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.


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

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