“Early in college, I knew I wanted to work with young people. I wanted to help them see a better picture of Jesus than what I had been shown growing up. So much of the Jesus I had been shown was missing the ‘Good’ in the ‘Good News.’ I figured if I could help just one young person to know the Jesus that I knew- the one that wasn't tied up in traditions, human baggage, and biases- then I would spend my life worthy of the name Christian. And if I could get paid to do that, even better! Unfortunately, too many pastors end up in three-to-five-church districts with maybe two young people in the entire rural district. I didn't want to be that sort of pastor, so I opted for Religious Education as a degree. That has worked pretty well for me so far. I have had the opportunity to work in our Adventist Schools as a Chaplain and Religion Teacher. When I transitioned into doing ministry in a church setting as a youth pastor after 9 years working as a religion teacher and chaplain in our schools, I received comments by multiple pastors in my conference. ‘Oh yeah, I did the youth pastor thing until I got a real church.’ I was even told that being a pastor was the only real ministry for the Lord. In my career so far, I have worked as a Chaplain, Religion teacher, Pastor, and now at the Conference level as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. All of them, although different contexts, have felt like ministry.
Our Chaplains and Religion teachers will sometimes preach five to seven sermons a day, have small group bible studies, spend hours a day in spiritual counseling with a young person. They spend five days of the week teaching, praying, guiding our young people toward Christ, and are often found to be preaching on the Sabbath in a local church, or at the very least leading out in programs and mission trips and Sabbath schools and youth rallies, and so many other ministry settings. Not to get onto the subject of ordination, I am all for women being ordained, but in many places an Academy Chaplain will never be able to be ordained. There simply isn't a track for that in many conferences and unions, because it isn't the traditional ‘ministry’ setting, because it isn't done in a church with the title ‘pastor.’ They will never get the ‘credit’ for a young person's baptism- even though they are the ones who laid the foundation through bible study, counseling, and prayer for the young person to get baptized in their local church.
Every year I meet young people looking for ways to do ministry, but they get put off by the traditional assumptions of what a pastor is. Too often we perpetuate the idea that a person is only working in ministry if they have a church. I never wanted a church. I only ever wanted to work with youth and help them know Christ. Some are called to do evangelism like Mark Finley. Some are called to teach creative and unconventional ways of finding your place in the church like my mentor Stephanie Johnson. Some are called to be nurses, bringing hope to the sick or chaplains in the military like my friend Matt Theoret, who lives his life literally in the trenches with people in the most challenging time of their lives. All are doing His work. As Ephesians 4:11-16 tells us, it is for ‘the edifying of the body of Christ.’ My hope is that someday teachers, chaplains, and youth pastors will be seen as every bit as valid a ministry as someone with ‘a real church.’”