The Youth Worker As Student. . . Never Stop Learning!

When I was a kid, school was a pain. . . really. In many ways, I saw it as a legally required interruption to the more important childhood pursuits, including things like play, television, and more play. It fell into the same category as naps, having to stay home to visit with adult company, and overnight sleep. 

Then, things changed. My parents would probably attribute my growing love for naps, overnight sleep, visiting with adult company, and a yearning for learning to “growing up”. . . and they’re right. Somewhere along the way I morphed from a guy who thought he knew just about all he needed to know to get through life, to a guy who realizes every day just how much he doesn’t know. In fact, each day of my life brings the realization that I know a lot less than I think I know, and that the sheer volume of what I don’t know grows by the minute. It reminds me of the conversation I had with a seminary classmate in the days before we graduated. I said, “I wish I knew as much now as I thought I knew when I started here.”

This week, I’m back in the classroom at Azusa Pacific University to spend time with students who are pursuing a Masters of Arts in Youth Ministry degree. While I get to teach (something I really love but never in my wildest dreams imagined doing!), I also get to learn from and alongside of a group of students who I will meet for the first time in a couple of hours. This will certainly be fun.

youth worker readingYou can never know enough. Learning is something that we need to pursue with a passion. It comes formally in the classroom, but also by reading, watching, and pondering. Last week I spent two days with Doctoral students at Southern Seminary. One example of learning that I encountered while at Southern is the school’s President, Al Mohler. I didn’t meet him, but I had plenty of conversations about his love for learning by reading. He has a 60,000 volume library in his basement. He starts to read at 11pm every night, and goes until about 4am or 5am. Then, he sleeps for four hours. He oftentimes will read three books a night. I can’t read that fast nor can I sleep that little, but I can pursue learning with a passion. 

I’m also part of a team that’s committed to providing a unique learning opportunity for people who are working with children, teens, or young adults. Along with my good friends Duffy Robbins and Adonis Vidu, I’m in my fourth year of co-mentoring a Doctor of Ministry program in Ministry to Emerging Generations at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. More than a degree program for just youth workers, we designed that track to bring together people working with the full spectrum of ages in what’s called “the emerging generations.” We want children’s ministry people who can in turn inform those who are working with teenagers or college students. We want college ministry folks who can help the youth and children’s ministry folks see what they’ve been doing right along with areas that need more time and attention. It’s a rich and robust experience.

Last Saturday, our first three Doctor of Ministry in Ministry to Emerging Generations graduates received their degrees! Ruthie Seiders is working with children at a church in Texas. Her doctoral work looked at how families and “faith families” can intentionally nurture children in the faith. Her church baptizes infants and children, and she earnestly seeks to equip the church to fulfill their baptismal vow to support parents in their efforts to see kids come to faith. Mike McGarry is a youth pastor at a church in Massachusetts. For his doctoral work he developed a plan for the youth group to serve as a bridge between church and home. Specifically, he educated parents on youth culture trends, adolescent development, and how to nurture teenagers in the faith. He employed the time-tested tool of catechesis for the purpose of nurturing students in the faith. And finally, Linda Leon, a campus pastor at Malone University, a Christian college in Ohio, worked to evaluate and revamp the Chapel program at Malone in ways that would foster effective spiritual formation of a young adult population that is changing rapidly in terms of their values, attitudes, and behaviors. 

As always, I want to encourage youth workers everywhere to develop their minds and feed their souls through learning. And, I would invite any youth workers who have a Master’s degree to consider joining us at Gordon-Conwell for the beginning of our next Doctoral cohort in Ministry to Emerging Generations.  A new cohort begins next January! If you would like more information, call the DMin office at GCTS (800-816-1837), or click here. You can also feel free to contact me directly. We’d love to have you become a part of a new cohort filled with unique people learning together and working to do unique things to the glory of God!

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