A Note About Mel Walker, One of My Youth Ministry Heroes:
On Thursday, December 2, my personal youth ministry hero past away. Mel Walker was a mentor, friend, and surrogate uncle to me. He was always willing to talk, pray, and guide me through the path of personal and ministry life. We talked often about longevity. Well into his 60s Mel took a job as a youth pastor at his son’s church. He proved to me and to others you are NEVER “Too Old for Youth Ministry“. I can honestly say, I would not have lasted this long in ministry if it were not for his prayers and inspiration. He is a personal hero and I was blessed to have him a part of my life.
I was also privileged to have Mel be a regular contributor to my websites over the years, including this post below. With permission from his family, I am re-sharing this post. I do this to honor him and so his legacy will live on in the next generation of students that he loved so much.
Key to Youth Ministry Longevity
Let me introduce you to 2 of my heroes.
The first was my Sunday School teacher when I was in 6th through 8th grade. I thought he was way too strict, too conservative, and way too quirky to work with students. I hate to admit it now, but I’d complain about him to my Dad. Come to find out, he was also my Dad’s Sunday School teacher when he was that age. This faithful leader served the junior higher youth group in my home church for over 30 years! He’s in Heaven now, but you’ll meet him there someday. He’ll be in the front row – after working with early adolescents for that long (with guys like me in his group), he deserves to be in the front row!
The second was a youth worker that I’ve known for over 40 years. He served for almost 25 years as a youth pastor in two local churches and coached in public high schools for over 20 years. He still leads an international youth ministry organization and he travels to speak to hundreds of kids each year in camps, retreats, and other youth events. The bottom line is that he’s a youth worker, and I can’t picture him doing anything else.
I’ve told churches for years that people may get too old to play tackle football (I would probably fall on you and crush you), but you never get too old to minister to kids!
So, what are the keys to longevity in student ministry?
1. What has God called, gifted, and equipped you to do? It’s really quite simple if God has blessed you with the ability to work with students – then do it, and keep doing it. Honestly, why would you stoop to do anything else?
2. Do you love students? If the Lord has put a burden on your heart for middle schoolers, high schoolers, or even young adults, then I believe that you’ll do anything you can to spend time with them and their families in an attempt to reach them for Christ and to help them to go on for Him. It’s not just a cliché, youth workers keep working with youth.
3. Are you willing to be a servant? Let’s face it, sometimes ministry is hard – and it takes faithfulness over the long haul. Kids need adults to be faithful – to be the kind of people they can depend upon. You may want to resign every Monday morning, but don’t do it! Teenagers need loving, caring, and faithful adults to be an ongoing part of their lives.
4. How can you make the greatest impact for eternity? Reproducing yourself in the lives of the next generation may be the most important characteristic of a true leader. As I write this post, I am reminded that there is one real advantage to getting old in youth ministry. You stay around enough to see the students that you invested your life in grow up and go on for God.
I’m praying that the entire front row of heaven (if there really is such a thing) is totally full of youth workers. To quote the old crooner, Steve Green, “May all who come behind us find us faithful!”
Mel Walker was actively involved in youth ministry for more than 40 years. He was the co-founder and president of Vision For Youth. A former youth pastor, youth editor and college professor, Mel was the author of numberous books including Going On For God: Encouraging the Next Generation to Grow Up and Go On For God AND Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church.