Hard Questions in Youth Ministry: Panel Discussion
2017 Iron on Iron Conference
Panel: Jeff Martin, Rob Conti, Steve Brooks, Quintell Hill
Moderator: Spencer Davis
When is a student ready to be baptized?
SPENCER: This question is for Jeff and it has two parts. The first question is this:
Question – We have a female student who says she gave her life to Christ last year and wants to be baptized. We’ve had several conversations about salvation/baptism, but other students have pointed out that there is no [spiritual] fruit. She is currently in a homosexual relationship, her social media is full of profane language, and there is other evidence of no [spiritual] fruit [in her life]. Her family doesn’t attend church. How should we address her?
Earn the right to be heard.
“We have several homosexuals that attend the church I lead. Some are not active in that lifestyle, others are having a season of victory and others are questioning… The first thing I would say is [that you must] earn the right to be heard. You’ve got to be present in this person’s life to speak into it. If you’re just coming from a position of ‘I’m the youth leader’ and you’re speaking at them, they’re just going to shut you out. Be present in their life. Listen. When you’re present, listen. You don’t have to have a response before they finish talking. When they finish what they’re saying and you’ve already come up with a response, that action tells them that you’re not really listening to them.”
Teach your small group leaders the acronym SOLAR.
- S-square up to them. Posture yourself so you’re looking at them.
- O-open your posture. Don’t cross your arms.
- A-acknowledge them when they talk or repeat.
Speak truth even if it’s risky.
What I did personally with a girl who wanted to work in children’s ministry; she was a professed believer, but in a homosexual relationship, unrepentant, living that lifestyle. We cared for her. We had her over for dinner..”
I took her to Hebrews 6, this is a passage that’s warning Christians and non-Christians. It seems like the author is saying it’s possible for people to experience Christian things and not really be a Christian. It seems like the author is saying if you experience this and walk away from it, you won’t come back. My fear is that she’s experienced a lot of Christian things, but if she turns away now, I fear she won’t come back. I wanted to warn her. I took her to 1 Corinthians 6 and showed her a list of sins, not just homosexuality. Some people say all sin is equal, it’s not the sin; it’s if we walk in repentance. I tried to walk through these things as gently as I could, but she got livid. She threatened to take it to the local news and say our church wouldn’t allow a homosexual to serve in our church and we had lawyers involved. It was a tough situation. Now, she broke up with her girlfriend, she came back around and she’s dating a guy and she’s having some attraction to him. It’s like she’s had some direct answer to prayers. She’s coming back to church and it’s been a beautiful thing. That’s how we handled that situation.
Speak truth even if it’s risky.
Recommended resources for my LGBTQ students?
Question – What would you recommend as solid materials/actions for the LGBT student?
“There’s a lady called Dee Buscetto. She’s out of Mississippi. She came out of that lifestyle, and she has one of the most powerful testimonies and ministries I’ve ever seen come out of this. It’s called Unreachable. Go to www.un-reachable.org. She’s got incredible resources.”
Make sure your students know that Scripture gives your experience credibility. They’re such an experience-driven culture. Make sure they know Scripture is true, not what you feel. Thank God. Make sure they know we’re all going through a spiritual battle, but God has given them an opportunity to have a hyper-awareness of the reality of spiritual battle. Help them see there’s even a good that God’s allowing them to see what we all should see: that sin’s a constant battle.
Encourage them to constantly pray to God to help their unbelief, that they’d believe that Jesus is better.
How do I reach students drawn to weak churches in my area?
SPENCER: The next question is for Rob.
Question – There are a lot of new churches in our area that are very weak, but they’re drawing a lot of our students to attend. How do I stay engaged with these students, and stay encouraged personally?
How can you stay encouraged, as a pastor.
Great question; I think I’ll work backward. That last point is how do I stay encouraged?
Your identity has to be in Christ. That has to be foundational for everything. If you’re satisfied, if you’re drawing your hope your peace your joy from what God says about you, it can lead you to the next step which can be difficult, that is to self-examine. Maybe the first statement is true, maybe it is a weak church. Maybe worse– it’s heretical. But it could be that I’m looking through the lens of jealousy. Maybe that church has a bigger budget. Maybe their youth pastor is cooler than me. Maybe more of their friends go there and that’s why they’re drawn there. If my identity is in Christ and I know at the end of the day Jesus loves me, He is pleased with me, that frees me to take a cold hard look at what’s really going on.
Why are they leaving? That will determine how I deal with it. At the end of the day if it’s just a bigger, better program, but it’s not heretical, and they’re still being ministered to, then I can take my hands off and trust that to the Lord. I’m not going to trade in my convictions. Maybe we don’t want to trade our Bible study time for more exciting stuff. I can step back and say that’s fine and pray for them. Have a conversation with them. Reach out and let them know that they’re always welcome back here, but if they’re going and they’re going to hear the Bible, I’m okay with that; I can keep doing what I’m doing and invest in the students that are coming. I can prioritize what the Lord has convicted me to prioritize.
What if the church is heretical?
If it is heretical, I’m going to warn them. I’m going to go after them, I’m going to lovingly, but straightforwardly warn them not to go sit under that teaching. I’m going to do all I can to fight for them. I’m going to stay committed to what Paul told us in 2 Timothy Chapter 4 charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead and by his appearing in His kingdom, preach the Word. Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and teaching, for the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers that suit their own passions. And will turn away from listening to the Truth and wander off into mists. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Leave the results up to Jesus.
So I’m going to find my identity in Christ; that’s going to free me to take a hard look at what I’m doing and what other people are doing, but I’m going to be accountable to this. I’m going to be accountable for what God has called me to do. I’m going to do that faithfully and lovingly. I’m going to leave the results and the growth and the success in the hands of Jesus.
How do I lead other teams in my church who aren’t Gospel-centered?
SPENCER: The next question is for Steve.
Question – We compiled several questions about leadership teams within the church being weak. Some about senior/pastor leadership or being too fiscally driven. Some good teams lack vision/focus. How do we speak into teams that lack vision or aren’t gospel-centered?
Focus on the church’s health.
We’re looking at different situations; I’ve been in the same church 20 years. We’ve had ups and downs. There’s been division. There have been times I’ve not agreed with leadership and their direction. I’ve said, “I’m just going to focus on the youth ministry and making sure we’re strong and we’re going in the right direction.” The problem is the youth ministry can’t ultimately lead the church. They bring vibrancy and excitement, but ultimately when the students get ahead of the people in the church, it starts creating a division. The Lord has revealed to me through life experience that the church is His bride, I’m part of the church. If that church isn’t healthy, you’re adding to the unhealthiness when you say okay I’m just going to do everything and ask for forgiveness later. That’s not the right attitude to have. That’s the wrong heart. Let them know your number one goal is the health of the church. As a youth leader, I’m not the ultimate shepherd of that church. That person has been put in authority, and I’m to come under that authority if I’m in that church. The Lord has put them there and I need to honor the Lord by honoring that person regardless if I agree or not.
Serve the church by honoring your pastor.
The other thing I think about is it’s tough for pastors. It’s tough for leadership because financially it’s a stressful thing. You need money and there are people who are giving a lot. They’re trying to please and make sure we don’t rock the boat. You can get drawn away from listening to the Holy Spirit, but it’s a tough battle. I pray for those in authority and make sure they know that. Any opportunity I get to speak encouragement to them in meetings and even emails to the pastor affirming these things when they speak Truth and affirm the things that I believe is the direction the Lord is leading us, but I do not talk about them behind their backs. It’s unscriptural and satan is using it to create division. If I have issues with them, I’m either going right to them to have a conversation, or I’m not talking about it at all. Listen to the Holy Spirit and follow His lead in regard to taking care of His bride so that we build up. We’re in a season now of kind of rebooting and I’m really excited of where we are right now. My role is to make sure I ask what’s best for the church? Even if that means I need to go because He’s the boss.
Our mentality has to be what’s best for the church not what’s best for the ministry. What’s best for the church and how can I align the youth ministry and speak into these students and be encouraging to promote the adults wanting to grow or be a part. When we do that they’re going to be much more favorable of the church and continue on. It’s healthy but ultimately coming under that authority and trusting the Lord. If it’s something that’s going against scripture you have to make decisions. There was one time back in Kentucky that things weren’t going well and I had to make a call, but the Lord called me to that ministry. I was having a conversation with the pastor and he said “Steve, why don’t you just resign.” I said “Because the Lord told me He wants me here for these students and I’m going to speak Truth in love and out of respect.” I never talked bad about him to those students. It was a hard time, but eventually the Lord worked it out. It was always keeping honor and unity. They will know we are Christians by our love and that’s got to be [the case] in the church.
Ask the Lord for vision and purpose.
If it’s a youth minister and you’re a leader, go to the Word and the Lord and bring the vision and the purpose. If you’re not that person go to the leader and ask what the vision is. Always question. Don’t go “I don’t think there’s vision and leadership.” Ask. That’s huge. Be humble. Ask can we go there? Do we need help? There’s a lot of youth ministers that just don’t know what to do and they need someone that has ideas and thoughts, but if you go and point the finger and they’ll get on the defensive and you won’t be heard. Do you want to be right or do you want to be heard? Ask how you can be a part of helping or steer to people that can.
How can I prepare a high school senior for life and faith in college?
SPENCER: It echoes a lot of what Paul says in Ephesians 4: “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called with all humility and gentleness with patience bearing with one another in love eager to maintain the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace.” I feel like oftentimes we’re eager to point out dysfunction in a group but we’re not eager to maintain unity. It takes a lot of humility to do that. We can be the catalyst for creating that bond of peace and unity. Okay so question six is for Rob and Jeff.
Question – How can you prep a high school senior for life and faith in college?
Probably watch God’s not dead once a week, haha. That’s a joke. That’s a good question.
I think, Lord willing this is the product of your hard work throughout their time in the ministry, so I think there are things we want to instill. Colossians 1:28: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” That idea of considering someone mature in this context, when they’re leaving the protection of youth group and going to do this new season of life. We want to have a long-term view of that. The way we teach the Bible we have to think about not just their college years, but when they’re 70 or 80 and taking their last breath. I think a key story like earlier with Jamie; he spent a year with them.
So being faithful in the time that I have, what are the things I want to emphasize to prepare them to finish their lives well for the Gospel?
Show them a love for the Word of God.
I want them to have a love for the Word of God, a love of Scripture. I think there’s a freedom to wrestle with Scripture under our care, to ask tough questions; that’s alright. I have three kids, all under ten. One of the rules in our home is they can question anything we say, provided they do it while obeying and with honor. There’s safety there and it gives great conversation. It grows that relationship and their ability to comprehend things. If our students now will struggle with difficult questions in this place where they know they can go to Scripture and ask questions where they won’t be shut down or put off as if they’re questioning God’s authority, I think that gives them confidence in the sufficiency of the Word of God so when they go to school and maybe are challenged by a professor it’s okay because they’ve already challenged themselves and the Word in a respectful, submissive sense.”
Give them a love for the lost.
Get them preoccupied with the great commission so they aren’t easily ensnared with the temporary worldly pleasures that they’ll be bombarded with. Be about the Gospel now. Give them a love for the church. Get them plugged into serving the local church where they have a love for serving, a love for their pastors, a love for the elders in the church so they can be plugged into a local church there. Campus ministries are great, but it does not replace the local church.”
Open conversations. Learn how to answer the tough questions—and meet later if you’re not ready.
Yeah, start your ministry now, where doubt isn’t a dirty thing, is huge. Think about John the Baptist in his darkest moment where he questions Jesus saying “Are you the one is there another?” The sooner the students realize they can ask questions and it’s okay to wrestle the better. Also get accustomed as their minister to say this: I don’t know, but I think there’s a good answer I’d love to look into it and get back to you.” We so often shoot from the hip and try to have an answer for everything and sometimes the best thing is to not answer it.
That’s a great evangelistic tool. When you’re talking to someone who doesn’t know Christ, saying “I don’t know but I’m sure there’s a good answer for that, and I’d love to look into it and get back to you.” What did you just do? You set up another meeting; how often does that happen? It’s really good to model that for your kids. Realize it’s okay to search. Plug in ASAP. You can church shop every week. I tell them to visit a few and pick one and plug in and serve and be invested for your college time. Be there every Sunday. I don’t care if you’re up at 4 and you smell like alcohol, go. Make a discipline to go every day.
Teach them how to set the right goals.
I told my students when I went to college I committed not to have sex and not to drink until I’m 21. So I ask them to define some commitments they want to work towards when they go. The biggest thing for me is when I got discipled by a college pastor he asked me what I was involved with. I told him I was in a Christian fraternity on Monday and I go to late night at the Presbyterian church on Tuesday night, I lead worship at youth on Wednesday, I go to a huge Bible study on Thursday, I go to late night at the black fraternity on Friday night, I don’t do anything on Saturday and I go to Bible study on Sunday night. He said, “When are you with lost people?” So he told me he would disciple me if I chose two people to disciple and that I reach out to two people who don’t know Christ. He wanted to know their names and how to pray for them.
I tell students don’t over-Christian-bubble-ize yourself. Have people you’re intentionally pouring into and two people you’re intentionally building bridges with.”
How can we reach out and minister to our multi-ethnic area more effectively?
SPENCER: Our last question is for Quintell. This question probably has a much longer answer than a few minutes, but maybe you can point us in the right direction.
Question – Our area is multi-ethnic so how can we reach out to the area and minister to the area more effectively?
Be multi-ethnic for the right reasons.
I don’t think we need to be thinking about multi-ethnic for multi-ethnic sake. We think about multi-ethnic for the Kingdom’s sake. We know what the Scripture says. Revelation says He has ransomed from every tongue, tribe and people group. At the end of the day, I don’t care if you have one black person or Hispanic person in your town, you need to reach them. Whatever strategy you’re talking about, at the end of the day we need to be reaching people. So I wanted to start with that. In particular, your area seems to be changing and you’re trying to reach the area.
Know your context.
The first thing you need to do is know your context. You need to 1 Corinthians 9. Paul says I became all things to all men so that I might reach some. So where do they hang? What are their spots? We need to go where the people are and be intentional. We can’t just wait for lost people to show up in our church. If you’re going to have a multi-ethnic church you’re going to live a multi-ethnic life. Who’s at your dinner table? If everyone at your table looks like you how are you going to see through a different lens? You have to bring people on board who are going to allow you to think differently. Thinking differently doesn’t mean they’re not biblical.
Edward Kimball was a layman that reached out to Dwight L. Moody and he was overwhelmed that this kid was lost. He went to the shoe store where this guy worked and gave him the Gospel and pointed him to the cross. He felt like he had messed up, but he came to Christ and a lot of people came to Christ after that because of that faithful layman. Billy Graham came to Christ. At the end of the day, it was because of the faithfulness of that Sunday school teacher.
Be faithful to the Bible—love the lost.
We need to be faithful to the text. We need to be faithful to what God called us to do. We need to love lost people. Spurgeon says that we need to expect people to be saved so when we go we need to go expectedly. We need to be prayed up. In his book Lectures to His Students, one of his students came to him and said no one is coming to my church and I don’t know why people aren’t responding. Spurgeon said set yourself on fire and they will watch you burn.
If you want to lead a multi-ethnic church you have to be on fire for the Gospel of Christ. We can’t compromise the Truth of the Word of God for the sake of our church.
You don’t have to draw a crowd to watch a fire. People are going to watch it. Spend your life preaching the Truth of the Gospel of Christ. Politics won’t change it and make your church diverse, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ will. We can’t compromise the Truth of the Word of God to make our churches diverse. We can’t for the sake of unity exclude the Scriptures. We need to be truth-speakers. Our dinner tables need to look different. We need to look different. It’s hard. It’s hard to look through a different lens, but we ask the Lord for help to do that. Let’s burn. And you burn and they’re going to watch you. If you burn it doesn’t matter if you’re red, yellow, black or white, they’re coming because it’s the Gospel.
The power is in the Gospel.
The reason I made the statement about one black person, one Hispanic person and we need to be about reaching that person is because everything I read about the ethnic movement says that in 2040 the minority will be the majority in America. If we don’t start looking differently, we may lose America. We probably already lost that, but you get the point that I’m making.
We better be about God’s business about a colorful Kingdom. What other way can we see the Gospel when we say, ‘That brother doesn’t look like me but he loves the same God I do.’ There is nothing that can change this culture, but I believe by the power of the Spirit this is the difference the church can make. Terry Coy wrote this book called Facing Change and he talks about the opportunities in America. That’s one resource I recommend. Derwin Gray has this book called the High Definition Leader. He’s talking about building a multi-ethnic church. Of course, we have to talk about the Bible because the first church was multi-ethnic.
We have different churches because of sin. We have the “black church” and the “white church” and this and that church and I can’t stand that language. At the end of the day, it’s the Church. John Piper has this book called Bloodlines. I think it’s significant to see the history of race and thinking differently. This is a great book too: From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race. It’s by a guy named J. Daniel Hanes. This is tattooed on my chest; this is what I feel like the Lord has called me to do. I mean, how many black southern baptists are running around? We have the privilege to do what the Lord has called us to do. I think that if we continue to be faithful to God’s Word, we continue to love people and we’ll continue to see God use the primary means and draw people to Himself.”
SPENCER: That’s good. If you haven’t had a chance to connect with these guys on stage they all love Jesus. I know all these guys really well and they’re the real deal. They’ll be eager to be a resource for you.
Be sure to check out the “Command and Teach,” 2017 Iron on Iron Conference podcasts, linked below!
YOUTH MINISTRY CONFERENCE IRON ON IRON
Iron on Iron (March 2024)
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