Give students a cause worthy of their devotion, panelists urge | Print |

By Brian Kaylor
Baptist General Convention of Missouri

Photo: Rod Reilly

ATLANTA-Young people are bombarded with materialist and consumerist messages, but churches must respond to the challenge by giving them a cause worth following, panelists told a Baptist gathering in Atlanta.

Mitch Randall, pastor of North Haven Church in North Haven, Okla., moderated a session on "Youth at a Crossroad" during the celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.

Trevor Beauford, minister of youth and singles at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., asked how churches can compete with a culture that is teaching materialist and consumerist ideals.

Those ideals even extend to volunteer service and missions, he noted.  Often, students are "doing missions to get theirs"-volunteering for school credit or to look good on an application. Church workers must help youth take interest in missions out of a desire for social justice and compassion, Beauford insisted.

To reach young people, ministers must understand the culture students live in and then engage that culture, he said. Youth workers need to listen to the music of the young people and understand their challenges and struggles in order to build relationships.

"Relationship is more important than rules," Beauford said.

Youth will gain a missional desire not by listening, but by seeing missions in action, he explained. Instead of merely handing out WWJD bracelets, youth workers must demonstrate how Jesus lived by living as he did.

Ken Dibble, youth strategist for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, told about attempts to help youth gain multiple opportunities to lead, teach and serve. Students want to be given such challenging opportunities, he insisted.

"They want-no, they expect-challenge," Dibble said.

But if the church did not provide those challenges, then young people would look for them elsewhere, he warned.

Dibble also urged churches to challenged members in worship services for people to make a public commitment related to understand their calling. Churches often only ask people to come forward to make a profession of faith, be baptized, become a member of the church or rededicate their lives. Every Sunday should be "Consider Your Calling Sunday," he said.

"Is God calling you to something bigger than you can even imagine?" Dibble urged pastors to ask. "You don't know what it is? Let's talk!"

Joel Taylor, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill., urged pastors and youth workers to be educational "with a mission agenda." Through preaching and teaching, church leaders could help raise the level of mission consciousness in young people. As a result, he insisted Christian education for youth must be "more than just a babysitting service."

Youth workers should take advantage of their environment by looking for opportunities to help youth engage in missions firsthand, Taylor said.

"We must lead by example and make them a part of our mission work," he said. "This is a way of not only letting them hear what mission work is about, but they also will see it (by) doing mission work."

Finally, Taylor argued that youth works must allow youth to be entrepreneurs and take "ownership of their mission agenda." He explained that youth should be challenged to come up with their own solutions because they will "buy into it" if they helped create and plan the mission work.

Colleen Burroughs, executive vice president of Passport, Inc., contended youth workers must first "unapologetically teach the Bible" and then give student the opportunity to practice their book knowledge. This two-part strategy would help raise awareness and the desire to be engaged mission work.

"Learning how Jesus was love to the world takes Bible study," she said. "Being Jesus' love to the world takes action."

Burroughs also talked about the challenge and opportunity of technology, noting youth know more about each other and share information quickly because of technological advances. This can be a challenge for youth workers because youth can become overwhelmed by information, she noted.

But the technology also could help young people make meaningful missions connections. Burroughs described American young people she took on a trip to Kenya who were deeply affected by seeing the poverty and challenges of their Kenyan peers.

As a result of the trip, "poverty has a name" for the American youth, she said. The students who went on the trip still keep in contact with those from Kenya through the Internet and text-messaging. This connection made through technology has made them more determined to be involved in missions and making a difference.

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