Three individuals highly influenced my spiritual growth from 7th-12th grade: Steve Bellavia, Craig Riportella, and Dan Schmidt. These youth pastors did far more than play games or pull pranks. Each one left an indelible mark on who I am today. As NES focuses on aspects of youth ministry, I wanted to share a few lessons I gleaned from these mentors.
1. Youth ministry is about time.
I remember having lunch and coffee with each one of these pastors. They invited me to come to the church office and intern with them. I had the chance to plan events and organize the sheet music for worship, and they gave me opportunities to preach as well. They allowed me to use and develop my gifts and this came from spending time with me. While youth ministry has changes over the last 50 yeras, one things that still remains is students' need for quality mentors.
2. Cast a vision worth following.
Steve pioneered a new junior ministry. Craig led an effort to remodel a whole building floor for youth. Dan empowered student leadership. In each case their vision was captivating and I can remember thinking, "I am all in." It was not about the size of the project, but the heart and character they had. They were willing to listen to input from others. Each one of them sought God for direction on the vision.
3. Model and teach spiritual formation.
For a semester of Sunday nights, Craig took time to teach what a devotional life looks like. What did this include? He gave us a starting point for the basics like reading the Bible and praying. But he also worked with our youth group on taking notes during a sermon—which later assisted me in high school and college as well. We learned how to journal in ways that reflected our personality. It went beyond telling us what to do, to showing us how God is present in our lives.
4. Welcome creativity within your context.
Steve, to this day, is one of the most creative people I know. His messages included illustrations and stories which connected to Scripture. Far beyond his preaching, he allowed for brainstorming and invited people to use their creativity without squashing it. Creativity requires people to leave their own mindset and welcome the input of of others. I learned not only how to give ideas, but how to listen to ideas.
5. In conversations, be fully present.
Dan has the unique ability to not only listen to a person, but to allow them to feel heard. After church and youth group, he remained as the last person just listening to people. Not only about their problems, but he had the ability to celebrate their wins. In one of the most difficult seasons of my life as a student, I knew I could share anything with him and sense his understanding. To this day, I still aspire to model my life after his heart to care for people.
Currently Steve Bellavia serves as an Executive Pastor at 3 in 1 Church in Suffolk, Virginia. Craig Riportella serves as lead pastor at CenterPoint Community Church in Waterville, ME. Dan Schmidt serves as lead pastor of Batavia Assembly of God in Batavia, N.Y.
What was one of the lasting lessons you learned from your youth pastor?
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