Changing ministry with an unchanging God

Changing ministry with an unchanging God

Posted on August 25, 2016
Leading up to Grace Church's 25th Anniversary, we are counting down the days by posting 25 blog posts in 25 days by 25 authors (well, 24. Dave wrote twice). The post below is one of these posts. Need tickets to the 25th Anniversary celebration at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on September 11, 2016? Get tickets here: gracechurch.us/25

BY ROB YONAN, NORTH INDY CAMPUS PASTOR

On December 1, 1999, I walked into Grace Church as the new Pastor of Student Ministry. Though my office was just a few feet down the hall, it took me three hours to get there. Why? Because I was greeted by so many people who couldn’t wait for ‘the new youth guy’ to get here. Since Grace Church had been without a Pastor of Student Ministry, numerous decisions were put off until ‘the new youth guy’ came, so when I walked in the door… Well, now you know. But that’s not all of the story. This church has always highly valued the next generation, and my new colleagues couldn’t wait to introduce themselves and offer words of encouragement.

At that time, the Student Ministry Team covered 7th through 12th grade with key gatherings Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings. By the fall of 2000, Grace went from having three services on Sunday morning, to having two on Saturday and two on Sunday. That’s when we made the shift to small groups for students. It took a while to establish a healthy rhythm, but in a few years this became one of the best sources of community for teenagers.

I’ll never forget the conversations I had with volunteers who were beginning to see fruit from their role as small group leaders. They were excited to volunteer! They loved their students, and they were growing themselves. Along the way winter and fall retreats were added to the programming rhythm. As retreats always do, they provided space for deep life change, which continues to this day.

By 2003 we were in meetings to design new spaces to be constructed, which became Student Ministry East and West, at the 146th street campus. Our desire was to create a space that worked for all kinds of ministries, while creating great spaces for Student Ministry small groups. By 2005, the Student Ministry Team expanded to cover 6th grade to 25 year olds, represented by Middle School, High School, and Young Adult ministries. This doubled our span of care and gave us the chance to work together to help students move from one season of life to another by creating meaningful rites of passage.

In that same time frame, the number of short-term trips grew exponentially, from one trip offered per year to over a dozen specifically created for high school students and young adults. As with retreats, we continued to see deep life change.
While we were experiencing life change among many students, we were also agitated by two things: 1) the students we weren’t reaching and 2) the students who walked away from the faith they were exposed to as teenagers. This led us into research, culminating in a relationship with the Fuller Youth Institute and their ‘Sticky Faith’ research team. They discovered common themes in the lives of teenagers whose faith “stuck” into adulthood. As a result, we are more intentional about creating environments for intergenerational relationships throughout the church and empowering more volunteers to be with teenagers.
 
I began my youth ministry journey as a volunteer in the fall of 1976 and have seen a lot in 40 years. Getting to know and love Jesus is still the prime focus. Relationships are still the key. It’s what continued to fuel my heart for decades. In fact, I anticipated pouring into the next generation until the end of my ‘ministry’ at Grace, but God had other plans. The challenge and opportunity to lead the emerging North Indy campus was clearly His leading in my life and jumping into that role has energized me in a way that’s been fascinating.  

Every week I have a conversation that makes it clear God has been paving the way for Grace to launch a campus in the Nora area. As if this wasn’t enough, when I look out of my office window, I see Northview Middle School and North Central High school. Thousands of teenagers. Hundreds of teachers and staff. Incredible opportunities. So much has changed since that first day for me, Dec 1st, 1999. Yet, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. God has continued to lead and shape us. It’s an exciting time to be at Grace Church!