By Aaron Wilson
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Between wrangling toddlers, filling volunteer spots and helping teens navigate adolescence, the responsibilities that lace the gamut of kids and student ministry can make for a tough gig.
But God doesn’t intend for these crucial ministries to merely survive, but thrive, said leaders at the 2019 ETCH Family Ministry Conference held October 7-9 at the Music City Center.
“Thrive” was the theme of this year’s ETCH (Equipping the Church and Home) Conference, which examined how leaders of individual ministries can come together toward a common goal to help families and the entire church flourish. This year’s ETCH Conference—hosted by Lifeway Christian Resources—drew about 1,300 ministry leaders of kids and students and offered more than 50 speakers and breakout leaders.
“The highest kingdom potential lies in kids and student ministries,” said Ben Mandrell, president and CEO of Lifeway. Drawing from his experience as a church planter in Denver, Colo., Mandrell said the most effective way he found to reach families for Christ was often to reach one kid who lives inside the home.
“That kid became a carrier of the gospel behind four walls we could not enter,” Mandrell said.
But despite the critical impact of kids and student ministries, heated emotions within the church can easily distract leaders, he said.
Mandrell spoke on how emotions work, how to process anger in a godly way, and how to use heated moments to strengthen, rather than sabotage, one’s work. The secret—he shared as he expounded on the story of David, Nabal and Abigail, and other Scriptures—is found in exercising gentleness and listening well.
“In heated conversations, are you determined to listen or determined to win?” Mandrell asked ETCH attendees. “If you want to have influence in ministry, you must get to the level of maturity that heated people can come to you, and you avoid becoming heated in the process.
“Don’t let anger or a hardened heart affect your ability to relate to others in ministry.”
Ben Trueblood, Lifeway’s director of student ministry, shared the results of a study by Lifeway Research on the role of church involvement in students as they transition from high school to college.
“Sixty-six percent of those who were active in church during high school walk away from the church in their college years,” reported Trueblood. “As we wave goodbye to them as they head off to college, they are also waving goodbye to us.”
Trueblood said this statistic should trigger a response from churches to raise up a generation of believers who abide in Christ throughout life transitions.
“Staying connected to Christ in the college years is something we can measure and ask if what we’re doing causes ‘remaining’ to happen,” he said.
Trueblood also shared statistics that revealed one of the top reasons why college students leave the church is because they don’t feel connected to people there. This is a wakeup call, he said, to not silo students off into their own isolated ministry, but to intentionally connect them to other generations within the church.
Trueblood said involving older generations in kids and student ministries allows young people to see what faithfulness looks like over a lifetime and enables parents to be discipled by seasoned Christians in a way that equips them, in turn, to become the primary disciplers of their own children.
“The 20s are about to roar again, only this time, it’s the roaring of the lion of the tribe of Judah,” said founder of the Passion Movement, Louie Giglio, as he looked forward to the turn of the decade. “I believe the church is poised to do something that’s never been done before.”
Giglio heralded this optimism while speaking about the challenges of planting his first church in his 50s, despite having been told years ago it was something he could never do.
“It took a while for God to peel away the layers others had spoken over my life,” he said. “Make sure you’re not living under someone’s expectations of what you can or can’t do or what post you should or shouldn’t be in.”
Giglio also shared about a season of deep anxiety and depression he experienced and encouraged kids and ministry leaders who may be facing similar trials.
“I know that being in the will of God and certainly leading the church can be a dangerous place,” he said. “If anyone is feeling the pressure, I want to encourage you that there’s a Shepherd to lead you.”
Giglio expounded upon Psalm 23, being careful to shed sentimental imagery often associated with the well known “Lord is my Shepherd” passage to reveal the raw power of a loving God. He insisted it was power that kids and ministry leaders need to rely on as they fight the good fight.
“Our Shepherd has an offensive and a defensive weapon—a staff and a rod—in His hands,” Giglio declared. “I need to know there’s a God who’s got my back. He’s appointed me here, so I’m humble in my walk with Him but confident in my calling and where He has put me.”
Author and international speaker, Christine Caine, likened parents and church leaders to an Olympic relay team tasked with passing on the baton of faith to the next generation.
She cited how Olympic teams of the past may have had the best runners in the world on paper but lost the race because they dropped the baton during the exchange.
“What happens in the ‘exchange zone’ changes everything,” she said. “We’ve seen large ministries rise and fall. We’ve seen big names come and go. But it’s irrelevant who’s the biggest and who’s the quickest. It’s all about what we do with the baton of faith in the exchange zone in taking the gospel of Jesus Christ from one generation to the next.”
Caine cautioned that when the exchange of faith is fumbled or when too much attention is placed on individuals in the church, the state of the next generation will resemble the attitude prevalent in the book of Judges where everyone “did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).
Citing Hebrews 11, Caine reminded kids and ministry leaders that they are part of the cloud of witnesses that surrounds the next generation of believers and encouraged them to keep running the race for Christ because—although it’s hard—it’s also worth it.
“We’re having to answer questions and deal with issues that we’ve never seen before,” she said. “But it’s OK because God is culminating in us what he started in Hebrews 10:19. So let us carry the baton of faith in 2019 in the midst of a crazy world.”
Other speakers at ETCH included Jana Magruder, director of Lifeway Kids; singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson; Jonathan Pitts, executive pastor at the Church of the City in Franklin, Tenn.; Trevin Wax, director of Bibles and reference at Lifeway; and author and columnist Scarlet Hiltibidal.
Comedian Jonnie W. also performed at the event, and Cross Point Church of Nashville, Tenn. led worship.
The next ETCH Conference, themed “Reach,” is scheduled for October 12-14, 2020. For more information visit ETCHConference.com.
Aaron Wilson is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.