NASHVILLE, Tenn., — Pete Wilson, founding and senior pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tenn., believes influence is a gift from God, and one that must be cultivated.
Speaking to student ministers during the opening night of Lifeway’s National Youth Worker’s Conference held Sept. 12-14, Wilson exhorted the crowd to cultivate the gift of
influence by living authentically, loving deeply and lavishing hope.
Wilson examined how influence, the theme of the three-day conference held at the home office of Lifeway Christian Resources, has the propensity to change the lives of young people.
“Live authentically,” Wilson said. “Your young people want to see that you don’t have it all together. They need to see that we are all sinners saved by grace.”
Wilson also challenged the youth workers to love deeply.
“We need to care more about making a difference than making a point,” Wilson said, mentioning that Jesus often created an environment where people could belong before they believed.
“Grace with footnotes, asterisks or prerequisites is anything but grace,” he added.
Concluding his remarks, Wilson pressed the ministers to lavish hope on students in their care.
“Don’t ever give up on them,” he said. “Part of my job as a pastor is defining reality and using my influence to reveal possibilities. Practice the art of possibilities with your students. Show them what their lives could be like with Christ. Show them what they might not be able to see on their own.”
Heath Eslinger, head coach of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, spoke from Matthew 5 and addressed how Christ changed the attitudes of those in his circle of influence.
In the same manner, he said, youth workers must change the attitudes of those with whom they work.
“We change the attitudes with education,” Eslinger said. “Jesus began by addressing issues that needed to be addressed.”
Beyond education, Christ also demonstrated the truths He proclaimed, and urged His followers to go and share the Gospel.
“Set up an infrastructure for people to be successful and tell them to go and do it,” Eslinger said.
Nate Carr, 1988 Olympic Medalist in wrestling, taught a breakout session on how prayer is essential to gaining influence.
“As an athlete, I needed a strong body, strong mind and strong heart,” Carr said. “When I gave my life to Christ, God told me that I needed to change my training ground. God told me to leave the gym and train with Him.”
Spiritual training begins with prayer, Carr said. Carr shared his testimony of how spending hours in prayer changed his life and broadened his influence.
“As you spend time in prayer, you can’t remain the same,” he said. “Your circle of influence will grow and your relationships will heal. Prayer keeps you focused and brings things out of your heart.”
Carr encouraged the youth workers to fervently pray for their students and to “take the faces of your young people with you as you bring them before the Lord.”
Author and speaker Kelly Minter offered insights from Nehemiah.
“You are people who have chosen the hard job, much like Nehemiah,” she said. “When your students see the level of sacrifice you have made for them, you will be able to influence them as far as the eye can see.”
Minter encouraged the youth workers to care deeply about the things of God.
“It is virtually impossible to influence people about things we don’t care about,” she said. “We have to be people of God’s heart. We see in Nehemiah that before anyone can have an influence, they must care.”
David Cook, sports and performance psychology expert, shared how God called him to use his influence to write a book “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia,” which ultimately turned into a Christian film “Seven Days in Utopia” starring Robert Duvall.
“Don’t get struck by fear,” Cook told the student workers. “Remember that one life can change someone’s eternity.”
The conference concluded with a presentation from Lifeway’s President and CEO Thom S. Rainer and his youngest son Jess Rainer, administration and outreach pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., that focused on the Millennials, the generation born between 1980-2000.
The father-son team shared insights from a book they cowrote “The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation.”
Describing Millennials as hopeful and self-burdened, Jess Rainer explained that only 15 percent proclaim to be Christian.
“In this generation you will find current leaders, leaders in waiting and future leaders,” Jess Rainer said. “This generation is already making a difference. They are sending shockwaves through global society. This is where you as youth workers come in.”
The Rainers encouraged the youth workers to make faith relevant to Millennials, and guide them through mentorship programs, something the current generation desperately wants.
“Millennials will receive mentoring with great enthusiasm,” Thom Rainer said.
The Rainers also exhorted the youth ministers to connect to Millennials through technology and social media.
Featured musicians were The Chris White Band and Jake Gulledge. The Skit Guys, a Christian comedy and drama duo, performed and served as conference hosts.
by Kelly Shrout
Photos by James Yates.
Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, and his son Jess Rainer, administration and outreach pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., unpacked valuable data about Millennials during Lifeway’s National Youth Worker’s Conference.
Seated to the left, Nate Carr, 1988 Olympic Medalist in wrestling, teaches a breakout session on how prayer is essential to gaining influence. Jeff Pratt, Lifeway student ministry, joins him on the stage.