Loving well means loving every generation and introducing all people to Jesus Christ. Many churches feature programs to engage young children, and youth groups welcome teens into a journey of faith. But still some kids will be missed. That’s where parachurch ministries like Young Life can assist, connecting with teens who haven’t yet begun a journey with Jesus. And Young Life’s history with Dallas Theological Seminary has now led to an innovative partnership to train leaders.

For more than eighty years, Young Life has lived out its vision to “introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith.” As the organization’s founder, Jim Rayburn, liked to say, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the gospel.”i So Young Life’s leaders build relationships with kids and earn the right to share the gospel by inviting them into a community that meets together to learn, have fun, and serve in their local areas.

The foundation of Young Life’s mission includes a solid understanding of the whole Bible, thorough competence in Bible exposition, skillful relationship building, and a lot of prayer. Jim started Young Life almost immediately after completing his Master of Theology (ThM) degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. The teaching of founding president Lewis Sperry Chafer drew Jim to the young seminary; Chafer’s book He That Is Spiritual had changed his life. At seminary, Jim was overwhelmed by Chafer’s enthusiasm about “the fact that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was what Jesus Christ had done for man plus nothing else in the whole world.” Jim said he would sit in class and think, “If I don’t do something about this, I’m going to burst!”ii

Using Jim’s knowledge from seminary classes and his eagerness to share the gospel with everyone, the Lord opened the door to ministry among kids the church wasn’t reaching. Jim’s idea to bring the gospel to this next generation through a structure that became known as the “four C’s” of Young Life: Contact with kids; a Club that meets together; weekly Campaigner meetings; and Camp. (A fifth C, the Committee of adults, is now included.) The first Young Life club started down the street from the DTS campus. From there, the idea grew and thrived, and Young Life now operates in all fifty states and more than one hundred countries worldwide.

In honor of the early and ongoing friendship between DTS and Young Life, and thanks to the generosity of a donor, the Jim Rayburn Full-Tuition Scholarship launched in the fall semester of 2022. Young Life staff members can now continue their education at DTS free of financial burdens. And because the seminary offers a robust selection of online courses, Young Life staff members can take advantage of this opportunity while remaining in their place of ministry anywhere in the world.

“D allas Theological Seminary and the Young Life organization have a rich history together,” says DTS President Mark Yarbrough. “Through the Lord’s generosity, we are eager to see how the Lord will use the Jim Rayburn Full-Tuition Scholarship to make the name of Jesus known!”

The Rayburn Scholarship now benefits Young Life staff members, and the benefits go beyond just the students attending DTS. Landen Swain, a staff associate in Young Life’s Garden State Region, is pursuing a master’s in apologetics and evangelism. He is excited to be a part of Young Life’s Servant Leadership Project, which gives kids hands-on training in serving others by following Jesus. “Because of the training I am receiving from DTS, I am better equipped to address the million questions that middle and high school students ask,” Landen says. Jared Sutton, area director in Texas for Southlake Young Life, agrees. “I have wanted to attend seminary for a long time,” he says. “I’ve always appreciated Jim Rayburn’s desire to share the gospel in an engaging way. He met kids where they were and shared the gospel. The knowledge I’m gaining in the ThM program at DTS will help me be a better, more accurate communicator of the gospel to the kids I minister to in Southlake.”

i Char Meredith, It’s a Sin to Bore a Kid: The Story of Young Life (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1978). ii Jim Rayburn, The Diaries of Jim Rayburn, edited by Kit Sublett (Houston, TX: Whitecaps Media, 2008), 45.

Learn more about the Jim Rayburn Full-Tuition Scholarship.

About the Contributors

Neil R. Coulter

Neil R. Coulter

Neil R. Coulter completed degrees in music performance and ethnomusicology from Wheaton College and Kent State University. He and his family lived in Papua New Guinea for twelve years, where Neil served as an ethnomusicology and arts consultant for Wycliffe Bible Translators. In 2015, he helped design and launch the PhD in World Arts at Dallas International University. He teaches doctoral courses in theory and ethnography at DIU’s Center for Excellence in World Arts. At DTS, he teaches about art, literature, film, and theology, and he is senior writer and editor of DTS Magazine. Neil is married to Joyce, and they have three sons.