By: Christa Meland
Wondering how to motivate college-aged students to return to the youth groups they used to be involved with? Want to engage students in realizing their need for God? These are just two of more than a dozen sessions that will be offered at the Youth Leaders Summit, a two-day conference coming to St. Paul February 21-22. The event, now in its second year, promises to encourage, equip, and empower those who work with students. (For more information and to register, visit www.ylsummit.com.)
Speakers include Austin Walker, director of student ministries and director of the Overflow young adult worship service at Hastings United Methodist Church, and Adam Weber, lead pastor of Embrace, a young South Dakota church that has more than 1,300 in weekly worship attendance.
Over the years, Walker has held many positions within ministry and the church. We recently asked himsome questions about the event to help prospective attendees gain a better understanding of what it’s all about. Check out his responses in this Q&A, then go register for the Youth Leaders Summit!
Q: Who, specifically, is this event geared toward?
A: Youth Leaders Summit is for youth workers of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, theological heritages, and employment statuses—full time, part time, volunteer, and everything in between. It’s for your whole youth ministry team, no matter how big or small. It’s for youth workers who need to get away and recharge. It’s for veterans who need to be reaffirmed in their calling. In short, if you love students, then Youth Leaders Summit is for you.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing youth leaders today?
A: I believe that the largest challenges for youth leaders are time and relevance. Time is a challenge for two reasons. First, the youth worker’s time is limited. Volunteer youth workers have a full-time job outside of ministry. The amount of time that they have to prepare for an event or give to students on a regular basis is very limited. Second, the time that you have with students is limited. The hard reality is that youth workers only have each student in their spheres of influence until they graduate from high school. It creates the challenge of creating authentic relationships with students with the understanding that the relationship is going to drastically change after graduation. It also creates the challenge of transition. Each year the youth worker has to say goodbye to graduating seniors and also pick up a new class of middle school or high school students.
I think that relevance is a challenge to youth leaders because of the pace of trends in this culture. When I say “relevance,” I do not mean that you have to be 20-something, like boy bands or punk rock, and wear a mohawk! I mean you have to be relevant to them. I don’t think that students are necessarily looking for someone who looks and dresses like them, and likes all the same things they do. They are looking for someone who is relevant in their lives—someone who takes an interest in them and who they are. I think this idea of “being relevant” looks more like unconditional love and open-mindedness for a changing culture than anything.
Q: How will this event help youth leaders with those challenges?
A: Youth Leaders Summit (YLS) will be offering an incredible lineup of speakers who have served in settings, tenures, and programs from all across the spectrum of ministry. YLS will offer times for attendees to sit down and talk with these ministry leaders and gain wisdom from what these people have learned through the years.
YLS will be offering four in-depth breakout sessions on a variety of topics that will help with things like time management, little or no-preparation resources, volunteers, worship experiences, being the spouse of a youth worker, how to reach overlooked students, etc. Youth ministry is difficult at times, and we want to encourage, equip, and empower youth workers in all facets of their ministries and lives.
Q: What did participants of last year’s Youth Leaders Summit come away with?
A: Each of the attendees left last year with tips and techniques to do ministry more effectively, along with a renewed sense of calling and a refreshed soul.
Attendees also left with a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves. Throughout the conference, the attendees had the opportunity to meet other youth workers and be reminded of the fact that they are not alone in their ministry to students.
Q: What are some of the most unique aspects of this year’s event?
A: One of the really unique aspects of this year’s event is that we are planning a session at each of our breakout sessions this year for non-ministry spouses!
My wife, Calli, has not been on church staff with me since we’ve had children and she has first-hand experience with what it’s like to be married to a youth worker. She desires to create a community for youth worker spouses. We will be offering the entire YLS conference to any youth worker’s spouse for $69.99 (non-ministry partner spouses only, on your honor). There will be special giveaways, sessions, and perks only available to these spouses. (Call 651-300-4957 to register your spouse.)
Additionally, one of our new breakout session topics this year will be on how to safely and effectively use technology in your ministry to students. This session will be taught by Adam Weber, who is not only a the pastor of a fast-growing church in Sioux Falls, SD, called Embrace Church; he is also a social media/technology junkie. Students are on social media whether you are or not. Learn how to use social media wisely in your ministry for the glory of God!
Another incredible session is going to be taught by Tim Stanley, who is an area director for Hastings Young Life, an organization that offers a variety of programs for kids in their adolescent years. I don’t know about you, but coming up with creative games that most, if not all, of the students attending my program like is not my gift. If you are anything like me, then don’t miss Tim Stanley’s breakout about how to open any event strong! He has incredible free resources at his disposal and he will be giving you the inside scoop!
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church