GOODLETTSVILLE — Technically, Noah Leighton lost the challenge. But in his mind, the night was a major victory.
In fact, Leighton, the student pastor at First Baptist Church, Goodlettsville, was in full-scale celebration mode on Aug. 17 after the church’s “back to school” event drew more than 100 youth and saw 23 students make professions of faith.
For Leighton, it was clearly a night for rejoicing, not “remorsing” — even if he had to endure a nonprofessional haircut.
In the weeks leading up to the event, Leighton had issued a challenge to his youth group: If more than 80 students attended the “Fall Color Brawl,” he would allow them to shave his head. The FBC youth rallied around the cause, and a total of 104 students gathered for the event.
Being a man of his word, Leighton allowed the students to give him a haircut. It was a small price to pay, he said, considering that the drawbacks of a potentially bad haircut were temporary, but the decisions for Christ were eternal.
“I’ve been involved with tons of events where students came to Christ, but I’ve never seen that many in one night that I know of,” he said. “It was awesome. I was floored.”
The back-to-school event served as a “restart” for FBC’s Wednesday night youth gatherings after the summer break. The night included a video-game truck, snowcones, a taco bar and several other outside activities.
“We just wanted to create a huge night of fun that students would want to attend and bring their friends with them,” said Leighton.
During the school year, FBC generally averages about 40 students on Wednesday nights. So, when Leighton set the goal of having 80 for the kickoff event, he knew he was aiming high. “To be honest, I was going to be somewhat surprised if we reached 80,” he said. “I thought it was bold, but maybe reachable. But to have 104? That was crazy.”
Avery Pearce, a freshman at Davidson Academy and a member of the FBC youth group, said she was excited to see such a large group.
“I knew it was going to be an amazing night, but it was really way above what I was expecting,” said Pearce. “I was overwhelmed — in a good way — to see it happen.”
Leighton said he was very intentional about making Jesus the focal point of the gathering.
“The main element of the event was to get lost students to hear the gospel,” he said. “Before any of the fun started, we all met for a few minutes for one worship song, led by our student worship team, and then a gospel presentation.”
Pearce, 15, plays guitar and provides vocals for the Wednesday night worship team, which is led by Noah’s wife, Hanna.
Pearce said helping lead worship on the night of the Fall Color Brawl was especially meaningful and memorable for her.
“It was a special night to experience,” she said. “When I was performing with the worship team, and I looked out into the crowd, I saw a lot of unfamiliar faces — which was great because it meant that there were opportunities to meet new people and for us to share the gospel with them.”
Leighton said his message to the students that night was a little shorter than normal, but said the theme was clear and straightforward.
“I spoke for about 10 minutes and shared with the students that no matter what their story was, or what their background with church/Christianity was, one thing was true for all of them: God desires a relationship with them, and Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection made that possible,” he said.
Leighton, who has been on staff at FBC for about six months, said the role of student pastor is challenging in today’s climate, but he said nights like Aug. 17 are a reminder that God is bigger than any of it.
“I would say that youth ministry is harder now than it’s ever been,” Leighton said. “Sometimes, as youth pastors, we can get discouraged and wonder if the time we put in ministering to our students is actually making a difference. But nights like this — when God shows up in a super tangible way — reminds us that if we don’t lose heart in doing good, in God’s timing, we will reap a harvest.”
Pearce said she believes the Fall Brawl was a sign of things to come at FBC. “I think it definetely set the tone for the whole school year,” she said.
Leighton said the relationships that are being formed inside the youth group — among the students and the youth staff — have the potential to make an impact that lasts long after the students have graduated.
“One thing about coming on staff at a new church is that you have to build trust with your people,” he said. “And in the last six months, that has been my number one priority at FBCG.”
Leighton said he was encouraged and excited to see the way his students embraced the challenge, and how they displayed their heart of bringing others to Jesus.
“I told our students there were two MVPs of the event: the Holy Spirit and them,” said Leighton. “What took place that night was a result of weeks and weeks of students being bold enough to take the initiative to pray for — and build relationships with — those around them so that they could hear the gospel.
“I am so encouraged by how our students take ownership of their faith, and have a burden to see their classmates, teammates and friends come to know Christ,” he said. “In the shoes of a youth pastor, it doesn’t get better than that.” B&R