s self-preservation mindset.
“Many of the churches that you are in worship at the altar of safety,” Samuels told youth leaders.
“Before a parent says, ‘Is it the will of God?’ that parent asks, ‘Is it safe?’ Ladies and gentlemen, there is nothing that has ever been safe about the Gospel. But I will ask you this question. Tell me which is safer: Your teenagers taking the light of the Gospel to a dark world or staying in North America and having their worldview shaped by MTV?”
Associate Professor of Student Ministry Johnny Derouen hopes the ‘In Not Of’ mindset will lead youth groups to follow God wherever He leads with the single goal of glorifying Him.
“I want to see that when they leave here, they make His name famous,” Derouen said.