Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Should youth workers be friends with young people? Many youth workers have been trained to see friendship as a mistake in youth ministry and to say, “I’m not your friend, I’m your youth pastor.” But what if friendship is actually at the heart of what youth ministry is all about? Here, we’ll rediscover the joy of friendship and its central role in the church’s ministry with young people.

Wes Ellis is a veteran youth worker and the Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Toms River, New Jersey. He is a Ph.D. student at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland), researching in practical theology.

Sick and Tired: Incorporating Rhythms of Rest and Grace

As leaders and adults, we experience the exhaustion of life day in and day out; the bills, the family dynamics, and the thousands of details that come with being in ministry. And then we look outside our walls and see the systemic injustice, political division, and the radical exclusion within our country. As leaders, when we are tired, exhausted, or burned out, it has a direct effect on those who we are leading…but ask any current middle school or high schooler, they too are feeling the stress and fatigue as well. In my session, I won’t give answers, solutions, or even guarantees that the tiredness, stress, and burnout will cease. However, I’d like to offer a space where we can rest, learn how to include spiritual practices that are both life giving for the leaders as well as those being led, and dream up how to incorporate rhythms of rest and grace.

Rev. Marcy Rudins is currently apart of the Albany Synod Fellowship Program as a fellow at Delmar Reformed Church in Delmar, New York. A part of my calling and passion is to offer spaces for people of all ages, races, ethnicities, sexualities, and backgrounds to experience their identity as the Beloved. This often looks like preaching, offering spiritual direction and pastoral care, or leading retreats. I am an avid writer, so I also enjoy writing blog posts, devotionals, as well as poetry. I would describe myself as a contemplative, advocate, a wannabe foodie, kayaker, poet, and belly laugher.


Perhaps an answer to your curriculum struggles, this workshop focuses on the Implicit curriculum – examining your values and how you set the space and time of your ministry. “Interact” is a trinity of elements that contribute to our holistic approach of Youth Ministry – cultivating community with youth, teaching them to think theologically, and empowering them to use their talents to respond to the needs of the world. We will share stories of success and failures and how we’ve learned to involve youth in exploring controversial topics and in sharing their gifts and talents to respond to the needs of our community.

Shannon LeMaster-Smith is an ordained Deacon and serves as the Youth and Family Outreach Minister at Oak Hill UMC in Morganton, NC. She has 10+ years experience in youth ministry and especially loves creative problem solving, outside the box thinking, singing, puppies, rainbows, and laughing.

Erin Betlej has 8 years (and counting) of youth ministry experience in a wide variety of settings ranging from urban and rural churches to functioning and dysfunctional congregations. She is also a hot yoga teacher, enjoys a good glass of bourbon and desires to continually create space for people of all ages to feel at home in their body, in their mind, and their spirit in order to encounter God more fully.

Prayer as Rest: Inviting Youth to Be Still

The longer I am in youth ministry, the more I am amazed at the stress, restlessness, and busyness in the lives of teenagers. It has hardly been surprising, therefore, to experience their openness and interest in prayer practices like the Prayer of Examen, breath prayers, praying through a labyrinth, and praying the Psalms. I believe young people are longing for ways to slow down, breathe, and be still, but too often the electricity of youth ministry fails to meet this need. Join me as we breathe new life into ancient prayer practices and wonder together how we might create sacred space for youth to be still so they might experience deeper connection with God, their neighbor, and their truest self.

Rev. Jeremy Bork studied Youth Ministry and Christian Education at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa and received his M. Div from Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI in May of 2017. Jeremy’s previous work in ministry includes youth ministry internships for RCA churches in Iowa and New York, serving as a leader in his college’s campus ministry, and working at Camp Fowler: an RCA/UCC hippie Jesus camp in the Adirondack Mountains. Jeremy currently serves as Minister for Youth at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Growing Your Ministry By Doing Less

We love programs, but often the rhythms of our ministry calendars take away from the space and capacity students have to practice faith in everyday life. Let’s look at creating environments and space to nurture an everyday faith in student’s lives.
Gina Abbas is the author of A Woman in Youth Ministry. She lives with her Star Wars loving husband and 3 kids on the East Coast.

Rural Re-Membering in Youth Ministry

Many rural communities face issues of out-migration, de-industrialization, and disruption of community in the early twenty-first century. Youth ministry faces the challenge of balancing local community and the life goals of young people in these communities. A pedagogy of rural re-remembering provides the space and resources for churches to become the space for envisioning and creating new futures within these rural communities. This workshop provides examples and space to imagine and create your practices and actions within rural youth ministry.

Jonathan LeMaster-Smith is a PhD candidate in Christian Education and Congregational studies and adjunct professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He lives in Morganton, North Carolina with his wife Shannon and their two dogs, Jupiter and Biscuit.