I’ve felt called to formal ministry since I was in high school in Central New York in the early 2000s. I registered for a lay speaking class offered by the United Methodist district where I was living at the time. My intent in signing up for the class was to gain experience in public speaking—I had absolutely no desire to teach or preach in church. However, it was during that class that I first felt called to ministry. At barely 18 years old, I had a sense of the “peace that surpasses all understanding” about me in that moment.
I decided to push the thought aside for the time being. In my senior year in college I again felt God calling me to ministry. I had the degree I needed to get into seminary. In a moment of doubt, I again pushed the thought aside, citing my lack of experience in ministry.
As God always does, my refusal was turned toward glory for God. I moved to Colorado where I became involved in the youth ministry at a church outside of Denver. Now I had the degree, I had the experience, and God came tugging at my heart once again. My prayer went something like this: “OK God, I really want to follow where you are leading me. You have always been faithful and I want to follow where I know you want me to go. I just can’t make it work financially. No matter how I crunch the numbers, I don’t see how this can work. God, if this is truly your will for my life, show me the way.”
Enter the summer of 2011. I was attending “YOUTH 2011,” the quadrennial youth ministry event in the United Methodist Church. I attended Deech Kirk’s session on “So you think you’re being called” where all of the feelings I had experienced were validated and pointed toward me needing to go to seminary. Deech told the group about the Center for Youth Ministry Training’s graduate residency program and I knew that this was 100% God’s work. I surrendered my doubts and my heart to God in that moment.
Having spent my entire life in the United Methodist tradition, I have been faced with learning to navigate a whole new denomination. To say that I was an alien in a foreign land would not do it justice. I had never spent a single day in the “Bible Belt,” never a day outside of the United Methodist tradition, and never a day where I was the person in charge of a ministry. I began seeking out as many different avenues as I could to learn about the Baptist denomination and all that came with being a part of a Cooperative Baptist Church. It took a lot of work but I can say without any hesitation that it has been worth all of the effort.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned from spending time outside of the United Methodist denomination is what I truly believe about God, the nature of God, myself, and my relationship with God. I had always accepted what I had been told and was now faced, at times, with certain beliefs that didn’t match up with experience. Suddenly the Wesleyan quadrilateral took on a whole new meaning. I could no longer just accept all I had been told as truth. Instead, I have had the opportunity to look at what I believe, why I believe it to be true, and what that all means in my relationship with Christ. It has been hard at times, almost like a paint-scraper chipping away at old layers of paint, but it has been a true blessing in my life. I am so grateful for the experience.
Since my time with Immanuel began, I felt a strong call from God to bridge the gap that exists (as it does in many congregations) between the youth ministry and the larger congregation. I’ve found that youth don’t participate in the work of the church; likewise, the church doesn’t know what the youth are doing to bring glory to God. Like a giant cruise ship, turning this “boat” around has taken time. It has taken patience and gentle persistence.
This past February, the youth hosted a lunch for the rest of the congregation. With the backdrop of Valentine’s Day loosely serving as auspice for the event, the theme of “Old and New” helped to shape the lunch. Through the singing of well-known, traditional hymns and newer, lesser-known hymns, the hope was to show that no matter our years of experience in church, we can all draw close to God through hymns. Some hymns have been sung for hundreds of years while others have just begun to break into our hearts.
The youth each hosted their own tables and engaged in conversation with those around their tables. The conversation was focused on youth ministry and each person’s experience in youth ministry. A clear theme came through: though trends in implementation can change, the profound affect youth ministry has on youth can never be replaced.
The greatest impact that CYMT has had on my ministry is through my cohort and coaching. Through time spent in intentional community and soul-tending groups, I have been reminded that I am not alone in ministry and that many of the experiences and feelings I have are common among my peers.
My coach, Lesleigh Carmichael, has been a saving grace to me in my ministry on more occasions than I can count. She has been there to listen to my frustrations or sadness, pull me out of the holes I have dug myself into, and straighten my direction in practicing ministry when I have gone off course. Lesleigh has always been there, believing in me and my call when I found it nearly impossible to believe in myself or when I have forgotten my call. It has been through her support that Lesleigh has pushed me beyond those limits that I had set before myself and not allowed me to settle for “good enough.”
I am so grateful to the opportunity that CYMT offered me and the lessons that I have learned in my time here. I still have so much to learn but I am far more prepared for ministry now than I was before I came to CYMT.
Like any new job or life transition, our residents often face challenges, especially during their first year, that arise when one moves to a new city, state, or even country, and are then possibly placed in a denomination different from what they have known. They are forced to create and find new support systems while at the same time learning to navigate a new church and its community. What you don’t know from reading this article is that Phil has Spina Bifida and has faced this new chapter in ministry while having to navigate a world that is still not always very accessible when it comes to wheelchairs. As his coach, Phil has brought to light for me all of the things I often times took for granted while serving in the church. For example, if I couldn’t find a driver for an event, I could just drive the bus. If I failed to recruit volunteers to help me set up tables and chairs for an event, I could just handle it all myself. If I was going to visit one of my youth at their school or sporting event, I could just go without having to even think about the landscape once I arrived. This list could go on and on, but my point is that Phil is a testament to hearing a call and acting on that call even when the world still doesn’t make it easy emotionally, spiritually, or physically. Like many of our residents, Phil has had to dig deeper and be pushed outside of his comfort zone in order to do his job, but his resilience, heart, and determination is an example to all he serves. —Lesleigh Carmichael, Phil’s coach
Phil Rogers is a second-year graduate resident and serves as the director of youth ministries at Immanuel Baptist Church in the Belle Meade community of Nashville, Tenn.
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.