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Youth Ministry class opens doors while it fulfills requirements

September 11th, 2017

by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Bethel College semester that just wrapped up saw at least one class that nearly doubled in size.

Introduction to Youth Ministry had 18 students, plus one dedicated auditor. Kristen Marble, the course instructor, had learned from Patty Shelly, professor of Bible and religion, that the class – taught every other year – normally pulls in 8-10 students.

The bigger size might reflect the fact that Introduction to Youth Ministry now fulfills a general education requirement for lower-level Bible and religion credit. But as the class drew to a close, Marble was convinced there was more to it than that.

“I think it could reflect Bethel’s changing student body,” she said. “The practical, hands-on theology might appeal or connect with students more – be more accessible or applicable [to them], even though most of the students in this class aren’t planning to go into youth ministry per se.”

As their final, major project, each student planned a three-month “Youth Ministry Summer” for middle or high school-age youth, presented as a poster. Fellow students, the instructor and campus visitors stopped by one evening at the end of the semester to look at the posters and ask questions.

Comments from the students bore out many of Marble’s assertions about why the class had attracted larger numbers.

Paige Middleton, junior from Marion, needed the gen ed credit, she said, but she also liked the “hands-on part, which made the class seem more exciting.”

“I needed a Bible class, but I’m also a social work major,” said Meredith Stone, freshman from Clovis, California. “This can help me communicate with different kinds of people, and I liked that it connects me more with what my mom does as a pastor.”

Meredith’s mother, Amy Stone, is on the pastoral team at College Community Church Mennonite Brethren in Clovis.

There were also students in the class with more specific ministry goals.

Mariyana Marble, senior from Newton, is majoring in Bible and religion. “I’m interested in youth ministry,” she said. “This class gave a lot of practical applications.”

Alexis Brewer is a nursing major and a junior from Prescott Valley, Arizona.

She has interest in being a traveling nurse or a missionary nurse (or both). “I may be interested in the missionary route,” she said. “And I’m interested in youth, because my [church] youth group is where I was influenced.”

Josh Janzen, a junior biology major from Aurora, Nebraska, concurred. “I’m looking to go to seminary [eventually],” he said. “I felt my own call to ministry through my youth group. My youth pastor, Andrea Wall at Bethesda Mennonite Church [Henderson, Nebraska], had a huge influence in my life.”

And then there was Colton Watkins, freshman from Lowell, Arkansas, who came to Bethel interested in Christian ministry as his vocation and in fact is already working in youth ministry, at First Baptist Church in Newton.

“Throughout the semester, the students considered practical theology, ministry models, theological frameworks of ministry, adolescent development and more,” Kristen Marble said. “For their final ‘Youth Ministry Summer’ project, I encouraged them to incorporate their own vocational interests and/or personal context in the planning process.”

Watkins worked on a plan that he will actually carry out this summer at First Baptist.

Marble gave her students an imaginary budget of $2,500 and “in real life,” Watkins had to revise that down, she said. “But it was fun for me to see some of what he’s been doing [in class] useful and applied.”

A very different student was one who “was nervous coming in, because he knew nothing about the Bible. But he had an outstanding final project. He took what he knew – basketball – and applied that to community building and spiritual formation.”

Throughout the semester, the class heard from guest speakers such as Sara Waldron, youth pastor at Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church, who told them why she loves youth ministry; Zach Fleming, a youth pastor from McPherson who talked about different groups you might find among youth, such as seekers or leaders; and Rick Bartlett, a co-author of one of the class texts and a professor in the Bible department of Tabor College-Wichita, who spoke on vocation and calling.

In addition, “in each class, we typically engaged in some sort of spiritual formation activity.” These included, among others, walking a prayer labyrinth, practicing lectio divina as a way of engaging with Scripture and praying with color, “where quiet prayer meets coloring,” Marble said.

She did this, she said, both to give the students ideas of activities to do with youth that they were comfortable with because they had tried them, and to foster the students’ own spiritual growth.

“This group has been very open and receptive to exploring their own faith and allowing others to do the same,” she said. “They’ve been willing to listen.”

During the worship service that concluded the final class of the semester, one of the Introduction to Youth Ministry students, who had taken the class for gen ed credit, said, “I think I might be interested in youth ministry,” Marble recalled.

“It’s exciting to see that kind of growth.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.