Posted tagged ‘youth ministry’

The Young Life Ministry

February 12, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 12, 2019

                            

This past Sunday night Carol and I attended the banquet sponsored by Young Life of North Colorado Springs. Young Life is a long established ministry to young people. It was started in 1941 by a guy named Jim Rayburn in Gainesville, Texas, and has been going ever since. 

Young Life is significant for us in that it was how Carol and I met! We were both working with Young Life high school clubs in the western suburbs of Chicago…she at Elmhurst York and me at Hinsdale Central, and then Downers Grove North. Hinsdale Central was the school she had graduated from and one of the other club leaders, Jeff Slaga, had invited her to come to a summer evening gathering of students who had been to one of Young Life’s summer camps. He knew that I was going to be there and was trying to be the matchmaker. 

So, it was at a Young Life event that we first met! The next March we went on a Young Life spring break ski trip to Colorado with a couple of busloads of students. The summer after that I took a van load of students from First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, Illinois to Silver Cliff, a Young Life camp at that time in Colorado. It was a life-changing experience for some of the students. Three years ago when I was back in the Chicago area I met one of those students, now in her fifties, for dinner and she told me that it was during that camp week that she became a follower of Jesus. 

Now, forty years after we had been Young Life leaders, we were back at a banquet to hear the Young Life story again. It’s different today, and yet the same! The gospel is still the center of the ministry, but some of the dynamics of youth ministry are different than they used to be. Forty years ago we didn’t have to deal with a sense of hopelessness in some young people’s lives that made suicide a final solution for several. We didn’t have cyber-bullying or as many split family units. There were different kinds of teen pressure that we dealt with, but nothing like vaping and gender confusion. 

As Carol and I entered the place for the banquet I was manhandled by five of my current basketball players who were a part of the cheering group of greeters. 

“Coach Wolfe! Coach Wolfe!” they shouted as they jostled me back and forth. They were surprised to see me and even more surprised when I told them that Carol and I had been Young Life leaders. 

The evening was a revisiting of part of our life stories, a confirmation of a ministry we had once invested in and will now come back to in support of. 

As I’ve coached and substitute taught I’ve seen and heard some of the heart cries of today’s teens. They’re confused and yet knowledgeable; depressed and yet smiling. Young Life offers an invitation to a relational road that they need not walk alone.

Throw Back Thursday: The Baptist Youth Fellowship (BYF)

June 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                       June 29, 2017

             

I’ve been asked many times over the years how I came to become a pastor? What caused me to take that life direction, that occupational leaning? The first answer, and basic answer, is that I was called by God to head towards ministry. “Calling” is essential for someone to make it through some of the ministry mess, denominational drama, and church chaos that happens in the journey.

But underneath calling are other influences that have helped steer my vessel and charted my course. One of those was the youth group that I was fortunate enough to be a part of in my high school years at the First Baptist Church of Ironton, Ohio. Back in those days we called it BYF, which stood for Baptist Youth Fellowship. We met on Sunday nights at 5:30 in advance of the 7:00 Sunday Evening service.

BYF had great leaders. Ralph and Phyllis Carrico were two that “kept the horses in the corral”. They had help, which was greatly appreciated, but I remember them guiding us steadily each Sunday evening as we discussed, laughed, prayed, and played together.

We had a steady group of 15-20 high schoolers, a mixture of the four grade levels, and we enjoyed one another. My three best friends from high school were in that group, David “Hugo” Hughes, Mike “the boy” Fairchild, and Tommy “TD” Douglas. We were all seniors, and other guys in the group- Lee Bryant, Mark Fairchild, Danny Lewis, Stark Hughes, Tim Geswein, Dick Brown, Bobby McCollister, Jeff Grubb, John Kennedy, Glenn Layne, and Danny Gool- felt comfortable with us. It was a youth group that was united, regardless of a person’s grade level. The girls were a mixture of interesting personalities and charm. Teresa Ball, Cindy Kennedy, Mary Frances Bryant, Clara McMahon, Shannon Grubb, Terri Hughes, Lynnanne Dale, Lizi Gann, Stephanie Alfrey, Karen Wallace, and Teresa Carrico.

Sometimes we’d go for pizza after church, or pile a few of us in a car and drive to a cemetery across the river in Kentucky that had a disappearing statue. One time Hugo, Fairboy, and I ran through the cemetery to touch the disappearing statue as Jeff Grubb quivered in fear in the backseat! I can still hear him saying, “You guys are crazy! You’re crazy!”

BYF was the highlight of our week. The core of our group didn’t miss. Someone only missed if he was deathly ill, otherwise we were all there.

When I think back to my foundational years I think of that youth group. We supported one another, we kidded each other, we dated one another, we pranked each other. The first youth group I led at First Baptist Church in Marseilles, Illinois, was modeled after that BYF group I grew up in. It’s interesting that some of the same dynamics that were a part of my Ironton youth group growing up ended up getting incorporated into the Marseilles youth group. We hung out together, did Friday night outings that were riddled with laughter, learned together, and supported one another. The Simpson girls, Connie and Debbie, were the high school equivalent of Laverne and Shirley. Jana Moats and Jed Johnson still stand out in my mind. They laughed at my jokes, and snickered at my blunders. There were others whose names have long since escaped my memory although I can still see their faces, but it was a good group, a group that probably taught me more than I taught them.

Youth groups have changed in recent years. Many churches have given up on them, because they just don’t have the young people to make it happen. Perhaps BYF is one of those good memories that we think about and smile at, a thing of the past that had its day and purpose. What I know is that who I am at the age of 63 still has the hazy fingerprint of that BYF youth group on me from 45 years ago…and I thank God for that!

The Students Who Mentor You

November 16, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      November 16, 2015

                                   

In recent weeks I’ve come to realize a few things about being the adult. Sometimes the younger ones we’re raising up, teaching, discipling, are teaching and mentoring you…the adult, the teacher, the pastor…perhaps more than you’re impacting them.

About a month ago, when I was in Chicago, I had dinner with a young lady who was in the youth group I directed more than thirty-five years ago. I still refer to Cyndi as a young lady even though she is now in her mid-fifties! When we met for dinner we had not seen each other for about ten years, but it was like we had seen each other the day before. A three hour conversation ensued. It was delightful to talk about the past, the present, and the future; to hear what God has done in her life and the lives of her family, to hear of a special mission project that her ninth grade son has initiated that has taken off.

And in the midst of it I realized that Cyndi, and her friends Laura, Sue, George, Wave, and others had raised me up as a youth minister. They showed grace to me when I was trying to figure out how to communicate scriptural truth to adolescents. They gave me the freedom to laugh at myself for my moments of cluelessness. They stood beside me in times of lacking confidence, and showed me that there are different ways of looking at a relationship with Jesus besides the Baptist mindset, the only view I had ever experienced.

And perhaps most amazing, and deeply moving, was to hear that Cyndi had become a follower of Christ at a Young Life Camp in Colorado I took a van load of students to the summer I was on staff at her church. For some reason I hadn’t been aware of that. And now 37 years later I was blessed to discover the rest of her story.

The students we mentor often becomes the students who mentor us.

Last week another of my former youth groups students, Deb Simpson Aldridge, went home to be with the Lord. She battled cancer, and cancer finally won, but her victory was assured even in the midst of death because of her faith in Christ. Deb was part of the first youth group I directed at First Baptist Church in Marseilles, Illinois. I had just graduated from Judson College in Elgin, Illinois, was going to start seminary that next fall, and was hired by the church to be the summer youth director. I had never had a youth position before…operated out of the experience of cluelessness! Deb and her sister Connie were two high school students in the youth group who accepted me right away. At my less-than-stellar bible study gatherings they would voice their thoughts and help me to keep going. There is nothing quite as disconcerting than to lead a group of students who sit there and look at you like you are speaking a foreign language. Deb would share something, or, in a loving sisterly way, tell Connie that what she just said was ridiculous.

Deb had a dry wit and humor that made our gatherings or road trips in the van experiences of laughter-laced fellowship. Anything I planned or suggested she would support. Think of it! A young guy right our of college with no experience could have been trampled to a ministry death by a youth group that saw him as an outsider to be neglected, but this youth group raised me up to proceed forward for a forty years of ministry. They could have killed me, but inside they mentored me.

Deb’s passing made me realize the effect she had on my life and my ministry.

Cyndi, Deb, Connie, Steve Landon, Shirl Streukens, Jon Daniels, the Epps Twins, Phil Girard, Jon Girard, Amy Anderson, Keri Anderson, John Chora, Brad Johnson, Tiffany Chora,Tony Lamouria…the list of student mentors for my life is long and deep.

A big part of how I see ministry…especially youth ministry…has been chiseled into my person by their hands.

And I am very, very blessed!