Long before I attended bible college, or even before I was called into ministry, I was a high school student that was given the opportunity to serve as a student leader. It was during those years and through those experiences that I fell in love with youth ministry. When I look back on that time serving in my youth group, I can see how that responsibility, along with the trust and guidance of my youth pastors, developed and molded the person I am today. Now as a youth pastor myself, I've chosen to lead and nurture my students using a similar template.

Currently AG missionaries in India, my youth pastors, Lonnie and Rhonda DiSalvo, were a huge part of my life. I spent tons of time in their home, and was even trusted to watch their children. This relationship afforded me the opportunity to closely observe their family’s dynamic. I witnessed their struggles and sometimes disagreements, but I also saw their choices to love and forgive. I was there when they experienced fear and heartbreak, but I also saw their hope and faith practiced as a family. This transparency gave me an unfiltered, realistic view of being a follower of Christ. That precedent has shaped my ministry, and has encouraged me to live my life as raw and honestly as possible. My hope for my students is that they would see a real life faith walk from a different perspective than pew to pulpit.

Another desire that I have for my students, is that they would find a place to be plugged into the church. Early on, I was intensely drawn to music ministry. There was some irony in my zeal. My dad says I can't carry a tune in a five-gallon bucket with a lid on it. Although that was the truth, I still loved worship. Knowing this, my pastors stuck me on the praise team and muted my mic. Sad? Not really! They looked past the fact that I was not an excellent singer, but instead focused on my talents and passions as an expressive worshiper. I was proud to be on the team, and I was committed to giving my all. My pastors were committed to fostering my potential. Being able to see and recognize your students’ capabilities is almost as imperative as finding them a place to plug those gifts into kingdom work.

As a student, plugging in and finding purpose in my church was fairly easy for me. It helped that I was backed by my family who also attended church there, and that they too were active in different parts of the ministry. I was comfortable and felt safe at my church. Most of the students I've had a chance to minister to did not have this home-based support system. They weren’t "homegrown" Christians, but young people that felt comfortable enough to make our youth group their extended family. I have heard people in my community say that our youth ministry is “a place where all the misfit kids go”. I couldn't think of a better compliment to be given. I love that we are a refuge for different types of personalities, backgrounds, and social statuses. These students are not just welcomed, but accepted and given a home. It is my craving that students find a sense of family and belonging. I think Jesus and Mama Mayo would be proud.

I've been doing youth ministry 10+ years now, and there are days when I feel like I'm still trying to figure it out.

Amanda Baker grew up in western Oklahoma. She graduated Elk City High School in 2001 and went on to get a Bachelor's degree in Church Ministry from SAGU in 2005. She has been pastoring youth and young adults for the last 10 years in Elk City where she is on staff at The Link Church.  She has recently got engaged (to a super hot stud of a man) and has one fur-child, a miniature Australian Shepherd, named Beulah. 



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