The Voice: Spring 2001

The Voice

First youth ministry majors get experience at local churches

Cara Miedema DeHaan

During their years at Dordt, most students retain membership at their home churches, but that doesn't stop them from getting involved with area congregations. Students fill many roles in these churches: Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders, GEMS and Cadet counselors, greeters and ushers, organists and pianists, sound technicians, juice and coffee servers, choir and praise team members, readers, and drama participants.

Most students who get involved in a church do so to serve the congregation and to further their gifts and interests, but youth ministry theology majors have an added motivation: their major requires them to work as youth workers in a church setting for at least two semesters.

Senior Ryan Link has been interning at Covenant CRC since the second semester of his junior year, teaching catechism and helping to lead the youth group. His primary responsibility is to meet with a teen leader to prepare monthly Bible lessons, but he also helps to provide vision and guidance within the leadership team.

Steve Blom, who grew up in Sioux Center, is doing his practicum in his home congregation, Faith CRC. He says that his internship has come at a time when the council is considering adding a youth pastor position. His work in youth ministry has helped them
clarify the role a youth pastor could play in their youth programs. Blom has learned about working in the church body and has gained new appreciation for the “love, encouragement, and prayers” that his congregation promises to infants at their baptism.

“No matter how stable a high school student is, it seems like they're all going through a crisis of sorts,” Blom said. “We need to be there for them--we promised that at baptism. Especially if it's not happening at home, we want it to happen at youth group.” He added, “A huge benefit of having a trained youth pastor is having someone parents can talk to and ask questions of if they can't understand their teen.”

Students doing the youth ministry practicum are required to write journals and meet regularly with Professor Syd Hielema, who served for several years as a youth pastor before coming to teach theology at Dordt. The interns look to Hielema as a mentor.

Blom explained, “Syd has been there and is wise when it comes to these things. When I face a problem, I talk to him about it, and together we try to fix it.”

Agreeing with Blom, Link offered some examples. “Lately, in my catechism classes, the kids have been asking questions I can't answer, like about specific Bible texts regarding a certain issue. So I ask Hielema, and he helps me find the answers. Also, as a leader I tend to fade into the background, and Hielema's taught me to stick my nose out sometimes. He offers encouragement and constructive criticism.” Link hopes to maintain contact with Hielema next year while getting settled in his own youth ministry position.    Blom and Link belong to the first group of Dordt graduates looking for youth ministry positions. The youth ministry emphasis within Dordt's theology major was initiated only three years ago, largely in response to a tremendous need

within the Christian Reformed Church, says Hielema, who happens to chair the Christian Reformed youth ministry committee. Reformed colleges and seminaries train youth pastors in very different ways, and are currently meeting from time to time to see if any type of standardization is possible, Hielema says. Thus, although this is the first year Dordt has youth ministry graduates, these students are in high demand. One student, junior Rob Vande Lune, has already been hired as the youth director for the Presbyterian Church in Le Mars where he has been interning.

Hielema stressed that the church internships are “absolutely essential to the youth ministry program.” He added, “There's a lot of mutual learning going on. The other youth group leaders are very happy to work with students who have made this the focus of their education. And the students are finding that they are working with a lot of very committed adults, some of whom have done this for a long time.”

Blom pointed out that his practicum has confirmed for him his gifts and his decision to go into youth ministry. “I've been given strong leadership skills, and an ability to articulate my faith in a way that youth understand,” he said, passionate about the opportunities he has to use these gifts.

Link said, “If I hadn't had my practicum, I would have felt totally unprepared to find a job in youth ministry. It's given me real life experiences to connect with what I learned in the classroom.”

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