The goal of “Welcome to Student Ministry” is to post interviews that help guide both new and experienced student pastors toward faithful ministry over many years. This ninth interview in this series is with Christopher Talbot. Christopher has served as a youth pastor for over eight years! He has written the book on youth ministry titled Remodeling Youth Ministry.
Tell our readers some background information about how long you have been in student ministry, how you started, and anything else that you think would be useful.
I grew up in southeast Michigan in a nominally Christian household. I did, however, attend a phenomenal youth ministry with a terrific youth leader: Lynn Isaacs. She encouraged me and help me pursue my gifts. I felt the call to ministry when I was in high school, and decided after a semester at community college that I need to seek training for ministry. I attended Welch College and received a B.S. in Ministry and Theological Studies. My time there was incredibly formative. I found great mentors while in school that helped shape the way in which I view ministry. My last two years of college I worked full-time in the enrollment department where I had the chance to travel and speak to various youth ministry settings. It was during this time going to camps and conferences that I felt the Lord really affirm my desire to minister to students. Upon graduation I took a position as a youth pastor in North Carolina. While there I received my M.A. in Ministerial Studies from Grace College. After some time ministering there, I heard my alma mater had an opening to teach youth ministry. I applied and got the job! So my wife and I moved back to the Nashville area. I’m now in my 6th year of teaching at Welch as the Program Coordinator for Youth and Family Ministry, and I am also the Youth and Family Pastor at Sylvan Park FWB Church in Nashville. I’m going into my 9th year of youth ministry.
How has your view of youth ministry changed from when you started to now?
I would say that I am a little more sure of my philosophy now. Even though I had some overarching principles I knew I wanted to pursue in ministry, I’ve now spent enough time in youth ministry to know how things look “on the ground.” Further, I don’t think I’m as concerned with games and gimmicks as I was, but instead am much more concerned about developing spiritual maturity in students that will last a lifetime.
Share one of your favorite student ministry moments.
I remember in my first few years of youth ministry I had a terrific student named Blake that was incredibly zealous to do what the Lord called him to do and wanted his peers to do the same. When he and I, and a few other students, were discussing what the future of the youth ministry may look like, he mentioned about how we could do all these games and ploys to get people to come join the youth group. His intentions were incredibly pure. I looked at him and said, “What if instead of getting people to come with games and parties, we show them the kind of love in our youth group that they can’t find anywhere else.” His eyes widen and something clicked for him. From then on, he was our biggest champion of loving and caring for each new (and old) student that walked through our doors.
Share one of your least favorite ministry moments
I don’t know that it was one specific moment, but I know there was a time early on where I found so much of my identity in the numbers of our youth ministry. While I certainly can struggle with this still, I remember standing in the back of our youth room and counting heads to see how many we had on any given day. When it was slightly above the average, I was ecstatic, but if it was slightly lower I was instantly crushed. I was too wrapped up in whether or not we were growing numerically. I needed to find my identity in Christ and work from there to care for my students.
What resources do you find helpful to use in student ministry?
I love Rooted Ministry. Both their conference and blog have been a breathe of fresh air to me. Brian Cosby’s Giving Up Gimmicks was a instrumental book for me early on. The D6 resources for intergenerational ministry are great, and Disciple6 through Southwestern Seminary is a great curriculum. Of course, my book Remodeling Youth Ministry is alright too!
What is one or two things that you do to make sure that you do so that you don’t burn out as a youth pastor?
First, I want to be present wherever I am. I think burnout happens easier and quicker when you’re always a phone call or text away from a distraction. So, if I’m home with my wife and boys, I want to try to be fully there. Sometimes that might mean staying in the office an extra ten to twenty minutes to finish things up, but it makes sure I’m not distracted when I’m home with my family. Second, I think protecting your rest times as well. Whether that is a day of the week, or your family vacation, making sure you rest when you have opportunity is incredibly important.
What advice would you give to yourself when you started as a youth pastor if you could go back to that time?
Write down your philosophy of ministry. Even if you don’t have everything figured out yet, write down some major principles that are dictated from Scripture and stick to those. Good intentioned church members, volunteers, parents, and teens will all seek to give advice on events, programs, and sermons. If you don’t know which direction you’re heading, then it is easy to get tossed to and fro by those around you. For that reason, I’ve found it really helpful to run ministry ideas through the ministry principles I’ve found in Scripture and see whether or not they measure up.
Thank you, Christopher, for taking time to answer these questions. In coming weeks I will post our tenth edition of “Welcome to Student Ministry” which will be an interview with a youth pastor from Indiana!