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Youth leaders connect, learn, serve with intentionality

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

Chris Hansen

Youth Worker Academy leader Chris Hansen speaks to the group on Friday night, April 23, 2021. Photos by Dave Stucke.

“The hearts of kids inspire me to serve in youth ministry,” says Rev. Michele Slott, who serves at First UMC and Open Heart UMC in Rapid City, South Dakota. She stepped forward when she saw a void. The church Michele was serving did not have a consistent youth ministry leader. “I saw the youth and their families needing a consistent person leading them and cheering them on. I just fell in love with the hearts of the kids. It is inspiring to help them grow.”

“Kids inspire me. When you see them give their lives to Christ, it is the most beautiful thing in the world,” says Andrea Plueddeman, who is the Director of Family Ministries from the United Methodist Church in Albert Lea, Minnesota.  

Slott and Plueddeman were two of the 15 youth ministry leaders from Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, gathering at Storm Mountain Center for Youth Worker Academy. The participants connected during worship and fellowship.

Slott attended to get better and add more tools and resources to her resources. “It helps to hear what other people are doing. It affirms me. I continue to grow.”

Andrea made the 1,100-mile roundtrip to Storm Mountain Center to attend Youth Worker Academy at the recommendation of a leadership team member at Albert Lea UMC, Scott Jensen. Jensen is the former director of Storm Mountain Center. She also needed to make connections. Plueddeman started her position right before the pandemic hit. She wanted to connect with other youth leaders for ideas.

“It is nice to be able to network with others in your field, interact, and share ideas,” says Andrea.

The attendees spent time learning in four learning sessions led by Chris Hansen of Leadership Harbor. Chris Hansen has been a youth ministry leader. He works as a teacher and consultant through Leadership Harbor for youth ministry leaders. “I have been a youth ministry leader, and I want to continue to add value for those that are currently serving.”

Hansen spent most of his ministry career at a local church. Joining Leadership Harbor provides an opportunity to reach adult leaders of youth ministry. “If I can help them grow, learn, be better, that trickles down to impacting more youth.”

The learning sessions were:  

Pastors listening

Pastors and youth workers from Huron, Sturgis, and Flandreau listen to Chris Hansen's impassioned presentation.

Identifying and investing in our leaders: Building a team of volunteers in your youth ministry is likely essential to a successful ministry. Volunteers are second only to your own spiritual and personal health. Participants took a deep dive into what it means to retain a team by investing in and adding value to them. 

“I am walking away with steps for creating a team and casting a vision. It starts with evaluating where we have been. I have thought about these steps in other areas of ministry, but it has been great to see how it applies to youth ministry setting,” says Slott 

Keep CALM and lead on: As a youth pastor, how can you keep calm when suicide or bullying issues impact your youth and ministry? What are some ways your adult leaders and students will stay calm? Hanson unpacked suicide prevention and bullying prevention with a simple approach to keeping calm, asking the right questions, leading, and moving. 

Is it time to shift gears? Whether you’ve been in ministry for ten years or ten minutes, it’s never the wrong time to take a step back and ask, “why?” Why do you do the things you do in your ministry? As a leader? Why does your ministry do things the way they do? Maybe it’s all working well, but perhaps it’s not. As things in our world move forward more quickly,  evaluate if a gear shift in your ministry or self is necessary. 

“I am ready for shifting and re-evaluating the ministry and where I am as a leader—thinking about my why and the why of the ministry. I want the program to serve others and be sustainable,” Plueddeman says.

Yesterday ended last night, be intentional with today! Intentionality is the key! Being intentional is more complicated than it sounds, but it is paramount to living our best life and leading our best ministries for our students and leaders. When we commit to intentional living, things start to happen. Goals are met, lives are impacted, purposes are lived out. Know your "why" and then begin living with intentionality. 

Chris Hansen says, “Intentionality and understanding your why is a favorite session for me to teach. Leaders that understand who they are, what they are called to do are the key to success. Everyone is a leader. Identifying how you are called to be that leader by God is key for leaders to succeed in a ministry position.  If you can identify how you are called to be a leader in your context, it adds value to those you are serving.”


Andrea Plueddeman of Albert Lea, Minnesota, listens to Chris Hansen's introductory remarks at the 2021 Youth Worker Academy.

The three-day Youth Worker Academy is training, sharing, and connection for pastors and lay leaders that work with youth in churches across the Conference. The event is designed by the Dakotas Conference Council on Youth Ministry (CCYM).

Hansen hopes that participants walked away with their next step. “Just knowing the next step is important. I would hope that everyone would go home after this weekend with the next step to add value to your ministry,” he says.“Be intentional in how you spend time. Set aside time for yourself. If you are not for yourself, you cannot be there for others. Know that you are going to take intentional steps with God in your ministry the youth are serving.”

Upcoming CCYM activities:

Leadership Training Camp (LTC): This camp, happening July 25 - Jul 30, 2021, rocks with a rich tradition and celebration of our Christian faith. Our focus is on youth leadership in our church and world while celebrating God’s unconditional love, sharing in high-energy worship, studying aspects of faith, and leadership. It is a week filled with laughter, praise, wacky Olympics, and fun. This year’s theme will be “God in the Movies.” Explore holy themes found in everyday places. Our scripture focus is on Philippians 4:8. 

: DAKYOUTH, happening in Aberdeen, South Dakota, November 12-14, 2021, is  like no other and is for both middle school and high school youth in the Dakotas Conference. Youth gather from all around the conference to learn about leadership, discipleship, and service. There are engaging speakers, workshops, inspiring worship, and fun entertainment for all to enjoy. The DAKYOUTH 2021 theme will be: “Bent, not Broken.” Our scripture focus is 2 Corinthians 4:8-9. You'll make new friends, worship, learn at workshops, and have lots of fun!


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