The following is a transcript of an interview with Ken Lasater, SBTC church ministries associate and the author of the newly released book study titled “Home-Based Student Ministry: Leading a Student Ministry Focused on the Family.”
Published by the SBTC, the study is based on extensive research of parents whose children have been actively involved in church life from youth through young adulthood. Lasater spent 23 years in youth and music ministry before joining the SBTC staff. The book is available at sbtexas.com/hbsm ($14.99 plus $5 shipping).
How did you get involved in tackling the research for this book?
There has been a lack of resources in Southern Baptist life for involving parents in student ministry. It’s been a need for a long time and it’s been on a lot of radars, yet we still lacked a working model for that to take place.
Also, there have been many voices out there questioning the role of the youth minister and even questioning whether or not it’s even biblical. We needed to answer, “If there’s going to be a student minister, what can he do?” And then, “what might that ministry look like?”
Several studies show that about 70-80 percent of students are not attending church after high school?at least for a few years. How much did that trend influence the writing of this resource?
It really didn’t help form this material. But what the statistics caused was a question as to whether the youth minister role is valid or not. It was because of these statistics and the decline in baptisms that caused a second look at how youth ministry was being administered and the recognition that there were ministry approaches that were not building the church, not reaching students, not hanging on to students. And so the statistics indicated there was a problem.
This material grew out of a completely different perspective. What really began this material was asking the question, “Who really has the answer to these problems? Who can guide us in the right direction?”
What about statistics that show that multiple positive influencers in a student’s life make a difference in whether or not he is a lifelong disciple?
That comes from several studies, and it’s not just students. It also applies to new church members?that they need more than just one or two connection points. They need to be immersed into a community of believers who are involved in each other’s lives in a positive way.
Who is the book written for?
The book has been mailed to churches for the pastor and the student minister. It provides how-to information for the student ministry leader. This material will show how to implement an effective student ministry that will keep the parents connected and involved. But it also puts the parents back in charge of the discipleship. The student ministry may choose to do a lot of that teaching through Sunday School, discipleship classes and other means, but it does put the strategy in the parents’ hands. It puts the tools in their hands. They are kept abreast of what the studies are going to be so they can discuss that in the home. In a lot of churches it is the pastor who makes the decision on the ministry approach, and so this resource is for the pastor as well.
What did you learn in preparing the book?
We didn’t want to ask the general culture about where we are as a church culture. All of the studies had already shown there was a decline in baptisms, that students were failing to stay connected. We didn’t want to find that same information again; we already knew that.
But what we wanted to find out was, who was doing it right? Who was turning the tide? Who has corrected this and who is bringing about the kinds of results we want everybody to have? And so the question was, what are we going to shoot for? And we wanted as the end product students who are connected to the church all through high school, through college and into young adulthood. Students who are prepared to become leaders. Students who are supportive of their church staff. We wanted to find students who want to develop other students who love the Lord and are committed to the Lord. And so we started with those criteria.
These are the kind of students we want to have. And the only place to go to ask the right questions were the parents who had produced those types of children. And so we identified these parents and asked them very pointed questions?27 questions?each with nine possible responses.
We asked them about who is responsible for the spiritual discipline of the student? Who is responsible for the character development of those students? Who is responsible for the biblical instruction, for the biblical worldview? Even questions like who is responsible for your student’s recreation experience in the context of the church setting? The survey really revealed some pretty surprising results.
When Mexican federal police showed up on his front lawn in response to a threat against his family, International Mission Board missionary Douglas Cantu (not his actual name) knew it was time to relocate. The violence associated with the drug cartels in Mexico had been evident in the region?drug-related deaths and gunfire?but there had been no direct threats to the well-being of Cantu and his family until that night.
Escalating violence between the four major Mexican drug cartels has, in some regions, spilled over into the civilian population and is having a chilling effect on mission teams’ travel across the U.S. southern border. But, said missionaries on both sides of the border, with strategic planning, good communications with Mexican nationals, and a healthy dose of common sense, smaller teams can still safely venture into Mexico and continue their ministries with local congregations.
“We don’t want to scare them from what God has called them to do. But be cautious and get as informed as possible,” said Cantu, who now works in the region of Mexico called “the Heart of Darkness” where less than 1 percent of the population is evangelical Christian. God can work amid the drug war, he said.
Terry Simons, chief deputy in the Victoria County Sheriff’s Department and a former Texas pastor, called Mexico a “war zone.” He said the rise in border violence became most evident in 2000 with the emergence of the Zeta gang, the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel. The leader of the Zeta gang, Gregorio Sauceda Gamboa, was arrested April 29 in Matamoros, just across the border from Brownsville, according to Associated Press reports.
Simons, who helped coordinate mission trips into Mexico from his church in Quemado, said there is a high risk for the traditional mission teams that populate the Texas-Mexico border each summer. Although mission teams have not been targeted, his concern is with the overall level of violence in some regions.
“You can’t pick where a criminal element will choose to have a gunfight,” he said.
Daniel White, pastor of First Baptist Church, Eagle Pass, just blocks from the border, said the one thing the narcortaficantes (drug traffickers) can’t do is shoot straight. Use of an automatic weapon is not a skill they have honed and much more than the intended target can get hit.
“When you have war in your city there is going to be collateral damage,” White said.
The city of Piedras Negras, he continued, is controlled by the Gulf Cartel and the April 26 assassination of its newly appointed Police Chief Arturo Navarro Lopez is evidence of such Mafia-style manipulations. The city is run by elected officials but many of those authorities White accused of being ultimately beholden to the cartel.
The violence and intimidation tactics are nothing new to Scottie Stice, who served as a church planter in El Salvador for the IMB and is now an SBTC field ministry strategist. Dealing with and avoiding the cartels were part of the landscape of living in Central America.
“It’s not a new concept,” he said. The menace has simply migrated north to the U.S. border.
With reports of drug-related violence along the Texas-Mexico border, mission teams once destined for their annual cross-cultural ministries are reconsidering their options and sending teams out of harm’s way. Pastors who coordinate mission projects along the border from Brownsville to El Paso report the number of teams they will be working with this summer is down significantly.
First Baptist Church, Brownsville, plans and coordinates mission trips into Matamoros and the surrounding region through its Missions Outreach Center.
Thirty teams filtered through the facility last year but that number, MOC Director Dwayne Spearman said, is down to 10 or 11.
Mike Due, a Port Arthur pastor, said the number of teams he usually directs into Mexico is down by half. As of May 1 only 10 teams are scheduled to venture south. That decline is representative of the decisions being made across the U.S. regarding missions work in