Former youth ministry professor Phil Briggs dies at 88

Katie Coleman
| Apr 20, 2021

Phil Briggs, distinguished professor of student ministry and youth education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1971 to 2004, died on April 18. He was 88.

“Dr. Briggs was a Southwesterner with few equals,” said Southwestern Seminary President Adam W. Greenway. “As a four-time graduate and long-tenured faculty member for more than three decades, his longtime association with Southwestern Seminary will continue for many more years as the lives he impacted in turn impact others, with eternal consequences for the sake of the Gospel, especially among young people. I urge all Southwesterners to join with me in praying for God’s comfort to the Briggs family during this time of grief.”

Briggs was born on Feb. 26, 1933, in Ponca City, Oklahoma. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in religious education and Bible from Hardin-Simmons University, and is a four-time graduate of Southwestern Seminary (Master of Religious Education, 1957; Doctor of Religious Education, 1964; Doctor of Education, 1971; Doctor of Philosophy, 1994). He also completed additional studies in management at the University of Texas and in accounting for non-profit organizations at the University of Texas at Arlington.

While a student at Southwestern Seminary, Briggs taught as a teaching fellow from 1958 to 1962. He later served on faculty at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1965 to 1971 before returning to Southwestern Seminary to join the faculty, serving for 33 years until his 2004 retirement. He had also served as a guest professor of New Testament at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock.

In addition to his roles in academia, Briggs served in numerous ministerial roles in Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Missouri.

During his 33 years on faculty at Southwestern Seminary, Briggs taught and led widely in the areas of youth and collegiate ministries and education. He was also the inaugural occupant of the Edgar F. “Preacher” Hallock Chair of Student Ministries, which was endowed in 1997.

Briggs contributed to many published works, including youth and college curriculum for the Southern Baptist Convention, and he co-authored a book with his wife, Recreation Xtras: A Prescription for Family Fun.

Upon his retirement, Briggs donated his library to the seminary for use in the Price Hall curriculum library.

Briggs was an integral figure in the earliest years of the annual Youth Ministry Lab, coordinating workshops and events to further help and equip ministers with the challenges of their vocational calling.

Richard Ross, professor of student ministry, said the influence Briggs had on youth and college ministers was extensive, noting the ways in which Briggs valued such roles for what they could uniquely contribute to the church.

“Dr. Phil Briggs loved people,” Ross said. “He loved all people and took an instant interest in everyone he met. But at the same time, he had a special love of youth leaders. He blessed, encouraged, and spoke into every youth leader he met. In doing so, he passed on his infectious love for teenagers. Perhaps more than anyone in his generation, he challenged young leaders to serve in youth ministry for most of their lives. About the only time he would frown was when people would refer to youth ministry as ‘a stepping-stone to something better.’”

On social media, many reflected on Briggs’ impact and influence in youth ministry abroad.

“His youth ministry classes were ahead of their time,” said Ernest DeSoto (M.Div., 1991), associational missionary for the Central Baptist Association in Arkansas. “Later, he led two parenting conferences in my churches. He was a wonderful man and encourager to my ministry.”

John Parker, a 2015 Master of Arts in Christian Education graduate now serving as camp administrator at Green Country Camp in Disney, Oklahoma, said, “I was in his last class at SWBTS, and he was a gem. ‘God hits straight licks with crooked sticks!’ I still use that today to talk about God’s redeeming work.” 

Rick Morton, vice president of engagement for Lifeline Children’s Services, reflected, “Phil was a great influence on so many of us and a precious friend. I can’t think of him without thinking of his infectious laughter and smile. The Lord impacted generations for Himself through Phil’s life.”

Briggs is survived by his wife of 67 years, Jennette; his three children, Phillip Jr., Randall, and Brenda, and their families.

There will be no memorial service, but as Ross said on Twitter, “his memorial will be the lasting impact he made on thousands of youth leaders, including me.”