Rumor has it you guys have a lot of fun — maybe too much fun — in the Youth Department. How would you respond to this?
Well for the safety of our students, we have to test out every game we play in youth group so we do have a lot of fun trying out all our skits, theories, and ideas. In the office, Will Nease, our Assistant Senior High Director, is the king of scaring people. He constantly loves to sneak up on anyone on our staff, especially if they have their desk in such a way that they’re not able to see him coming. There are a lot of Nerf weapons that get used off and on as well.
It’s a very productive environment.
What’s the strangest game you’ve had to play since coming to Second?
They have a device in the youth closet known as the hot seat. It’s a stool with some metal plating on top covered with fabric so it just looks like a normal stool, except it’s hooked to an electrical current. Basically you ask a person questions and then while they answer you’re literally electrocuting them. So my first youth group here they put me on the hot seat and zapped me quite a few times. We had the same thing in my high school youth group when Todd Erickson was my youth pastor so I wasn’t too shocked by it — well I was literally shocked by it but I knew it was coming. Most recently Will and I tested out how long we could keep Alka-Seltzer in our mouths while taking big sips of Coke — I think I made it about 20 seconds max. This was for our Throwback True North where we were doing old-school youth group games. We happened to find Alka-Seltzer in our closet that was 10 years old.
So, you used that?
Oh yeah we used that for our practice and we used it with our students. We told them ‘Hey, this is throwback Alka-Seltzer.’ All the parents sign waivers at the beginning of the year so we weren’t too worried about it.
What do you enjoy most about working with junior and senior high students?
On a fun side, it keeps me young. This is good in some ways and bad in some ways. Especially as I get older, it makes me realize how old I am and how much my body isn’t able to keep up in the ways that it used to. But I love seeing students come alive to the Gospel and to the Spirit moving in their lives. In turn, they desire to share that with their friends, to reach out and truly be the hands and feet of Christ on their school campuses, in their homes, neighborhoods, and through our missions program around the world. It’s just beautiful to see that happening at such a young age.
What is something you wish you had known as a junior high student?
I wish I would’ve understood the Gospel more. I prayed the prayer in 3rd grade, knowing it was something I should do, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I went through all of middle school and most of high school just assuming that because I had prayed the prayer and been dunked in water, everything was good. There was no pursuit of holiness, there was no pursuit of knowing and understanding who Jesus was and what it was to follow Him. So I think I missed out in those years on growing in grace and I made some mistakes as a result of not having a real understanding of the Gospel. And I wish I’d known that church really was fun and Christians weren’t all weird.
What are you looking forward to this summer?
It’ll be my first summer of youth ministry here. For better or worse, we’re on the go non-stop until mid-July. I’m looking forward to experiencing various mission trips and other events we do that I know are milestones for many of our students who have graduated from our ministry. I’ll be going to part of the Baltimore trip, the beach trip, the Edge conference (this will be my 21st year there), and the Budapest mission trip.
So there’s an argument going on over which department is cooler—Youth or Recreation. Thoughts?
I would say there’s no doubt that we are cooler and more fun. We get to use the same facilities they do and then some. And we get to play way cooler games. They’re confined, to, what, three sports? We get to take their sports and add lots of other elements to it like throwing food and eating things. We’re also not confined to referees who tell us we’ve done something wrong. Youth ministry in so many ways is just organized chaos whereas in Recreation they’ve gotta be a little bit more organized. We’ve also got a never-ending supply of really cool T-shirts. Last summer I wasn’t here but our beach trip shirts were hand airbrushed by a local airbrusher. Do you see any airbrushing going on in the Recreation department? Not at all.
What is something most people at Second probably don’t know about the Youth ministry?
Honestly probably how much we just love the students. In some cases, in ministry or business in general, the people that you serve can feel like a job. But we love being with students—we love the energy that they bring and we love helping them see and understand what it is that God wants for their lives and what He has done through His son. Some people might think ‘I bet they love the trips but the students get annoying.’ No! I mean we do love the trips and the T-shirts that come with them, but you can take those things away and we’d be just as happy as long as we still get to spend time with students.
What are some of the biggest challenges students face today?
Specifically here in East Memphis I think it’s the idea of success and what that means as a Christian. From the time they’re born they’re being told, in both positive and negative ways, that they have to be successful and they have to change the world or else they’ve somehow not achieved their full capacity as human beings. I think if we can harness that pressure through the lens of the Gospel, they will see yes, we are called to success, but not success in terms of getting into the best college and getting the best job. Rather, we see success in terms of the Gospel — commitment to the Lord and to the advancement of His Kingdom here in Memphis and around the world.
If students took away just one thing from their time in the Youth ministry, what do you hope it would be?
Besides a love and commitment to the Gospel, it would be that they’ve seen their days here not just as engagement with a cool, fun ministry of the church but that they were a part of and engaged with the actual church. When people say that our students are the future of the church, I usually will say ‘No, they’re the church now.’ They may be a young part of the church but they are the church and we as adults need to start seeing and treating them that way. If they don’t see their role in the larger church now, it will be much harder to find that as they go to college.
Important: Which emoji best represents you?
The one with the tongue sticking out. I’m a facially expressive guy and am into physical humor. Back in the day, I was prone to throwing myself down a flight of stairs just to get everyone’s attention. I miss not being able to do that as much as I used to.
Thanks, Kevin. Any parting thoughts?
I love what I do and I truly can’t imagine doing anything else right now. This is year 18 of youth ministry and I’m excited to be part of it at Second.