I don’t know about you, but 2009 had more than its share of milestones for me. I turned 50. I published the closest thing I likely ever will to a “magnum opus” in my new Evangelism Handbook. Our son Josh turned 21 and our daughter Hannah turned 16, both pretty big deals. Michelle and I celebrated 28 years of marriage, each year reminding me how blessed I am to have her. We also settled into a new church for the first time in well over a decade.
One change happened in my role as professor at SEBTS, one I did not anticipate as the year began. I now serve as professor of Evangelism AND Student Ministry. This idea started in the mind of college dean Bruce Ashford and quickly gained traction, particularly in my own little head.
I have taught lots of student pastors over the years. Some of the finest student pastors and leaders in student ministry today have come through Southeastern, from those who serve in megachurches and parachurch ministries to those who serve in less known ministries but are no less significant to God. I have written books on student ministry (Raising the Bar, Join the Movement), and have had the honor of speaking at scores of events for student pastors and to tens of thousands of students. But I never thought of actually teaching on the subject in an academic setting till recently. But I do love student pastors and I do love students, so teaching student ministry is now what I do!
I found that so much of my first course I taught this fall, the Foundations of Student Ministry, focused on fixing so much that is wrong. I am tired of talking about all that is wrong (and there is a lot). Instead, I want to issue a challenge to student pastors. It is a simple challenge. It is a challenge many of you have already undertaken.
It is a challenge I am taking personally as well. Here it is:
In 2010, seek to win more students to Christ than in any precious year of your ministry.
That is the challenge. Pretty straightforward. We have the largest number of youth in the history of our nation yet we reach such small numbers. In my own Southern Baptist Convention, a church that reached and baptized 33 students would be in the top 100 churches out of 45,000.
Here is what I mean by the challenge and what I do not mean.
I do NOT mean simply adding more big events to get as many youth in a room as possible to do silly things and then somewhere during the night share as little of the gospel as possible and get as many to make a decision as possible. I am NOT anti-big event. I speak at many every year. Events where Jesus is magnified can be quite helpful. But overly focusing on attractional events has caused some to neglect the vital personal work of evangelism, and others to get a little too carried away for the sake of drawing a crowd. I actually heard that someone got hit with a taser at a youth event. Such extreme practices may cause a stir in the short run, but I am still looking for evidence that the more dramatic you are in front of a crowd, the better followers of Christ you actually observe as a result. They may think you are cool, but I am sure that is not the point of the gospel.
What if you and I and all those we know who truly love the gospel and love students simply focus more than anything on reaching more students. Here is what I mean by challenging you to win more students to Christ than in any previous year.
1. In your personal witness, share Christ more than ever. How frequently do you actually share Christ one on one with students? We do not save people, God does, but He sure seems to save a lot more folks when the gospel is shared more faithfully. I am committed to this myself. Ask yourself: in all the stuff of student ministry I did in 2009, how many times did I actually sit down and share Christ with a student? In how many students’ lives who do not know Christ did I pursue a relationship?
By the way, do not limit your witness only to students. Go after their parents, and for that matter, anyone who needs Christ. Just this week I received an email from a student of mine who is a student pastor. He led a man to Christ last month. That man just died, within a month of his conversion. Can we seek to have the same urgency of our Lord toward those who need Him (Matt. 9:35-38)?
2. In your public ministry, teach the gospel more effectively and actively. Share more than a minimum presentation of the gospel. Unpack the gospel in all its greatness, including both the wonder of the cross and the glory of the resurrection and all that means-that Christ is our substitute, that we can be so radically transformed. Look at how the Bible describes it: justification, regeneration, adoption, redemption, and so many more ways than this. Show them how the gospel is part of more than a fist full of books at the start of the New Testament (thought that would be enough). Show them how the gospel is the center of God’s great story, from creation to fall, to redemption, to a new creation where we experience a restoration beyond our ability to comprehend. Why not make it a goal of 2010 to help students understand and live a life centered on the gospel?
Show them how Jesus Christ is not merely the center of their church experience, but is the center of creation, of history, of salvation, and thus of every part of their lives. Help the believers in your ministry see the important of believers preaching the gospel to ourselves, so that we will have a greater burden for the gospel to come alive in others.
3. Focus on teaching students to share their faith. Seek to have more students in 2010 win more to Christ themselves than ever, bring more friends to hear the gospel than ever, and be more focused on the gospel than ever.
Help families understand the importance of the gospel in their lives. Challenge families to reach out to their neighbors and to help their children be on mission for Christ.
4. Stop the ridiculous competition between area student ministries and instead reach out to other student pastors for fellowship and encouragement in the gospel. I know the competitive spirit in many churches in communities over the students there. I also know of many communities where student pastors are coming together to reach more for Christ. News flash: I have yet to see a town with more saved students than lost students. You would do much better and bring much glory to God if you encouraged one another rather than competed against each other. This is a product of religion, not the gospel, for religion compares itself to others who are religious. Change your scorecard. Focus on reaching students a heartbeat away from hell without Christ.
5. Get your students on mission. If possible, get them to another nation, to a great US city, and to your own community to share Christ. Do that annually. Be local and go global. Make sure sharing Christ is a part of all you call “mission.”
I told you this was simple. You do not need to pay 299.00 to go to a conference to do this. You do not need to budget for a well-known band to kick it off or bring in the hottest speaker to get this done. For many who read this you already seek to do this; go and encourage other student pastors.
Many of you share Christ effectively and often. But for some, you know also this means a pretty dramatic change if you are to move from lip service toward the gospel to a genuinely broken heart for young people who do not know Christ. Take the challenge, be pushed outside your comfort zone.
What if every student pastor in America led one more to Christ in 2010? What if your ministry reached 10 more? What if your families began to focus more on encouraging their children in the gospel than keeping them from the lost? What if you changed the scorecard for your ministry from how many student are in your building weekly to how many are hearing the gospel in the community?
You might see a movement birthed. Why not step out and lead? Why not dig inside and remember those days when you had more passion for Jesus than any in your entire life? Go back to that passion, and ask God for more.
Perhaps you long to see more students reached, but feel ill equipped in the area of evangelism. Good news: there are great resources out there. Here are a few to consider. Let’s be about the gospel in 2010:
Greg Stier. Outbreak.
Will McRaney. The Art of Personal Evangelism.
Randy Newman. Questioning Evangelism.
Alvin Reid. Raising the Bar, Join the Movement, Evangelism Handbook.