DEREK BROWN: Tell me briefly a little about yourself, how you got into ministry, and how you made your way to Compass.
BOBBY BLAKEY: I grew up and my dad was a pastor, so I got exposed to the idea of ministry, and I saw it done in a way that was biblical and a good example to me. Through Cliff McManis, my dad’s friend, I had an opportunity to do some high school ministry when I graduated from Master’s College and loved doing it. The Lord then led us to Compass Bible Church which has only been around for seven and a half years now in Orange County, led by Mike Fabarez. Clear biblical preaching and a clear explanation of the gospel is really the theme of the church, and in that envi- ronment it is awesome to do youth ministry where you can teach young men and women the Bible and hold them exactly to God’s standard and preach the gospel straight to them. It’s been just a blessing to do youth ministry in that kind of environment and watch the Lord use the gospel of Jesus Christ to save many high school age young people.
DEREK: So you told me what characterizes your high school ministry. Can you tell me a little more? You said biblical preaching, focusing on the Bible. What else would you say are a few things that really characterize your high school ministry?
BOBBY: Along with biblical teaching, another thing that we’re really trying to do is we’re trying to disciple all of these students, anyone who professes Christ. We want to make sure we’ve got an adult leader that’s working with them, so we do small groups where we try to apply the sermon to our lives, and through those small groups we hope that our leaders are developing personal relationships with each and every student to help them grow in their sanctification. That’s a big emphasis. Then evangelism is a major emphasis in our ministry—equipping the students to know the gospel so that they can share it with others, and then challeng- ing and encouraging them to do that right there at their high schools. We start Christian clubs on the campuses of the high schools where students will stand up and preach the gospel to their peers, and we’ll use free food and lunch to draw a crowd and we’ll train our kids to preach the gospel to their fellow students. It’s an awe- some thing to equip our students and to build their faith and to also spread the gospel to many who might not otherwise hear it at their high school. We’ve gotten on nineteen different campuses now where we have students who are representing the gospel hopefully in their lives and in their words to their classmates.
DEREK: I think that’s one of the things that has been encouraging to me to see is how students have “taken up the mantle” so to speak in their own schools. Didn’t you have some students preaching “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”?
BOBBY: Yeah, we did that in the high school. They’ll be reading that sermon in during their time in high school. We were able to capitalize on that and have students preaching. We try to coordinate all these different lunches going on at all these different high school campuses with an invitation to come to an event at our church with more preaching or where I’ll preach, and as we’ve been coordinating those outreaches we’ve been drawing people to come to this event. The great thing about our group is that there are so many student leaders in our group that can talk through the gospel with someone. If we can get people to that environment and they can hear it preached then they’re going to have a follow up conversation about it with somebody, and it’s through a lot of those follow-up conversations that we see people getting saved.
DEREK: What role do parents play in your high school ministry?
BOBBY: They play a huge role. As parents, they are the primary disciplers of their students. All that we can really do in our ministry is partner with the parents. So, we’re always trying to encourage the parents to fulfill that role. Our ministry does kind of focus on the youth, but we’re always doing things to try to get the parents talking about the Bible and key issues of life with their kids. We always have events where we’re challenging the parents to do that and to bring them together with their kids.
For example, even this weekend at our church we had a conference that’s designed to equip families and even to equip people at our church to help other parents to fulfill their biblical roles. Dads are supposed to be teaching their sons and daughters the Bible. We are reaching out to the parents on a regular basis in our group. A lot of it is our church as a whole is trying to train the fathers and mothers of our students. Even though our ministry emphasizes talking straight to the high school students, we’re trying to keep the parents informed on what is going on and trying to bring them into having a spiritual conversation like Deuteronomy 6 with their kids. We’re trying to get them to think about instructing their kids and also correcting their kids. We’re constantly trying to find ways to bring that up with our congregation and really create a church culture where that is what is happening. That could be a real challenge. What I think you guys are trying to address is that that’s not what is happening in a lot of Christianity. We’re doing what we can to try to address that. We still definitely think it is important to have our youth ministry and time for the youth, especially with our emphasis on evangelism, because we are reaching so many kids whose families are not going to church or their parents aren’t saved at all. We’ve got all our adult leaders and staff discipling many high-schoolers like we wish their mom and dad were, particularly their father. But unfortunately that is not the case with so many of them. We’re doing everything we can to do that with as many students as we can.
DEREK: Briefly, what role do other adults play in your ministry?
BOBBY: We’ve got a staff of about 40 adults. A few of them are parents of the students. Then there are all kinds of college-aged people, singles, young marrieds, even a grandpa—all kinds of different adults who invest in the lives of the young people trying to get to know them in a personal way and disciple them in a one-on- one relationship. We have a program in our church that our pastor has put together that is a one-on-one discipleship program that a lot of our leaders are doing with our youth, and also guiding them through the high school years with a lot of practical issues that come up. They’re talking through the sermons with them in our small groups. So, we have a crew of about 40 leaders that are constantly reaching out to students and evangelizing and discipling. They are older men and older women, and they’re trying to raise up these young men and women to become mature so they can stand for Christ for the rest of their lives. One thing that God has really blessed us with is that a lot of our leaders have now been doing this for four years. Once you create that kind of culture it becomes easy for new leaders to come in and see their examples and really learn how to disciple and love each kid. Now that we’ve been doing this for six and a half years we have some students that have graduated through the ministry so they really understand what our goals are and what we’re trying to accomplish so they’re great leaders because they are basically coming from the group so they really understand how to reach out to the group because they’ve been in it. It’s a great team. We get all our leaders together and it’s a lot of fun for everybody to be together. There’s a lot of camaraderie and partnership.
DEREK: What a blessing. You’ve already addressed a couple of these things, but if you’d like to mention anything else, tell us what God is doing in your ministry and in the schools of the greater Aliso Viejo area where the students attend.
BOBBY: When I came to this church in 2006, it was a new church, and their high school ministry hadn’t really gotten off the ground even though there were already hundreds of people coming to the church. There were very few involved in any kind of high school ministry. There was a lot of awkwardness and no real unity. It was really like starting at ground zero. The first weekend there were probably twenty kids in attendance. We just started with the philosophy of preaching God’s Word, and getting people to talk about it in a personal way and then evangelizing and spreading this Word to the schools. We even built our small groups based on what schools the students goes through, knowing that’s kind of the battlefield. Now six and a half years later we’ve just seen an incredible amount of students professing faith. Unfortunately not all of that is genuine, but a lot of it has been. A lot of students have become Christians and then passed it on to where now our group is about 300 people if you include the leaders and the students. It’s not the number of people that is so exciting but it’s the number of genuine conversions that are represented within that. So, it took a long time to invest in students and get some of them who were living out, walking worthy of the gospel, and then also could clearly articulate the gospel. Once we had that crew, we could kind of start cutting them loose, and we could support them and train them in how to speak and giving them the content to say. Then they could go to these clubs and do a good job of representing the gospel and start inviting people to the church. We’re reaching people in a place where they’re more comfortable, which is at school during lunch, giving them food, and that’s opening doors for conversations and for invitations to come to church. We’ve been doing that for a long time. It kind of depends on the students who run it, but some schools have had to have their meetings in gyms or in multipurpose rooms. Some lunches have had up to 200 students come in and hear the gospel.
There was one group of young men out towards the beginning that I was working with and we had eight solid young men. We had two or three other people come to the lunches. I told the guys, “It doesn’t seem like you are trying and it doesn’t seem like your heart is for the lost or that you really want to promote the gospel. I challenged these young men. I said, “What if you guys will not play video games until you really got this thing going?” They took it to heart and went on a video games moratorium, and it wasn’t too long until the next lunch that they couldn’t even fit in the classroom where they were eating. The students were speaking out on the grassy slope there at their school to about a hundred students. Then they had to start meeting in a multipur- pose room and they were getting close to two hundred people to come to these lunches. People were professing faith. There was real persecution rising up. It was a real work of evangelism happening, and that was probably three to four years ago.
Now some of the kids who got saved through that outreach are continuing to run that group. It has clearly been passed on to the next group of kids, and they’re now very capable at preaching the gospel. In fact, we’ve had kids this year for the first time kind of professing their faith right there at the public high school. They’re getting saved at school before they even get to the church because the kids are clearly giving the gospel and the Lord is using them. Now we have seniors who are doing a great job of representing Christ on the campus and they’re about to graduate. It looks like we’re already seeing leaders rise up who will be able to continue it. That’s just the story of one high school that’s right down the street from our church. We’ve got all kinds of things going on at Christian schools, all kinds of different Catholic high schools, preparatory schools, public schools. We’ve had kids reaching out to their homeschool groups. Once you start setting this vision of “you can do the work of evangelism as a young man or woman” you start to see examples of kids who are doing that and even new Christians—kids now who have only been saved a year—from the moment they’re saved believing this is what they think they should do. They start heading down that path right away and they’re able to start doing an effective job of communicating the gospel even as newer believers. They get this example and it becomes their passion. It has taken a long time to create that kind of mentality and have examples like that but each student has to want to do it and have a passion for it themselves. It’s cool to see how the Lord has used young men and women to advance the gospel in an evident way.
DEREK: What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced while serving in youth ministry?
BOBBY: There is a lot of challenge. One of the things that has been clearly documented is the challenge of so many youth that fall away from the faith especially after they graduate and move into college. The challenge of: “OK. That’s true. I see the statistics on that, and I can see evidence of that in churches that I’m familiar with.” But how do we combat that? I think that’s a real challenge. I think working in a culture where salvation is assumed, that anyone that grows up in the church, the assumption is they are saved. That’s a challenge for youth ministry when we need to be so clear on what it really means to be saved, what is the gospel, and what is the response of repentance and faith. For people who walk around and assume they’re saved because they know the facts and they do good things, that’s a real challenge for youth ministry right now is articulating a strong understanding of what salvation is really going to look like in the life of a young person, which I would submit is no different than what it is going to look like in any other person. Some of the other challenges that are tough for youth ministry: there’s a lot of personal discouragement when you invest in people and then you see them turn their back on Christ and on the church and when they turn against you and begin to act like you were the problem rather than someone trying to help them, I think that can be a real discouragement on a personal level. Having a church that has a culture to preach the Bible, to keep the Bible central, to say exactly what the Bible says, to say it to the people we’re talking to and to try to make sure that the gospel is explained in a biblical and accurate way. When the church has a culture like that, that is where youth ministry can thrive and that’s the thing that I think is a challenge for a lot of youth ministry if what they’re doing doesn’t go with culture of the church. To have a church that’s already kind of accepted that tone or that template, that is something that has made our ministry. Just from my personal experience, I did ministry at a church before that maybe didn’t have that kind of raised standard or high expectation of biblical teaching, and we did ministry, but we didn’t really see the effect that we’ve seen here, and I think that’s because that’s the way our whole church is set up. I think one challenge for me that has now turned into a huge blessing is being in line with what’s going on at the church.
DEREK: What do you think of the category of “adolescence”?
BOBBY: I don’t think it’s a helpful categorization. I don’t think it’s a helpful way to label young people. I prefer to think of them as young men and women and to challenge them as that. Definitely they’re living with their mom and dad and they’re talking about Facebook. They’re definitely going through a transition in the way we set it up here in our American culture, but the standard that we hold them to is a biblical standard which is to call them to be young men and women. Creating a category of something between childhood and adulthood is not something that I find in the Bible and something that I don’t really find to be helpful at all. I find that the more that I challenge them as young men and women the more they rise to God’s standard as His Spirit works within them. I’m against any kind of dumbing down of what the Bible says. I definitely want to teach it straight to them with where they’re at in mind, our culture and everything that’s going on, but I don’t want to change one thing that the Bible says or expect any less from them than what God would be expecting from them.
I see examples in the Bible of teenagers being used by God to do great things. I think of people like Joseph, David, and even Mary, so I don’t know how our expectations got to be so low of what we think Christian young people can do. I’ve found that by speaking to them and treating them in a very mature, kind of adult way, and expecting them to be able to do what the Bible says I find that they respond to that greatly. I remember one student who I don’t even know if he was saved. He was not plugged into our ministry at all. He left our ministry. After a while he came back, and I said, “Hey, what brings you back?” He said, “Well, I went to other churches where my friends went to youth ministry, and they don’t teach what the Bible actually says. They’re just teaching them what they think they can handle.” So here’s a young person and I don’t even know if this person has been saved by the Lord. If they can see that the only way to do this is to teach clearly what God says and expect them to respond. Adolescence, I feel like, is opening a door to a category that is not biblical.
DEREK: What would you say is missing in many ministries today?
BOBBY: I think that the main thing that’s missing is a clear explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, what it is, and what it calls for: a response of repentance and faith. There’s a huge confusion, I think, about who really is saved in youth ministry. I think there’s an assumption that as long as someone is a good kid and as long as they’re associated with Christianity that they are saved. There’s not enough done to preach what the Bible says about conversion and regeneration and what that really is going to look like in somebody’s life. I think we’re creating a culture where phrases like “asking Jesus into your heart”, “rededicating your life to Christ” and repentance and grace are confused, and those are the biblical phrases and ideas that we should be marching these ministries forward with. I think one of the keys to what has happened in our church with seeing many conversions and seeing a lot of growth is a clear articulation of the doctrine of repentance. There is a turn from sin to God in response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think this really eliminates this idea of “I know about it and I believe it in some intellectual sense.” That would be similar to a demonic belief in Jesus Christ. This is what we are calling for: have you really been saved so that your life has radically changed? As we have articulated that we’ve seen kids who have grown up in the church, realized that they have not made that kind of response and want to do it, and also kids who can look at their lives and have a very straight forward way to evaluate if there has been a turnaround in their life from sin to God or not based not on any kind of works or self-righteousness but on real trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I think the problem is that we’re not getting specific enough with what we mean by the gospel at the churches I’ve worked at and as I interact with young people who go to other churches. There are way too many fuzzy answers about what the gospel is. It’s not like people can just quote 1 Corinthians 15 and dive right into it. They don’t know what they’re talking about, a lot of them, and to me that’s a big problem because, to say those things, what you’re going to be doing, is you’re going to be talking to moms on the phone who are upset with you that you gave their young person at their home an implication, perhaps, that they are not genuinely saved. That’s going to create some problems. I think that there is a path of least resistance in youth ministry. Also, just to speak to youth pastors specifically: too many of them are thinking more about the youth than they are about the pastor. I mean, it’s pretty clear what a pastor is supposed to do and the youth pastor would just do that with youth. It’s like guys have to figure out what their job description is and we’ve created a whole other category of pastor. I think we have to be preaching the Word and we have to be preaching straight to the young people. If a youth pastor doesn’t think of himself as that being his primary task then he won’t have the right perspective on youth ministry.
DEREK: Is there anything more that you would want to say to encourage or challenge youth pastors?
BOBBY: I would want to challenge them with the question, “what is our goal?” Is it to do ministry just for the kids that are here at our church, or is our goal to equip these young men and women to do the work of the ministry? I think that is supposed to be our goal, and I think youth ministry gets very inward focused which it tries to help kids with their faith rather than expecting that because they have faith and they have the power of the Spirit they are going to be concerned with encouraging others and evangelizing others. So I think I would challenge other youth pastors to expect their kids to be able to not just be ministered to but to actually do ministry and to have that equipping sense. We want to prepare our young people in how to encourage others and to evangelize others and expect them to do that. We’re not just here to do that for them. We’re here to equip them to do that, and that’s a huge difference when you expect that these young people are capable of doing the work of the ministry, even serving right there in ministry, encouraging one another right there in the ministry, and then evangelizing right outside of the ministry. Part of the problem even in churches where we are going to preach the Bible and we are going to articulate the biblical gospel is we won’t expect the youth to act on that and to do something about that. We’re just expecting them to know about it for themselves. You don’t see that in the Bible. You see that when somebody knows about it for themselves they will be immediately taking that and extending that beyond themselves. We need to have that expectation if the youth pastor is preaching the Word and he is trying to articulate a very clear, biblical gospel then he needs to be challenging his young people to give their lives away in evangelism, service, and encouragement, and having a real way for them to do that. I think that we have a concern for their soul, but are we giving them a concern for other people’s souls which is clearly fundamental to being a Christian.
[Editor's Note: This interview originally appeared in The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 3.2 (Spring/Summer 2013). You can access a PDF version of this interview here.]
Bobby Blakey (B.A., The Master’s College) has been in full time youth ministry for over eleven years and currently serves as high school pastor at Compass Bible Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He and his wife live in Aliso Viejo with their three children. Bobby loves his family, his church, youth ministry, and a good In-and-Out Burger.
Derek Brown (Ph.D. candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a small business owner, the managing editor for The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry and the web-content editor for FamilyMinistryToday.com. When he is not spending time with his wife and son, Derek can be found cycling or running around Louisville, KY.