In the midst of a cultural revolution where technology has cultivated a "me" generation and immorality is prevalent, youth ministers have a unique and challenging role in teaching students to be bold disciples.
Tim Elmore, founder and president of Growing Leaders in Georgia, shared expert insight to a room full of church youth workers on leading today's youth at Texas Baptists' Youth Ministry Conclave, which was held in Arlington Oct. 12-14.
Today's culture fosters "artificial maturity," said Elmore, who has worked with students for 36 years. Youth are being over-exposed to information while being under-exposed to real life experiences, he explained, attributing the primary cause to the ease of Internet access.
In another general session at Conclave, Michael Evans, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield, also commented on the cultural revolution.
"We're living in such strange times now where Christians are no longer able to hide," he said, addressing the youth workers. "Fewer Americans claim Christ as their Savior. I believe we are in the midst of a cultural revolution."
There are four mistakes that today's culture makes when dealing with youth, Elmore said, listing the following:
- We risk too little.
- We rescue too quickly.
- We rave too easily.
- We reward too frequently.
Those acts, though often performed with genuine hearts, may make the students happy today, but don't foster a healthy tomorrow.
But youth ministers and anyone who works with the youth ministry have a unique role and opportunity to help students grow and mature.
"We have a place that's unique. We're not [school] teachers, but since we're in the church, [parents] trust us," Elmore said.
Leading students takes a different way of thinking, he noted. For instance:
- Don't think control, think connect.
- Don't think inform, think interpret.
- Don't think entertain, think equip.
- Don't think prevent, think prepare.
- Don't think manage, think mentor.
These steps and others will help students reach a higher level of maturity counter to the "me" culture, which surrounds them. Elmore has more to say on leading youth through his books and blogs found at his website growingleaders.com.
In a world that's being bold about its lifestyle choices, Evans encouraged youth workers to be courageous in their ministry.
"You're going to have to make it known who you are and you are going to have to make disciples and make bold disciples," he said.
This year's Youth Ministry Conclave also featured speakers Dennis Wiles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Arlington, and Ed Newton, Bible communicator and evangelist from Florida. The Digital Age led in worship and various experts directed informational conferences centered on developing strong and effective youth ministries.
Additionally, BaptistWay Press and Texas Baptist Missions Foundation presented the book "Ready. Recognizing and Responding to God's Call," co-authored by Grant Byrd, student minister at FBC McKinney, and Rusty Wheelington, associate professor of Christian studies at Howard Payne University. The book is designed with youth ministers in mind to help students pursue God's call to ministry and can be purchased here.
Conclave is a ministry of Texas Baptists Youth Discipleship Team. To learn more, visit conclave.texasbaptists.org.