Un-complicating Youth Ministry

I recently had a life changing conversation with a parent whose teenager is in my church’s youth group. Her son, Silas, had been gone for almost a month over the summer to attend a scholarship program. On his first Sunday back to church in a while, I was so happy to see him and hear stories about his summer adventures.

Later that day, I was relating my excitement about his return to his mom when suddenly she began tearing up. Confused and afraid I had said something wrong, I asked her what was going on. She looked up, smiling through tears, and said, “I’m just so thankful that my church notices when my son is gone, and notices when he comes home. Thank you for noticing.”

This moment with this sweet parent, unknowingly to her, changed my entire paradigm. In the weeks leading up to that conversation, I had been struggling in my role as Youth and Young Adult minister. And I mean, struggling. I felt defeated and overwhelmed, questioning my ability to make any significant impact. I had been making youth ministry so complicated.

The church where I work is a very diverse one, with people all over the map not only racially, but also theologically, politically, and economically. This diversity is beautiful and should certainly be celebrated, but if I’m being honest, it also creates an extremely difficult setting for youth ministry. When you are responsible for teaching teens and pre-teens whose parents all feel very differently about what should be taught, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged. Add that to the fact that teenagers love to ask questions, especially about what they’re seeing on the news, and you have, as I call it, the perfect storm. It began to feel impossible to answer the questions they were asking with responses that wouldn’t offend someone. I was afraid to teach anything with depth for fear of starting a firestorm. And I certainly didn’t know how to empower my adult volunteers. I was bogged down.

Enter Silas’s mom. During that conversation, something clicked into place. All that parent really wanted was for me to notice where her kid was, physically and spiritually and emotionally. And suddenly it all became quite simple. My role is to be an example and role model, to love each of the youth to the best of my ability, and to walk with them through whatever life brings them. I began talking with our volunteers about how we might not be able to answer every question about theology to the satisfaction of each parent, but we can love and support and notice each of their kids. We can show up for them, listen to them, and guide them in their own journey towards God. Instead of focusing on what we couldn’t do, I began to focus on what we could do, and it has made all the difference.

My encouragement to my adult volunteers and sponsors is this: show up for your youth and let the rest take care of itself. I encourage them to be the example that the youth need to see of someone walking daily with God. They don’t necessarily need another voice telling them how they should believe, act, and feel. They need someone who will listen, someone who will know them, and someone who will show them unconditional love. Moments for teaching will spring out of those relationships, and they will be so much more meaningful than what you teach in a class setting anyway. I know this isn’t easy, but thankfully, it really is simple.






Lindsay Diener is the Minister of Youth and Young Adults at Jubilee Mennonite Church and part time reading tutor in Meridian, Mississippi. She enjoys hiding away in coffee shops, people watching, reading, and spending time with her husband Joel.

Webinar–Equipping and Empowering Volunteers with Dalene White

In this energetic webinar, Dalene White, coordinator of the Volunteer Program at Bethel College shares how to recruit, train, encourage, and thank volunteers.  As healthy ministers and ministering people, we realize that we cannot do it alone–but need to equip the saints to do the work of the Church!  Dalene offers The Gathering Place her wisdom about how she created a flourishing network of volunteers that feel equipped, inspired, and appreciated–and invites us to reflect on how we can do the same in our own contexts.

Lenten Pauses–NEW for 2017

You are invited to take a moment this Lenten season for prayer and reflection. We will be using The Leader 2017 Lenten worship material, “Restore Us, O God!” as a guide. Join The Gathering Place community each Wednesday at 1pm EST for a brief (10-15 minute) pause in your day. We gathering live using the video conferencing for contemplative prayer. See schedule below:

Lent 1-“Restore Us O God! We hunger.” (Wednesday, March 1), Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Lent 2-“Restore Us O God! We wonder.” (Wednesday, March 8), John 3:1-17

Lent 3-“Restore Us O God! We thirst.” (Wednesday, March 15), Exodus 17:1-7

Lent 4-“Restore Us O God! We see.” (Wednesday, March 22), John 9:1-41

Lent 5-“Restore Us O God! We breathe.” (Wednesday, March 29), Ezekiel 37:1-14

Lent 6-“Restore Us O God! We hope.” (Wednesday, April 5), Matthew 21:1-11

Easter-“Restore Us O God! We live.” (Wednesday, April 12), Matthew 28:1-10

Click on the link to join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android at the scheduled time: https://MCUSA.zoom.us/j/827510416

Or via telephone:
Dial: +1 408 638 0968 (US Toll) or +1 646 558 8656 (US Toll)
Meeting ID: 827 510 416

International numbers are also available: https://MCUSA.zoom.us/zoomconference?m=WaBSk_CLxzzdM4xtpule5r6cwbJxYYKv


Here is an example of what to expect at a Lenten Pause:



Volunteer 101

It’s an amazing gift to oversee a youth ministry. I think back to when I was hired as a youth pastor. I had always been second in command. Now I was being entrusted to steer the ship. Then it hit me. I need other people to do this with me! I can’t do it alone.

How do we recruit, train and encourage volunteers? Here is a quick glance at what has worked time and time again for me in the variety of volunteer settings I have been in.

    1. Recruitment – Create a pray request and blast it out to the ends of the earth. If you are looking for people to come under you and journey with you in ministry, it needs to be something on their heart. So many times I put announcements about recruitment. When I moved to it being prayer requests, something changed. First people are praying for you, your future volunteers and the ones you are with. It’s a chance for others to be in the process with you. Sure, it sounds easy and cliché, but hey prayer works. Don’t forget about parents. Many times we just ignore the fact that parents are a great asset and getting them involved will diversify and expand your ministry potential
    2. Training – Now you have a few volunteers and you need to train them. Two books that have been great resources for small group style training has been Purpose Driven Youth Ministry by Doug Fields and Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries. Both books have great wisdom that can be gleaned. I would never expect you to follow them all to the minute detail, but there are some practices that can be extended to your group. If you personally need help to extend your training skills you could always empower a coach to come alongside you. Coaches can be a valuable resource to you as a leader. This could be just some phone/vid calls to face to face interactions or retreats.
    3. Encourage – Find out what your staff likes and keep them motivated. Two of my youth workers LOVE a specific coffee place. I frequently will drop them a gift card or treat them. Another set of my workers gather for dinner with me before our Wednesday gathering. All of these touch points create a bond and keeps us working together.

Remember, if you are building up your volunteers to Love God and Love People they will be making disciples as they go along. It is a group effort and do everything in your power to bring them along. If you position yourself as the coach and your youth workers are the team on the field, it works out so much better than just you doing it all! Jesus had his 12. He ate with them, worked with them, and relaxed with them. Do all this with your youth workers. Many time we prioritize our kids over our staff. I dare you to do it differently. Make them a priority so they can be empowered for your youth.

If you have any thoughts or want to engage this stuff more. Please drop me a line at scottthepof@gmail.com. See you in Orlando!




Scott Roth wants to see everyone engaging God and their local community. He has lived in urban and rural settings and seen the suburban sprawl. Living in Red Hill, PA he and his wife, son, daughter, and two basset hounds have been walking this faith journey by actively engaging their suburban communities. Scott is currently fulfilling many different roles as project manager for Urban Expression North America, developing a non-profit bicycle shop, community gardens, counseling center, robotics clubs, various civic/community events, thrift shops for Red Hill. He also engages in one-on-one ministry coaching in his spare time. He also is an associate pastor at Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, Executive Conference Minister of Eastern District Conference, and was part of the hatching for this site, The Gathering Place. He has a passion for writing, speaking, video games, fishing, and bicycles.

tGP Podcast: An interview with Mark DeVries

In this interview, Rachel talks with Mark DeVries, president/founder of Ministry Architects, about how to recruit, train, and lead a healthy volunteer team. Mark spells out his 100% guarantee on how to form a volunteer team without guilting, shaming, or pulling your hair out!

Mark DeVries is the founder of MINISTRY ARCHITECTS (2002), a consulting team that moves churches “beyond stuck” and strategically forward. Having worked with over 650 churches, Ministry Architects has helped build sustainable ministries for youth, children, families and young adults, as well as providing strategic coaching for entire churches and their senior leadership.

Mark served as the Associate Pastor for Youth and Their Families at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee for 28 years. Though Mark resigned his position as youth pastor in 2014, he now serves at First Presbyterian as a volunteer associate pastor.

Mark is a graduate of Baylor University and Princeton Theological Seminary and the author of several books, including Family-Based Youth Ministry, Sustainable Youth Ministry, and The Most Important Year of a Man’s/Woman’s Life and the Indispensable Youth Pastor, which he co-authored with Jeff Dunn-Rankin.

Mark and his wife, Susan, live in Nashville and have three grown children (Adam, Debbie, and Leigh) and three grandchildren.

February–Empowering and Equipping Volunteers

As ministering people, it doesn’t take too long to figure out that we can’t do it all ourselves.  Volunteers are absolutely vital to our work and ministry!  Apostle Paul knew this, too.  In his letter to Ephesians, he writes that the work of, “…pastors and teachers is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

We are not in the do-it-all-yourself business, but as leaders, we are called to empower and build up the Church, naming gifts and encouraging others to use these gifts for the sake of Christ. This sounds amazing, assuming we can actually find people willing to volunteer and use their gifts!

One of the most common questions I receive is, “I am having a hard time finding people to fill in our Christian education positions! HELP!”

What does it look like, as a leader, to motivate and empower others in our congregation to serve?  How can we help others ‘catch the vision’ for investing their time, energy, and talent? What does it mean to equip volunteers, how do you nurture a healthy team, and what are best practices for saying “thanks”?

This month, we will explore a variety of ways to empower and equip volunteers in the Church.

  • Webinar: Dalene White, volunteer coordinator and motivator extraordinaire from Bethel College will offer best practices and tips on how to call, train, and lead volunteer teams.
  • Podcast: Mark DeVries, author of “Sustainable Youth Ministry” talks with Rachel in tGP podcast about how to get 100% of the volunteers you need, without guilting, shaming, or going nuts.
  • Study Circle: Randy Keeler, Professor of Religion at Bluffton University will lead a discussion on Chapter 10 of Mark DeVries book, Sustainable Youth Ministry.

This month is a very practical theme with lots of hands-on takeaways.  Can’t wait to gather together!




~Rachel S. Gerber, editor of The Gathering Place and Denominational Minister for Christian Formation for Mennonite Church USA

Study Circle–February

Sustainable Youth Ministry (ch. 10)

By: Mark DeVries

Tuesday, February 21st from 3:00-4:00 EST


Is the role of a youth worker/pastor to be a confidante to all the youth?

Is that really possible?

This study circle session will focus on the value of building social capital for each youth in one’s sphere of influence, or as DeVries calls it:  “a constellation of relationships.”  Participants will glean from DeVries’ work and the experience and expertise of the study circle participants to discover strategies to ensure that each youth in one’s sphere of influence has a number of adults in whom they can confide and share freely.

Sign up today!


This month’s study circle will be hosted by Randy Keeler, Professor of Religion at Bluffton University (OH) and long-time youth ministry worker.

February Playlist

Faith in the Harvest

“Let us not become weary in doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

Galatians 6:9 (NLT)

I received a Christmas present from a friend and along with it, came scripture cards. The main card that tied in with the present had this verse from Galatians on it. As soon as I read it, I burst into tears. My advisor at college repeatedly told us ministry students that it was very likely that we may not see fruit from our ministry for at least 5 years, maybe even never. We can spend every week sharing the wonderful gospel with these amazing youth we have…and the next day will go right back to the behavior we just discussed was not what the bible wants us to do! Maybe we see them learn and connect with the homeless on mission trips or get real with each other on retreat weekends…but the next week laughs at the kid in school who doesn’t wear brand name clothes and they pretend like they don’t know each other at school.

My grandpa was a farmer; now I never paid much attention to specifics because well I was a young girl who had other things to do (so those with more farming knowledge than me I apologize if some of this is not exactly accurate) but I do remember him planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall. It was like clockwork; if he planted in the spring, there would be profit in the fall. What I never really paid attention to was what he did in the winter and summer. For some reason, I thought he just sat at home after he had checked on the cows in the morning. Then I thought of a faint memory of driving around in his old blue truck just staring out at dirt in the fields. Was he bored or wasting time before we got back to his house where we’d each grab a Twinkie for snack while I watched Arthur on PBS? No, he was also out there servicing the machines, checking soil, and all those other things while I chased chickens with my cousins. If he didn’t keep his eye on the weather and keep checking on the crops, there would be no harvest; that time of nurturing and waiting for the harvest was vital for the end profit. He had to have faith in the harvest.

The parallel to ministry is uncanny! We give devotions weekly and then we wait for the harvest. If only we had a guarantee we would see a harvest every fall, but that’s just not how it works. Our relationships with God are all on different clocks. Each of our youth will be close to God and distant from God at different times in their lives. There’s also a chance that we may never see a harvest in a youth. We may lose contact with them before the harvest is revealed in them.

This month as we talk about empowering and equipping volunteers, this is a vital reminder, not only for them but for all of us, that they may not see the importance of their role with the youth until years later. Sitting in the back, asking youth about their day, making sure the snack is out in time, hauling youth from place to place, going bowling or mini-golfing, being a servant to them…what does that have to do with ministry?! EVERYTHING!!!! I’d like to say it’s because I’m fairly new to ministry that I don’t know how to explain the importance of that to my volunteers…but I also think it’s something you have to experience before you truly can understand it.

So this month’s playlist is hopefully encouraging and affirming: Keep doing good works for when the time is right, blessings will be harvested for God and His Kingdom if we don’t give up! And just in case no one has told you this yet today: Good Job!

All your hard work has not gone unnoticed; thank you for all you are doing!




~Ashley Litwiller is the pastor of youth and worship at Arthur Mennonite Church (IL).

  • Priceless by For King and Country

We may look to other youth leaders and think they are doing such a better job than we could…but God has called YOU to be YOU! YOU have been chosen! You are so priceless and irreplaceable!


  • What Soldiers Do by Monk & Neagle

We each need that moment of instruction with our Daddy. We need to be brave for our church family. God is watching over us as we work and He’s waiting for us at the end of this world. Being a solider for the Lord is the daily task!


  • Tell Me by Carrollton

Sometimes we feel like we aren’t getting anywhere “with our best”. We just need that reminder that we are not alone in this work and God always knows what our heart needs to prepare us leaders for youth activities.


  • Come Alive (Dry Bones) by Lauren Daigle

Sometimes we feel like we are just speaking to dry dusty bones…but “we know there is more to come that we may not see” We will step into the valley unafraid!


  • Please Be My Strength by Gungor

Let’s be real, this work is exhausting! Constantly encouraging others while we don’t always get encouraged ourselves…we have to ask God to be our strength! Only his strength can do this work!


  • Overcomer by Mandisa

There will be struggles and we will probably fail once in a while as leaders, but stay in the fight ‘til the final round! It may feel hopeless, but remember, nothing is impossible for God!


  • Strangely Dim by Francesca Battistelli

We plan activities and the kids should love them, right? We dream up a great lesson and the kids just sometimes don’t connect. Fix our eyes on God and the end goal…all those worries of “did they get anything from that?” will fade. Have faith that God is working.


  • The Sun is Rising by Britt Nicole

Maybe you personally are just at a point in your journey that you barely have enough energy to heal your own wounds right now…the night only lasts for so long! There is a promise for the ones who just hold on. Lift up your eyes and see the sun is rising!


  • Worn by Tenth Avenue North

We tend to work ourselves raw. OH it’s for good causes, but we still don’t see the results yet. You are tired from the work set in front of you…but He gives us rest! The struggle will end eventually!


  • Because of Your Love by Chris Quilala

The uncrossable, unscalable, unlovable, droughts….we can do this job because of His Love!!


  • Walk By Faith by Jeremy Camp

Even when I cannot see the harvest, I will walk by Faith!


  • Keep Making Me by Sidewalk Prophets

Leaders are never perfect! We should never expect them to be perfect; God is still working on us too!


  • The Wonder Years by Group 1 Crew feat. Moriah Peters and Glory

God has called us to be present in this time before the harvest. Keep your focus on what is in front of you!


  • Something in the Water by Carrie Underwood

This song is a reminder of how AWESOME the harvest will be when it comes! Singing songs of Amazing Grace, not being able to wash the smile off our face, joy in our hearts, angels on our side! Trust in someone bigger than ourselves!


  • Great is the Faithfulness by Jordan Smith

This version is so fluid and comforting! Classic – God is faithful…all I need his hands will provide!


  • Always on Time by Tim Bowman Jr.

God’s timing is perfect! Trust That!

Unpacking Racism

Here I offer a brief overview of what I believe are some of the basics that can assist white folks, me being one of them, in coming to a fuller understanding of racism and how it has infected the church and society.  While none of us will ever arrive at a full understanding of this important and urgent matter, there are experiences, relationships, books, movies, seminars, classes, and other things from which I have learned over time.

Listen.  This is the first step.  We may have something to offer to the conversation, but consider that as white people we do not understand what it is like to experience widespread discrimination based on the color of our skin that significantly affects our lives in negative ways.  Our society has been shaped by race, and the form it has taken privileges those who fit the category of “white.”  This is why we often here the term, “white privilege,” mentioned in discussions of race and racism.  This term does not mean that every white person has suffered less or had an easier life than every person of color.  It means that being considered “white” affords people certain privileges or rights that they would not otherwise possess.

Race is a social construct.  A social construct “concerns the meaning, notion, or connotation placed on” something or someone by a society, and adopted by the inhabitants of that society with respect to how they view or deal with that something or someone.  These ideas are “created, institutionalized, and made into tradition by humans” for various reasons.[i]

In the United States, and elsewhere, the concept of race was created to justify and institutionalize the dehumanization and subjugation of people who were not of European descent with light-colored skin.  Think about it.  Nobody’s skin is truly white or black – just various shades of pink, peach, tan, and brown.  Racial categories were made up by light-skinned Europeans in order to obtain free labor, land, and wealth.

Despite race being a created concept rooted in falsehood, the consequences of its creation are widespread.  This is why it cannot be ignored.  Racial categories and their implications are embedded in the roots of our country’s institutions, shaping everything from our economy to our justice system down to our neighborhoods and churches.  Racism is still alive and well in all of these, which is why our society is often labeled, “white supremacist.”  Groups like the KKK come to mind when we hear this term, but more broadly it means that the people, practices, and traditions considered to be “white” are the norm and viewed as superior – or supreme.

On a more personal and individual level, in discussions of racism, people will often say that they are color-blind, usually meaning that they do not judge people by the color of their skin.  But the truth is that color-blindness is a myth.  Even if we strive to love everyone equally, regardless of their skin color, we all see the color of peoples’ skin and attach meaning to it, whether we want to or not.  This truth is a result of implicit bias, which is “the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group.”[ii]

I have been in a serious relationship with a black woman, graduated from a three-year seminary as the only white person in my cohort, and had many black friends while in the military who were like older brothers to me, yet there are times when I still find myself making negative judgments about people based upon their skin color.  It is often very subtle, but it is there.  We must become more aware of our thoughts, inner life, and bodily reactions when crossing paths with and relating to people of color.  We do not want to push these thoughts and sensations away, but allow ourselves to experience them and process them in constructive ways.

Finally, be aware that intentions are not the final word when it comes to what is considered racist.  Perceptions matter just as much, and often more, as to whether or not something is racist.  Educate yourself.  Read and listen to people of color talk about race and their experiences.  Solidarity is the key.  Finding ways to be in solidarity with people of color is how we will find a way forward.  Be open and willing to be led by these communities, and discover how your gifts can be a contribution to resisting and overcoming racism in our churches, neighborhoods and beyond.





Ben Walter grew up in Selinsgrove, PA. After high school he joined the Army infantry for three years and was stationed in Washington and Korea. He received a M.Div. from Biblical Theological Seminary in 2011. His interests include theology, social justice, and politics. Ben served as a volunteer youth worker at Selinsgrove Church of the Nazarene for 8yrs before becoming one of the pastors at Ripple in Allentown, PA in 2011.





[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_constructionism

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicit_stereotype

Webinar–Racialized Society and the Way of Jesus


This month, The Gathering Place hosted Drew G. I. Hart, author of the book, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism. Drew presents a thicker understanding of racism for the Church to consider in this webinar, “Racialized Society and the Way of Jesus.”

Here are some additional resources to supplement learning on this topic:

  • Host a book club and read/discuss, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart
  • Consider taking your youth (or intergenerational) on a learning trip. Todd Allen runs the Civil Rights Bus tour, “Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Tour”.  He has a FB page rather than a formal website where information is disseminated regarding information on his 2017 summer options.
  • A priority named in Mennonite Church USA’s Purposeful Plan is “Undoing Racism.”  This page highlights some resources available for congregations/individuals to use regarding this initiative. A video on undoing the Doctrine of Discovery can be found here.
  • Older resources are also available about race analysis (white privilege, etc.) – MennoMedia, “Beyond the News:  Racism” – http://www.commonword.ca/ResourceView/50/13989 and MCC’s “Free Indeed” – http://www.commonword.ca/ResourceView/18/7968.
  • Teaching Tolerance, offers a variety of free film kits and education resources.
  • Gather and watch “Hidden Figures” film in your local movie theatre and hold a post-movie discussion.