Refresh: Student Ministries Update

November 2021 | Interview by Barb Ryczek, article by Ellie McGinty

“They are beginning to realize the truth for the first time or see it fresh.” These words from Caleb Mason, Student Ministries Director at Gashland EPC, are reminiscent of the years when Jesus walked the earth, performing miracles and making disciples. Jesus’ ministry was both to those who had grown up in the faith and those who were completely new to it. Refresh, Gashland’s student ministry, is an outworking of Jesus’ teaching. 

Barb Ryczek interviewed Caleb to give Gashland a glimpse into how God is working in the students of their congregation. The youth ministry has had several events this fall already, including going to the Fun Farm, having a bonfire, and helping out with Trunk or Treat. Barb asked Caleb what the purpose of these events is in the lives and hearts of the youth: “The whole idea of our youth group and the community we have built is built on the idea of refreshment from Christ and His Word, but also refreshment from one another, and I think that this is best done through these outside events…the outside events lend themselves to having side conversations and end up being really good…” 

Caleb went on to describe these events as providing “a depth of conversation” that isn’t as accessible during structured teaching and discussion times. These more laid back conversations allow students to be a part of the body of Christ by sharing each other’s joys and sorrows rather than only focusing on learning. “I’ve seen people come out to an event like Fun Farm and then they become a member of the youth group, and slowly but surely join one of the small groups. It’s important to have those events because that is where some enter into a relationship with the church without having a long-term commitment until they can build the relationships with me and with other students,” said Caleb. 

There are currently five subcategories of the youth ministry, all tailored to different age groups. Futon Boys is for high school boys, and meets every other Sunday before Sunday school. “The students are taking turns leading some questions through their own devotions, and it has [given them] some accountability,” Caleb said. Sofa Sisters is similar to Futon boys, but for high school girls. They meet right before Community Group on Sundays at 3 pm every other week. It is currently being led by Alyse McCall, a high school student here at Gashland, and she is leading the group through Corinthians. BCAD, which stands for Breakfast Club After Dark, is the church’s college ministry small group. “The original idea behind Breakfast Club, which we do in the summers, was that we meet in the morning, but it also comes from John 21, where Jesus has breakfast with His disciples,” Caleb explained. Since school has started back up however, it has become Breakfast Club After Dark, meeting every other Tuesday at 7 pm. They meet at the Amos house and are currently working through a study of Hebrews, written by Jen Wilkin. GROM is the middle school small group, which meets every other Thursday from 4-6 pm. This semester they are focusing on hope, “…the hope we have in Jesus. It’s a 40-day book which we will complete by the end of the semester, a devotional where they do some of the work at home and come back together to talk about it.” 

Last is Senior Days, which Caleb described as a “once-a-month Bible study for seniors…we talk about how to transition well from high school into college and adulthood, and what is awaiting them. We talk about finding a church, building community. We discuss dating and finding a spouse and a lot of different things so they can feel more prepared for adulthood.”

Barb then asked about how Caleb has seen God at work this semester in regular events: “The foundation [is] that they need to know the Word and know it well. This is the emphasis that we have throughout the groups, and it is heavy, heavy on the Word…they study it and they keep one another accountable. It builds this tight community that is built on the Word, and so it’s encouraging when they move from not just going to youth group or Sunday school, and into one of the small groups consistently. You see a lot of growth in their taking seriously the faith and building it into their life. Then when they move onto college, they are leading Bible studies on their college campuses.” 

Wrapping up the update, Barb asked if there were any things that Caleb would like to make the congregation aware of about the youth group that had not already been mentioned. His response was that he wants the congregation to know that the youth group is “a great group of kids. Sometimes it is hard to see that when your involvement is not within the student ministry, but these students want to take their faith seriously.” He then went on to describe how interactions between generations is a treasure that we sometimes forget, and that these interactions don’t have to mean committing to volunteering with the youth group for a year. They can be as simple as driving or providing a meal for different events, just “getting a little bit of an insight into the group and seeing what they are like and what they are learning.” Caleb’s hope is that more adults from the congregation, not just parents of youth age kids, will take advantage of this encouragement of young people committing their lives to being followers of Jesus. 

There are opportunities in the coming months for interactions between generations, such as Winter Retreat: “…in January there are tons of opportunities there, like cooking a meal or sitting beside the students as they eat a breakfast, driving them to Snow Creek or the bowling alley and having conversations to see what’s going on in their lives. It’s very encouraging for students to see adults take stock in them, and it’s also beneficial for adults to see the passion of the students and their excitement for the Word.” The youth at Gashland EPC, as they live 1 Timothy 4:12 before us, are certainly a gift to us, with their vitality and refreshing perspective on the Word of God, and they show us Jesus in ways we might not otherwise see Him.