How is your congregation ministering to youth and young adults? How are you involving these young people in ministry? Ohio Conference’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry Team has been encouraging Ohio Conference congregations to share their stories of how they are relating to youth and young adults.
In this issue of Ohio Mennonite Evangel, we check in with Matthew Reed, pastor of Beech Mennonite Church in Louisville, who has served as mentor for several student ministry interns. Before becoming a pastor, Matt worked as a staffer for the organization Young Life and also spent three years as a middle school history teacher. He has served several congregations as pastor, and began his pastorate at Beech Mennonite in the summer of 2017.
Since 2013 Matt has volunteered with Revive, an interdenominational Christian student group at Kent State University at Stark in Jackson Township, where his wife, Janet, serves as a member of the nursing faculty. Janet is also the faculty adviser for Revive.
Q: One thing the Youth and Young Adult Ministry Team has been talking about is how we not only just program for youth and young adults, but actually get them integrated into the whole congregation. Do you have any thoughts about the difference between doing ministry for youth and young adults and involving them in ministry?
A: To some extent we do [need to minister to youth]. They’re younger so we need to instruct them and that sounds like teaching Sunday school or youth group, but then I think it’s also important that we should always be looking for ways we can integrate them into the greater church. Actually, I think Beech does a pretty good job, apart from me. [For example, in worship services] when we’ve had them help with things like giving offerings, scripture readings, and with the music and the Praise Team. Those things I think we should always be looking for.
One thing I would say that maybe goes along with that: We need to think about what’s meaningful to them, and recognize that in some ways we have to hand our churches over to them over time….We have to be willing to sort of change and adapt to let them carry on the church to their generation….I think it’s just taking the time to listen to them. So it’s not just us teaching them, but it’s us learning from them as well. That posture.
Q: How did it develop that you became open to mentoring young people who might think, “Hey, I’d like to see what ministry is like?”
A: Well, it sort of helped that we have an open door [with a Christian student group at Kent State University at Stark]. Janet is the faculty advisor for Revive, the Christian group at Kent Stark. We have had a relationship with those people for the past five years. Actually, I was going to Revive even before she became the faculty advisor. I’ve been involved since I first moved here in 2013. So we have the relationships with the people. The first ministry intern I had was while I was at East Nimishillen [Church of the Brethren]. I think I sort of initiated with that person because he was considering ministry. It was a positive experience, and we gave him a little scholarship, so it’s kind of a way to help. And he’s the one who was a couple of years older than Brendan [another student ministry intern], who then expressed interest to me.
Q: So how are youth and young adults being discipled into leadership at Beech?
A: For ministry interns, I have them come and observe and get a sense of this is what it looks like. And then give them an opportunity, whether it’s teaching a Sunday school class or giving a sermon. For these interns, I would walk them through beforehand. And then after they did it, we would do a little evaluation about what went good and what they can work on. So, letting them observe would be the first step, then give them instruction on how it’s normally done or the proper way to plan, kind of walking them through with their planning and then evaluate after they do it.
Q: What have you learned from your experiences in mentoring young adults?
A: I’ve kind of learned to have reasonable expectations. When I first [worked with a ministry intern] maybe I had a little bit higher expectations of what I thought they could do. I had to see this as more me and the church investing in them. And we’re giving to them rather than [focusing on] what we’re getting out of it….Not just for your church or what your church is getting out of it, but you’re giving to the greater church because it may be that what they learn from our church they make take somewhere else.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say on topic of youth and young adults in the congregation?
A: I would just like to re-emphasize how important it is that we listen. It’s not just what we’re giving to them, but also how we’re listening to them. That should be a priority of every church, because it is important in the world in which we live, it’s a struggle for young people. There are a lot more pressures that they face than we did 20 or 30 years ago, coming into adulthood.
One other thing maybe I would say: I would encourage you to look [to young adults] beyond your church. For us, I have appreciated this Revive group. And we have Christians from all over the greater Stark County and Summit County areas who go to Kent Stark. If there’s a local college, that’s a great place to connect. And again, whether or not it’ll help your church, it’s just this idea of investing in [something] bigger than your church. I think it’s just too easy sometimes to think about only our church and not thinking how we serve a greater [range of people]….So again, if there’s a college nearby, I encourage any church to consider how you can minister them, whether it’s Christian or secular.