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Transforming hearts

WELS congregations are helping adults build strong foundations for their families—which ultimately impacts youth.

Alicia A. Neumann

“I asked the youth leaders who attended the pilot for my marriage-building session, ‘Are you wondering why we’re spending an hour on marriage building? Your youth members aren’t married,’ ” says Randy Hunter, pastor at St. Andrew, Middleton, Wis. “Everyone there understood that when the parents have a strong marriage, the kids will do better. And that’s the way God designed it.”

Hunter says this topic has also come up in conversations with community leaders. “I met with the police chief, the principal of the public high school, and the director of a local food pantry. I asked them, ‘What can we, as a church, do to help?’ Their answers were the same: Fix the family.”

Building strong marriages

Hunter says one way to do this is by improving marriages—something St. Andrew is actively working on. The congregation has committed itself to becoming a marriage-building church by helping Christian couples live the strong connection between the gospel and their marriage.

“Everyone wants a strong marriage, and there’s no shortage of marriage materials out there,” Hunter says. “But so many of those materials lack the gospel of who Jesus is and what he’s done for you. We want to connect the gospel to your marriage. That’s really what makes this distinct.”

Jason Teteak, member at St. Andrew, appreciates his congregation’s emphasis on strong marriages. “Before my wife, Jess, and I got married, we went through a pre-marriage workshop with Pastor Hunter,” says Teteak. “It was just fantastic because it helped us understand how to put Christ at the center of our relationship and how to grow together as husband and wife.”

The Teteaks also have attended several marriage retreats. “We love to go to them,” he says. “You’ve got to get into the Bible to grow your faith, and you’ve got to work on your marriage to grow your marriage. God didn’t design us to have marriage without him. When you put him at the center and have your entire marriage founded on that central core—it’s helped us in so many ways.”

For example, he’s seen how his marriage impacts his five-year-old son. “When my son sees me give my wife a hug, he comes over and gets a hug too,” says Teteak. “When your children see the love you and your spouse have, they feel so much love because of that.”

Teteak likens it to when you’re on a plane. If the oxygen masks drop down, “you’re supposed to put the mask on yourself first, then help the others,” he says. “If a marriage is not connected to Christ and it isn’t spiritually healthy, the kids suffer. But when the parents are connected to Christ, the kids get to experience that too.”

Faith habits for families

Kristi Sebald, member at Crosswalk, Phoenix, Ariz., agrees that families need a strong foundation—“a strong marriage and a strong spiritual base,” she says. But for many families, that strong spiritual base is lacking.

“I’ve been doing a lot of research, and statistics say that in Protestant America regular church attendance is once a month,” says Sebald. “Of those people who say that they belong to church and regularly attend, only 10 percent practice spiritual disciplines at home. So if you think about parents who go to church, only 10 percent are reading their Bibles, or praying with their families, or doing these things that we know affects family culture and transforms faith.”

Sebald used to serve as the director of children’s ministry at Crosswalk. In that role, she was looking for ways to connect to parents. “We wanted to help them be spiritual leaders at home,” she says. So she developed a curriculum that cultivates and nurtures faith habits like praying with your child, reading Bible studies, and having family devotions. “They are basically spiritual disciplines that we would do as adults, but implementing them with children,” she says.

The idea is to have parents focus on instilling one faith habit in their children per year, from infancy to fifth grade. The parents are invited to attend Sunday school with their kids once each year. They spend about half the time observing the children’s lesson, then they learn about the faith habit to do with their child at home.

“It’s amazing to see parents getting involved in their children’s faith lives,” says Sebald. “Some parents don’t know where to start, so we started introducing these habits in small, easy ways that they can absorb into their family culture. They are relieved when they find out that something like family devotions don’t have to be a huge production—you can take ten minutes to read a story, discuss two or three questions, and then pray together. These are foundational habits that really will affect a child’s faith throughout their lives.”

Stacia Weinstein, member at Crosswalk, agrees. “If the kids don’t see their parents reading the Bible, they think, Why should I do it? If kids don’t see it happening, they’re probably not going to do it.”

Weinstein, who volunteers for Crosswalk’s children’s ministry, says she’s witnessed a lot of blessings over the past year. “At one of the preschool sessions I attended, the teacher went around the circle and asked each child to say a prayer. When it was time for my friend’s daughter to pray, she didn’t say a word. So my friend went home and worked on praying with her daughter. A few weeks later in class, the teacher asked the kids to say another prayer. When it was my friend’s daughter’s turn, she had the courage to say the prayer she had practiced.”

Weinstein says this ministry helps the entire family—parents included. “Parents have best intentions, but other things get pushed into their minds and life gets busy,” she says. “This is a great reminder about what’s really important; this is eternity. I’m doing this because I want to have my kids with me in heaven. And I want to help other parents achieve the same thing.”

Alicia Neumann is a member at Christ, Zumbrota, Minnesota.

This is the last article in a four-part series on the importance of youth ministry.


Hunter and Sebald are both presenters for the new WELS School of Youth and Family called Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders. For more information about this eight-part video series, or to order, visit www.nph.net and search for “Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders.”


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Transforming youth ministry

WELS youth workers share the importance of equipping teens to serve in their local congregations and giving them opportunities to live their faith.

Alicia A. Neumann

Bill Monday, associate pastor at St. Peter, Freedom, Wis., has been seeing a trend throughout his ministry: After youth members return from college, they aren’t getting involved in their congregation. “In high school, teens have youth group—but they have never really connected to the adult life of church,” he says. “Then when they come back after college, they aren’t comfortable connecting with the other adults, whether it’s through Bible study or serving on a committee. That’s foreign to them; they haven’t had that experience.”

Monday says this is because the youth and adult experiences are very separate in many congregations. He likens it to the “kids’ table” at holiday celebrations. “You go to Grandma’s house for the holiday dinner and you see the beautiful table with the cloth napkins, the china, and the turkey. But that’s not for the kids. The kids sit at a card table in the corner with plastic silverware and folding chairs.”

Preparing them for service

He continues, “So how do we take those two different tables and learn to eat the feast of God’s grace together, as soon as possible?”

One solution for bridging that gap and assimilating young adults into the adult life of the congregation is a “confirmation curriculum” that Monday recently developed. “It’s a seven-year plan to introduce youth to the adult leaders of the church,” he says. “Throughout those years, they begin to get to know the adult members and connect with working committees, so they can start using their gifts as soon as they’re confirmed.”

Equipping them to live their faith

Another way to equip youth and keep them engaged in the church is to help them learn by doing. “It’s all about giving kids opportunities to live their faith and challenging them to have conversations,” says Jon Enter, pastor at Hope, West Palm Beach, Fla., and youth coordinator for the South Atlantic District. “We want to get them in the ‘simulator of life’—we want to put them in a safe environment and give them unique experiences to express their faith.”

Enter says he uses three different kinds of experiences for his youth group: themed lock-ins, Christian camps, and mission trips. “For themed lock-ins, we take a tough spiritual topic or social issue and turn it into a faith experience,” he says. Whether it’s taking teens to watch the filming of the local news then having a Bible study or having teens volunteer at a local food pantry and then discussing how Jesus ministered to those less fortunate, “the Bible study hits home a lot more when they’ve had that shared experience together,” says Enter.

Christian camps also provide opportunities for teens to grow in their faith. “The youth are away from their parents, and they feel very grown up,” says Enter. “This leads to amazing opportunities for faith talks that they’d never get in their regular environments. I’ve really seen a magnificent difference in kids who have gone to camps.”

And finally, there are the mission trips. “Their primary focus is serving others,” says Enter. “You do so much for other people, but you get exponentially more in return.”

Take Marisa Capobianco, Hayley Binder, and Tricia Mahnke, for example. All have participated in mission trips through Kingdom Workers. Although they are from different congregations and participated in different mission trips in different parts of the United States, they all agree: Their experiences were life-changing.

Capobianco, a member at Mount Zion, Kenosha, Wis., has participated in two different mission trips: one in New Orleans, La., and the other in Peoria, Ariz. “Serving others in the capacity of mission trips is very different than I thought it would be,” she says. “I was excited about serving people before each of the trips, but every time I came home, it always struck me that the people that I met on the trips served and taught me more than I could ever give them. Serving others is a wonderful opportunity that we have, not only to help with people’s physical needs but also to be God’s instruments in leading them toward Jesus—and that is the most powerful gift of all.”

Binder, a member at Divine Peace, Garland, Tex., has also served on two trips: helping with vacation Bible school in New Orleans, La., and a camp in Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. “Serving others in this way was such a blessing to me!” she says. “They were easily some of the best experiences I have ever had. Answering all the questions that the kids had about Jesus and seeing their faces when I answered made me smile! It was also eye-opening because we got to hear all these great stories from the different members about the amazing things that God is doing in their lives, and how they’re using these blessings to serve the Lord. It really made me want to dedicate all my time and talents to God.”

Mahnke, a member at St. John, Appleton, Wis., says mission trips are a great way not only to serve but also to gain a new perspective and outlook on life. “I helped with a soccer vacation Bible school in Arlington, Texas,” she says. “Before I arrived, I anticipated setting up equipment, leading soccer drills, taking down equipment, reading Bible stories, and offering assistance anywhere I could. What I didn’t expect was the deep strengthening of my own confidence in Christ. I’m prepared to share my faith with whomever God puts in my path.”

Enter says whether a congregation decides to organize a mission trip across the state or canvass in their local community, the most important thing is to just get teens serving. “We want to get kids in ‘life experience’ mode,” he says. “It’s like any new job you’ve ever started. When someone tells you how to do something, you really don’t know how to do it yet. But when you actually start doing it yourself, that’s when you get good at it. You can put kids in the classroom setting and tell them what faith is, but these experiences help them live it. And when you serve others, you realize that we are all different but at the core we are all the same, and we all need Jesus.”


Alicia Neumann is a member at Christ, Zumbrota, Minnesota.

This is the third article in a four-part series on the importance of youth ministry. Next month’s article will focus on partnering with parents and marriage-building ministries.

Monday and Enter are both presenters for the new WELS School of Youth and Family called Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders. For more information about this eight-part video series or to order, visit www.nph.net and search for “Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders.”


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Transforming youth ministry

WELS youth workers are exploring new and unique ways to get youth members engaged and equip them to share their faith.

Alicia A. Neumann

What do viral YouTube videos, playing Capture the Flag, and finger painting have in common? These are just some of the different things WELS youth workers are incorporating into their ministries to help youth connect with their peers and with God’s Word.

Forming a bond

“You can’t expect a group of teens to share their experiences or ask deep questions when they don’t know people around them,” says Sara Aker, member at Bloomington Living Hope, Bloomington, Minn., and presenter for the new School of Youth and Family. “When teens feel safe and comfortable, they are more likely to talk and share.”

That’s why Aker, who is also a teacher, uses games, ice breakers, and team-building activities when she assists with youth group meetings. “They are great for building trust within your group, and it gives them an opportunity to know each other,” she says. According to Aker, there are also a lot of teachable moments. “Sometimes a topic comes up that you weren’t expecting, but you can’t pass that up,” she says. “You have to ask, ‘What can we learn from this?’ ”

Aker says the activities don’t need to be big and grandiose—it could be something as easy as having teen use finger paints to illustrate the lesson. The point is just to get the teens moving. It’s even better if the youth leaders get involved. “I’ll jump in and play games with the youth,” she says. “When adults participate and act silly, the teens will be more likely to put themselves out there.”

Justin Heise, a student at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., says games were a memorable part of his years attending youth group at St. Mark, Green Bay, Wis. “Some of my best memories were from playing Capture the Flag behind the church,” says Heise. “The games we played taught us to trust each other, and as a result we had a very strong youth group. We wanted to hang out with each other, we wanted to have fun, and we wanted to learn about the Bible.”

Heise later became a junior staff director at Camp Phillip, Wautoma, Wis., where he routinely used games as a teaching tool. “We’d make up games that helped illustrate the devotion or the Bible study,” he says. “Putting abstract concepts into action helped make them more concrete.”

Heise plans to incorporate games into his ministry. “They are good for more than just ice breakers,” he says. “When you put four or five people on a team and give them a challenge, they are going to bond. That bond builds up the church and encourages trust between the believers.”

Youth-driven Bible studies

After teens have connected with each other, it’s time to connect them to God’s Word. Jon Enter, pastor at Hope, West Palm Beach, Fla., and youth coordinator for the South Atlantic District, says when it’s time for devotion or a Bible study, it can be a struggle to get teens engaged in the conversation. That’s why he uses a youth-driven format. “We’re getting the kids in a comfortable environment where they can simply talk about their faith and about real-life scenarios that they’re going to encounter as Christians in the modern world,” he says.

Instead of worksheets filled with questions, Enter uses YouTube videos and open-ended questions to get youth talking. “It’s not me teaching them in a formal environment,” he says. “It’s them driving the conversations. I am on the side, helping steer the discussion into Bible passages that teach the truth we are discovering.” If tangents come up and the teens get excited about a particular topic Enter will make that the focus of an upcoming Bible study. “The goal is to get them talking and have them talk from the heart,” he says.

Jade Wiltsie, one of the youth members at Hope, says she loves that about the youth group. “The way Pastor does it, we can all just hang out and talk. There’s not a specific set thing we have to do,” she says. “We just show up and talk about the message and we play a few games and things like that.” She says one of her friends is very shy, “but when we’re in youth group he really opens up. Youth group does that for us—it lets us be ourselves in a Christian atmosphere.”

The Bible studies at Hope include teen-focused topics like bullying, college preparation, or helicopter parenting. Wiltsie said one of the recent Bible studies on body image made an impact on her. “Pastor wanted us to share if we’d change anything about ourselves,” she says. “I am very short, and I get made fun of sometimes about it. So I spoke up about it; then a few other kids did too. It’s amazing. I feel like I can open up and talk to them.”

During the course of the discussion, the teens are encouraged to answer one another’s questions so they can get experience talking to other teens about different issues. “I just feel more confident about my faith and how to explain it, so I can talk about it with other people who aren’t the same denomination as me,” says Wiltsie.

Jessica Thierfelder, another member at Hope, agrees. “Youth group helped my faith grow stronger and [helped me] not be scared to show it and tell other people,” she says. She attributes that, in part, to the strong bond she formed with the other members. “The thing I appreciate most about youth group is having friends that believe in the same thing as me,” she says. “I grew up in West Palm Beach, and there are no WELS schools close by. All of our youth go to public school, so it is hard to have friends that believe in the same thing as you. But youth group is where we do have those friends; that’s a great feeling.”

Enter says he hopes that as youth members connect and share their experiences with each other, they will feel more confident witnessing to others. “Many youth members have learned Bible passages, but they might not know how to share them or use them,” he says. “I want to equip youth members, so when we tell them, ‘Live your faith! Go tell about the love of Jesus! Pour it out into the world!’, they’ll know how to do it.”

Alicia Neumann is a member at Christ, Zumbrota, Minnesota.

This is the second article in a four-part series on the importance of youth ministry. Next month’s article will focus on faith experiences.

Enter and Aker are both presenters for the new WELS School of Youth and Family called Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders. For more information about this eight-part video series or to order, visit www.nph.net and search for “transformed equipping youth leaders.” Special pre-sale pricing ends Oct. 31.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Transforming Youth Ministry

WELS youth ministers are recognizing the importance of Christian mentoring and working to create meaningful relationships with young adults.

Alicia A. Neumann

It all started two years ago at a conference at St. Croix Lutheran High School, West St. Paul, Minn. Approximately 40 WELS youth workers from around the country met to talk about their ministries. “We spent a weekend talking about what’s going on with our youth,” says Kory Henkel, member at Rock of Ages, Madison, Tenn., and one of the presenters for the new WELS School of Youth and Family. “We found out that regardless of where we are in the country, we are all having the same issues and the same challenges with youth ministry.”

Reaching the youth

Those challenges include youth members becoming disconnected with the church after they are confirmed, particularly in high school and college. “We’re living in a post-truth society, and we see how all of this is impacting youth ministry as well,” says Henkel. “Faith priorities are made by the time you’re 18. If you’re not actively involved in a church, the chances of you becoming involved are very slim. It’s a very important, formative time. As a church, we have a great opportunity to reach people who are forming their opinions and their entire lives.”

According to Henkel, one of the biggest thing kids are looking for is affinity. “With social media, we’ve never been more connected, but they’re not real relationships,” he says. “Relationships with their friends, classmates, and peers are oftentimes fragmented and shallow. So we have the amazing opportunity to show the youth of our congregations what real, genuine relationships look like by showing them the love of their Savior Jesus—not just in Bible study, but in everyday life.”

He says the best youth ministry happens when adults grow in faith and live authentic lives with teenagers. “Do normal things; live your life with kids and show them Christ through that,” he says. “Mentor-based relationships are important, and they are missing in the lives of kids today. By equipping families, lay leaders, and pastors to mentor kids through their formative years, we can transform that head knowledge into heart knowledge.”

Practicing Christian mentoring

Tad Schubring, director of youth education at St. Mark, De Pere, Wis., is doing just that. Schubring has been involved with Christian mentoring for the past five years. During that time, he has started a program to provide training and encouragement for other adults who want to start mentoring.

When he first started looking at Christian mentoring, Schubring went to a youth ministry conference that spent a lot of time explaining what it meant to be a mentor. “In Mark 3:14, it says that Jesus appointed 12 that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach,” says Schubring. “Jesus could have had 5,000 people with him all of the time, but he chose not to. He wanted to go deeper with a few. So Christian mentoring is modeled after that—spending quality time with youth and having an intentional relationship with them.”

Schubring says that motivated him to get involved with mentoring, but he didn’t know where to start. “I remember sitting down when I first heard about this, thinking, How am I going to do this? Where do I start? I don’t feel qualified. I don’t have enough time in the day. How is this going to work?” he says. “But thankfully the Holy Spirit doesn’t give up.”

He said a book called The Be-With Factor helped clarify some things for him. “I looked at all of the people God had already put in my life; I needed to be intentional with those people and share the gospel with my actions,” says Schubring. “It’s very clear in James and throughout the Bible that that’s what you’re supposed to do and that is how we love God—by obeying his commands, by being intentional and being held accountable to those people God has put in your life.”

He talked to families in his congregation about the ministry and began looking for young people who were interested in being mentored. One of them was Macario Sierra. “I was up for it,” says Sierra. “I thought that it would be good for me to be mentored by someone like Tad because I looked up to him and I saw how happy he was with his life. I wanted to be as happy as he was.”

Schubring and Sierra met each week after school for several months. “We’d go out to grab a bite to eat or hang out around the church and discuss what was going on with my life,” says Sierra. “Tad would often give me great advice on how to deal with things.”

According to Sierra, that was one of the best parts about being mentored. “It was great having someone to talk to, someone who went through what I was kind of going through in high school, and also just having a friend,” says Sierra. “Tad was able to lead me in the right directions in choices that I made. It gave me sort of an idea of what I wanted in life and what I should expect from myself.”

Sierra says he would definitely recommend mentoring to others. “It’s a great thing to be a part of, because it helps both people involved and it helps both of you grow,” he says. “It offers a chance to better yourself and to better someone else, creates a new bond, and gives you a friend you can rely on. Same thing for adults who have the opportunity to be a mentor—give it a chance and take the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Schubring says mentoring Sierra and others has made a big impact on him. “The biggest takeaway is remembering that mentoring is being about caught in the act of being a Christian,” he says. “Be yourself, have fun, and share the gospel through your actions when you’re with them.”

Schubring says mentoring has also changed the way he looks at youth ministry. “Jesus gave us the Great Commission and reassures that us that he’ll be with us always,” he says. “So knowing this, you look at things differently. When I started out doing youth ministry, the measure was the number of people. But now God has given me a new measuring stick. It’s not about the numbers anymore; it’s about depth with individuals. And what better way to create a deep, meaningful relationship than to be with them.”

Alicia Neumann is a member at Christ, Zumbrota, Minnesota.

This is the first article in a four-part series on youth ministry. Next month’s article will focus on games, mixers, and activities and youth-driven Bible studies.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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