Steven Howard—a 23-year-old youth pastor from Amarillo, TX—was facing a challenge that even veteran youth pastors would find difficult. His small student ministry started the summer by graduating nine students out of the youth group, leaving Steven with a small flock and lots of uncertainty.
“I go to a smaller church, so losing nine seniors was a drastic change,” Steven remembered. “It kind of worried people in the church about the future of our youth group.”
When a chance to go to Lead THE Cause (LTC) in Denver came up, Steven was intrigued but wasn’t sure whether or not it would be worth it. Only two of Steven’s students were potentially able to go—a friendly, energetic girl named Stormie and a popular varsity football player named Mateo.
“We knew that God would provide, but LTC was kind of a scary thing because we were taking two random kids, investing time, money, and effort and going all the way to Denver,” he said.
“I didn’t know everything about it or what my students would be learning and I was just kind of asking, ‘Is this really worth it?’”
But after some prayer and planning, the tiny Texas group took a risk and made the trek to Denver, trusting God for the outcome of a week at LTC.
Little did they know that God had a huge plan for their small group, a plan to use LTC to turn them into a powerhouse of gospel advancement before the end of the summer.
A Steep Learning Curve
During the first few days at LTC, students were trained to navigate gospel conversations, passionately pray for the lost, and cultivate a true Gospel Advancing Ministry. Then came the outreach time where that training was put to the test on the streets of Denver.
For Stormie and Mateo, the first day of sharing their faith with strangers brought a steady stream of rejection and discouragement, making the next day even more nerve-racking.
“When they went to outreach for the first time, they had an idea of what to do, but they kept failing at it,” Steven explained. “They hit the ground running but then slammed into a wall. But in that process, they learned how to fail properly.”
Learning to “fail properly” helped build Stormie and Mateo’s boldness and endurance as they kept witnessing to strangers during LTC. And then a major shift began to happen.
“The next day, they were scared to go out again,” said Steven, “but out of a step of faith and trust in what God was going to do, they had 13 gospel conversations and saw three salvations at the end of the day.”
Stormie and Mateo had successfully learned how to share the gospel, but their defining moment came when they were hit with the why of evangelism at the end of the week.
The final session of LTC was on a rainy night at a park in the Rocky Mountains. Greg Stier gave a powerful message of what an unsaved friend would say if they wrote you a Letter from Hell.
“It got really real. Honestly, I think that’s what teenagers need,” said Steven. “They’ve heard the sugar-coated story about all the sweet parts of God, but they’ve never heard the sad part about it.
“They learned that if your friends don’t trust in God, you may never see them again. Who knows what tomorrow holds?”
Sparking a Wildfire in Amarillo
Oftentimes when students come home from a week at camp or a mission trip, they ride a “spiritual high” that lasts for a while but then fades as normal life sets back in.
But not for Stormie and Mateo. They came back from LTC energized to share the gospel with their lost friends, and that passion has only grown with time.
“Lead THE Cause really zoned them in,” Steven said with excitement. “It showed them that this is something that’s possible, that kids can go out and actually reach their friends with the gospel.”
Now, their once small youth group is getting bigger and stronger by the week. Steven said the spark from LTC has spread to the other kids in his youth group, and they’re all beginning to reach their friends with the gospel.
“We’ve already doubled the attendance of our youth group since July and have seen ten salvations since Lead THE Cause. For our small youth group, that’s incredible.”
Steven doesn’t want the ministry’s growth to stop there, though. “I’m praying for the number 100!” he said.
“It’s a bold dream for me, but I want to create leader after leader and I want to have a youth group that’s 75% third or fourth generation believers from our own students.”
It’s not all about numbers, though, and Steven says his youth group is now defined by intercessory prayer, pursuing people with genuine love and compassion, and celebrating what God is doing in their midst.
And as a young pastor with years of ministry to look forward to, Steven says, “Lead THE Cause has given me a tangible, real way to teach myself, students, and leaders how to disciple and actually multiply. It taught me that me as a leader, I can do this… [LTC] gave the smith the tools.”
LTC—A Jumpstart for Your Ministry
A week at LTC can transform hearts, minds, and ministries, aligning them with Jesus’s call to make and multiply disciples. And Steven can testify that the reward was more than worth the risk.
“I was afraid too. It was a big cost and a lot of time, but you’ll never know how life-changing LTC is until you go.”
“We weren’t sure if Lead THE Cause was going to be good for us, but we decided to go. It was the best thing for my students and our ministry.”
To other youth pastors who might be skeptical about LTC, he says, “The biggest failure you could make is not giving something a chance simply because of fear or doubt. I was afraid too. It was a big cost and a lot of time, but you’ll never know how life-changing LTC is until you go.”
Are you interested in taking your youth group to Lead THE Cause next year? Sign up for details, updates, and deadlines for LTC 2018.