FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – The 59 committee members for this year’s Youth Ministry Lab knew they needed God’s blessing for any of their efforts to have lasting results. These volunteers prayed for conference participants during the days and weeks leading up to the April 9-10 conference, and maintained that prayer intensity throughout the weekend.
The 1,310 in attendance—filling Truett Auditorium, its balcony and a nearby conference room—was the second-highest attendance in the event’s 42-year history. Every year, this premier training event for youth leaders, volunteers and student-leaders is organized and facilitated by students at Southwestern Seminary, under the supervision of seminary faculty.
“We know people come, not just because it’s a good conference and not just because they’ll hear good speakers, but because of the ways their lives are changed and the way the kingdom is impacted,” says Wes Black, professor of student ministry at Southwestern. “While we did extensive planning and efforts at promoting, we give full credit to God’s movement.”
A 24-hour prayer room was open in Price Hall during the weekend, with YML leadership holding vigil and welcoming students and ministers for intercessory prayer and contemplation. The weekend before YML, committee members were jolted awake at all hours of the night by text messages from other YML workers as part of an unbroken, 36-hour cell phone prayer chain. They pulled themselves out of bed, kneeled and committed an hour of prayer for the YML event, the speakers, the attendees, and for God’s movement in the hearts of those involved.
This focus was echoed by the event’s speakers. Wes Hamilton, a pastor and Southwestern alumnus, exhorted the large crowd of ministers and youth leaders during his plenary session on Friday night, addressing this need for perspective when seeking to grow in influence. Hamilton said success is good, but it has the potential to dull one’s appetite for giving God glory and being in pursuit of Him, which results in hypocrisy as the life and message of a minister cease to match up.
Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and J.R. Vassar, pastor of Apostle’s Church in New York City, also led plenary sessions, respectively, on the engaging the culture through apologetics and the importance of Holy Spirit-driven leadership.
Anthony Moore, a Southwestern Ph.D. student, taught the volunteer youth leaders an overview class on hermeneutics, saying it is essential that they learn how to study their Bible and teach it to others. Jason Lee, associate professor of historical theology, taught an expanded course on Friday during the pre-conference sessions.
“Their ability to truly love their youth is directly proportionate to their ability to give them Christ,” said Moore. “Christ is only seen in the text, and so they can only love and can only give Christ based upon their ability to handle the text.”
Similar exhortation was given to the youth during their breakout sessions. Paige Patterson, David Allen and Malcolm Yarnell participated in an open forum to address difficult Bible questions, with students bringing up topics such as the security of the believer, eschatology and if there was a literal, seven-day creation.
At the end of the conference and after each session, decision cards were distributed to the attendees to fill out to record decisions, calls to ministry, or renewed commitments to ministry. YML leadership committed to pray and follow up on each card submitted.