Steele Named AWF Youth Liaison

February 19, 2016
Rev. Jeremy Steele, Next Generation pastor at Christ UMC in Mobile, AL, is now also serving as the Alabama-West Florida Youth Liaison. He will continue his current appointment while he assumes this new leadership role. The Office of Communications spoke with Rev. Steele about youth ministry. 

Q: The Alabama-West Florida Conference is excited to bring back a leader to manage youth ministry. You have been retained to be the liaison for our conference and serve as a point person for this ministry area. What are your plans for this new role and what are some ideas you have to connect youth directors and leaders across our conference?

I am going to be spending time helping coordinate and provide training for youth workers in our conference that will allow them to both grow in personal holiness and professional effectiveness as a youth worker. We are going to do that in three ways.  
  1. We will be offering a two-pronged approach to broad training offerings with a youth worker round table (a discussion-style offering) and the ultimate training event where we offer multiple seminars from leading youth workers in our conference and across the country.
  2. I will be starting a youth ministry cohort where a small group of youth workers meet together for a wesleyan-style class meeting and long-term, practical professional mentoring. This group will meet six times a year and will begin this May.  
  3. For those churches who would like an experienced youth worker to come alongside them to evaluate their current ministry and chart next steps in taking it to the next level, I will be available to consult with them to help the church move forward in reaching out to the next generation.
Q. Anyone that knows anything about you knows that youth ministry is a passion of yours. What sparked this desire to place an emphasis on this age? 

During the teen years, youth are making a key step in their spiritual development: they are transitioning from having the inherited faith of their family to having a self-owned faith rooted in the identity they are forming during the same stage. It is central to our mission as the church to help teens navigate this tricky path in a world that is constantly trying to lead them in other directions. Though I am still passionate about teens, over the recent past, that passion has made a shift to the people who are working with those teens. Because that moment in a youth's development is so very important, it is absolutely essential that we have well-trained, fully-equipped adults doing that ministry. I am passionate about equipping those who are ministering to our teens with the practical, theological tools they need to spread scriptural holiness throughout the next generation.

Q. Many youth pastors transition into other ministry areas or careers after several years. Why do you think that is? 

I think that is partially because churches desperate for youth ministers make bad hiring decisions and end up putting people in positions that  are not called or qualified to do the job. At the same time, since youth are in the dramatic minority on most church councils and boards, churches (of course not churches in our conference... other conferences :)) don't prioritize the next generations in their budgeting. It is not surprising that people asked to do a hard job and paid very little don't stick around long. I believe that for many churches, it can be better to pay mileage for some great volunteers rather than an unlivable wage to someone who will be there just long enough to cancel all the most beloved events.

On the more healthy side of this discussion, many of our youth workers make a transition into ordained ministry often feeling a call to serve in a senior pastor role. In fact, I know almost no senior pastors who didn't spend time in youth ministry first. I think that is because youth ministry is really a microcosm ministry in that it incorporates almost all of the same sorts of tasks and requires many of the same sorts of skills that a senior pastor does. Once they find success and fulfillment as a youth minister, that often serves as a couple words from the Holy Spirit in a larger conversation calling them to serve in an adult ministry role as a senior pastor.

Q. If an AWF local church does not have a youth pastor or has not had consistent leadership in that area, how can the conference (under your leadership) help them?

First, we can provide training for their volunteer youth workers. Second, we can help connect them to the growing number of free, Wesleyan youth ministry resources available online like the Youth Ministry Collective that I help oversee through Seedbed. Finally, we can come alongside them in a more intentional way to help them structure and plan for the point at which they should consider hiring someone.

Q: We often hear that children and youth programs drive church membership. Speak to this statement and explain if you have seen this in your ministry. 

Simply put, if people have children or teens in their families, they do not even visit churches that don't have a youth or children's ministry. When they log onto a church's website and see that their youth and children will not have a place to connect, they keep searching until they find a church with that place. In addition, those youth and children grow up into young adults and young parents. Even when people move and children don't become youth who become young adults who grow into the chair of the administrative board, having all ages present and engaged in the life of the church helps the community see a church as a church where every person can connect.  

Q: What is the Youth Workers Roundtable and what dreams do you have for this ministry in the AWF?

The reality is that we have some incredible youth workers in our own conference and a whole lot of what needs to happen is to make sure that we actually live into our connectionalism. Once a year, we will do just that. We won't bring in outside experts; we won't get the hottest youth ministry author to Skype with us, we will pool the wealth of the youth workers in our conference to help grow youth ministries all across our conference. When we have done this in the past, mega-church youth workers have implemented incredible ideas from volunteer youth workers at churches with less than ten youth and vice versa. The dream for this is to keep building the connection between people who work with youth knowing that there is real power in connection. The next roundtable event will be held at Huntingdon College on April 28 at 10am. I'd love to talk more with you about it. 

Q. If someone would like to serve alongside you in youth leadership at the conference level, how can they get involved? 

Simple. Email me: tweet me @unpretending or text me: 251-586-3019.

Q. What is your vision for the youth in the Alabama-West Florida Conference?

To be completely honest, I'm in this whole thing for world transformation. The reality is that you cannot find people more passionate about transformation and more convinced that it is possible that youth and young adults. Every statistic shows that they are truly optimistic and even ready to sacrifice being wealthy for making the world a better place. I think that when Jesus taught us to pray "thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" he was calling us to make earth look more like heaven. I believe that the way he modeled for us to do that is by making disciples. If we want to make earth look more like heaven, then we need to focus on making more disciples that are passionate about transforming the world and convinced that it can happen. All of that is to say that my vision is that the Alabama West-Florida conference would grow in its effectiveness in making youth disciples for the transformation of the world.