NEWPORT — As a former youth minister, Kevin Perrigan understands that discipling middle and high school students is “vitally important” to help them face the challenges they encounter every day.
“Every church should be pouring themselves into their students to encourage them in their spiritual walk,” observed Perrigan, now manager of Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center in Newport.
For many years, a Disciple Now Weekend has been an avenue that many churches have used to have an intensive mid-year event for their students, he noted. “But as a whole, many of our small churches are not aware of what a D-Now weekend is or the benefits of such of an event,” he said.
Perrigan acknowledged that planning and conducting such a weekend is not easy and it often causes the leader to not have time to spend with the students.
After consulting with local youth ministers across East Tennessee, “we realized that we could conduct this weekend in a camp setting which would give youth pastors and leaders the freedom to spend time with their students,” he said.
Working through the conference centers helps churches in several ways, Perrigan said.
• It takes away the planning for the youth pastors and allows them to spend time with their students.
• It allows small churches to experience a intensive discipleship weekend with their students at a low cost.
• Every student participates in a big program so they are able to meet other students from their area but still spend time with their youth group.
• Larger churches can enjoy a big program at a low cost while helping to sponsor smaller churches for the event.
Perrigan recalled that Carson Springs was established 75 years ago with the purpose of helping people grow and to come to faith in Christ.
“Today that is still true. The Disciple Now Weekends are at the heart of what we do,” he said.
The recent D-Now Weekends in February were the fourth season of events held at Carson Springs. “We started with one weekend of 160 students, and it has morphed to four weekends,” he said.
“This year we have experienced a real movement of God. The students seem to have a hunger for being before the Lord. The worship in our first weekend ended with a three and a half hour service driven by the students’ desire to lift their voices in praise.
“We all sensed a hunger and a wakening within everyone in the room. It is a privilege that we can be a part of what God is doing in the lives of students across our state.”
Area youth ministers agree.
D-Now at the conference center makes it more accessible for the church leader who doesn’t have as much time, observed Will Wilson, student pastor at Union Baptist Church, Halls, in Knoxville. “Because of D-Now at the conference center, our smaller church is able to participate in this impactful event,” he said.
Wilson observed that the D-Now Weekend “also provides a refreshing retreat from normal life when we go to the conference center. My students need some time away just as much as my adult leaders do. The conference center provides an excuse to put your phone away and enjoy the time away.”
Josh Singleton, youth minister at Black Oak Heights Baptist Church, Knoxville agreed that holding D-Now away from the church is effective. “It is so important to break the common ruts and routines of daily life in order to allow God to speak to students in a more alert focused state.
“The luxury of getting away from home does something emotionally that allows God to remove some of our distractions that are prevalent at home,” he noted.
Singleton also spoke on the importance of providing the discipleship weekend for students.
“D-Now is important because we need a spiritual reset and refocus each spring. Winter can be a tough season for students and every ministry leader will understand the tough season of ministry in early to mid-winter. It is essential to get your groups and your own eyes back on Jesus as we head toward the end of the school year and into summer,” he said.
Wilson added that D-Now is an intensive weekend of worship, service and small groups. “Students need this time to spiritually assess their lives. D-Now encourages students to take their faith seriously.”
D-Now helps students grow
Youth ministers affirmed the weekend is effective in helping students grow and develop in their faith.
“We really had a big evangelistic year last year so this year it allowed our students who have recently given their lives to Christ to go through a deeper discipleship and growth process,” Singleton said.
He cited a student who accepted Christ this winter and has since had the opportunity to counsel another student at the altar and share the truth of the gospel with them. “This year was really about growth and depth and realness for our students, and seeing them take the next step was awesome.”
D-Now is always effective, Wilson affirmed. “It’s a place where many of my students are comfortable to open up more to one another and to me about their spiritual lives. I was happy that many of my students were able to see for the first time that the Christian faith is real and living.
“Some were able to pray for one another for the first time. It is encouraging for me to see my students encouraged and challenged to take their faith seriously at D-Now.”
Patrick Miller, youth minister at Calvary Baptist Church, Oak Ridge, also brought his students to Carson Springs. “I have been on several trips with students over the last nine years and God never ceases to amaze me,” he said.
Citing the recent revival among students that started at Asbury University in Kentucky and has spread to other college campuses, Miller said he “feels in his bones that God is working. … I experienced genuine revival this weekend. It was something that I had never seen or experienced before.”
He was amazed at the Saturday night service that lasted three-and-a-half hours. “I usually cannot get students to pay attention for longer than 15 minutes, and during this worship moment no one wanted to leave. There was confession, praising, repenting and many tears.”
Miller acknowledged that he is sometimes skeptical “of conferences because it does seem that our emotions come out during events like this, but this one was different.”
Singleton has seen a change in his students as well. “Our students got to experience a powerful time of prayer and repentence. They are now more open to being more vulnerable with God and with each other.”
Wilson added that many of his students “are beginning to be more open with personal and spiritual issues. They are comfortable asking more questions. Every year that we do D-Now, my group grows more and more cohesive as a result.”
He is appreciative for Perrigan and Carson Springs for providing D-Now. “These events have been a blessing for our church. We would not be able to do events like this otherwise.” B&R