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Youth Ministry Panel Discussion, Iron on Iron Conference

Panel: Zach Mabry, Jonge Tate, Rob Conti, Brian Freerksen, Jonge Tate, and Ricky Smith.

Moderator: Spencer Davis

How can I help change the culture within my church?

Zach Mabry:

I’m gonna address generally, and then a couple of specific things. A lot of it is just has to do with the application of what Rob was teaching last night about being an example in speech and conduct and love, faith and purity, and I think it’s… Obviously, it’s gonna be difficult. Who is it today that was… Oh, Rob, last night also joking on student pastors and how it’s easy to look like a JV pastor or not quite a pastor, and that’s on other people… And let’s be honest, some student ministries and student pastors have ruined reputation for everybody else, and that’s just a reality that you’re fighting from behind, and so what you need to do is you need to have that type of mindset to be an example. And I think what’s super important for us is to be people of conviction where you are committed to following Scripture wherever it leads, but then to be patient as well, and that to be in a place where if God has called you there, then to plan on being there for the long term, and not feel like you have to change everything about your church or your church staff right now, but to be a voice who is constantly drawing you back to the Scripture, it’s constantly drawing the conversation back to the Scripture. So when it comes to theology, one of the questions was like, one of our pastors said that anything that has to do with Calvinism is heretical.

And at that point, you need to say, “Okay, great, well, let’s… ” Obviously, not everything that Calvin believed was heretical, he’s a man and he’s faulty, so there’s some things that he was wrong on, but let’s compare whatever… Let’s take it back and compare Calvin’s teachings to Scripture. ‘Cause there’s gonna be some areas where we have to agree and some areas where I think we also have to disagree, but it’s really ambiguous right now because we don’t know what each other’s thinking about the things that we should agree and disagree on. And so where… Especially if he’s drawing his teachings from the Bible, then we would agree with them, and so let’s try to avoid foolish controversies. We talked about that last night. Just avoid that, and let’s go back to the Scriptures.

And so there are gonna be times where it will be helpful for you in the student ministry to help gently bring the pastor, if that’s the case, into, “Well, let’s check this with the Scriptures,” and there’s a lot of misconceptions about people that believe all sorts of things they’ll throw out a label, “Oh well, they are this. And they believe that.” Well, let’s talk about it, is that really what they’re believing, is that really what that person taught? So we should have a patient conviction to follow Scripture, knowing this is a long-term… Always turn the conversation back to the Scripture. A couple of the questions had to do with, where you feel like your church has to do with performance, and it feels like everything’s based on this appearance and performance and that’s where… And you wanted to have it more relational and have real accountability with the staff…

Well, someone has to lead in that, and it could be that you’re the one who needs to be the catalyst to say, “Hey guys, here we are working alongside of each other, it feels like we don’t really know each other and that we’re guarded against each other, and I feel like I can’t really share, so let’s really share. We’re pastors together. Let’s share.” So I think that a lot of times, again, it has to be, you can’t allow yourself to just get angry or frustrated, if this is where God has called you, then you need to be… Have that patient, long-term conviction to Scripture, come back to that, the one conversation about music, I think that’s a really wise question to ask, and there needs to be a conversation, you need to make sure that the songs that you’re singing together are biblical and are honoring the Lord.

And sometimes there are some more controversial ministries out there, David and I were talking about that last night, you look across the board, you look at like Bethel or Hillsong or Elevation, and some of those ministries you wouldn’t wholeheartedly endorse, but some of the songs that they’re producing are really good, and I think I’m perfectly fine with using songs from the ministry that I think there are people in this ministry that I disagree with theologically, but this song that they’re doing is honoring to the Lord, it’s biblical, and then I do think there is a conversation where… Especially with your students, you could easily say, “Hey guys, you know we’ve been seeing some stuff from Bethel, but I’m not endorsing that as a ministry. You guys need to check everything that they say with Scripture, and this song that they’ve done is really great and we’re gonna use it to worship the Lord.”

But then again, if you do have a pastor, if someone in your church who’s making decisions that says, “We’re not gonna do this,” and I think that’s fine to support that decision and say, “Okay guys, this is… ” In church together, corporately, the pastor’s decided that we’re not gonna sing from a group from this, and you need to support the pastor in that, and then have that as a conversation, say, at your home, you can listen to music that exalts the Lord, that’s biblical, but we’re not gonna do it corporately because we don’t want to give our church to give a seal of approval on that ministry. So again, same thing, we’re going… Try to go back to Scripture, patient conviction, long-term… Anybody else?

How can I foster healthy balance and boundaries for my family, while still serving how God has called me to?

Jonge Tate:

My wife and I’ve been married for 20 years. We have four kids. 17, 15, 14 and 12. So yeah, I’m gonna use the word blend over balance every day, because I tried that, the balancing… At the end of the day, I’m very passionate for ministry, as you are. You’re gonna pay me. You’re gonna pay me to do this. You get me. It’s crazy to think that we do, and some of you don’t get paid, it’s a volunteer situation. So from that, both of those angles, the number one priority for me, when I proposed to my wife 21 years ago, I said to her, “You will always be number two in my life, my number… Jesus will always be number one. I need you to know that right out of the gate, but I promise you that my number two will be better than everybody else’s number one.” Oh, baby!

And I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to live up to that. 20 years, trying to follow those guard rails, and of course, Rob mentioned last night, the qualifications for those who are in an overseas situation in ministry, it’s the husband and one wife, and then there’s some personal characteristics that are there, and then it goes right into, you need to make sure you lead your family well, first and foremost, because if you can’t lead your family well, then you’ve got no business to be involved in leadership in any fashion whatsoever within the church. And so I was very bold about that in every situation I was in, you all need to understand that if I come to be the student pastor here, or if you desire me to come on staff here, that you’re gonna be a very distant four in my life.

Jesus will be my number one. My wife is two, my kids… However many God chooses to bring into our tribe at that moment will be three and you will be four. And if there’s ever an issue with the first three, I’m out on number four, and in every situation that I have been in, the churches have found that very refreshing, like, “Hey, thank you for taking that stand, because we’ve seen certainly the other side of that, we know what that looks like.” Now, have I always gotten it right? No. The church planting world for us was very difficult, because now she’s at home with four babies, and I’m passionate about cultivating something new in a new community, and then we’re birthing new churches, our goal was to plant more and more churches, we’re gonna celebrate 10 years this September and nine autonomous church plants from Bozeman, Montana to Florida to Somoto in Nicaragua, and they’re all autonomous, it’s not my face on a screen somewhere.

I’m not opposed to that, God just didn’t call me to that, and in the midst of that, we were launching church number three, my wife came to me during our kitchen table, we call it lid time on Sunday nights where my calendar comes open, her calendar comes open, and it’s like, “Hey, what does this week look like?” And she said to me, “I need to talk to you about Psalms 46-10.” Where, “Be still and know that God is God. Be still and know that He is exalted among the nations. He’s exalted,” and I wanna put our family in that. And she said to me this, here’s what she said, she said, “I feel distant, and I’m disconnected.” Now, truth be told, I wish I could say that I was just filled with warmth for her in that moment, the hairs on the back of my head began to stand up because I’m thinking, “I’m fine, what’s wrong with you?”

But I had just enough brains to not say that, I had just enough brains to realize that how I felt about what she said was irrelevant, what mattered is that my bride, whom God has called me to first, has just opened up to me. And we had to set some things in place. One of my mentors said to me, “Date weekly, retreat quarterly, vacation yearly.” And we don’t always get it right, but it’s something that we really try to put in place and there’s… If I could give you something that’s really been a bombshell for my wife and I, that we’ve really tried to listen to… A guy by the name of Lyle Dorsett wrote a book called A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of AW Tozer. AW Tozer is where we get Pursuit of God, The Knowledge of the Holy… Get you some of that deep stuff.

The most damning statement in the book came from Ada or Ada, not quite sure how you say that, but it was Tozer’s wife. Here’s her quote, “After Tozer died, and she remarried, ‘I have never been happier in my life. Aiden Tozer loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me.'” You can go a long way with that. I want my wife to know that I loved Jesus, but I love her more than anything. And so for us, we choose to blend versus trying to balance in ministry and incorporating what we do out of those first three in my life, the number four is an overflow of what’s happening in my life and in my family.

What are the best resources for discipling students?

Rob Conti:

Alright, so let me first start by… I’m gonna read a quick definition of discipleship. “At its core, discipling is essentially whatever we do to intentionally help other Christians to grow up in holiness, it’s a process of becoming like Christ, it’s not a program, it may mean reading a good Christian book and discussing it, it may mean outlining a book of the Bible together, it may mean going through a class together and disgusting it over lunch. The key is whatever you do should be rooted in the truth of Scripture and presented on the basis of an intentional loving relationship.” Did you get all that? Good.

So essentially what we’re saying, is that as a disciple, I am following Jesus, that I’m growing in a relationship with Jesus that’s marked by love and obedience and submission, and then to disciple somebody is to bring them along in it, that I’m teaching them by my words and my example, how to follow Jesus. So that’s essentially what it is. And so it can take on different forms and it should take on different forms, so I’d say within that one-on-one, yes; small group, yes; large group, yes. However that looks, that there’s gonna be formal and informal times of discipleship, and depending on where you are and what season of life that’s gonna look different with different groups of people.

So having said that, primarily what I believe and what I would fight for and hold to is taking somebody through Scripture, teaching them how to feed themselves from Scripture, walking through a book of the Bible, whether that’s corporately, small group, one-on-one… I want them to learn how to study Scripture for themselves. So they become a life-long student of the Word of God, so they’re learning how to read Scripture to get the meaning and apply it and submit to it. Now, with that, I know, man, there’s lot of people who are volunteering their time. You work a full-time job, you have a full-time family, and your pride is convicted as I am over the last answer where I just wanted to walk out, call my wife and tell her I loved her and I was on my way home.

So we’re busy. We’re busy people. And so there’s not always a lot of time to do all… Especially if you’re dipping into discipleship in different arenas, man, there are really good resources out there, so I wanted to tell you some of them. So one, just as a starting point, a great book. This is a simple book, I read this whole thing. Yeah, I mean, cover to cover. So you can do it, if I can do it, you can do it. It’s called Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry. Within this, there’s a lot of… It just breaks down different topics, different authors, and they are all pointing you in further direction for more help, Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry by Cole and Nielsen. Now… Oh, okay, so now these I’ve looked at, and I’m personally vaguely familiar with it, but I’ve talked to people that love and trust that use these, and so I don’t have any hesitation in recommending them, just wanted full disclosure. Youth Ministry 360. YM360, a great resource. You can check that out. They’ve got… It seems like they’ve got everything in a package that you can get that will run your student ministry from teaching, corporately, small group setting, one-on-one discipleship, games.

The Gospel Project, a lot of great tools there, The Gospel Project, and so you check those out, you can just Google those, find them easy, but again, I’d say, man, use those things, but nothing is gonna… Nothing, ’cause again, discipleship is not a program, nothing’s gonna replace the relationship that has to be built where they see you… Nothing is gonna replace them seeing you share the Gospel, you wanna teach your kids how to share the Gospel, let them see you share the Gospel, and I get emotional about the Gospel.

How can I get parents involved in discipling their own kids, and other kids in the youth group?

Brian Freersken:

Well, in light of Rob’s definition of discipleship, we obviously want parents modeling Christ to their students, to their children. This is a great opportunity for you to engage in conversation with your senior pastor, with your other pastors on staff, because this is a church-wide concern, not just a student ministry concern. You as a team need to work together to impact the lives of parents, students, children, the family as a whole. Now, if we want parents to disciple their students, it’s not just about sending home a resource, now we’ve done… We’ve sent questions home and said, “Hey, parents, engage in conversation with your student about the lesson we’ve taught or about the study we’ve been going through,” so anytime there’s communication and conversation between a student and their parent, that’s a good thing.

We want to see that happen. But if we’re asking them to model Christ, they need to be understanding the importance for them to grow personally, to grow spiritually, and then to live that in their homes. Teenagers still say that their parent is the most influential person in their life for the vast majority, and so we want to help parents and you can tell them, your teenager wants to hear from you, they want to see what is important to them, they want to see their parent model to them what is important in their lives. Certainly, it would be great if spouses were priority, if Jesus was a priority… They could model what Janji was talking about as well. That’d be great.

Let me move to the other aspect of it, which is how do you get parents involved? When we do our annual parent meeting, we basically invite parents to come and be a part. Now we have a wide range of opportunities for parents to be involved, obviously, if you’re going to teach, open up Scripture, do mentoring, there’s a process that I talked about this morning, but if you’re just coming to do check-in, if you’re coming to greet somebody in the parking lot, if you’re coming to interact with parents when they’re dropping their students off or whatever, that doesn’t require a whole lot of work. Now we do a little bit of training. As a matter of fact, I have a new couple coming tomorrow morning, I won’t be there, but our staff is going to be training them on how to do the check-in and how to be greeters.

It’s because I have a great staff, I trust them, and they know the process and they can get it done, but we invite parents, and so we have broken down all of our opportunities, all of our jobs and all of our expectations and said, “If you want to be long-term, if you wanna commit to a year and then re-up for another year, great. If you wanna just come for an event or every other week or once a month, here are different jobs you can do.” And so we just wait for them to tell us, at least in those categories, “I’ve got some time, I’d like to help you, I’d like to do this.” And what we have found is when we can get them in the door, doing check-in or helping out at a game on a particular activity, they see our heart, they see us interacting with their student and others, and they want to be involved more, and so we engage in further conversations.

So involving your parent is about communicating with them, letting them know that you need them, letting them know that they have a place, because oftentimes, they think their teenager wants nothing to do with them, “I don’t want you in our student ministry, don’t come around.” We have found that to be completely opposite, we have more students that are excited that their parents actually show up and are doing… Now, maybe not teaching their small group and getting in their business, but being there because they actually care about their student’s life and what’s going on and who their friends are. So put together a list, find out where you need help, and then let them know that you have needs, and then accordingly based on the level of responsibility, just clarify that.

How do I know when it’s time to leave a church?

Jonge Tate:

It’s a good question. I think that what we need to remember is that nowhere in the Bible does God ever say, “I will follow you.” Ever. God never comes to anybody in the Bible and says, “Hey, what do you think about… I’d love to, but I kinda wanna hear what you have to say.” You don’t ever see that. God’s God, He sits on His throne, and he’s your boss, and he’s who you follow. And wherever you’re serving, you’re there on assignment. I love what Zach said in the beginning, you don’t go as a stepping stone to do a resume build, ’cause this will look really good, and then one day I’ll go too. You put your hand on the plow and you don’t let up until God calls you to move on.

And even where you are, it’s very easy to get the Jesus mentality, because look at all the good things that God is doing, look at all the things that… And keep in mind that he’s the Chief Shepherd, capital S, you’re the little shepherd. Corrie Ten Boom said, “Hold everything loosely. It will hurt when God takes it away.” Good word, that everything that you have, that you’re influencing is by the gift of God, and also be smart enough to recognize that God, it’s… Those cases where God just leaves somebody in the same location forever, they’re few and far between, they are. And I made a lot of mistakes early on, that youth ministry that I took in seminary that was running… Doing really good job of 50 students, and we took it to 77 students, that was the church that if I could get two 55 passengers buses packed to drive to Snowbird, oh, we’d really be doing something and we did.

When I left, and God moved me back home where my father was dying of Alzheimer’s, and graced me with the opportunity to be there during that season and for him to know my first born son when I left that church, they went from 77 in Sunday school to 17. Epic fail. I was the Pied Piper. I didn’t equip people to do the work of the ministry, and I began to look at everything very different, that this isn’t mine, this is Jesus’ ministry, and when he gives me this tug, for me, there’s always been this push and this pull, and generally they’re both from God, that there’s… Sometimes there’s this push, I know you love these people, and I know you’re all in and you’re entrenched, but I have something else for you that I need you to do, and somebody else needs to come in and do something that you’re not gifted at.

That’s okay. For you to be responsive to that, sometimes it’s a push of the people in that church, you’re just not the right guide or the right person to take it on to the next place. And when my wife and I began to feel that tug, we begin to pray, “God, would you confirm it in the people around us? You’re the God who causes people to have dreams at night, that they just wake up and they go, “I had a dream that you were standing before the church telling people you were leaving.” That happened two weeks after my wife and I began praying, Is it time for us to leave and go serve back in our hometown, because my father’s dying of Alzheimer’s? Is that selfish? That I wanna be there? At the end of the day, I wanna say this to you.

1 Samuel Chapter 3, somebody’s trying to hear a voice and they don’t know what it is. Eli’s the priest, and young Samuel hears, hears, and he runs to Eli, you know the little feet… Can you hear him run down the hallway? “Eli, Eli, Eli.” And he’s like, “Go back to bed, boy. I didn’t call you.” And he goes back to sleep, and then he comes down and hears it again, he goes down, and this is like three times. And then Eli finally wakes up. And he’s like, “Oh, what if God is speaking?” The ScriptureScripture says, the Lord came and stood. And you know what Samuel’s response was? “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” How do I answer that question? My best response to you is follow that example in 1 Samuel 3, get in a closet and say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening. God is talking.”

What I’ve known in my own life is I’m not always listening to what he… He might say, “I need you to stay, this is gonna get difficult, it’s gonna get tough, and this is gonna be nasty.” And the Sunday when I was an interim youth pastor for a season, the guy stood up and preached from a book of everything I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten, that was his text, and when every time you see a rainbow, that’s God repenting of his sin. People in the church got up and walked out and God said, “No, don’t you go anywhere. I called you here and I realize you’re doing great if 12 teenagers show up, but there’s a remnant here that I’m working with, and I need you to stay.” And then there were times where God was like, “Okay, it’s time to move on, it’s time to move on to something else.” At the end of the day, God is your boss. Do exactly what he says, and leave all the consequences up to him.

How can I best equip, train, and involve leaders in my youth ministry?

Brian Freerksen:

So we do a little form, obviously, and they do self-evaluations, and what we did is we handed out this form, we had a number of questions that were pertinent to the list of expectations and responsibilities that they signed, and we just ask them, “How are you doing? Give yourself a score between one and 10, where would you rate yourself?” You’d be amazed at how critical people are of their selves as opposed to your opinion, my scores were always higher than theirs, but I didn’t know all the things that were going on in their life, so what we did then is once they did that assessment, we divided them into by division, so middle school and ninth and 10th and Junior and Senior, and a different staff person sat with them and just discussed it, similar to a review at work.

We just sat down and discussed and we found more things that we could pray for and encourage them with than, you’re not doing this very well, we wish you would live up to this, it just became an opportunity for us to pour into them. Now, then there have been other situations that they just didn’t get it. We tried to help them figure out, “Listen, we need you to do this. We need you to not do these things,” and some of them were not severe, but questionable, and we had to sit down, myself and our middle school pastor, and we sat down together with this gentleman and said, “Look, we’ve talked about your expectations, we’ve talked with you personally about what are some things that we can help you do in order to fulfill these things, and we just don’t see any progress, change or conformity to our expectations.”

Well, his response was very much… He was doing his own thing, he was doing his own agenda, and we said, “We appreciate what you’re doing, not necessarily how you’re doing it, and the fact that you’re doing it in opposition to what we’re trying to accomplish, it just doesn’t seem like it’s gonna fit.” And about a week later, he sent me an email and said, “You know what, you’re right. I think I’m just gonna step away.” Okay, that makes it pretty easy. Now granted, you still have to deal with the students and the parents who are now wondering, “Why did he step away?” And so you’ve gotta tread carefully, lovingly, and we again, we come back to our… I don’t wanna use the word process, but the paperwork that we put out there and say, “This is what we ask of you, this is what we expect of you, and if you aren’t willing to follow it, no hard feelings. Go to another place of ministry.”

Or you can come in line. I know that sounds harsh, but in some cases, it’s gotta be done, it just has to be. There was another question here. I’m not sure if I can see it. Oh, training sessions, yes. Over the years, I’ve done monthly meetings, we’ve done quarterly meetings, annual meetings just weren’t enough. We have tried Wednesday nights after church, we’ve tried different things, and what we did is we just started asking because our percentages, especially when we were doing monthly, every third Wednesday of the month, it was just… It was too much. It was a long day for us. It was a long day for them, and it was a long day for their children, if they had children and needed to get home in time, so we just asked them what’s convenient for you and what we’ve settled on and so far it works for us, is we combine our fellowship time with our meeting time, and so Sunday morning once a quarter, our next one is September 9th, after the service, we prepare lunch for them and we eat lunch together, we fellowship and play a little bit together, and then we do training and part of that training is, how can you improve as a leader, how can you improve in this area of personal integrity or in communication or facilitating a group, some practical ministry thing, but then we get feedback.

And we’re budgeting in about 30 minutes, this next meeting. You tell us, you’ve working with us now, sometimes three years, six years, four years, one month, you tell us what are things that you see that need to change, improve, modify about our programming, our ministry, our whatever. And so we want to hear their feedback, and what we’ve discovered is when they don’t just sit and have to listen, but actually have the opportunity to give feedback, they are far more likely to attend, and so we try and find a time that’s convenient. We’ve listened to what they’ve suggested, and then we give them opportunities to give feedback rather than just learn something.

How can I help integrate students into the life of the greater church?

Zach Mabry:

That is a great question. Yeah, you know, there’s statistics that we hear all the time of how many students just fall away from the church and Christianity after high school, and so I think it’s great that we’re realizing that we need to have them involved in the church as a whole. So what we need to be teaching is we need to be teaching that these students, even though they’re in middle school and high school, that they are members of the church and constantly be providing opportunities for them to be involved in the rest of the church. Think through getting your young man involved in whatever men’s ministry is doing, your young women, whatever women’s ministry doing, look for ways to serve, whether it be in the nursery or with senior citizens, I think Brushy Creek… Where is James? James is at…

Yeah, Brushy Creek, they have a really great deal where he has talked with the senior citizens, the old folks, and they’ve had them basically adopting kids in high school so that they can blend the two ministries together and it’s been awesome, you’ve got these senior citizens who are taking these kids out to eat and giving them wisdom and praying over them, and then they have… A couple of times a year, they get together for a banquet and it’s just awesome, so just we need to… It’s our job to help our students realize that they’re not just a part of this youth group, but they’re part of the church. We need to think of… There’s a guy who spoke at this, at the 100 Year Conference maybe six years ago, five or six years ago, talked about how…

Had a really great illustration that the youth group should be more like minor league baseball is to the major league instead of college football is to the pros, because the goal in minor league is for these guys to get all the tools that they need, so that they can go into the majors. College football is trying to make a big team now, they don’t care what happens to you after you leave there, it’s about winning now, so your goal is not to have a really big growing youth group, it’s to develop believers to disciple young men and young women so that they become Godly men and Godly women, and they need to be challenging your seniors that when they go to college, that they need to get involved in a local church where they go. That’s the biggest step. And Rob even… I can’t say anything without referring to something that Rob had said before, but Rob was talking about how when he went to college, it took him a while to realize that you’re supposed to be a part of a local church, and I think we’re doing a bad job sending students off. So we need to be making sure that equipping seniors say, “Yeah, when you go to this college, make sure,” and then helping them, calling around, finding a good church for them to be a part of, and then encouraging them to be a part of a local church when they go to college and then following up with them afterwards.

Don’t just have your world focused on your youth group here and now, but have it focused on these students growing into Godly men and Godly women, and that you can give them mentorship even after they leave, pointing them towards being involved in local churches, and then… I think that’s the key we’re missing is they’re falling away because they’re moving away often, and then allowing lethargy to set in. And I know for me too, that’s one of the biggest things I tell people when they go away to college. Find a local church to be involved in, ’cause it took me a couple of years to realize that that’s what I was supposed to be doing also. Campus ministries are awesome, but they’re not the church, right? Challenge kids. Do you wanna be involved in campus ministry, that’s great, you need to also be involved in a local church.

How can I find and cultivate openness, sharing, and accountability with other pastors?

Rob Conti and Ricky Smith:

Rob – Yeah, good question. And I think that is a very common thing that we see with student pastors that come in, is they feel isolated, that there’s not fellowship within the pastoral staff or the group of elders, however the church is structured. And the first thing I wanna say is, “Don’t give up. Don’t give up on that. Play the long game. You very well may be the catalyst that God uses to change that aspect of the church to… ” ‘Cause sadly, yeah, people don’t know how to disciple, people don’t know how to, that accountability and fellowship, ’cause it’s been lost in the church and discipleship is supposed to be handed down, but when it’s missed, you got study, you got books, you got podcasts, but how to really have a relationship with one another that is Christ-honoring and iron sharpening iron…

And that gets missed and then I don’t know how to do it, and so it may take you doing it from a position, and what can be difficult is that the senior pastor, or the other pastors are resistant to it, is doing it in such a way that doesn’t seem like you’re usurping authority as if you’re trying to lead, but doing in a way that’s supportive of their leadership, coming underneath their leadership, but loving them, supporting them, but intentionally trying to build relationships that breaks through that wall that’s up, and that might be long and painful and you might get rejected a lot, but I encourage you to not give up on that, to pursue it.

Ricky – I heard Rob say, the danger of isolation. And I think we are isolated because we insulate ourselves, and so the danger of living in a vacuum in our own ministry is toxic. So the best advice I would give you on this is, first of all, get over yourself. Okay? You are not that big of a deal. So you are there to advance the Gospel and make the name of Jesus known, not there to establish your own kingdom and become the biggest coolest youth group in town, so you have to get over yourself and then you have to realize in that, it’s not about me. So if you simply did the math on the percentage of the unreached people in your community compared to the number of students in your community, compared to the number of kids in your youth group, you would quickly conclude there’s a lot of work to do, and there’s no way that I can do this on my own.

So Columbus, Georgia, for example, were 85% unchurched in Columbus, Georgia. Let me give you another example. I was doing some consultation with the church in Hartwell, Georgia, not far from here, in Hartwell, Georgia, there are 3000 middle school and high school students in this small community, and there are 100 churches. That seems like a reasonable ratio, but they’re 80% lost in Hartwell, Georgia. So the chasm that we have to reach requires us to reach beyond ourselves, so we cannot afford to be insulated, and we have to recognize the huge danger when we become isolated. So I would say then two things, I have to reach out and initiate contact. What does Proverbs 18 tell me? Real simple principle, “A man that has friends must show himself friendly.” So I always choose to look at this as if I’m a marketing agent. I have to generate calls, so if I want to build relationships with others for the sake of reaching my community, I have to be willing to generate those leads within those around me, that means I’m not gonna wait on somebody to call me, I’m gonna initiate the contact with youth pastors and youth leaders and churches in my area. “Hey man, how are you doing? How are things going in your church? Do you wanna grab some lunch? Let’s get some guys together.” So don’t sit back and wait. You be the one to reach out.

That’d be wise counsel I would give for you. If you don’t have an existing network in your area that already exists that you know about, you may find by reaching out to others that one actually does exist, and youth pastors get together regularly for lunch in your community, you need to connect into that. If there’s not one, start it, it’s really not hard, just reaching out and trying to find opportunities to go get lunch. If you’re in Georgia, I will buy that meal for you. I will make that happen. If you’re in a neighboring state convention, whether you’re Baptist or not, you let me know, I will make that happen for you. I can commit that for you. I promise. Okay? And then the last piece of advice I will give us this leads to reaching our communities for the Gospel as I reach out to others, and I realize the desire and the importance of working with others, start out by leaning into each other, because I think what we oftentimes do is we sit in our insulated world, we come up with this wonderful idea that oftentimes looks like in an event, then when we get into the planning, we realize that A, I don’t have enough people or I don’t have enough money, so then I choose to reach out and get others, “Hey, will you come support my event?” And sometimes that works, but most of the time it doesn’t.

To me, what works more effectively is to start out by reaching out with others and let your network organically come up with an idea, so, “Hey, I have a relationship with somebody, what if we started out with this idea? What if we did together, blank… ” And I’ve gotta be willing to let go of some of that ownership, but what grows out of it is a corporate kingdom-minded opportunity to reach my community. In that inevitably you’re gonna build relationships because the best way to build relationships with somebody else is to sweat alongside them. So if I’m doing that on the campuses of my ministry and we’re wearing out our tennis shoes together by going on campus, it’s gonna make a difference. I’m gonna build relationships, we’re gonna sweat next to each other, and the kingdom’s gonna grow.

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March 2025

August 28, 2018

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