ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
“Train up a child in the way that they should go, and when they grow old they will not depart from it” said Rod Jost, youth pastor at Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church.
This paraphrased verse from the Old Testament guides Jost as he ministers to teenagers in his church as well as those outside the church walls in the community of Hillsboro.
Jost is one of four youth pastors who work full or part time to make an impact on the lives of young people in the seventh through 12th grades-a critical time of transition in many young lives, Jost said.
The three other paid youth ministers working in the community are Vaughn Jost with Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren Church, Cord Werth with Parkview Mennonite Brethren Church and Todd Lehman with First Mennonite and Trinity Mennonite churches.
Their years of local service range from as long as 131/2 years for Jost to two months for Lehman, the newest member. (See related article)
Youth pastors offer a variety of activities as part of work, such as fund raisers, conferences, summer camps, ski trips, mission trips and service projects.
“We have three major fund raisers a year,” Jost said about his youth group at HMBC.
Money earned from these activities is used to help defray the cost of youth activities throughout the year.
The youth are also given the opportunity to participate in a denominational district conference in the fall.
“We hosted the last one in Hillsboro, and we had 500 to 600 students and sponsors,” Jost said.
“We have about four good conference events throughout the year: summer camp for senior high in Colorado, summer camp for junior high in Oklahoma, the fall conference and, once very four years, we have a national youth conference which takes place in Estes Park Colorado,” Jost said.
“On the off years, when we don’t have the national conference-which is only every four years-those three years in between, there will be a ski trip and a mission trip during the summer.”
Junior high students are offered a ski trip to a man-made slope in Kansas City and the senior high students have the opportunity to go to Key Stone in Colorado.
“The ski trip has really gone over well,” Jost said. “Kids have to pay for most events, and they will save their money.”
One of the the youth group’s recent mission trips took place last summer in Mexico City, where a missionary couple from the church was starting a church.
“When we were there, we helped put the roof on,” Jost said. “Our girls helped with vacation Bible school with the children and got together with their high school youth because they were trying to get a youth program going there.”
A typical Wednesday night youth gathering at HMBC begins at 7 p.m. and lasts until about 8:15 p.m.
“Usually we’ll start out with worship,” Jost said. “I’ll do a 20-minute lesson-discussion starter, and then we’ll break up into smaller groups and discuss that material and how that applies to our lives.”
About once a month the youth meet in small groups and participate in social activities such as ice skating or dinner, or they may plan a small service project in the community.
“Maybe some of our kids will visit the retirement home or, like last month, we went Christmas carolling to some of the homes of elderly people in the area.”
Each of the four youth ministers stressed the importance of involving Hillsboro-area youth-youth outside the core-church family-in their regular Wednesday night meetings as well as the myriad activities away from the church campus.
The number of senior high youth in the four groups varies from 20 at Ebenfeld to 70 at HMBC.
But these groups are not made up exclusively of teens who are members of the church. About 30 to 40 percent of the teens are not from families within the congregation.
“We do not want to be an exclusive group, but would rather be a safe place where each person present can feel comfortable and can come to know our Savior Jesus Christ in a real and active way,” Lehman said.
Although teens outside the church may not have the same Bible-knowledge background, the youth pastors agreed it’s not a problem. They have learned to adapt.
It’s important to make them comfortable with the whole church atmosphere, Werth said.
Jost said on Sunday mornings they take a scriptural passage, look at the text and explain it in more of a traditional way of doing Bible study.
“On Wednesday night, we take more of the issues that are of today, and we say here’s Scripture, how do we incorporate that into our life?
Doing so doesn’t adversely affect the group if some attenders don’t have the same religious background, he said.
Jost recalled about a time, about 13 years ago, when a group of students from outside the church family were having problems with drug and alcohol abuse.
The church youth were struggling to deal with the situation, but a group of the adults in the church were incredible, Jost said.
“One of these kids came walking up to the church, put out his cigarette and walked in the building,” Jost said. “One adult said, ‘What in the world is that person doing here?’ and another adult said, ‘Well, that’s exactly who we want here.'”
One way the youth pastors have extended their reach and influence to youth in the broader community is by making their presence visible in the public schools.
“They’re in and out of the school quite a bit,” said Dale Honeck, principal at Hillsboro High School.
“I would say Hillsboro is somewhat unique in that matter. The schools are open to them, and they feel free to come up here any time they want.”
“The thing that’s good about it is any time our kids are connected with another adult leader, it reinforces good values and just makes the kids stronger people and more focused on good character,” Honeck added.
A frequent means of communication between the youth pastors and the school youth is through locker notes.
“Locker notes are like newsletters reminding the students of Wednesday night meetings or upcoming events,” said Vaughn Jost.
Other ways youth pastors keep visible in schools are by having lunch in the school cafeteria or taking small groups out to local restaurants; working at athletic events or watching the games; attending choral and drama programs; and, in Rod Jost’s case, volunteering his talents as a base-guitar player when needed at school events.
About once a month, the four pastors get together to talk and plan events. Additional youth pastors in the area are on a volunteer basis and participate in these church-community activities.
“Here in Hillsboro we plan about four to five events during the year that will incorporate all of the youth groups,” Jost said.
One of those events takes place in the fall and involves worship with the youth groups and with Tabor College.
“We’ll bring outside artists in and have Christian music,” he said.
In the future, Jost hopes to expand the arms of the church-youth group to embrace teens in communities outside of Hillsboro, he said.
“We want to draw more inclusive things over the next five years that would involve more things with Marion and Marion County-some worship things like that together.”
“Another thing I would love to do is to be able to have almost two youth programs going on,” he said. “I’d like to see some sort of youth center, something that would be open to have youth pastors and youth workers in town help staff it and draw from all the youth in the community.”
He said he envisions a center that would offer activities, games and computers to foster the gifts and abilities of all students in the area.
Jost said he appreciates the church community, the school community and the broader community for the support given to youth ministry.
“That is a real blessing,” he said. “We would be in a different scenario if the doors weren’t open for us, so I greatly appreciate the working relationship we have with all the different aspects of the community.”