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Youth Ministry draws adult students

By Sally Jongsma

Dr. Tom Wolthuis says adult students bring fresh dynamics to a class.  Students like Nancy Van Surksum are excited about discussing what is being taught and how it can be used in ministry.

Dr. Tom Wolthuis says adult students bring fresh dynamics to a class. Students like Nancy Van Surksum are excited about discussing what is being taught and how it can be used in ministry.

Youth ministry has become an attractive major for growing numbers of college-age students, but this year two older students enrolled in the program as well. David Staat, a former police officer from Mt. Vernon, Washington, and Nancy Van Surksum, a youth coordinator for her church in Orange City, Iowa, are finding returning to college an adjustment, but are eagerly taking classes toward a youth ministry major.

Both Staat and Van Surksum have already worked with young people in their own churches, but both felt that they wanted to learn more so they could do a better job. Van Surksum has been a youth leader and regional coordinator for years, but the more she got involved the more she felt she needed an education. Youth ministry has changed so much, she says, that she felt called to enroll in a program that would help her meet its challenges.

Staat, too, has been a youth leader. When he applied for a youth ministry position, he was told it would be good to get a degree, so he decided to do just that. Staat had attended a community college before becoming a policeman, but he now decided to enroll at Dordt College. He is currently living in the men’s residence hall.

It is Van Surksum’s second time at Dordt College. “I didn’t like college after I graduated from high school,” she says. “And I didn’t do well. But now I want to be here, and it’s so much easier.” Although sitting in classes with students half her age was a little intimidating at first, she soon felt more comfortable. “I figured that if I can work with these kids I can take classes with them,” she says.

Staat is taking primarily general education courses at this point, but has two theology courses that he says are giving him a broader picture of covenant theology and the importance of a Christian worldview than he ever imagined. He was looking for and is getting an education that he believes will help him lead Bible studies and interact with young people more meaningfully.

Van Surksum is combining her youth ministry major with an emphasis in psychology. “So much of youth ministry is relational,” she says. She knows from experience; her home is always open to young people. “My kids have lots of older siblings,” she says.

And she, too, has already filed away things she’s learned that she believes help her better lead Bible studies and discussions.

“Kids today have a ‘show me why’ mentality,” she says. They want a lot of answers, and leaders need to be able to help them find those answers. They need adults to walk along with them.

“Working with young people is never-ending work and leaders need God’s strength and must be much in prayer,” Van Surksum says. She’s happy to be back and, like Staat, eager to learn as much as she can. “And the profs I had twenty years ago would be surprised at how well I’m doing,” she says with a chuckle.