I began work as the Director of Student Ministries at Wesley Memorial UMC on October 10, 2001. As you know, anytime you begin a new ministry (or any new job) it takes a little while to get "the lay of the land." It didn't take long to put together a list of things that were in good shape in the youth ministry department. It took even less time to see some of the challenges. Here's what I was looking at as I began:
The Good Stuff
- There was a good group of adults (see above picture) who had been serving as small group leaders on Sunday evenings under the previous regime, and they seemed anxious to continue. I wasn't crazy about the small group set-up, but it would work for a while.
- The senior pastor, Jerry Sweat, had a serious heart for youth. He had 2 youth of his own, was often at the Sunday evening meetings and taught the high school Sunday School class in his office. He was ready to see the ministry become something special.
- Denise Sweat (Jerry's wife) had a wonderful ministry going with a youth choir and drama ministry they called Antioch. The group had performed in church and had taken tours the previous two summers. It met right after youth on Sunday nights, and seemed more important to many of the kids than youth group. I decided I would be a part of the group, singing and lending any help I could. It seemed like the strongest link in the entire student ministry.
- A great deal of prayer, effort and resources had been poured in to the children's ministry, Promiseland. There were many opportunities for teenagers to get involved teaching and sharing in worship. I was very excited to have such an excellent feeder program in place.
- The group of active students was small, but excited, and I really liked them. This was going to be fun.
- There was no youth room. In fact, there was no room for much of anything. The youth group (called God's Property by the previous YP; that was a name that I never uttered out loud and changed fairly quickly) met in the Sanctuary. It was a beautiful room, but it was WAY too big for our little group. When we sang with the existing Praise Band, you could not hear anyone singing but the kids on microphones. All of that had to change.
- The worship time was shared with the elementary school program. I didn't like that at all because it seriously limited what we could do with music and worship.
- They were accustomed to having the YP "preach" on Sunday evenings, then breaking into small groups for discussion. I wanted to use more creative ways of teaching and not use small groups every week. Plus, the small groups had been decimated by all of the families leaving the church with the previous associate pastor- so they mostly just sat and stared at each other.
- There was no van or bus. Jerry promised me we could fix that pretty quickly, and we did. But in the beginning it was a definite disadvantage.
- I was going to have to "fire" the middle school Sunday School teachers. They were a great couple and very helpful, but they thought they were teaching seminary and the kids tried to hide from them every Sunday morning.
- There was almost no history of summer ministry or youth trips (besides the choir tours). I would be starting from scratch.
Because of Jesus,