By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
NASHVILLE — Sitting in the corner booth of the breakroom at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s Church Support Center, Kent Shingleton occasionally scratched his goatee and broke into a chuckle while reflecting on his two-decade tenure as the coordinator of the Youth Evangelism Conference.
Shingleton said he had a deep drawer of stories he could share — some funny, some touching and some truly miraculous. But Shingleton, who is passing the coordinator baton to TBMB evangelism event specialist Jay Barbier, said his biggest takeaway from his involvement with YEC has been seeing how many lives have been touched by the event.
“It’s pretty mind boggling,” said Shingelton. “Not only has it impacted me as a dad, in regard to my own kids, but the fact that the same story has played out across churches and families statewide is just amazing.”
Shingleton is the pastor of a church plant, Hope Fellowship Church in LaVergne, that he started roughly seven years ago. He and his wife, Shawnah, have four children.
Shingleton served as coordinator for the final time at this year’s YEC, which was held March 9-10 at Municipal Auditorium in downtown Nashville and marked the 50th anniversary of the yearly gathering. Shingleton was recognized for his 20 years of service on the opening night of the conference.
Shingelton has seen many different trends come and go, especially among the attendees, during his tenure.
When he first took on the role in 1998, texting wasn’t a fabric of the teenage culture and social media was essentially nonexistent. Contrast that to this year’s attendees, almost all of whom arrived with cellphone in hand, prepared to share the experience on Instagram or SnapChat.
And yet, through all the years and all the changes, YEC has always remained staunchly true to its core focus: Reaching teenagers for Christ.
“It’s pretty amazing to think about how much has changed,” said Shingleton. “But I think the key to this has been our unwavering dedication to the gospel. The youth leaders that come, they know that on Friday night there is going to be an anointed man of God, clearly preaching the gospel and giving the teenagers an opportunity to respond. Bottom line, I think that’s why God has continued to bless this.”
God’s presence was clearly felt at this year’s conference, and several hundred first-time commitments were made. Barbier, who was introduced to the crowd on Friday night, said he is already looking ahead.
“The way the Lord moved this year motivates me to spread the word about YEC like crazy for next year,” said Barbier. “This is our chance for thousands of youth to hear and respond to the gospel. We are already preparing for YEC 2019.”
Shingleton’s dedication and passion for YEC, along with his visibility at the event, has led him to earn the nickname: “The YEC guy.” He said he is routinely recognized – or at least partially recognized – at different places all across Tennessee.
“Normally what happens, I’ll be out and about and someone will be looking at me like, ‘Where in the world have I seen you; how do I know you? I know your face,’ ” said Shingleton. “Then it will usually click with them, and they’ll say, ‘You’re the YEC guy.’ ”
Shingleton was serving as a youth minister in Arkansas when he was first contacted regarding the job as YEC coordinator. He was hired in May of 1998, and served as coordinator for the first time the following year, in March of 1999. He laughingly recalled that he was hesitant to take the job, but said he received “encouragement” from a person with great influence.
“I was not real excited about it; I just wasn’t sure it was time for a move,” he said. “My wife Shawnah was like, ‘Oh, yes it is time.’ So, we just started that conversation and God opened the door and that’s how we came on.”
In the 20 years since, Shingleton has seen God do amazing things through YEC. He said one of his favorite stories involved a disabled teenager who attended the event roughly 10 years ago.
“He was in a wheelchair, and his group was in the upper deck, and he felt the Lord calling him to make a decision,” Shingleton said. “But trying to be a part of an altar call and get down to the floor was impossible. So, he said something to some of the other students in his youth group — and they carried him all the way down to the arena floor and he gave his life to Christ.”
Shingleton noted the impact of YEC stretches well beyond the weekend of the event.
“It has a ripple effect, and it’s very powerful,” he said. “For instance, one of the ripple effects of this ministry is that, through YEC, we’ve started mobilizing high school students to go on international mission trips. Every other year, we receive a love offering, and the money goes towards teenagers in Tennessee to go on a partnership missions trip.”
The missions work through YEC started 19 years ago, he said, when a group traveled to Brazil.
Shingleton has seen firsthand just how impactful those trips can be. His son, Jared — who now serves as youth minister on staff with Shingleton at Hope Fellowship — was saved during one of the YEC-sponsored trips.
“I basically forced him to go,” Shingleton said with a laugh. “He was 16 years old at the time. And if he were sitting here today, giving his testimony, he would tell you that he gave his life to Christ on the mission trip. That’s all part of the fruit of YEC.”
Shingleton said he is proud of the fact that YEC, regardless of the changes that have taken place to the culture, has remained focused on its two primary objectives.
“It’s always been about sharing the gospel, but it’s also a time of disciple making and equipping,” he said. “I think that’s why it continues to be effective, and I think that’s why it will continue to be successful for 50 more years. That’s my prayer.”