Heather Kauffmann, seated, fourth from right, with her youth group members at Dyersburg FUMC.
Heather Kauffman had always wanted to live in the South. Being from Glenn Mills, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, Heather had dreams of new adventures and of experiencing a different area of the country. Little did she know that God had bigger plans for her to come to Tennessee after graduation.
Heather planned on majoring in Early Childhood Education and Special Education, but felt God calling her to youth ministry midway through her college career at Eastern University. After the switch in majors, Heather had no idea what to do with youth ministry post-college. On day while waiting to meet with a professor, she saw a brochure for CYMT. She was intrigued by the program being that it was centered in Tennessee and furthered her youth ministry studies. She tucked the brochure in her cowboy boot and went about her day. A favorite professor of hers, Duffy Robbins, counseled her to look at CYMT as it seemed a good fit for her to keep developing her youth ministry skills. Heather applied and has completed her second year of the program.
Heather loves her job as the youth director at FUMC Dyersburg. She is thankful for her placement in Dyersburg, located in northern West Tennessee, though at first it was a difficult adjustment to live in a small town because she was used to suburban Philadelphia. Doing ministry there has been a blessing because not only has she been able to be involved in the lives of her students, but she has been blessed by meeting practically the whole town at sporting events and even the grocery store! Heather says that Dyersburg is a tight-knit community where you never meet a stranger. Heather has found that she has to be creative in her ministry approach because there is not too much to do in a small town like Dyersburg. Heather has made a big impact with her students and the community. In her first year, she started a Fifth Quarter event after football games and brought in a Laser Tag company. Last summer, all of the youth workers in Dyersburg created an event to bring all of the youth groups together before school started called #ONENOW weekend. Heather and her ministry leadership team have been constantly thinking outside of the box to meet the needs of teenagers and their families within their ministry.
Some of Heather’s favorite moments in her youth ministry are the ones where her students have taken on leadership roles within the youth group or the larger church. She defines one of her greatest strengths in youth ministry as identifying gifts and strengths within her students and helping them find opportunities to use those skills. She says, “My best stories to share are the times when my students recognize their gifts and use them: moments when two seventh graders ask to speak at Youth Sunday, when a senior tells me he wants to go into ministry, opportunities I see where my high school students mentor my middle schoolers without anyone asking them. These are my favorite stories. These moments humble me and remind me that my job is not to always lead them, but to step back and help students see themselves as leaders in their own unique ways.”
CYMT has impacted Heather and her ministry most through her cohort. Heather recognized that the transition to a new town was tough and she said she constantly felt inadequate during her first year as a youth director. Heather has found some amazing friends in the program who were able to encourage her and share in some of the inadequacies. “It was nice to enter into my first official youth ministry job alongside others who were struggling with some of the same things,” she says.
Heather continues, “The cohort approach to CYMT helps me not feel alone in ministry. It helps me know there are people rooting for me to succeed. It also gives incredible opportunities to bounce ideas off of one another to enhance our ministries. Lastly, it gives a community of people who pray for one another and know the joys and struggles of being in youth ministry. The cohort approach has impacted my ministry and I am a stronger youth director because I am refreshed and rejuvenated by the friendships and also challenged to stretch myself and try things that other youth ministries do.”
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.