“Kenda Creasy Dean writes in one of her books that youth ministry is a spiritual discipline,” says Jean Lehn Epp, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s youth pastor/worker coach. “To me, that was eye-opening—my ‘aha!’ moment. I was not just doing youth ministry, but it felt to me that I was embracing ministry.”
Lehn Epp has been involved in youth and family ministry throughout the area church as an ordained minister.
“Someone asked me if I would be interested in being a coach to youth ministers, and I said, ‘Of course! I would love to do that,’ ” she says. “To me, it feels so natural to coach because it is a culmination of my 19 years of formal ministry. Some people write books and memoirs. This is my memoir!”
The MC Eastern Canada Youth Pastor/Worker Coaching Program supports beginning youth workers/pastors as they enter their first formal ministry experience and explore their own pastoral identity and vocational calling. Topics include leadership styles, ministry models, youth in crisis, connecting with parents, and visioning.
Lehn Epp leads youth pastors/workers through a visioning process within their churches or support groups, drawing congregational leaders, youth sponsors and youth together. The visioning workshop is based on Corinne Ware’s Discover Your Spiritual Type that gets them “doing,” “thinking,” “reflecting” and “feeling.”
“The whole point of youth ministry is that you want the youth to experience all four ways of knowing God,” says Lehn Epp. “Lots of churches are really good at one or two areas and weaker in other areas. It’s affirming to see where strengths are, as well as how weaker areas might be strengthened.”
She works one on one with youth pastors/workers and in group settings. Sometimes individuals do not feel that they have the time for a full year of youth ministry coaching, especially since many youth pastors are working limited hours per week. She tailors the program to the needs of the congregation and the youth minister.
“A lot of youth ministers have fallen into their positions,” she says. “Congregations often hire people because they are young and grew up in the church, or have worked at camp. That’s great, but often they aren’t really equipped for ministry.”
Lehn Epp has coached young youth ministers and older youth ministers, as well as youth ministers who have a degree and are looking for more support and resources.
“Supporting youth workers with a coaching relationship is really supporting the whole congregation,” she says. “In five years [often the number of years that a youth is in a youth group] there can be a lot of intentional ministry happening. It doesn’t matter who is doing the youth ministry as long as they can reflect intentionally about what they are actually doing with youth ministry. We grow leaders in five years!”