Rebecca Bibee never really wanted to or planned to go into youth ministry. She wanted to be a music teacher, which makes her path to CYMT unique. God had other plans for Becca, and her youth minister Tony Akers, now a CYMT coach, knew that. Tony and Becca’s stories have crossed paths many times moving from youth and youth minister to mentor and coach to friends.
Becca first met Tony in February of 2003 as a 12-year-old on the church youth council at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Ala. The church was interviewing the final candidates, and Tony was in that group, for their new youth minister position. Tony remembers Becca during the interview process. “From day one, Becca pulled no punches. Having watched a revolving door of youth pastors come and go from her church, Becca asked this question of me, ‘Will you still be here when I graduate?’ I told her I wanted to be.” Only God knew at that time that Tony would be present to see her graduate from high school, college, and soon from seminary.
Tony was hired as Becca’s youth minister, and after her sophomore year of college, he asked her to intern for the youth ministry at church. Becca immediately said yes because she loved the youth ministry she grew up in so much. Early on Tony recognized a call to youth ministry in Becca, as well as a desire to be the type of Christian who not only knew what she believed but endeavored to live her call to follow Christ in a way that invited others to join her. During this time, Becca was also introduced to Dietrich Kirk through Tony at a youth ministry conference. Becca interned again for Tony the following year with more talk of the call he saw in her. She finally started to listen to this call. Everywhere she turned God was speaking to her until she took the first steps.
Becca knew about CYMT through Tony since he was a CYMT coach. After more than a year of slowly realizing that she loved youth ministry, Becca asked Tony to tell her more about CYMT. He explained the program and told her that he would never let her do something that he thought she wasn’t called to. From that day on, her plans changed into something more lovely then even she could have imagined.
Now in her second year with CYMT, Becca serves at Epworth United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Ala. Becca’s relationship with Tony has transitioned to mentor as he serves as her coach through CYMT. For Becca, Tony has been a bridge in this experience. She came to CYMT not knowing anything about how to run a youth program or anything about how small churches work. All she had was a faith in her call and an understanding that Tony would be there for her. “Going to Epworth was a very big transition for me. I previously had been involved in a team of people who do youth ministry, and at Epworth I felt like it was just me,” shared Rebecca. Tony says, “I knew that Becca would be a coach’s dream. She has a rare combination of giftedness that is people-focused and task-responsible. We are only into our second year of coaching but there are an increasing number of days when Becca shares what she is doing in ministry and I find myself pushing back from the table to listen, learn from, and witness a youth pastor who is quickly moving from being coached to being a ministry colleague.”
Becca has found she has an awesome community at Epworth United Methodist Church. Though she grew up in Huntsville, she grew up on the other side of town from Epworth UMC, so she was unfamiliar with the church. Once she started, Becca discovered a welcoming congregation and youth group at Epworth and found that the youth really want everyone to be included, reflecting the way they have been raised in the church.
Becca told a story about her youth ministry that occurred last year on her winter retreat, which also happened to be her birthday. Everyone helped her celebrate by singing to her and giving her 24 surprise birthday “wet willies” throughout the day, which she tolerated. Later in the day, two of the moms in her group presented Rebecca with a giant cookie cake reading “Happy Birthday Becca!” When everyone had gotten a piece, Becca started a discussion time and noticed that a group of senior high boys were shifty-eyed, looking to one another for a sign. They then attacked her with all of the remaining cookie cake, smearing icing all over her face. She said she had never seen those boys so excited that they pulled off a prank. That was one of the first times at Epworth that Rebecca felt loved, wanted, and part of the group. “That feeling of joy, I think, is pretty close to heaven. Attacking you with cookie cake on your birthday is another way that teenage boys and girls express their love. That night I was covered in love!
A while ago Rebecca met a person who, like her, was in her first years as a youth minister in a new church. Her situation was almost identical, except she was not in CYMT. As they began to talk, this person told Rebecca about some of the difficulties that she had experienced in her ministry and they looked a lot like some of the problems that Rebecca was facing. The main difference was Rebecca had CYMT to walk her through youth ministry and support her through any difficulties.
Rebecca shared of her CYMT experience, “I have a church that is dedicated to supporting me through my education. They know that I am new to ministry and they help me explore my gifts and challenges in ministry with grace and encouragement. I have a veteran coach who knows how to do youth ministry while overseeing all that I do, helping me anticipate and change directions when needed. I have a cohort that makes me laugh at how silly this job can be. My cohort is there for me, experiencing the same things that I am on a daily basis. CYMT also has given me the gift of a debt-free seminary degree in a time when that is very rare. CYMT is very intentional about forming theologically sound youth ministers who know how to do their jobs in ways that are both sustainable in the church and personally. Without the knowledge, practices, and support that CYMT has given me, my first years of ministry would look very different. I am so thankful for the community of CYMT!”
Tony concludes with, “Yes, Becca grew up in my youth group. Thankfully, God’s story for my friend Becca did not end there. I consider myself blessed to have a front row seat as she grows into a treasured colleague and co-laborer in Christ’s kingdom!”
CYMT is proud to announce the expansion of our original initiative into Theology Together 2.0. CYMT aims to develop a curriculum to be used in local congregations and ministries. Taking what we have learned about engaging youth in deep theological reflection during missional experiences and embedding those processes into congregational youth ministries.
"I hope students come away from my courses with the ability to think more deeply, richly and theologically about their youth ministry practice. I think a lot of what happens in youth ministry happens unreflectively and can be deforming to young people, and my courses are intended to give students a theological framework for evaluating and reforming their youth ministry practice."
Of course, I want students to drink deeply from the academic readings, lectures and discussions, and I want them to be informed by the academics. But more than that, I want them to see that youth ministry is a calling of God, an important part of God’s mission in the world, one that should give them pride and evoke humility at the same time.