(Photo: James Yates)
NASHVILLE – Pete Wilson, the energetic and youthful senior pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville, encouraged several hundred youth leaders on Monday to exercise the influence God has given them to impact the lives of teens and young students. It was a message he not only could talk about, but also had experienced.
Wilson, who entered the ministry at 18, is starting to be seen as one of the most dynamic and influential pastors in the southeast, maybe even the nation. Often compared to country music recording artist Keith Urban for his style and appearance, the 37-year-old keeps audiences engaged and on the edge of their seats with his genuine, down-to-earth nature.
He spoke at the LifeWay National Youth Workers Conference, where he echoed the conference’s theme of “influence.”
“You have a tremendous influence on the young people in your church,” Wilson told the group. “Whether or not you realize it or not, you’re in a position to make a real difference in the lives of these kids, but in order to reach them I think you need to do three things.”
The three areas Wilson outlined where leaders of youth groups can effectively exercise their influence are:
• Living Authentically
• Loving Deeply
• Lavishing Hope
In a follow-up interview with The Christian Post, Wilson said he firmly believes that being “authentic” with teens is a must.
“I get more nervous talking to teens than any other group,” he said. “If you not real – if you’re not authentic with them – they can sniff you out in a heartbeat. If we don’t get real with these kids and only try to sell them on ‘religion,’ they’ll turn away from Jesus and the Church.”
Wilson remembered attending two different youth groups when he was a high school student in Nashville. “One pastor tried to scare us to death,” said Wilson. "He told us not to smoke, drink, play cards, cuss or have sex and that we would go to hell if we did any of the five. Since I had already done four of them, it just made we want to go out and do the fifth one. His message didn’t resonate with me at all.”
In contrast to the prior experience, he visited the church of another friend where the volunteer youth leader dealt with the kids in a completely different manner.
“Instead of making me feel judged, he told me about forgiveness, grace and mercy,” said Wilson. “I didn’t need to be told what I was doing was wrong; I knew that already. What I needed to hear is that I could be forgiven and that following Jesus was a better option than what I was doing. It had a huge impact on my life.”
However, one of the most important topics Wilson referenced is one many pastors and church leaders only want to address from afar, and that is the sin in our own lives.
“Many times we feel we can’t talk about the sin in our lives – only about the sins people used to have,” he noted. “Everyone is a sinner saved by grace and our Church is seeking to build a place where everyone can be themselves, with no pretense.”
An example he gave was how their church deals with those struggling with homosexuality.
“We welcome everyone who wants to receive the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ in our church,” he emphasized. “I know there are some struggling with same-sex attraction in our church. And let me be clear, we encourage them to participate in any part of our ministry, but our policy is that no one actively engaged in a sinful lifestyle should be in any type of leadership position. Our focus is to minister to them, help them deal with the ramifications of sin in their life.”
Wilson also reminded those gathered in the LifeWay auditorium that Christians sometimes shy away from talking about the cross because they think it’s offensive to some people.
“I think the more important question you need to consider is that the more offensive statement may be saying you are a Christian but not living like one,” said Wilson.
"I believe that’s more offensive to God and a disservice to nonbelievers.”
Wilson concluded his presentation by asking the group to deal with the junk in their own lives so they can effectively minister to others. Completely surrendering yourself and your life to Christ is often not easy, but necessary, said Wilson.
“Influencers need to practice the art of possibility and create environments where people can be transformed and learn they have a new identity in Christ.”
The Skit Guys, a Christian comedy group, opened the evening session and served as emcees. Also, former Penn State standout and NFL player Freddie Scott, who served as a youth minister after his football career ended, addressed the group.
The conference continues through Wednesday with Dr. Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay, making closing remarks.