What Fuels My Fire For Youth Ministry

As we wrap-up our inaugural month of The Gathering Place with the theme of Sustainable Youth Ministry, I’m grateful for Kim Litwiller, Associate Conference Minister for Illinois Mennonite Conference, and worship leader for Kansas City 2015.  If you have met Kim, you’ll know what I mean when I say, passion.  Passion exudes from her pores.  She may be little, but she is fierce–for Jesus.  Her love for Him and her deep desire to walk with youth through the ups and downs of life, encouraging them to look ahead to catch a glimpse of the beauty found in a life with Jesus. May our hearts also burn with this passion as we journey together with our youth.  


Regardless of the ministry context I find myself working in, youth ministry remains one of my greatest passions. I’m a youth minister at heart! Growing up as an un-churched kid within a household of not-yet-believers, I longed
to know Jesus and to be known by Him. I wondered if a place of belonging existed for me within the church. It was during my jr. high and high school years that I began to really wrestle with difficult questions as I searched to know and be known. Ministry was not something I set out planning to do, but in the midst of my wrestling ministry found me. A strong remembrance of the years I spent wrestling with questions and longing to know Jesus and to be known by Him as a youth, is what fuels the fire for youth ministry within me. I absolutely love ministering to youth in both a physical and spiritual sense. Spiritual youth of all ages exist inside as well as outside of the church today. This reality has allowed me to use my passion for youth ministry within a variety of ministry contexts. At my core exists an appreciation for real relationships, beautiful messes,
and breathtaking views.

Youth ministry is real! And it has to be, if relationships are to develop. One of the greatest lessons, I’ve learned while ministering to youth is the importance of being real — first with myself, and then others. Being real allows for trust to be established ushering in an invitation to get your hands dirty within the soil of another’s life.

Youth ministry is messy! There’s no greater joy than getting your hands dirty within the soil of a youth’s heart upon the invitation to walk with them as they wrestle with difficult questions in their search to know and be known.

Youth ministry is breathtaking! No more breathtaking view exists than to witness a youth being transformed by the love of God, and coming alive in Christ. As youth learn to walk in the freedom that’s found within forgiveness, one’s breath catches as a beautiful view comes into focus. I long for no youth to journey alone, as they find themselves wrestling with difficult questions of faith. I long for each youth to have someone beside them who’s not only willing to be real, and not afraid to get messy, but also eager to get their hands dirty all while craning their necks for a glimpse of the breathtaking view they know is coming.

It’s this longing that motivates me to continue ministering to youth in both the physical and spiritual sense. As a youth, who found herself often wrestling alone, I know the value of having someone come alongside who was willing to be real, and not afraid to get messy. I know the joy that comes from having someone rejoice in the breathtaking view that unfolds as God’s love begins to transform you and cheer you on as you come alive in Christ and learn to walk in the freedom found in forgiveness.


Pic - Kim Litwiller

Kim Litwiller serves as Associate Conference Minister for Illinois Mennonite Conference.  She is a seasoned youth sponsor and pastor, having worked in youth ministry for 12 years. She has a strong passion for helping individuals move from “mere believers in Jesus” to “active followers of Jesus.”  She is married to Marc and is blessed with three amazing kids.

Why Youth Ministry? What Keeps Me Going?

Steady.  This is one word that comes to mind when I think of Cedric Roth, Franklin Mennonite Conference Youth Minister.  Everything about his demeanor, his presence, and his work is consistent, persistent, and even-keeled. This is one reason, I think, that makes Cedric an amazing conference youth leader.  He continues to show up and the youth and young adults know that they can count on him at all costs.  In this world of constant change, this might be one of the best gifts one can offer.

I have always enjoyed working with teenagers.  This led me to receive a degree in education.  For fifteen years I taught high school social studies.  Along with the responsibilities of teaching came opportunities of being a class advisor, leading senior trips, chaperoning retreats, coaching basketball and hanging out with youth for most of my day and sometimes nights.  For the past 7 years I have been  the youth and young adult minister for Franklin Conference.  Although my title and responsibilities have changed, I continue to spend time with youth and research how to best pass on faith to our youth.

To be honest as I get older I don’t find some of their shenanigans as funny as I did when I was younger, but there is an energy, a zest for life that draws me to them.  I remember at one of our Conventions a woman from our church was standing near me and our youth waiting to enter the joint youth and adult service.  Hundreds of youth were singing, playing hacky sack and talking.  She said, “All this excitement puts me on edge.”  Then she added,  “It probably doesn’t bother you.”  She was right.  Until she mentioned the chaos around us, I thought the scene was quite normal and exciting.IMG_2432

Along with the excitement and energy teens bring to life another reason I keep doing youth ministry is that I enjoy seeing them grow spiritually, emotionally and physically.  When youth join youth group at 9th grade, they are relatively immature and scared to death to be with the other high school youth.  Most don’t say much that first year of youth group.  They are learning the ropes and trying to fit in.  But as the high school years go by they begin to open up by answering questions, participating on the worship team and taking both formal and informal leadership roles.  Looking back at the the growth and maturity of the four years of high school gives me hope.  Much change takes place.  I consider it a gift to walk with them in this maturing process.

Being part of the body of Christ and inviting youth to make Jesus the center of their faith is the core of youth ministry.  I want to see young people become disciples of Jesus.  I believe this is best done in community.  Allowing Jesus to shape our choices and way of life models to youth what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  The community wrestles with doubt, carries one another’s burdens, encourages each other to be faithful and celebrates accomplishments.  A healthy faith community makes space for people of all ages and backgrounds, especially youth.  I want to help create a space where youth are embraced and incorporated into congregational life.  This is the best way for them to know what it means to be part of the body of Christ.

For all of my adult life I have been interacting with and walking with youth as they grow in their faith.  There are successes and failures.  There have been times when I have not been Christ’s best ambassador.  But through it all God’s love and mercy have been upon me and I have been given the responsibility to pass that blessing on to our youth.  I consider it a privilege to work with a group of people who are so alive but at the same time experiencing so many changes.  I want to provide for them a safe place to become fully human in the image of God.

Family - Version 2

Cedric Roth has served as the Youth and Young Adult Minister for Franklin Mennonite Conference since 2007. Along with his wife Lora and two daughters Moriah (7) and Lydia (4), they live in Chambersburg, PA and attend Marion Mennonite Church. He enjoys fantasy football, traveling, watching and playing basketball, Penn State football and the Dallas Cowboys.

July Webinar: Let’s Talk About Sabbath

If you want a combo of fun, inspiring, and insightful–Dr. Nate Stucky is where.it.is.at! On July 22, Nate led our group to consider the theological meaning of Sabbath and how this lavish gift transforms our view of creation, our work, and ourselves. I’m not over-exaggerating when I say that this webinar will change how you view the meaning of Sabbath and its role in your life. Receiving Sabbath is not only good for personal renewal and re-creation, it is a foundational practice that reminds us ultimately that we are God’s…dearly loved and cherished.

The Best Job In The World

As we continue with our conversation this month…I am so grateful for the insightful words from today’s contributor, my friend, colleague, and rock star youth pastor, Curt Weaver.  I first met Curt on a conference call and when I finally met him in person a few months later, I felt as though I had known him my whole life. He’s one of those people you meet that has a familiar quality, that immediately draws you in.  He’s real. And he’s grounded deep. And he will hate it that I just called him a rock star. Listen well, friends. Curt’s the real deal.


When I was in seminary nine years ago I remember someone mentioning to me that my interest in youth ministry was a great way to get my feet wet and that it would be a wonderful training ground to becoming a real pastor someday, little did they know that becoming a “real” pastor was the last thing I ever wanted to become. I was already in my 40s at that point and had been hanging around teenagers for the better part of 20 years, or basically since I was one myself. I either was having trouble growing up or I had found my niche. Now at 52 I know it’s a bit of both.

So why is it that I am a pastor to children and youth at my advanced age? Why have I not “outgrown” this role and allowed some smooth 20 something with ripped jeans and a guitar to rightfully take my place?

Well, can you keep a secret? The reason is I have the best job in the world and I’m going to tell you why.

I remember struggling to put words to why I loved youth ministry in my early years and perhaps it wasn’t until reading Kenda Creasy Dean’s book the God bearing life, now almost 15 years ago, that I finally read the words that helped me fully articulate it.

My dad is a retired pastor and the one thing he and my mother got across to me quite well was that the God stuff was the real stuff, everything else was secondary. Careers, possessions, and status were all subject to and measured by how one viewed the world as a follower of Jesus.

To be fair, the meaning of the God stuff has changed for me over the years as I have grown and evolved in my faith but the essence, the idea that a worldview based on the story of God’s love, compassion and justice; that story, for me, still captures our true essence and purpose.

That world view comes into focus through encountering the life and teachings of Jesus. That world view is called faith.

Ministry to children and youth is a place where you get a front row seat to witness the miracle of the birth of faith in someone else. And because of this Kenda calls youth workers midwives.CurtYouth ministry is a place where I get to watch this thing happen…this thing which is more important than any other thing.

Of course there was a learning curve. I think many of us do one simple thing wrong in youth ministry, and it’s understandable because it’s written in many of our vision statements. That simple thing often says that what we are to be doing is making Christians out of our youth. The purpose of youth ministry has been “conversion” even if we don’t like hearing it said that way. The simple mistake is that many of us over the years have done the converting and found it to be exhausting. We have misunderstood our role.

Kenda’s metaphor of birth describes something natural, something non anxious and even mysterious.

It doesn’t ask us to DO anything but be there and wait. To guide, not push.

Walking with a young person who is one day a professed atheist and the next day is a fiery advocate of social justice and the next day prays for you to a God he doesn’t admit exists is exhilarating. Come on. How much fun is THAT?

Like I said, I have the best job in the world.



Curt Weaver is Associate Pastor of children, youth, and families at Portland Mennonite Church, in Portland, OR.

tGP Podcast: On Sabbath and Self Care

Wednesday, July 16, 1pm-2pm EST

In this live podcast, Rachel Gerber, Denominational Minister of Youth and Young Adults for Mennonite Church USA, interviews The Gathering Place spiritual directors and long-time youth workers Marlene Frankenfield and Merv Stoltzfus about Sabbath and self-care practices. How we tend for our body, mind, and soul directly impacts how well we are able to offer care to those we serve.

Subscribe to The Gathering Place to keep up to date on the next gathering so you can join us live!

Loving Yourself Enough–To Make Space for Sabbath

“We as pastors and leaders in the church have the capacity to shed light or cast shadows”

~Parker Palmer

This quote has stuck with me since attended Values Based Leadership several years ago. I am deeply grateful for this experience and my congregation for investing in my leadership development. The longer I serve in the church, the more important it has become to prioritize self-care. During my early years as paid staff, I was so pumped to be affirmed and recognized that I wanted to do it all and do it well. But time can take a toll on your inspiration and energy and I found thru meeting with a spiritual director that I needed someone outside of the church to be my confidante; someone to share my deepest fears and anxieties; someone to challenge and encourage me in better practices of self-care. Now, I try to do one thing every day that is just for me.

There are some beautiful winding roads that cover the Williamette Valley – I get to drive those roads when visiting church members. Sometimes I continue those drives a little longer, to savor the beauty and find solace by myself. Early morning devotions, regular exercise, and meeting with a Spiritual Director have been crucial to my health and well-being. A once a year weekend retreat allows for practicing silence, prayer and solitude. I am grateful that Zion has placed this retreat in my job description. My Sabbath is Mondays – and I have learned to keep that day sacred by not answering my phone or texts and not opening my computer to check email. People can wait a day to hear back from me…most calls are not emergencies.

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One woman who serves on our Elder board has been a wonderful spiritual mentor and friend to me. On many occasion she has been honest and helpful in giving me feedback through my work, planning and relationships with church attenders. I have found her open and sincere friendship to have carried me much farther in ministry. Making choices that are good for you, means loving yourself enough to listen to your body, to the Holy Spirit and to those you are close to. In church ministry, you cannot be of any good to others, if you are not being good to yourself.


Jana has been serving as Associate Youth Pastor at Zion Mennonite Church, Hubbard Oregon since 2003. She is a Hesston College graduate; she has worked with youth for over 25 years in church settings. Jana is a people person who enjoys coffee dates; hanging out with young people, guitar, music, eclectic antiques and the wilderness! Her most rewarding work is encouraging young people to step into their God given gifts and become the church they dream of! Jana has been married to her husband Craig for 35 years. They have 2 boys, Nathan and Brooks.

Play, Clay, & Self-Care

Shortly after I started working with Mennonite Church USA, following 23 years of pastoring in Ohio, I was sent to an intensive workshop at Duke University for new denominational leaders.  Before going I was asked to send a survey out to 12 persons who have experienced my leadership, for them to offer me 360 degree feedback.  Such information is often a real eye opening gift!

Well the evening I met with my assigned coach, she open the feedback summary and said, the people who filled this out like you and your leadership style.  But they said one thing consistently, they don’t think you have a life outside of your job!  Then a long pause, and she said, “What are you going to do about it?”   The rest of our evening session revolved around giving myself permission to play.   Oh, I had all kinds of interests, but had just never given myself permission to enter into them fully, because I had so much important work to do, “…for the Lord!”

Pastoring was something I enjoyed doing and I took it seriously.  But the wear of the years took a toll on me, even with my days off and seasonal vacations.   I knew I had lost something that I had earlier had and I just attributed it to entering my 50’s.   This lacking void was not just energy I was missing, but creativity, which had long been the hallmark of who I was.

When I returned home and talked with my wife about the “revelation” the feedback and coach helped me see, her first comment was, “I have been telling you that for 10 years!”

So I went back to a passion I had in college, throwing pottery.  On Craigslist, I found all I needed and I took the plunge, remodeling a basement storage room into my own potter’s man-cave.  The first winter I threw lots of things, studied them, critiqued them and then destroyed them (the world is full of enough ugly pots!).  I found the more I worked in the clay, the more I lost track of time.  The more immersed myself in this creative play, the more excited I became.  Not just excited about making the pottery, but excited about life. I found my spark again.Pot on wheel (2)

The process of creatively playing with something so formative as clay renewed my search for beauty in form.  This search for beauty filled me with gratitude when I saw it, and found myself taking pictures of various container forms.  This gratitude spilled out in generosity which transformed into hospitality which has been not only life-changing but life-giving.


It is not an exaggeration at all that when I literally gave myself permission to play in the clay as an expression of both my creativity and self-care, I found a newness of life that now compliments and sustains me in my ministry work with the denomination.  And now when I travel and stay in homes (often pastors and conference ministers), I give them a piece of my pottery and tell them this story, and ask them, “What do you do to play?”  Sometimes people look at the floor and say they haven’t played in years, other times I hear the most amazing stories.If you care about sustaining your ministry, make sure you find your way to play!

It is a vital discovery to make in life!



Terry Shue is from Kidron Ohio, where he and his wife have lived for the past 19 years.  For the past number of years he has been a pastor in the Ohio Conference, most recently at the Kidron Mennonite Church for twelve years.   Having grown up in Harper, Kansas, his life path has taken him through Hesston College, Bethel College (N Newton KS) and AMBS.   He currently is the Director of Leadership Development for Mennonite Church USA.  In this role Terry works with our conference leaders, colleges, and seminaries to call, train and equip leaders across the Church.  His office in Kidron Ohio at Central Christian School.    Terry and Kay are the parents of three adult children, Bethany, Krista and Kelsey, three sons in law and four grandchildren.

You Matter: The Ministry of Self-Care…Look Around

When I was growing up, I never thought about a job in terms of how much time I would be sitting at a desk dealing with paperwork or working at a computer.  I just wanted a fun job.  I work at a camp, which is fun, but maybe it makes you think that I spend a good part of my day outside.  I’m totally making this up, but it feels like I spend 97% of my time indoors, maybe more.

I am consumed with organizing events, contacting volunteers, scheduling groups, reviewing handbooks, answering the phone, and email, email, email.  There is the real or imagined pressure to do things better, which means more work when I already feel swamped.  I don’t stop because I feel I can’t stop.

This appears to be pretty typical for folks who work with youth.  When I have the chance to be with youth leaders of all sorts—professional, laypeople, accidental, intentional—I hear about the cool things they have done with their youth and the hours spent creating spaces for tough discussions and faith building.  I hear how they are also swamped and sometimes about how they feel lost.

Youth gatherings, snow camp, mission trips, fundraisers, convention.  All of these take lots of planning and lots of time to do them right.  You do them right because you care about the youth and you want them to become those awesome adults that you see glimpses of here and there.  You want them to have fun with their faith.

Many of you meet with youth year-round.  That must be overwhelming at times.  To think of all those lives that will be affected by just one week of camp can be scary, and often causes me to work and worry even more.

But I have that 3% to help me, that time that I am not indoors.  There’s something about the natural world that reassures me.  It may simply be that I am free of technology.  Being in nature reminds me that I am one of those absurd, sometimes ridiculous, awesome creations of God.  I’m reminded of the call to stewardship and caring, not only for creation but also for myself.flower bathhouse 030615 016

For me, going outside and spending time in nature is a way for me to cease whatever I am doing or whatever is filling my head and reconnect with God.  I revel in the uneven pokiness of sitting on a rock.  I thrive on the adrenalin that seeps through me when the swallows dive because I’m too close to their nests.  The rustling in the undergrowth makes me wonder which one of us is bigger—the wildlife or me?  I’m disgusted by the bug squashed under my bare foot, repulsed by the smell of the sludgy muck on the bank, but I am calmed by the churning of the river.

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Maybe by reading this, you’re feeling you haven’t gotten your fair share of walking through wildflowers and getting stickers in your socks.  Here’s a small token of advice for you, a bit of practical application, if you will.  Go outside.  If you don’t like being outside, still go outside.  I’m sure it builds character.  Or something. P1030522

It’s horribly hard sometimes to take that walk, to pause long enough to see where those turkey tracks go, or to sit outside watching the sunset or moonrise, but I think you need to.  I think you need to care for yourself and allow yourself that sacred space to breathe and regroup.  You’re doing great stuff, and your youth, your community, and all the rest of us need you to be able to keep doing great things.

We need more great things in this world.



Olivia Bartel photo 03 2015

Olivia Bartel is the camp director at Camp Mennoscah in Murdock, KS, and is a reader of books, an eater of French fries, and thinks kids of all ages are a hoot.  She is not fond of mosquitoes.  Her favorite fruit might be some sort of berries.  Or pineapple.  Rhubarb is her favorite vegetable.

Think Tank Thursday–LIVE at KC 2015


The inaugural Think Tank Thursday will be kicking off at Kansas City 2015 on Thursday, July 2, 9am-10am CT–LIVE gathering at Kansas City Mennonite Youth Convention, rm 2501 A. Gather for this ‘brain hatchery’ to dream and talk with one another about how to make relevant connections between Sunday morning and the real life of youth. Scott Roth, leader in entrepreneurial ministry will be facilitating. Read more about the idea behind “Think Tank Thursday.”

Sign up at The Gathering Place booth in the Exhibit Hall (within the MC USA Executive Board booth) or just show up!

Webinar: Stopping For Rest In A Society That Doesn’t


 We are thrilled to add this important webinar to the July line-up on the theme, ‘Sabbath and Self-Care’ brought by Dr. Nate Stucky.

 “Stopping For Rest In A Society That Doesn’t”


Date:  Wednesday, July 22, 1pm-2pm EST

Content: Youth are too busy. Youth workers are too busy. The calling to minister on behalf of young people often exacts a high price from those of us who answer it. We all have too much to do, not enough time to do it, and the pace of our lives sometimes borders on insanity. Yet perhaps the way we relentlessly work out our calling risks drowning out the One who calls us in the first place. Does it matter that we worship a God who rests? Is Sabbath even an option in societies and churches that hold preconceived definitions of success and productivity? This workshop will explore these questions and imagine ways of receiving God’s gift of rest within the realities of today’s culture.

Registrer here, now!

More about Nate:  Nate has more than a decade of experience in youth ministry, including six years of ecumenical experience during which he was employed by three different churches from three different denominations all at the same time.  (Not to fear, it was a wonderful thing!)

Nate holds an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary in Practical Theology (Christian Education/Youth Ministry) at Princeton.  He is currently the director of Princeton’s Farminary, a 21 acre farm intersecting the theological formation of leaders and care for the earth.

Nate currently lives in New Jersey with his wife, Janel, and their three kiddos, Joshua, Jenna, and Isaac.  In addition to spending time with his family, Nate loves music, friends, good food, Sunday afternoon naps, and laughter.