FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) –Southwestern Seminary’s Youth Ministry Lab (YML), which draws more than 1,000 participants annually, makes better ministers through both the engineering of the event as well as through the event itself.
“As far as we know, this is the only conference in the country that uses students to do all the planning and logistics for putting the conference together,” said Wes Black, professor of student ministry at Southwestern.
He and the other professors and administration who facilitate YML wanted their seminary students – many of them also serving as youth workers and ministers in local churches—to have their fingers on the pulse of this event.
“It taps into the passion and creativity of students who bring a freshness to this that we could never come up with,” says Black. “We’ve held on to that tradition, not just because it’s tradition, but because its excellent training and experience.”
This reliance on student input and footwork goes back to YML’s start in 1963. Don Mattingly started the conference while he was a doctoral student at Southwestern, and it has since been under the watch-care of the School of Church and Family Ministries staff and run completely by Southwestern students. The emphasis continued when Black took the reins in 1985, followed by fellow faculty members and student ministers Johnny Derouen and Richard Ross.
Carissa Jones, who is pursuing her Master of Arts in Christian Education at Southwestern, is in her second year of YML service. As chair of the breakouts committee, she is one of 69 students who are involved in the brainstorming, assembly and execution of the event for this year. Students like Jones are what Black and the other professors are excited about.
“This has definitely given me a tremendous amount of experience in planning and organization,” says Jones. She said she was able “to be a part of something that is so much bigger than any one person – and being able to see how God is orchestrating every detail to all come together and then to see that weekend happen.”
This year included, YML has brought in speakers ranging from local ministers and musicians to world-renowned speakers and authors. Jones’ small team is in charge of providing support to these speakers and breakout session leaders—specifically during the teaching parts of the event.
“We make sure they have all their needs met so they can focus on what they’ve been brought in to do, which is sharing the Word,” says Jones.
Jones says that student involvement for each YML starts even before the curtain closes on the previous year. YML workers give their ideas for speakers and bands at the end of each event for the next year. The chairs and professors, along with Southwestern administration, make it a point to commit to pray over each speaker, vendor and attendee for YML, knowing that without God’s presence at the event, their efforts prove fruitless.


“The greatest blessing I’ve received is hearing all the reports of the people who came in to attend the conference, and how refreshed they were,” says Jones. “People who were ready to quit ministry altogether gave one last chance, and God did a complete transformation in their lives, and they went back rejuvenated for their ministries. People would fill out the response forms and say ‘it’s obvious that you prayed.’ It’s just a huge testimony of what God did at Lab.”
YML 2010: The Pursuit
“Generations Pursuing Christ Together”
Youth Ministry Lab enrollment information can be found at The current list of speakers and breakout session leaders for 2010 include J.R. Vassar, Wes Hamilton and Ergun Caner. These will each speak during the worship times on Friday and Saturday as well as lead breakout sessions during the weekend.
Full lists of the breakout sessions—including conference tracks made specifically for the student praise band leader, volunteer, girls minister, student wife and more – can be found on the Web site, along with information for a Korean track and pre-conference sessions that deal with correctly interpreting scripture, counseling teenagers and specialized leadership training.