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John Srtska: Digging deeper into youth ministry

By: David Stucke, Dakotas Conference communications

“My wife and I were the volunteer youth leaders for 3-4 years,” said John Sritska, member of Sunnycrest UMC and 2018 Youth Worker Hall of Fame award winner. “And for me, it was, ‘Hey, I want my kids to be involved, and I want to know what they’re doing.’ Another part of it was, I’m a kid at heart, and so they were doing lots of fun stuff I wanted to be in on.”

Srstka Award

Bishop Ough(left) and Davis Anderson of CCYM presented the 2018 Youth Worker Hall of Fame award to John Srstka(right), of Sioux Falls Sunnycrest UMC, on June 8 at Annual Conference in Sioux Falls, SD.

Although it may not always be fun and takes hard work and dedication, John Srtska has been involved in youth ministry for over two decades. John and his wife, Cindy, began working with youth at their church when their oldest daughter started middle school. That was 23 years ago. This year, John received the 2018 Youth Worker Hall of Fame award at Annual Conference on June 8. John has been a tireless advocate for youth ministry at Sioux Falls Sunnycrest, at the district and conference level.

As John’s work with youth ministry continued, it evolved into a deeper calling. “I realized this isn’t just a place for kids to hang out. It became more about pouring into them and sharing with them the love and grace of God. That no matter how broken they are, or where they are at, what’s going on in their life, there’s someone who loves them, and there’s a place for them to be.”

Middle school camp leadership has often been the most impactful for John. He recalls from camp experiences, “The opportunity to spend time sitting, listening, talking with them at that stage in their lives, with no specific program, is so important at camp. Just to sit and hear what’s on their heart, what do they care about, what are their worries, joys. And then pour into them about where faith can impact that.”

John had been feeling some disconnect within his church’s youth ministry, when he happened to attend the Youth Worker Academy* at Lake Poinsett, with speaker Mark DeVries. John read Sustaining Youth Ministries, authored by DeVries, which was an “a-ha” moment for him. John thought, “That’s it, I knew it. It’s gotta be about the church. Why are kids not in church? Because they don’t know anybody at church.” In his book and presentation, Mark proposed the Sticky Faith (by Powell & Clark) concept, which is where you connect kids to several people at church, who really care about them, build a relationship and a connection with them, which will last a lifetime of continuity on their faith journey.

John said, “Our current goal at his church is—no matter where you are on your faith journey, you will find a comfortable place. A place to fit in within the Sunnycrest youth ministry. So, if you just want to have fun, we have that space for you. If you want to explore questions about your faith, we have a space for that.”

Srstka John3

Just John,... being John. Photo from Sunnycrest UMC.

John is currently a part-time paid staff youth leader and has come to some important realizations over the years. Trying to compete with all the offerings in a city can be exhausting and frustrating, so his team has come to the realization that they try to offer what the other programs, sports, arts, activities, don’t offer. “What it came down to is we can offer, as a church, a place to come and get grounded, just to know that wherever your life’s travels take you, there’s a safe place where people care about you, and people will keep you safe and love on you if you need that place. And trying to offer that space and what it means to worship, what it means to pray, some of those spiritual disciplines.” 

Sunnycrest’s current schedule is to have both Jr. and Sr. high at the same time. On Wednesdays, they have a meal, an activity for fellowship, and then a worship time with a lesson and music. After that hour and a half, they go into a small group and dive deeper into sharing faith and personal questions.

Congratulations to John Srstka, the 2018 Youth Worker Hall of Fame inductee. Many Dakotas Conference adults are better off because of the Spirit-led work of John. He has touched the lives of many for over 23 years.

*The Youth Worker Academy is held each spring as a way to support and equip people involved in youth ministry in the Dakotas Conference. Sustainable youth ministry concepts are also taught in the Children's and Youth Ministry training events with Steph Caro. These vital events for equipping local children's and youth ministries are supported by local church apportionments and Thrive donations.

The next Children's and Youth Ministry training is October 13th.