Southwestern professor exemplifies a life of inspiring teenagers to love Jesus


FORT WORTH, Texas — Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Senior Professor of Student Ministry Richard Ross has known for most of his life what he has been called to do: “by the Spirit, live, teach, speak, and write to see Christ’s kingdom come through teenagers and their parents and leaders, for the glory of God.” 

He became a believer and follower of Jesus as a seven-year-old boy and when he was only ten years old, he said he “experienced a call to do Christian ministry as his life vocation.” 

Although Ross was confident that he was being called to serve in ministry at a young age, he did not know it would be with students at the time. This was especially true because his dad was a pastor of a smaller church, which did not allow for having a full-time student pastor. 

His specific calling to student ministry didn’t happen until many years later as a freshman at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, when Baptist Student Ministry director Marshall Walker opened Ross’s eyes to the possibility of ministering to teenagers. 

Ross said Walker “invested in me for an entire school year” and encouraged him to see the gifts he had that could be used in student ministry. Walker helped him think about how much influence teenagers and young adults have on the world and that they “not only determine the direction of the church, but also the world.” Thinking about this helped Ross understand the importance of shaping teenagers’ hearts for Christ. At the end of that school year, he accepted the call to be a minister of youth at Hillcrest Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas, in 1969 as a nineteen-year-old college student. 

Ross has a long history of ministry to teenagers and their parents. In addition to serving at Hillcrest, he served at several other churches during his time as a college student including Caps Baptist Church in Caps, Texas, Fannin-Terrace Baptist Church in Midland, Texas, and Pioneer Drive Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas.  

Ross graduated from Hardin-Simmons in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and earned both his master’s degree in 1974 and Doctor of Philosophy in 1980 in student ministry from Southwestern. Beginning in 1972, he served as youth pastor at Royal Haven Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, until 1984. 

In 1984, Ross and his wife, LaJuana, moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he became the youth ministry consultant at the Baptist Sunday School Board, now known as Lifeway Christian Resources. In that role, Ross trained student pastors nationwide and guided the coordination of student ministry through 50 leaders in Southern Baptist Convention agencies, state conventions, seminaries, and colleges.  When he lived in Nashville and worked for Lifeway he was also a youth pastor at Tulip Grove Baptist Church. During that time, a movement—“True Love Waits”—for purity amongst youth began organically and exploded across the nation. 

Ross moved back to Fort Worth, his hometown, to teach at Southwestern in 2000 using his wealth of experience and knowledge to teach future youth pastors and leaders. 

“I loved being a student pastor for thirty years. I was open to serving as a student pastor for many more years, but God had other plans,” remembered Ross. When Ross began serving at Southwestern, he felt called to “continue ministering to teenagers, but to do so from a new perspective.” 

“He called me to bless the next generation by equipping those who would serve as their student pastors, senior pastors, international missionaries, and those in other leadership positions,” he explained. Ross was sad to step away on his last day being a youth pastor, but he “quickly became very excited and committed to infusing into future church leaders what they would need to be and do to reach, disciple, and send the next generation.”

Ross teaches all the student ministry classes at the master’s level, including leading student ministry, disciple-making in student ministry, and issues in student ministry. A class he especially enjoys teaching is disciple-making in student ministry. 

“I think every church ought to provide solid Bible study for every teenager, but I also think every church should offer intensive discipleship for every teenager who is strongly motivated to be a disciple of Jesus, who welcomes accountability and is even willing to do extra study,” Ross explained. “Very few churches offer intensive discipleship, therefore, we’re graduating a majority of 18-year-olds that have never been discipled and are completely ill-prepared for [the] immense challenges of college.”

Ross initiates an open and welcoming door with his students and at the beginning of the semester, he tells them he “will respond to any invitation to share a meal, coffee or Zoom call.” On the last day of the semester, he tells the students that the same offer holds even after their graduation. “I am true to my word,” said Ross. Most of his meals and coffee breaks are spent with his current or former students, which helps solidify his philosophy in the teaching ministry. “I believe the class sessions I lead are vital for ministry preparation, but my personal investment in students is equally important,” he said. 

Former student Kyle Crowell said that Ross “has a calling from the Lord - growing student ministry in homes and in the church” and sees Ross’s call “extend to equipping anyone in student ministry” such as parents, volunteers, student pastors, and lead pastors.  Crowell received his Master of Arts in Christian Education degree in 2003 and Ph.D. with a concentration in student ministry in 2011 from Southwestern and took almost all of the classes Ross teaches and was his teaching assistant. Crowell is currently the student pastor at First Baptist Church Hurst, where he has been since July of 2020. 

“I would not be the person and minister I am today without Richard Ross,” said Crowell. “I never expected how much influence Dr. Ross would have on my life. His mentorship extends beyond the classroom as over the years we have worked together on Youth Labs, Disciple Now, and Vacation Bible Schools for parents.” 

Crowell also attributes Ross for “giving him opportunities to grow as an author” and credits him for the “guidance” and support he gave him while finishing his dissertation. “Dr. Ross has encouraged me and continues to encourage me in student ministry and in my devotion to Christ. He has been one of the key mentors in my life over the last 23 years.” Crowell appreciates Ross’s talent, brilliance, and life-long passion for student ministry. What he admires most about him is his “God-given sense of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. He has this connection with the Lord that at times is almost tangible.” 

Another former student, Doug Bischoff,  called Ross “the real deal.” Bischoff said, “He is always the same person and never tries to be someone he’s not. I appreciate the fact that he never makes the seminary experience about him.” 

Bischoff admires his humility and gracious ways. “He has a way of holding people accountable but doing it with such grace. He’s the closest thing to Christlike I think I’ve ever known,” he said. Bischoff has served as the Next Generations pastor at Houston’s First Baptist Church in Houston since 2008.

Kyle Gladden, from Arlington, Texas, is a Bachelor of Arts in Christian studies student and is serving as a youth minister at Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington. The investment Ross makes in Gladden is clear to him. 

“Dr. Ross continues to make an incredible investment in my life and ministry,” Gladden explained. “He’s not a textbook-driven professor. He has taught me a lot, drawing from his experience in youth ministry and from his deep love of Christ and Scripture. Dr. Ross is someone I’ve turned to for advice when dealing with difficult situations in my ministry and he’s always been happy to help.” 

Gladden said that “Dr. Ross has one supreme love: King Jesus.”

“When I’ve been in the thicket of ministry, he has been there to point me back to the glory and love of Christ, whether through his in-class devotional times, his prayers, his teaching or his personal investment,” Gladden added. “If anyone thinks they might work with teenagers, then they could do no better than to learn from Dr. Ross. His heart for teenagers to live in the light of King Jesus, combined with his concern for excellence in student ministry, is unsurpassed.”

Ross has lived out his mission which is, “by the Spirit, live, teach, speak, and write to see Christ’s kingdom come through teenagers and their parents and leaders, for the glory of God.” His ministry as an adult has been focused on “seeing churches introduce teenagers to Jesus and then discipling and equipping them into believers who will, for a lifetime, love God supremely, love people sacrificially, and make disciples locally and globally, all for the glory of God.” 

Ross has written more than 25 books during his time working for both Lifeway and Southwestern, some of the latter of which have been published by Seminary Hill Press. 

Ross is a member of Wedgwood Baptist Church and serves as a volunteer with the middle school and high school student ministry. He helps with special events such as speaking at youth camp, training student ministry volunteers, and equipping parents to spiritually lead their teenagers. 

In addition to Ross’s life as a professor at Southwestern, he also continues to have a robust ministry where he travels weekly to speak at churches or conferences. Some people he meets through his speaking engagements come to study at Southwestern because of the connection they make with meeting him and his work at the seminary.