Tag Archives: youth formation

100 Inches of Rain

by Brent Camilleri, Associate Pastor – Deep Run East Mennonite Church

Youth workers take part in a special resourcing seminar at Conference Assembly, Saturday, November 1. (Photo by Cindy Angela)

I am filled with hope any time I find myself in a room full of those who care deeply about the lives of young people and their voice in the church today. And so, I was feeling especially hopeful on Saturday November 2 as I attended Michele Hershberger’s seminar on youth ministry in a post-Christian era entitled “100 Inches of Rain.” Michele began by telling the story of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. Rebuilt in 1996, the bridge was an engineering feat. However, in 1998 Hurricane Mitch brought 100 inches of rain to Honduras in a period of just a few days. When the storm passed the Choluteca Bridge was still standing strong but the river had shifted course and no longer ran beneath the bridge, rendering it useless. In many ways this is how church ministry and, in particular, youth ministry feels today. Something has shifted, and the programs and approaches that felt successful two decades ago are no longer effective.   

Michele Hershberger (Photo by Cindy Angela)

And yet, Michele reminded us that this cultural shift isn’t cause for fear, but a challenge that can and should force us to adapt to the new flow of the river. Youth ministry is still vitally important. In fact the church needs its young people to lead today, not ten years down the road. God is in our youth right now, and the church is more resilient and effective when we minister WITH our youth, and not to them. To facilitate this type of ministry that works alongside our youth today, Michele Hershberger pointed out Four Conversions that the church needs to experience.

The first conversion is that we see youth differently. This means viewing them not as “Christians in training” but as fully integrated and vital parts of our communities. A 13-year-old 8th grader might be able to express truths about faith in a more effective way than I ever could. The second conversion that Hershberger highlighted is the need for us to see church differently. This means coming to terms with the fact that the church is not a building, it is US! As such, any time we gather, whether in a coffee shop or on a street corner, the church is there, making disciples who make more disciples…no building necessary. The third conversion that we need to undergo as we minister to youth in our post-Christian context is to see ourselves differently. Each of us is called to a mission field, no matter our age and no matter our profession. Plugged into Jesus, who is our source, we become the “wires” that carry the current of Christ with us everywhere we go. This is to be our primary calling as we follow Jesus and everything else should take a back seat! Perhaps it is a challenging call, but that is more than OK. Our young people are itching for a challenge, something that shows them just how real and important following Jesus is. And truthfully, we could all use a little more challenge in our faith. Michele brought our time to a close by highlighting the final conversion that we need, which is to see our success differently. She reminded us that this is God’s mission, not something that we own. And God invites ALL of us to make disciples, whether we are 12 or 42 or 92. Adults and young people are on this journey of faith together, and we need each other now more than ever as we work out how to faithfully follow Jesus.

Called as (Youth) Leaders

by Heidi Swartley, Doylestown congregation, and Kate Hockman, Deep Run East congregation

Over the first weekend of September, we had the wonderful opportunity to attend  Franconia & Eastern District Conference’s youth leadership retreat. During this retreat we learned many lessons and met many people who we probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. It was a fantastic feeling to spend time with other people from separate churches in our conference who had the same willingness to lead. The weekend included a wonderful speaker, awesome team building exercises, and an overall feeling of excitement to learn and lead.

One of the first things we recognized on our retreat is just how hard leadership is. Showing up, being present, putting yourself out there, and trying with all of who you are, is taking a huge risk. Our doubt and fear will convince us that it is not a risk worth taking, and we are not the right people for the job. This doubt is a part of life. Our speaker for the weekend, Pastor Joe Hackman (Salford congregation), assured us that all leaders experience doubt—a reality we don’t often name or recognize. But as leaders, we do not stand alone, relying on our own strength.

Our theme for the weekend, “I Am Called”, grounded us in the confidence that we have been called: He will never leave us nor forsake us, and He will go with us as we work for the glory of His kingdom.

Scripture. As Pastor Joe talked to us about how we stay grounded in our faith in the midst of our doubt, he turned us to Scripture. The Bible tells the stories of many great spiritual leaders, who all grappled with doubt the same way we do today. Our theme verse from the weekend was 1 Timothy 4:12, in which Paul comforts Timothy in the midst of doubt over his young age. Timothy also had struggles with his family and his health, which likely contributed to the doubt. Jeremiah, in the Old Testament, tells the story of God using people, even in their doubt. God calls Jeremiah, and Jeremiah retreats into doubt saying: “I don’t know how…” and “I’m only….” Scripture not only tells us about the doubt of past leaders, but also provides verses of comfort and instruction in what to do with our doubt.

Values. Everybody has them, but sometimes it’s hard to tell what they are. Joe suggested saying the following statement. “If I took away___ from ___, they would cease to exist.” For example, If I took away empathy from Kate or love from Heidi, they would cease to exist. Identifying and knowing what your core values are is another way to handle our doubt. In order to identify our core values as leaders, we were given small cards with different values on them, values such as freedom, empathy, and helpfulness. After Pastor Joe told us to split our cards into different groups based on their importance, he asked us to pick three to five core values that were important to us. We realized that if we were ever experiencing doubt, we could fall back on the values that we picked. 

Community. Community is one of the most powerful ways to cope with doubt, and as Pastor Joe told us, “fear fears community.” In order to be a successful leader, we need to realize that somebody is always on our side. Our church community is always there to support us in any way they can, especially in times of doubt; they’re right there, cheering us on from the sidelines. Community helps to root us in the truth, in how truly loved, supported, and valued we are. Community is patient with us, in our fear, brokenness, and weakness. Seeing Christ’s love reflected in another’s love for us is a powerful thing. 

Overall, this experience taught us so much, and we are grateful we had the opportunity to go to this retreat. We learned so much about God and what it means to be a leader.

Seeing the New Church

by Danilo Sanchez, Youth Formation Pastor

The doorbell rang and I knew it was time for baptism class. Four energetic youth stumbled through my door, took off their shoes, and found a place to sit.

“Did everyone bring their Bible and homework?”

One youth held up his English Bible while the others went to the Karen Bible app on their phone. We started the class by going over the homework, which was writing their faith story.

Some shared about Bible quizzes and memorizing Scripture in the refugee camps. Others shared about their Buddhist parents and not knowing anything about Jesus. The one experience they all had in common was camp at Spruce Lake last year. Each of them felt like a spark was lit and they desired to know more about Jesus.

I shared parts of my own faith story with the class and it was a humbling reminder that, despite our different upbringings, we were all called to be Jesus’ disciples.

Many topics in the baptism class, which I taught alongside Pastor Rose and Ah Paung (a Karen leader from Whitehall), were new to the group, and they asked so many questions about the person of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the big story of God. The most foreign topics we discussed were Anabaptist values, which come from our unique perspective on Jesus and Scripture. Through this baptism class, I found myself wondering, “What does Anabaptism mean for youth and young adults today?”

In my upbringing, Anabaptism meant daily discipleship, simple living, non-conformity, and non-violence. What that looked like in the day-to-day was a strong emphasis on holiness in my personal relationship with Jesus, not spending too much money on clothes, and being against war and abortion.

The values of discipleship, simple living, and non-violence are still present in Anabaptism today, but I see our youth and young adults express it in different ways. Simple living doesn’t just mean not being materialistic, but is also about sustainable resources and caring for creation. Non-violence isn’t just about protesting war or abortion, but is also about practicing peace in our schools, better gun laws to stop mass shootings, and preventing sexual abuse in the church. Many of the young Anabaptists emerging today want discipleship to include values like justice and community to fight against racism, sexism, and broadening the circle of people included in the kingdom of God.

While not all our youth understand or believe in those ideas yet, I recognize that the face of Anabaptism is changing and that our values are growing and expanding. I want the youth at Whitehall and the youth in our conference to know that there is space for them in the church and that they belong. The way youth and young adults choose to express their faith may not look like mine or the previous generations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t being faithful to Jesus or Anabaptism.

As a pastor and a leader in the church, I need to make space for youth and young adults to express and explore their faith. One thing I know for sure is that I’m not trying to teach “Christian behavior” or even “Mennonite behavior” but, rather, to present the resurrected Jesus and trust that the same Holy Spirit that spoke to me is speaking to them.

At the end of August, we celebrated Than’s baptism. It was a joyous occasion and an honor to welcome a new brother in Christ. I looked upon the smiling faces of the youth and children as they embraced Than and said, “Here is the new church. Isn’t it beautiful?”

The Details of Building Community

by Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation

“It is rewarding to see pastors and leaders come together to enjoy one another’s company, to network and build bridges,” Brooke Martin shares about her work as the Youth and Community Formation Coordinator with Franconia Conference. 

The community formation aspect of her job involves planning the conference’s major formation meetings and events. These events include the annual Credentialed Leaders Appreciation gathering, the Conference Related Ministry equipping meals, and leading the team that plans Fall Assembly. Brooke is also an at-large member of the Intercultural Team to keep an intercultural lens at the center of event planning. 

Brooke sees her job as playing a vital role in building community. “Noticing the details and seeing what needs to be done, then taking care of it, is energizing for me,” Brooke says. 

Brooke is also part of Youth Formation Team. In this role she is responsible for connecting with Youth Pastors in the Lansdale area, and helping to plan events that resource and equip all of Franconia’s youth leaders and youth pastors.

Prior to working for Franconia Conference, Brooke was the Interim Youth Ministry Leader for four years at Franconia Church. Brooke was thankful to have the opportunity to stay at home when her second child was born, but when it came time to start looking for work again, she was also grateful to work part-time while continuing to have time with her two children. 

“The opportunity to support the work of the Conference, utilize my gifts in administrative organization and building community, and share my passion for youth ministry while having a schedule that aligns with the needs of my children, has been a gift,” Brooke reflects.  

Brooke’s passion for youth ministry started as a teenager, when Melanie Nofziger was her high school youth pastor. Working at Camp Luz in Ohio with camp director Deb Horst was also a formative time for her, and these experiences led her to an associate degree at Hesston College in youth ministry, studying under Michele Hershberger. 

“Hearing the journeys of other women in ministry, learning from their strengths and how they face challenges in ministry, has been formational for me,” Brooke shares. 

Brooke encourages congregations to provide opportunities for young people to cultivate and meaningfully use their gifts: “Youth are the church now, not the church of the future. We need to give them the opportunity to serve now.” Part of that work is in helping youth identify their gifts and inviting them into leadership roles in the congregation, such as teaching Sunday School, serving on the sound team, as an usher, or in the nursery. 

“I’m excited to be able to meet more with youth ministers and hear their stories, their questions, and their challenges. It is an honor to be a part of empowering people in ministry and of what God is doing in the churches of our conference,” Brooke says. 

Brooke’s faith journey started young; when she was eight, she lost her brother Shaun in a car accident. “God became my sounding board because God was the one who could understand and connect with my young grief,” she remembers.  

Originally from “the cornfields of Ohio,” Brooke felt intimidated when she moved to the suburbs of Pennsylvania because she was unsure of how to build community in her new homeplace. “It’s been beautiful to learn that there is community here, even though it looks different,” she says. 

Outside of work, Brooke finds joy in dance and in parenting. Dance has been an important part of her life since she was three years old and she sees it as a way to worship God. Being a parent has allowed her to “see the world through children’s eyes and witness their pure reliance on God; it is the holiest ground I have been on,” Brooke says.