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The future is now

Youth ministry leadership training equips, energizes new generation of leaders

March 25, 2010

Photo of a young woman wearing a "Pathways" sweatshirt and a man

Hannah Young and Jeremy Wilhelmi. —Photo by Rachel Leo.

GREENSBORO, N.C.

For the Rev. Jeremy Wilhelmi, the timing could not have been better.

Last spring, the associate pastor for Youth and Family Ministry at Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church in Richardson, Texas, was leading his youth committee in a study of a book by youth ministry specialist the Rev. Mark DeVries. Wilhelmi then learned that DeVries was scheduled to speak in nearby Austin as part of the Pathways Youth Ministry Leader Seminars.

Pathways — a collaborative effort between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Ministries with Youth and the Office of Christian Vocation and the Princeton Theological Seminary Institute for Youth Ministry — is designed to provide theological and practical training for volunteer youth leaders, pastors and youth directors while offering a parallel track for youth, grades 9-12, who have the potential to be or who already are leaders in their congregations. Each training opportunity includes a specific component on vocation, in which young people are challenged to explore who God is calling them to be.

“It was like getting a double dose,” Wilhelmi said. “Since we were already having the conversation in our church about cultivating youth leadership, we wanted to do everything we could not only to get our adult leaders out, but also to get our youth to sign up for Pathways. Before youth are ready to step up as leaders, we need to equip them with leadership skills so that they can be successful.”

Shortly after the 2009 event in Austin, Wilhelmi learned that Pathways was planning to return to Texas in 2010 — and he offered his help.

Not only was Wilhelmi invited to teach the Bible study workshop for youth, but a member of Canyon Creek’s own youth group, Hannah Young — who also serves on the “STARS” youth leadership development ministry of Grace Presbytery — was also asked to help lead Pathways. STARS, which is open to youth in grades 9-12, sponsors its own series of workshops that prepare youth to be leaders in their church and within Grace Presbytery.

A unique feature of the Dallas seminar, which was held at Binnerri Presbyterian Church in February, was that each of the six participating members of STARS was paired with a member of the Pathways staff for a youth and adult team teaching experience.

“When the STARS arrived to help us lead, they came in with no materials,” Wilhelmi said. “As we started to talk with them about how the program would work, they asked really good questions like, ‘What happens if people don’t talk?’ It gave the youth a big ‘aha’ moment in the challenges that leaders face. It was a great teachable moment.”

In addition to admiring the youths’ openness to acquiring skills to lead the Bible study workshop, Wilhelmi was impressed and transformed by how all of the youth responded to the Bible itself.

“These kids really do crave Scripture,” he said. “They were really into it, maybe not yet as leaders, but they were excited about being involved in understanding it. That’s the first step in growing leaders. Good leaders must first get experience, and Pathways created a place for that to happen.”

As Wilhelmi works with Canyon Creek’s youth committee to incorporate the many learnings from Pathways into the life of the church — including identifying leaders in the congregation — he has found his own ministry reenergized by the youth’s passion for Jesus Christ.

“We’re building up leaders,” he said, “but whether they are leading or not, they’ll get people more excited in Christ by their own excitement and joy. Having events like Pathways helps us to find who our leaders are,” he said.

“To stay passionate about my call, I need these kinds of moments in my ministry to keep it going.”

“One In the Spirit” is a monthly email from General Assembly Mission Council Executive Director Linda Valentine strengthening community between the GAMC and the PC(USA)’s middle governing bodies.

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