The troubles and spiritual doubts of today’s youth are familiar to Dr. Jay Strack, longtime evangelist and founder of Student Leadership University. As a teen in Fort Myers, Florida in the 1960s, he emerged from a broken home, foster homes and detention centers feeling rudderless.
“I had felt like a piece of luggage most of my life. I didn’t know what to do about it,” Strack said during a July 25 interview at Houston Baptist University with Dr. Jerry Johnston. “I began to try to kill the pain with alcohol and drugs. You go from being a victim to a villain. You start robbing yourself with careless choices.”
After he reached a point of desperation, Strack asked God to show Himself as real. His midnight, jailhouse prayer was followed by encounters with Christians and the Gospel message.
Following a Bible study, Strack said, “I heard the message too good to be true, and I went home and flushed the drugs. That was over 40 years ago.”
Strack not only finished high school, but served as a pastor and earned a doctorate. He and his wife, Diane, have gone on to share their fervor for the life-altering power of Jesus Christ with many.
Dr. Strack spoke to students in an estimated 10,000 high school assemblies over the course of two decades. Then, a turning point in his ministry came when Billy Graham asked Strack a simple question: who would carry on Strack’s ministry after him?
“From that moment on, I had four or five guys who would go with us,” Strack said.
Strack realized the value of developing leaders of the faith and not only followers. He envisioned inspiring promising youth and the church workers who discipled them.
Along the way, Strack discovered that, across denominations, young adults were leaving the church in alarming numbers. A council of church youth leaders concurred that focused attention on influencers was needed.
“Bigger was better in my mind, but all of a sudden I was hearing a heart cry,” Strack said. “I said, ‘We’re going to come up with a solution.’ What could I do that the Lord has called me to do that maybe not everyone is doing?”
The idea of investing in youth led to the development of Student Leadership University. Student participants in SLU 101 through 401 explore how to think, dream, lead and serve with the Gospel at the forefront through life-changing trips. Students have an introduction to the program in a U.S. city during their first year, visit Washington, D.C. the second year, visit major world cities including London, Oxford, Normandy and Paris the third year, and travel to Israel and Jordan during the fourth year.
SLU outreaches include Lift Tours that teach teens to live for Christ and Youth Pastor Summits that help equip youth leaders.
The concept of SLU is unique among ministries, and has made an indelible difference for those involved.
“We want to be a game-changer,” Strack said.
Johnston agreed that reaching the next generation is vital.
“What you’ve done is absolutely remarkable and totally needed,” Johnston said.