Brad cheerfully admits he’s a newbie, attending a Vision for Youth conference and happy to be surrounded by youth ministry veterans. Sitting behind him is Abe Miller, the former youth pastor at Saylorville who has now transitioned to administrative pastor. Both say they are here for the helpful seminars, but also look forward to the informal interaction with others in youth ministry.
“My toughest lesson so far? Learning to delegate is a big thing,” says Brad when asked how he has grown in his first six months. “Also, learning how to best train my staff, and how to select a few teens to pour my life into while trusting the rest of the youth staff to do the same.”
The list of speakers at the Cultivating Student Leaders conference includes several GARBC youth ministry old-timers: Glenn Amos and Mel Walker from Heritage Baptist Church, Clarks Summit, Pa., and Tim Ahlgrim, now teaching youth ministry at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, Ind.
And by this point, the three are happy to acknowledge their old-timer status. Perhaps it is because of the gray in their beards or the popping sound their knees make when they stand up, or maybe it’s the photos of grandchildren that they carry around in their wallets. While none of them are likely to relish another youth department all-nighter, they clearly have a larger agenda.
“Old youth pastors don’t fade away; they just train other youth pastors,” says Don Jackson, who has served the past 20 years as youth pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, Battle Creek, Mich. Don was recently appointed director of student missions for Vision for Youth, and his church now supports him as a missionary.
“I’m a GARBC guy from birth,” Don says, explaining that he grew up at Bible Baptist Church, Romeoville, Ill. “Glenn Amos was my youth pastor when I was growing up.”
Glenn then provides another connection: “Now Don has a former student that is a youth pastor, so that means that I’m a grandfather!”
While it is sometimes fashionable to complain about the radical, wild-and-crazy side of youth ministry, these speakers clearly have a back-to-the-basics approach, emphasizing the importance of prayer meetings where teens actually pray, of carefully planned Sunday School curriculum, and of discipleship ministries to parents as a means to reach teens.
“The kids in our youth group? They’re not our kids! What can we as youth pastors do to help parents raise their children?” Glenn Amos asks.
The Vision for Youth leaders think a lot about their aging Baby Boomer status and, as a result, have become intent on reproducing themselves.
“What would happen if we talked about full-time service all of the time? When a kid scores high on his ACT or SAT test, we think he should become a doctor or a lawyer. Why not ask them to become a pastor or a missionary?” Glenn asks.
Then Glenn explains why the Vision for Youth guys are still in the game. “When we first started in ministry, there weren’t many books we could read; there weren’t good seminars for us to attend. We never heard anything about steering teens into vocational ministry. But the Scripture still says, ‘The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few.’ Isn’t it amazing how this is still true today?”
Sitting in the back of the room, I remember a day a long time ago, when Mel Walker drove down from Ypsilanti to speak at our youth banquet in Toledo—the banquet where the skinny trombone player and the brown-eyed girl had their first date. We were only sixteen, not thinking much about the future.
I glance up, and 30 years have passed (30 years, Mel!). Then the white-haired trombone player remembers the rubbery chicken and the pink dress and the speaker’s long-ago topic:
Full-time Christian service.
Kevin Mungons is managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin.