SPEAK conference draws 900-plus, challenges students to be ‘voice of influence’

Using the hashtag #speak17, students took their praise of Alabama’s annual SPEAK conference to the place they know best — social media.

By the end of the conference, held July 21–22 at Vaughn Forest Church, Montgomery, more than 600 Instagram posts and dozens of tweets and Facebook posts featured the hashtag. “With my faves,” posted one student. Another wrote, “God moved in all of us. What a great night!” “It has made me a new person,” one posted after Saturday’s final session.

‘God-filled experience’

Scooter Kellum, youth ministry strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), called the weekend an “exciting” and “God-filled experience.”

Chris Mills, state missionary with a focus on collegiate ministry for SBOM, said initial numbers indicated the 2017 conference would be one of the best attended in recent years, with a little more than 900 students and leaders registered.

SPEAK, formerly the Youth Evangelism Conference, is an annual summer event for youth ministries across the state. The goals of the conference are to reach lost students and to equip, inspire and motivate students to go back to their communities and reach others with the gospel.

“This is not just another conference. It’s a life-changing moment,” emcee and state missionary Larry Hyche told the crowd on Friday night.

Messages shared during the three main sessions centered on this year’s theme, “Voice of Influence,” and encouraged students to recognize the potential Kingdom impact their words can have.

“Jesus is not looking for more fans, He’s looking for followers. He’s looking for students who are willing to go to their schools and communities and live the gospel,” said Friday night’s speaker, Gadsden-based evangelist Acton Bowen.

Using Mark 8 as his text, Bowen told those gathered that when Jesus said to “take up your cross,” He was drawing a line in the sand (v. 34).

“Jesus didn’t die on the cross so we could go to church. He died on the cross so we’ll be the church,” Bowen said.

In the Saturday morning session, Birmingham-based radio personality Rick Burgess told the crowd there is a big difference between being a believer in Jesus and a follower of Jesus.

“We have to decide if we want to be serious, influential followers of Jesus,” Burgess said.

Using 1 Timothy 4 as his text, Burgess advised youth leaders to be mentors to the students in their churches, just as Paul was to Timothy.

Burgess had a message for students too.

“Paul doesn’t give Timothy a pass or lower the standards because Timothy is young,” Burgess said. “You are responsible for your own walk — not the church, not your parents. Age doesn’t reduce the standard of how influential you should be. You are called to defend the faith, called to advance the kingdom of God — and you’re called to do that now.”

In the Saturday afternoon session, student pastor-turned church planter Josh Holland began with question: “What’s it going to take for us to speak — to use the influence that God has given us?”

He urged students to be courageous in taking the gospel to their communities after the conference. Citing Romans 10:1 in which Paul, speaking of the Israelites, expresses a desire that “they might be saved,” Holland asked students to consider who might be a “they” in their lives.

“Is it one of your friends at school? Someone in your family? A neighbor on your street? An unreached people group somewhere around the world? We have a message we get to proclaim. The question is, what are we going to do about it?”

‘Short window’

During the Saturday morning breakout sessions, Holland spoke to younger students, providing strategies for witnessing to unbelievers.

Kimberly Andrews, Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM) campus minister at the University of Alabama and Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, spoke to older students about preparing for a life on mission during college. Hyche spoke to leaders about the importance of disciple making in student ministry.

“We have a short window with students,” Hyche said. “It’s not just about fun. We need to be teaching, growing and developing disciples who can defend their faith.”

Trent Nolen, student minister at First Baptist Church, Demopolis, in Bethel Baptist Association, likes the event’s focus on evangelism.

“As a minister [who] challenges my students to use their everyday circumstances as opportunities to speak to others about their faith, SPEAK ’17 served as a great resource to encourage and even equip my students for evangelism.”

God is always there

Throughout the weekend, Alabama-based contemporary Christian band Rush of Fools led musical worship. Lead singer Wes Willis shared his family’s struggle with miscarriage as they attempted to have their fourth child.

“God never promised that we wouldn’t have storms, only that He would walk through them with us,” Willis said.

Leighann, a student at Rocky Creek Baptist Church, Alexander City, in Tallapoosa Baptist Association, said Willis’ testimony made an impression on her.

“It taught me that God is always with me no matter the circumstances,” she said.

Spoken word artist Shantrice Coleman, a high school senior from Louisiana who spoke at each session, also made an impression.

“It just amazes me to see so many kids my age living for the Lord because you don’t see that very often,” Leighann said.

Stephanie Wingler, who serves with her husband, Anthony, as youth leaders at Fresh Rain Family Worship Center, Millbrook, in Autauga Baptist Association, said it was her first time at SPEAK but won’t be her last.

“We were blown away. Our students loved the speakers and worship, and of course, the Saturday night lip sync battle,” Wingler said. “They all said they were glad they went and each one received and took away something, which was awesome.”

SPEAK 2018 will be held July 20–21 at Eastmont Baptist Church, Montgomery. The theme for 2018 is “Tell Your Story.” For announcements about conference leaders and registration deadlines, visit the student ministries website at ymlink.org or follow “YM Link” on social media.

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Decisions recorded

49 students indicated that they accepted Christ as their Savior

177 students recommitted their life to Christ and His purpose

422 students indicated they were committed to sharing Christ with their friends

202 students said they were interested in serving in a missions experience while they were in school

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