Southern youth leaders garner inspiration from 2022 EQUIP conference

By: Brad Rowland

In late April, hundreds of youth leaders from across The Salvation Army’s USA Southern Territory came together for a week of inspiration and education at the 2022 EQUIP Conference. The gathering, held in Atlanta, began with an intriguing slate of pre-conference offerings before centering on a trio of general sessions and a bevy of educational breakouts.

Before the official conference began, dozens of individuals took part in four pre-conference tracks, including a young adult forum, Safe from Harm training, a track for divisional youth leaders, and a gathering for Boys & Girls Clubs representatives under the “Better Together” umbrella. In addition, pre-conference attendees kicked off the week with an elegant Sunday evening gala, celebrating what would be a productive and beneficial week.

Monday evening’s general session featured musical worship from transMission, the Southern Territory’s contemporary worship outfit, and a conversation with Jim Clark, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Colonel Ralph Bukiewicz engaged Clark in an inspirational back-and-forth, with Clark congratulating attendees on their meaningful work and indicating that the partnership between The Salvation Army and Boys & Girls Clubs allows for “taking both of our strengths and putting them together, making a forced multiplier to serve kids in need.”

Later, Major Al Newsome, divisional commander in Georgia, delivered the keynote address, reminding youth leaders that “if you’re really going to talk to people, you need to get down in the dirt sometimes.”

“If we’re entertaining young people and not connecting with them, we’re doing something wrong,” Major Newsome said. “Jesus did not come to entertain. He came to teach us how to live… Let’s not miss this connection. They need to see Jesus.”

The opening general session also included the official launch of “RAISE,” a strategic plan for youth ministry in the Southeast that aims to get back to the basics by raising aims to provide a new and fresh perspective, utilizing existing ministries and introducing brand new initiatives that can be targeted specifically for optimal use in varied communities. The tenets of the new initiative are evangelism, discipleship, and leadership development, with an expansive viewpoint on what can be achieved in Salvation Army youth ministry.

Over the course of the general sessions, representatives from the territorial youth department delivered RAISE awards, honoring phenomenal local work in three communities. Sheila Livingston, territorial Christian education director, was also honored with a “legacy” award. In addition, the Youth Down South Podcast held a live recording session featuring a panel discussion of divisional youth leaders, and farewelling divisional youth secretaries received acknowledgement and thanks for their crucial work. Michael Gurian and Mark Matlock also delivered powerful and educational messages as keynote speakers, appealing to both the heart and mind.

Across three days, breakout sessions featured critical and targeted work. Examples of breakout topics include classroom management, young adult ministry, tools for diminishing conflict, trauma-informed care, evangelism, and the use of best practices. Offerings included 20 different classes, with the chance to dive deep into specific topics or survey a wide range over the course of multiple sessions.

At the conclusion of the final session on Wednesday morning, groups gathered to discuss how leadership is at work in communities, while sharing takeaways from the week in a fashion that can be useful locally. These gatherings were divvied up by division, with a time of prayer to follow to bless the gathering and its future-facing impact.

Commissioner Willis Howell, territorial commander, concluded the week by focusing on James 1:22 (EHV). “Be people who do what the word says, not people who only hear it. Such people are deceiving themselves.” He shared encouraging words, but also delivered a reminder of the power that the knowledge garnered during the week can carry.

“Everybody here got tools from this week,” said Commissioner Howell. “What are you going to do with the wonderful tools you’ve been given? Are the tools just going to sit, or will they be used, leveraged, and taken advantage of to make a difference? The tools you’ve been given, wonderful tools, are meant to be used, not placed on a shelf.”

Commissioner Howell also challenged attendees to use the tools in a wise, godly manner, focusing also on the critical work that lies ahead.

“I encourage you to take the tools you’ve been given and what you’ve discovered. Now that you have them, use them,” Commissioner Howell said. “Find out how they work best in order to make the difference we’re all looking for. Use them to help us raise up a generation that sees and behaves differently. Use the tools you’ve been given to raise up Christ followers who can accomplish our mission. Use the tools you’ve been given to change the world, starting with your community and your neighborhood.”