Today’s high school and middle school students face many questions, insecurities and doubts. Some students, however, receive a gift — someone who takes a genuine interest in their lives and encourages them to achieve their full potential.
For the middle school students at Emmanuel Community Church in Fort Wayne, Ind., they have a youth pastor who loves the idea of investing in these students, teaching them about the love of Christ and encouraging them to love one another.
Matt Stemen, a 2011 youth ministry and family and children ministries double major, accepted the position as the interim associate pastor of student ministries at Emmanuel in 2011 after having completed a three-month internship with the church and volunteering with the Wednesday night youth group during his time in college.
He chose to enter the field because of the relational aspect central to the idea of ministry and the opportunity to invest in people’s lives.
“Ministry gets me excited,” Matt said. “I love knowing that God has allowed me to be a part of his mission for the world to help reconcile people back to him.”
Growing up, Matt never felt he had a mentor who took the time to invest in him. As a career, he wanted to find a way to help today’s youth and assure them that someone out there is interested in who they are.
“Students have many hurts in middle school,” he said. “They are unsure about life, and working with middle school students is crucial to me because this is an important time in their life to help them grow spiritually and educate them about who God is. I want to be that consistent person, besides their parents, in their life who they know they can come to if they ever need to talk with someone.”
During his internship, Matt worked with a handful of students and equipped them to become effective leaders through the church’s student leadership program.
“I strived to help them realize and achieve their full potential by assessing where their strengths lied and through encouragement,” he said.
Throughout the course of his internship, Matt scheduled meetings with several prominent church pastors in the Fort Wayne area and asked them about their outlooks on ministry and the nature of their work.
His efforts paid off as he learned of opportunities to potentially work for Youth for Christ and a church located in Fort Wayne. As his internship ended, however, the current middle school youth pastor at Emmanuel took a position elsewhere. His superiors approached him to ask if he would like to remain on staff for a year as the interim associate pastor for student ministries. To Matt, this had to be a “God thing.”
“The timing could not have been more perfect,” he said. “I wanted to work at Emmanuel. I love the atmosphere and the people I work alongside. It’s exactly the opportunity I prayed for. Experience gets employers’ attention. Gaining experience shows your potential employers your heart for ministry. Youth pastors see that passion you have for people.”
However, stepping into a position that was filled by someone else felt daunting for him at first, but after thinking about his own outlook on ministry, he eased into the position and embraced it.
“The biggest challenge of my job is taking over a ministry after someone has left,” he said. “You are not that person. You are you. Be yourself. This is how you handle the challenge of taking over after someone.”
Matt uses what he learned at Huntington University to reach the youth at his church.
“The professors took an interest and got at the heart of why we are going into ministry, and this is something you either have or you don't,” he said. “I was able to learn about youth culture, developing curriculum, creating a teaching plan, and planning events. All of these have been a big part of my ministry and helps me serve my students.”
For the remainder of his time at Emmanuel, a position he hopes he will be offered on a long-term basis, Matt strives to strengthen the bond between his students and their families. He loves having the opportunity to spend time and to build meaningful relationships with them.
“I get to invest in people’s lives,” he said. “Who gets to say that about their job? My job is relationships and making this community the best it can be.”
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