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How to help students ask—and answer—big questions about the future

Jeff Reep works to help students make the right decisions for their futures, even if the process takes a while.

“It’s always better to get it right than to get it fast,” the director of career services tells students at Cedarville University, a Christian school in Ohio. Indeed, many collegians report not getting it right on their first attempt. Reep points to a statistic from leadership expert Tim Elmore that found 40% of college graduates wish they had chosen a different major.

It’s easy to see how it happens to so many people, Reep said. Well-meaning people at church or in the community start asking a student in high school where they’re planning to go to college and what they’ve chosen as a major. The response—business, education, etc.—often isn’t based on how God is leading, or how the student is wired. Instead, it becomes something that’s easy to repeat. All of a sudden, Reep said, the student is a junior in college who’s never really struggled with what they’ll do with their degree once they’ve earned it.

Am I really surrendered to God? Is my treasure, satisfaction, and identity in him?

That trajectory puts students on the fast track to joining the majority of Americans who aren’t happy in their work, Reep said. The number of satisfied workers inproved slightly over the last decade, according to the Conference Board’s annual job satisfaction survey. Still, just over half of the population say they don’t like their job.

“So many times, people look at a lifestyle and don’t consider a life work,” Reep said. A young person might aspire to live in a certain neighborhood or achieve a certain level of prestige, for example, but they don’t consider what kind of work is actually required of a particular vocation.

At Cedarville, Reep’s team helps students in three basic areas: exploration, which includes counseling about careers, internships, and majors; navigational skills, or developing resumés, cover letters, and other tools needed in a job search; and networking opportunities with faculty and employers who can help them as they investigate their options. Everything Reep’s team does is designed to help students answer big questions: Who am I? And where does God want me to be?

When he talks with students, Reep tells them he knows what God wants them to do, which is a pretty major assertion that he doesn’t take lightly. But there are three things he says he feels sure the Lord is calling them to do as they think about the future. The three steps can be helpful to pastors and church leaders as they help students in their congregations navigate the same issues:

1. Pray about it. And pray specifically, Reep advises. Ask God to put people on your mind who you should talk to about a potential career direction. Who can help you as you’re thinking through these things, or who can refer you to someone else who can help?

2. Ask for advice. Proverbs 11:14 says there is safety in a multitude of counselors. Reep urges students to heed Scripture’s encouragement to seek out wise advisors. And not just for job or internship opportunities. People are honored when you ask for career advice based on their experience, he said. And they may be able to point students to opportunities they haven’t yet considered.

3. Delight yourself in the Lord. The counsel of Psalm 37:4 is especially comforting for students seeking God’s will for their future. If a student can say they’re delighting in the Lord, that he’s their treasure, their satisfaction, and their identity, Reep said, then the next question is: What do you desire to do?

“If there is something that you desire to do, put it out there,” he advises. “And then start moving toward it.” And stay open to how God might continue to shape that desire.

The differences between “vocation” and “career” and “calling” can be confusing for students trying to make sense of their options. But Reep says every Christian is in full-time ministry. “Whether it is [as] a pharmacist or at a state university or on the mission field. And God is the one that provides for each of those people.” Calling goes back to “am I really, totally surrendered to him, am I a living sacrifice for him, is my treasure, satisfaction, and identity in him,” Reep said. “Then, out of that, what I do is my service, my calling.”

-Meredith Flynn

Mission Illinois Offering Devotion Day 4

MIO-box-smallLily Ohl grew up thinking Chicago is a scary place. But the 17-year-old from Sherman found during ChicaGO Week that many people were open to hearing the Gospel. Each summer, teens travel to the city and assist church planters in reaching their communities. They learn firsthand how new churches are started and get practice sharing Christ. “It’s a big city, but people are willing to listen and you can really change a life,” said Ohl.

Showing students the value of planting new churches is just one way IBSA is leading efforts to reach America’s third largest city, where less than 10% of people are affiliated with an evangelical church.

Pray for the salvation of Chicago, and IBSA’s Chicagoland church planting team: Tim Bailey, Dennis Conner, Jorge Melendez, and John Yi.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering at missionillinois.org.

Watch Lily Ohl’s story, “Students on mission in Chicago.”

Sign-ups are now open for two popular missions initiatives for Illinois students.

CMD 2016CMD registration open now

Children’s Ministry Day for kids in grades 1-6 is Saturday, March 12. Leaders can register their groups for a project at http://www.IBSA.org/kids. This year, volunteers can choose from 14 sites: Bourbonnais, Bridgeport, Carbondale, Carlinville, Carrier Mills, Chicago, Crystal Lake, Decatur, Hamel (on March 19), Mt. Vernon, Peoria, Quincy, Rockford and Springfield.

Several hands-on projects are planned at each location. Projects will close once the maximum number of registrants is reached. The cost per participant is $15, which includes a T-shirt, lunch, and some ministry supplies.

Children’s Ministry Day begins at 9:30 a.m. with orientation, and concludes at 3:30 p.m. following a celebration service at each site. Register at IBSA.org.

GO Team deadline March 1

GO TeamsFor older students, IBSA’s GO Teams are accepting applicants for four international summer mission trips. In 2016, GO Teams will travel to Italy, Haiti, Jamaica and Guatemala.

“We believe that one of the best ways to help students develop a missionary heart is to give them an opportunity to leave their comfort zone and put their feet on the international mission field,” said IBSA’s Rex Alexander. “GO Teams give students that opportunity.

“We see God begin to create a passion for the lost and a heart for the nations that will stay with them throughout their lives.”

In Guatemala, students will work with deaf children, teens and adults, doing Vacation Bible School-type activities in schools for those with special needs. VBS is also the focus of the Haiti and Jamaica trips, where students will work alongside local churches.

The project in Trieste, Italy, is a new GO Team opportunity for 2016. The team will partner with a local congregation for a school painting project and kids camp, and also will prayer walk the community and work to build relationships on behalf of the church.

The GO Team application and information about each project are available at www.IBSA.org/students. The application deadline is March 1. For details about all upcoming missions opportunities, contact IBSA’s Church Resources Team at (217) 391-3138 or go to www.IBSA.org/missions.

 

Students at Youth Encounter 2014 huddle for prayer after a main session of the annual evangelism conference. Photo by Brooke Kicklighter

Students at Youth Encounter 2014 huddle for prayer after a main session of the annual evangelism conference. Photo by Brooke Kicklighter

HEARTLAND | Youth Encounter, the annual evangelism conference for junior high and high school students sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association, has a new look in 2015. Instead of one location, it’s in three. And the traditional post-Christmas date has been moved to October 11.

Changing patterns in youth culture and a decreasing number of attenders in recent years necessitated a re-launch of the Youth Encounter strategy, said Mark Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Resources Team. Noting the event’s rich heritage among Illinois Baptists, he said, “We are working to allow more students to have access to this event, while at the same time renewing its evangelistic purpose.

“Youth Encounter is more than just a concert; it is an event where pastors and student leaders can bring lost students to hear the gospel presented with the opportunity to respond to Christ. Not only are we praying that more churches will be involved with Youth Encounter this year, we are praying that hundreds of students will give their lives to Jesus.”

YE 2015 will take place in three cities: Country Club Hills in Chicagoland, Decatur and Mt. Vernon. The conferences share a purpose—inspiring students toward deeper devotion to Christ—but will welcome different speakers and musical guests:

North | Hillcrest Baptist, Country Club Hills
Hip-hop artist and St. Louis native FLAME will return to Youth Encounter after making his YE debut in 2014. Joining him at the Chicagoland site are singer/songwriter V.Rose and performance artist Marc Eckel. IBSA pastors from the area will lead in teaching at the northern location.

Central | Tabernacle Baptist, Decatur
Evangelist Clayton King is the featured speaker in Central Illinois. Bands Seventh Time Down and Remedy Drive will lead students in worship, along with artist Andy Raines.

South | Another YE returning guest, 321 Improv, will bring their comedy act to the southern location, joined by worship artists Jordan and Jessa Anderson, Shuree Rivera and The Great Romance. Evangelist and Liberty University Senior Vice President David Nasser is the guest speaker.

Each YE conference is 3-10 p.m., with dinner included. Until October 9, the cost is $25 per participant for churches affiliated with IBSA, and $30 for all others. Cost is $30 at the door.

For more information about Youth Encounter or to register, go to www.IBSA.org/YE2015.

YE_blog92 profess faith at Youth Encounter

NEWS | Rick Gage stood in front of nearly 1,000 students and leaders meeting at the Prairie Capital Convention Center for the Youth Encounter evangelism conference. The room was much quieter than it had been just a few minutes earlier, when the Dec. 29-30 event kicked off with high-energy music, improv comedy from Team WordPlay, and a performance by illusionist Bryan Drake.

When Gage took the stage, he spoke first to leaders who brought students to the annual event, thanking them for investing in young people’s lives.

“We’re here to meet with God. We’re here to do business with God. And it’s our prayer—it’s your prayer—that God would use these next 24 hours to impact not just the teenagers’ lives, but all of our lives.”

A few minutes later, after preaching a message on what it means to have an authentic relationship with God, Gage called students to the front who felt led to make a decision for Christ. They streamed down the aisles. Almost 300 people crowded near the stage (above) as the evangelist prayed over them and instructed them to head backstage to meet with counselors.

All told, 92 people made decisions to trust Christ at Youth Encounter, and 205 recommitted their faith. During the two-day conference, 20 students also answered the call to ministry, and 33 committed to pray for lost friends or family members.

“God has his hand on some guys and when they preach the gospel…I can’t explain it. I just watch it happen and shake my head, but when they preach, people respond to the gospel,” said IBSA’s Tim Sadler. “There’s an anointing that’s on their lives, and it’s just a powerful thing.”

Students met with counselors after each session to talk about spiritual decisions they felt led to make.

Students met with counselors after each session
to talk about spiritual decisions they felt led to make. Photo by Brooke Kicklighter

Gage knows how to “draw the net,” said state evangelism director Sadler, who also directs YE. The decision to invite Gage was strategic because of his experience as a youth evangelist, Sadler told the Illinois Baptist.

“And I’d also add into that, I’ve heard several of our youth leaders, our local church youth leaders, talk about how they intentionally sought to bring unsaved kids to Youth Encounter this year,” said Chad Ozee, pastor of Journey Church in Bourbonnais and YE’s backstage manager.

“And that’s the key. If they just bring their core kids, then there aren’t people here that don’t know Christ, to hear that message, to have that net drawn.”

‘I’m changed now’
Jay Huddleston brought 19 students to Springfield, and all 19 made some kind of spiritual decision at Youth Encounter. The pastor of Herrick Baptist Church said the group’s Bible study after the Monday evening session got so intense, the students didn’t even finish the pizza they’d ordered.

Huddleston knows personally how Youth Encounter can change lives. He answered God’s call to preach shortly after attending the event as a leader in 1996. He’d actually realized God was calling him years earlier, but still hadn’t responded. But when some young women from his group came back from YE ready to surrender their lives to God’s purposes, he knew he had to make a decision of his own.

“The girls were standing up there talking about how they were going to make a commitment and give their life to Christ, and I’m running.” He pastored two churches before coming to Herrick Baptist, where he has been for nine years.

One of the students he brought this year was 15-year-old Michael Mey, who made a decision to trust Christ during that Monday evening session. Mey went to YE last year, so he was more used to the event this year, he said. What drew him to respond was what Gage said about only having so much time to respond to God.

When asked if there are things he’ll do differently after his decision, Mey said, “I feel like I’m changed now.”

Arrested my soul
During his message in the first session, Gage told the story of how his own life changed when he was a football coach in his 20’s. In the same vein as the Apostle Paul, Gage listed his religious qualifications:

“I was raised up in a Christian home. I was raised up in Bible-believing churches. My father, Freddie Gage, who preached the gospel for more than 50 years around the world, saw more than a million people come to know Christ. I had a very godly mother. I’ve been surrounded by great men of God all my life.

“I mean, if anybody should have been a champion for God, it should have been me.”

But he wasn’t. Gage told students how he had walked the aisle as a child, but repentance hadn’t taken root in his heart. “For nearly 18 years of my life, I professed to be a Christian because of what I did when I was eight years of age. And on top of that, my father’s Freddie Gage. And I did OK for a while, until I learned how to do bad.”

The only thing that set him apart from his classmates and teammates, Gage said, was his presence at church on Sunday—until he went away to college. Drifting farther from God, he finally found himself at a church service where a family friend preached on repentance.

“And God used that service and that message that night to reveal to my heart and my mind that I had never truly repented of my sin,” Gage told students. “And when the invitation time was given there that night…the Holy Spirit of God that night arrested my soul.”

At Youth Encounter 2014, hundreds heard a similar message—and responded. Standing near the stage on the conference’s last day, one young man asked if the group going backstage after the invitation was going for the same reason he had the day before, to repent.

With confidence, he said, “I did that yesterday.”

In 2015, Youth Encounter moves to three regional events, each held on Columbus Day Weekend, October 11-12. For more information, watch http://www.IBSA.org/students.

Students at AWSOM listen to Bible study leader Courtney Veasey.

Students at AWSOM listen to Bible study leader Courtney Veasey.

HEARTLAND | The girls from Anna Heights Baptist Church were pretty quiet after AWSOM, said their leader, Judy Halter.

“Whenever you’re raising the bar like that, I think the girls are going to get quiet.” Halter and two fellow leaders brought 14 girls to the annual conference for young women. (AWSOM stands for “Amazing Women Serving Our Maker.”)

“I think it’s all about discipleship,” she said. “It really is, and that was a great missions and discipleship conference.”

With a deep theme for 2014. The most recent AWSOM focused on “the battle for your mind” and found its biblical basis in 2 Corinthians 10:5, a verse that calls Christians to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

“The more I study about biblical womanhood and research current world issues impacting women, the root cause always begins in a person’s thoughts,” said Carmen Halsey, IBSA’s director of women’s ministry and missions. “This year’s theme was intended to be a proactive stance in educating our young women and their leaders about the power of our thoughts, and the need to discover the Word and plant it deep inside, so that the Holy Spirit is armed and ready to do war.”

Planting the Word was main speaker Courtney Veasey’s role at AWSOM. The director of women’s academic programs at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary taught on the conference theme passage and others from the Bible, urging the girls toward victory in the battle, and a deeper dependence on God’s Word. AWSOM attendees also sat in on a variety of breakout sessions:

  • Dr. Olivia Johnson, a former police officer with a doctorate in criminal justice, talked the girls through a series of potentially dangerous situations they could face in the real world, training them on how to think through each situation and make smart choices.
  • Mother/daughter pair Amy and Amanda Neibel educated the students on human trafficking prevention. The Neibels are part of a leadership team established to raise awareness among Illinois women and churches about human trafficking.
  • Brenda Sommer, a licensed clinical professional counselor, taught on the role of Christian counseling and how girls can speak truth into the lives of friends who are struggling.
  • Halter cited Renee Smith’s session on CrossFit as one moment when things weren’t so quiet. Smith, a pastor’s wife from Mt. Zion, demonstrated easy exercises and gave tips for developing a healthy selfimage.

This year’s AWSOM conference is scheduled for November 6-7 in Springfield. For more information about upcoming opportunities for women and girls, go to http://www.IBSA.org/womensmissions.

COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Note: This article originally appeared on Collegiate Collective, a new resource that features articles, podcasts, and videos designed to equip leaders to advance the gospel on college campuses.

Chase_Abner_calloutI’ve been around collegiate ministry for about eleven years. In those years, I’ve been witness to all sorts of public hubbub on the world stage of evangelicalism. At first, there was the challenge posed by Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Then there was a lot of back-and-forth about the Emergent Church and how post-modernism was going to erode all of Christendom. And that was just a precursor to Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” and the battle for the doctrine of hell. And Mark Driscoll has been the subject of his fair share of controversies. Throw “The Shack” and Calvinism into the mix and you’ve got yourself enough blog fodder to last you until the other side of eternity.

Early on, I somehow got the impression that a big part of my job as a campus minister was to help students be on the “right side” of all these public controversies. I read a lot of blogs and way too many blog comments. I sought out what side my heroes were on. I studied the Bible hard and I tried to provide my students with all the right answers.

However, there was one big problem.

They weren’t even asking the questions. Most of them didn’t even know who Brown or Driscoll or Bell or Calvin was. They were more concerned about passing their biology test or paying tuition in the spring or what they were going to say to their roommate struggling with depression.

So I gave up. I stopped trying to be up-to-date on the controversy of the day. I decided that if it wasn’t something that was directly impacting my students, then I wouldn’t bother with it.

And guess what? I found that I had a lot more time to hear from God, rather than about Him from someone on a podcast. I found that I was freer to hear the questions the students actually had, rather than the ones I forced on them. And I found that it’s a lot easier to follow Jesus when you’re not fighting over Jesus.

So last week, a video of Victoria Osteen made the rounds. If you didn’t know, she is the wife of America’s most famous mega-pastor Joel Osteen. The clip is from a sermon in August wherein Victoria makes some…how do you say…provocative claims about proper motivation for obeying God. (If you haven’t seen it yet, then count yourself blessed and forget I mentioned it.)

Here’s what naïve Chase would’ve probably done in response to this clip if it had come along in my early days of ministry: I would’ve torn the thing to bits, shared all the parody videos, and read every blog that critiques the Osteens’ errant theology. I might’ve even used one of the parody videos in our weekly gathering or taught an entire lesson in response. In other words, I would’ve wasted a lot of time doing battle against something that had virtually zero influence on the people in my care.

Let me suggest this template for responding to public Christian controversies in your collegiate ministry context.

  1. Pray for the individuals caught in sin or espousing false teaching.
    • Example: Pray for the Osteens and those influenced by their teaching ministry.
  2. Examine yourself in light of Scripture.
    • Example: Ask God to show you where you have selfish motives in your obedience to him. Repent as necessary.
  3. Listen to your students. Respond when necessary.
    • Example: If your students aren’t being influenced by the controversy, then press on in your disciple-making as if nothing has happened. If they have questions about it, then address the controversy.

You see, as you focus your energy on developing mature Christians who believe and apply the gospel to all of life, they will be equipped to address the counterfeits on their own. If at times, the controversies catch their attention and your students have questions, then embrace those as teachable moments. But remember, they are just that—moments—and not the normal pattern for your ministry.

Most of all, avoid the temptation to define yourself and your ministry by what you’re against. Is the gospel exclusive? Yes. Does God draw some hard lines in Scripture? Yes. But most clearly, he reveals himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ who gave most of his energy on earth to proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.

Chase Abner is Collegiate Evangelism Strategist for the Illinois Baptist State Association.