NASHVILLE, Tenn. — “God wants us to aim higher,” Derwin Gray, a former NFL player for the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers, told 400-plus youth workers at a national conference sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources.
“The living God, the Great I Am, wants to energize our lives and our students’ lives so that we will echo His story through all eternity,” said Gray, founder and lead pastor of Transformation Church in Fort Mill, S.C.
The three-day National Youth Worker’s Conference in mid-September, geared to help leaders develop the spiritual lives of students in their ministries, included a number of featured speakers and 22 breakout sessions relevant to various church settings.
Gray shared insights on how his multigenerational, multiethnic church integrates students into the life of the congregation.
“Our students are not the leaders of tomorrow,” Gray said. “Our students are the leaders of the church now. Our youth are involved in most aspects of our worship service from helping with production to serving in the worship band.”
Immerse students in the life of the church, Gray counseled, noting, “Students are not in a separate game. Include them in the whole game.”
Ben Arment, a church planter from Virginia who taught on Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed from Matthew 13:3-9, encouraged the youth workers to cultivate relationships through their ministry.
“We are not just evangelists,” Arment said. “We are cultivators. We don’t just take one shot at someone whose heart is not prepared to receive the gospel.”
Alvin Reed, professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, encouraged youth workers to integrate the gospel into every aspect of life. “We must give (students) the epic of the gospel and let them know that everything in life is about the mission of God,” Reid said. “More than anything, your student ministry needs a movement of God.”
Paul Kelly, associate professor of educational leadership at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California, taught a breakout session geared for student ministers with less than five years of experience.
“Student ministry is not about building a youth group, it’s about building disciples of Christ,” Kelly said, noting that discipleship is relational.
“We, as youth workers, need to understand the power of presence,” he said. “As you invite them into your life, learn to nudge them toward deeper spiritual growth.” Kelly also provided practical tips to new ministers.
“Be available,” he said. “Yet, set boundaries with students. Use technology to your advantage and learn to refer youth to specialists if they are dealing with issues beyond your knowledge.”
Kelly also encouraged student workers to be champions for the families of the youth.
“The most important influence in a student’s life is his or her parents,” he said, encouraging workers to remember they are partners with parents.
Kelly further encouraged student workers to communicate clearly with parents, build a ministry team and include students in the life of the church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Shrout writes for LifeWay Christian Resources.)