Program for youth confirms seminary students’ call to ministry

October 23, 2013 | God at work in the Church | Number 21
By Mary E. Klassen | Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary
Youth from the !Explore program at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary worked with Pedal Power, a ministry of the Voluntary Service unit in Elkhart, Ind., connected to Prairie Street Mennonite Church. From left: Isaiah Friesen, Sara Erb (event pastor), Nick Simons (from Prairie Street), Ryan Miller, Madeline Gerig, Lynea Brubacher Kaethler.

As two Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary students led a program that encourages high school youth to consider ministry, their own call to ministry grew stronger.

Sara Erb and Eric Vandrick worked with !Explore: A Theological Program for High School Youth when the participants were on campus for their group experience, July 9–24. !Explore gives high school youth opportunities to study their own theological questions, test gifts for ministry and consider their role in the church.

Erb had been a participant in !Explore, so her return to the program as a leader gave her a new opportunity to consider her own questions. At 16, the question she worked with related to women in ministry. “This time with !Explore I was seeking affirmation for what I am experiencing in my call now. This was a testing ground to see if working with youth is something that I find life-giving.”

Seriously examining questions of faith is something Vandrick believes everyone should do. He hoped that being an event pastor would “encourage my own vision for what it might be like to do educational ministry in the church.”

Event pastors host the youth and are available for questions and conversations. They join in prayer times, help the youth lead prayers, join in service projects in the community and support the youth in planning worship services.

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“I was surprised how meaningful it was for me,” Erb said, although she admitted that managing self-care during the two intense weeks was challenging. “I anticipated it to be a really wonderful experience, but not nearly to the extent that it was,”

Erb confessed she has been ambivalent about thinking of herself with the title of pastor. However, through her work with the youth, “I found myself claiming that title a lot more and not realizing when that decision happened. At the end I realized I owned that and I was comfortable with it. That was surprising.”

The two seminary students earned credit for their work with !Explore, and part of that responsibility included their own theological reflection the experience. Erb said, “I focused on redefining church as a theological playground, not making light of theological work but that we are free to ask questions and enjoy what we are doing.”

Both Erb and Vandrick are now more open to considering pastoral ministry with youth than they were before leading !Explore. Earlier misgivings grew from the view that youth ministry can focus more on doing activities than on faith formation, and that youth ministry often is assumed to be only a stepping stone to other forms of ministry.

Vandrick said, “After !Explore I see junior high and high school as a group in the church that I am particularly called or gifted to work with.” He will complete a Master of Arts: Theological Studies degree this winter and is beginning to look at different forms of ministry with youth.

Erb said, “This experience reaffirmed that youth ministry is not just a stepping stone. This is something I really do want to engage in. Through the program my strengths were very clearly in worship and worship leading.” As Erb completes a Master of Divinity this year and begins looking beyond seminary study, she is interested in positions that combine her gifts of working with youth and leading congregational worship. She is from Steinmann Mennonite Church, Baden, Ont.

Youth from the !Explore program at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary worked with Pedal Power, a ministry of the Voluntary Service unit in Elkhart, Ind., connected to Prairie Street Mennonite Church. From left: Isaiah Friesen, Sara Erb (event pastor), Nick Simons (from Prairie Street), Ryan Miller, Madeline Gerig, Lynea Brubacher Kaethler.

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