My first ministry position fresh out of college was with Miami Youth for Christ (YFC). Starting out as an evangelist/chaplain at Miami’s Juvenile Detention Center, I later became the Liberty City Area Director, where I ran evangelistic Small Groups for inner-city teenagers.
About 4 years into my ministry with YFC, one of my ministry colleagues, Michael Chatman, who was the Overtown Area Director at the time, walked into my office with what I considered to be a bizarre and outrageous idea. His idea went something like this: “Tommy, we have all of these resources at our disposal; you and I have been to training Institutes, conferences, and workshops all over the country; and we have been taught by some of the best youth ministry leaders in the country. Why are we just sitting here DOING ministry?”
“Excuse me?” I queried. “What do you mean by why are we ‘just’ sitting here doing ministry? Isn’t that like saying: ‘why are we just impacting young people with the Gospel?’ Am I missing something? What we are supposed to be doing? Did I miss-read my calling and job description?”
He continued: “Well, with all the ministry resources and training we have; and with so many small urban churches and ministries out there with so little … why don’t we help them? Why don’t we offer some of the training and resources we have received … and give it back to churches in the community?”
After hearing Mike go on and on about his idea, I eventually did what every reasonable, level-minded, rational person would do upon hearing such a proposal … I kicked him out of my office.
“Wait! Wait! Just listen for a minute,” he protested. “What if we organized, a youth workers’ seminar for the community, and invited people that we know to attend? We could put on a well-organized, professional seminar, and offer them sound teaching, and creative ideas that could assist them in their ministry to young people.”
That sounded reasonable … and somewhat exciting. He was gradually beginning to make just a little bit of sense. But there was still one huge question. And I asked it:
“And just who exactly do you think is going to come to a training put on by a couple of twenty-something ‘knuckleheads’ … I mean a couple of competent, experienced inner-city youth leaders?” I don’t think he liked my sarcastic remark, but he was most sincere in his retort.
“I think people would come.” He stated confidently. “Think of it this way: Where does a person who has very little, or no formal training in youth ministry go for new and fresh ideas? Where would someone who works in Miami’s urban setting go for ideas, resources, and encouragement? Who else is offering affordable, practical training for youth leaders in the city?”
He had a point there, but I just couldn’t see how “we” would be the ones to provide such a training event. Surely there were a number of competent, experienced leaders who could provide training for youth leaders in South Florida. Right? But who?
“Listen …” he went on, “.. My Mom will come, your brother will come, the YFC staff will come …” he quipped. “It doesn’t have to be a big seminar. I just want us to be good stewards of the resources and training God has allowed us to benefit from; and assist churches the best way we can.” Somehow, what he was saying begun to really resonate with me. And I believe God used Mike to inspire me with the idea of training and equipping others.
The year was 1989, and we hosted South Florida’s first Urban Youth Workers’ Seminar on the old campus of Miami Christian College (now Trinity International University). It was a bright, sunny Saturday morning in September, and Mike and I were standing outside the Chapel as cars started driving into the parking lot. Lots and lots of cars! Mike and I looked at each other, wondering where those cars were coming from. And how did they find out about this seminar? And the most important question: “what happens if we run out of food!?”
The Chapel began to fill up, and soon there were no chairs left! Over 200 people attended our first conference. It was hard to believe. And we DID run out of food!! But thanks to a contact we had at Church’s Chicken (thank you”Chicken Lady”), we had extra meals delivered in record time! The Seminar way superseded either of our expectations, and we were overwhelmed by the reception and affirmation of the people who attended.
At the end of an exhausting but exhilarating day, Mike and I were in stunned amazement that God had pulled this one through. We felt humbled and blessed that He had chosen to use us in some small way.
It is hard to believe, but that was 25 years ago. A quarter of a century! And what a journey it has been. That first seminar in 1989 laid the groundwork for what would later become my full-time ministry in training and equipping youth leaders for effective evangelism, discipleship, and the empowerment of young people. The Urban Training Network (UTN) was born some 10 years later, and the Miami Youth Leadership Initiative (a ministry partnership with Miami Youth for Christ); are a direct result and outgrowth of that initial seminar.
About seven years ago we partnered with the Urban Youth Workers’ Institute (a national ministry based in California), to continue to provide training for youth leaders, and the seminar became known as: “Reload Miami.”
This year we are pleased to present the 25th annual Youth workers’ Seminar for youth workers and student leaders. I continue to be humbled and blessed that God could use me and the team around us, to provide this training for youth workers and student leaders. What an awesome privilege and opportunity to serve in this way.