Conversation: Scotty Gibbons
Scotty Gibbons is youth pastor at James River Assembly of
God in Ozark, Mo. Earlier this year his first book, Carry On: Packing and
Persevering for Success in Student Ministry, was released. During more than 15
years of ministering to teenagers, Gibbons has learned what challenges they
face and how they are being influenced against faith in Jesus Christ. Recently,
Gibbons spoke with Managing Editor Kirk Noonan to lend some insight into the
sometimes-perplexing world of teens.
tpe: What’s the spiritual temperature of unchurched teens?
GIBBONS: When an unchurched teen comes to church, we aren’t
working with a blank canvas who is inclined to believe in a God who created him
or her with a purpose. Instead, we’re dealing with kids who have a lot of
baggage. Many of them are from broken homes, have little respect for authority
and have trust issues.
tpe: Twenty years ago there used to be jocks, freaks and
geeks. But there seem to be many more subgroups in the teen world today.
GIBBONS: Absolutely. You used to be able to name all the
youth subcultures on one hand. Not anymore. Whether there are five or 50
subcultures, every teen still wants individuality as well as a sense of
tpe: Where did all the subcultures come from?
GIBBONS: With globalization and the Internet, fads are
easily accessible for teens. They don’t have to wait for something to work
itself from California or the East Coast to the Midwest anymore. But no matter
what subculture a teen lands in, I always tell them to let God brand them. Life
is so much better when you let God tell you who you are and who you should be.
tpe: What toll has relativism taken when it comes to teens?
GIBBONS: Youth pastors are constantly meeting kids who say, “I
believe in God, but I don’t believe in a literal heaven or hell or that the
Bible is totally true.” That has posed many challenges to youth pastors and to
Christian teens who are trying to share their faith with their peers.
tpe: Has it gotten tougher for teens to keep their faith?
GIBBONS: Though many people say, “Whatever you believe is
cool, just don’t push it on me,” Christianity is not always given that kind of
acceptance. It can get even worse for a teen who accepts Christ as Savior and
has a radical change in his or her life. Especially when such a person says,
“I’m not going to do the things I used to do.”
tpe: Teens are bombarded with a lot of media messages
contradictory to what they are hearing at church, but some studies say their
friends are even more influential. What’s your take?
GIBBONS: One of the subtlest threats to a teen’s faith has
always been, is, and always will be his or her friends. If those friends are
not fully committed to Christ, they will try to wear down the committed Christian
teen’s resolve to his or her faith.
tpe: Does the typical teen want to be challenged to live a
GIBBONS: Surrendering to God and acknowledging what He has
for us is non-negotiable, and teens need to know that. We cannot tell teens to
tiptoe into their faith and see if they like it. They need to recognize that
there is a holy God before whom they will one day stand, and if their names are
not in His Book of Life they will spend eternity separated from Him. That’s as
straightforward and compelling as it gets, and teens can handle it.
tpe: Why did you write Carry On?
GIBBONS: I’ve been in student ministry for a long time, but
I am more passionate about reaching teens for Jesus than I have ever been. My
best attempt to reach as many teens for Christ as I can will only be multiplied
if I can encourage and equip other youth leaders and pastors who are as bent on
reaching teens for Christ as I am.
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