“How different would your ministries be if we as believers, leaders and parents got serious about discipling our students?”

Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., extended this challenge to attendees of Southwestern Seminary’s annual Youth Ministry Lab (YML), April 7-8, inviting youth ministry leaders to take seriously the role of preparing the next generation to be disciples of Jesus and empower teenagers to learn how to defend and share their faith. Gallaty was this year’s main speaker, with worship from the David Gentiles Band. In addition to main sessions, breakout conferences provided further training for ministers, volunteers and students in the areas of student ministry, girls ministry, and multi-ethnic student ministry.

Teaching from Mark 1 during the first worship session, Gallaty said this passage presents a model for the process of creating disciples. He concluded that a disciple follows Christ, is formed by Christ, focuses on others, and obeys Christ.

“A disciple follows Jesus. He spends time with Jesus, he walks with Jesus, and he hears from Jesus,” Gallaty said. “Aren’t you glad He still calls people today to follow Him?”

Gallaty urged leaders to not give in to the tendency to overlook the potential of teenagers. Rather, he said, they should invest in their students and create a safe place for them to gather, learn and grow as disciples of Jesus. “Maybe the reason you are not seeing the spiritual growth in your students you are expecting is because of the environment they are in,” he said.

Gallaty further explained that ministers cannot force spiritual growth in their students, but they can encourage them to be formed by Christ and transformed by the Word of God by providing an environment that better allows for spiritual growth. Teaching students how to better study the Word of God, Gallaty continued, will affect all other spiritual disciplines.

It is important, he added, to equally emphasize both evangelism and disciple-making in youth ministry, for one cannot truly exist without the other. Gallaty said that leaders must “walk with someone as they cross the threshold of faith.”

YML is a yearly conference coordinated by Southwestern students who volunteer their time and efforts to host the event. Master of Arts student Katie Dawkins served as co-chair for YML alongside Master of Arts student Kyle Marcus. She says she saw adult volunteers leave YML with a gained interest in discipleship and a renewed passion to encourage and equip their middle and high school students.

“Many leaders leave YML and tell us how important the session topics were for issues they are currently dealing with,” Dawkins says. “Youth ministry is tough, and the problems our students are facing are incredibly difficult.”

Marcus adds that the year of work and preparation for YML is all worthwhile when they hear the stories of students who have made decisions to surrender to vocational ministry and adult leaders who express their excitement to return home and implement what they have learned. “We were able to not only execute the purpose of Lab, but also worship King Jesus,” he says. “It was cool talking to attendees who had served on Lab committees in the past. We are a big family, and we are all in this difficult journey of youth ministry together.”

Master of Divinity student Ian Derrick also served on the 2017 YML team and says the weekend served to encourage leaders and challenge students to follow Christ and to share Christ with the lost. He says, “[YML] is more than a conference on ministry; it is a time of encouragement for the weary in ministry and a source of tools that help equip all serving members of the Church’s ministry.”