Youth Leader Describes History of Oklahoma Ministry

Oklahoma Baptists have a strong heritage in youth work thanks to churches and Falls Creek, according to student ministry expert Philip H. Briggs. Dr. Briggs, Hallock chair of Baptist student work at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, described the significance of his own tradition in youth ministry in Oklahoma during Oklahoma Baptist University's Gaskin Lectures recently. He shared some of the principles of youth ministry that have grown out of his experience as a church youth minister. "Youth want something to believe in," Briggs told OBU students. Youth want something to give themselves to, he said. They desire something that answers the big questions and they want something to live by. "They want an authentic biblical faith," he said. Several approaches to youth ministry that worked well at one time but are now obsolete grew out of his heritage, he said. An emphasis on entertainment during the youth meeting time and reaching high profile high school leaders are two aspects of youth ministry that don't work with today's youth, he said. Also, an emphasis on numbers grew too important in determining success of a youth group. He also identified new trends that define youth today. He said that youth are becoming more and more technologically savvy. Youth are becoming more global, more tolerant, and more service project oriented, he said. There also is an emphasis on youth-initiated, youth-led youth programs and services. "Today we've got teenagers ministering to other teens," he said. In examining the history of youth work in Oklahoma, Briggs reflected on decades of memories from Falls Creek. "As a staffer at Falls Creek for three summers, I recall all of the emotions that went on at Falls Creek Baptist Assembly," Briggs said. "It is one of those remarkable places." He collected and presented memories of several figures who had significant experiences on the annual youth pilgrimage to the Arbuckle Mountains. W. Winfred Moore, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Amarillo, Texas, once said to his congregation, "I have heard about Falls Creek all my life but I didn't believe a thing about it," Briggs quoted Moore as saying. But after he had been the preacher for a week at Falls Creek, he reported "I have now seen, heard and felt the heartbeat of the largest religious encampment in the world. Here I found out more than I have ever known before what the disciples experienced at Pentecost." Rosalee Appleby surrendered to missions during a Falls Creek service in 1917, the first year the camp existed. Appleby, a Shawnee native and an OBU graduate, became a noted missionary to Brazil. Chuck Bowman, state FCA director, recalled a defining moment sitting in the tabernacle at age 14. After goofing off most of the service, his entire row of rowdy boys stood up at the invitation and headed to the front to make a decision. He was in the middle of the row and had no choice but to stand and go up front with them. "That moment was the beginning of great career as a coach and as a Christian," Briggs said. Briggs also quoted several distinguished Oklahomans who spent time at the Baptist encampment. "Youth were challenged to respond to an Almighty God," said Charles "Buster" Patterson, a retired military chaplain from Ponca City. "It was not all emotionalism, however. My spiritual batteries were recharged every August." Dan Yeary, pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, described a significant evening spent in the worship service. "That night I received an assurance that I was without a doubt a child of the king," he said. "It was such a defining moment for a young teenager and one that lives in my memory today." Briggs called on audience member Dr. J.M. Gaskin, the lecture's namesake and Oklahoma Baptist's first historical director, to share what Falls Creek has meant to him. "Falls Creek has been a place where young men and young women have met and dated and played ball and swam, and dedicated their lives to Lord's call for missions and ministry," Gaskin said. "We have much to be grateful for in having Falls Creek as our very own in Oklahoma." Briggs also called on students in the audience to share memories of their camp experiences. "God gives to us life, death, his spirit, his son and the gift of memories," Briggs said in closing. Dr. Briggs also serves as distinguished professor of collegiate ministry at SWBTS, where he has taught since 1971. He has served as a church staff member in education, music, youth, administration and pastoral ministry in Southern Baptist churches. The J.M. Gaskin Lectureship was established by friends of Dr. J.M. Gaskin and advocates of the preservation of Oklahoma Baptist history and heritage. The lectureship was designed to promote the study of Oklahoma Baptist history to students at OBU, many of whom will be future leaders of churches in the state. Others interested in Oklahoma Baptist history and heritage are invited to attend these lectures.