Ty LaValley, the new youth minister at Springfield United Methodist Church, loves to laugh and have fun. Through the years, his clown and puppetry ministry has allowed him to spread that laughter— along with the message of Christ— to children and adults throughout the world.
The U.S. Army provided 16 years of ministry opportunities through his personal relationships with other soldiers and while off-duty ministering to children in civilian communities.
“I feel blessed,” said LaValley about the “solid sense of calling” he had during his military service and now as a full time youth minister.
LaValley has all the qualifications Springfield UMC leaders wanted in a full time youth minister, according to Ben Martin, Springfield UMC pastor.
“Ty brings a depth of experience in life and ministry,”Martin said. “It was our desire to provide our youth a leader with wisdom and spiritual depth, as well as energy and fun. His education, experience and personality bring all of that to our youth.”
Along with 15 years of youth ministry experience that LaValley brings to the job, he also brings his wife, Cheryl; his 12-year-old daughter, Dana; and his 19-year old son, Joey, who’s a student at Georgia Southern.
But age, experience and fatherhood have not diminished LaValley’s passion for the adventures he experienced in his earlier years— like parachuting from aircraft with the 82nd Airborne Division or supporting counter insurgency operations in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Now he’s passionate about preserving the hearts and minds of young people for Christ. And adventures include youth mission projects, youth trips and any fun event that draws middle and high school students into his group so he can introduce them to Christ. LaValley is excited that God would use him to inspire a desire in those young people that goes beyond church attendance to a serious quest for Christ— just like his own quest to know God at age 26 while in the Army.
At that time, he had climbed in rank and reached many of his career goals but without the satisfaction he’d expected. He knew he needed to move God from the sidelines of his life to center stage and once he did, LaValley said he received new direction and renewed inspiration in life.
“It was a huge revelation,” he said. “I realized that I was living for success, not for God to be Lord.” He said the Bible began to come alive at that time and God began to convict him and change him. “I started asking God what he wanted from me.”
LaValley said God seemed to say that he wanted him in full time civilian ministry, especially since the Army was in the midst of a post war drawdown and had offered him an early retirement.
He followed God’s calling and left the military to serve United Methodist churches in Mobile, Ala., Opelika, Ala., and Savannah.
In 2004, after the Global War on Terror began, LaValley was called back into service, deployed to Iraq and served another six months before retiring to ministry again. He served as a youth minister in Macon until God called him to Springfield United Methodist Church to serve.
“This church is awesome,” he said. “It’s active and growing.” It’s also where LaValley believes God wants him to be—on the frontline of spiritual warfare, instead of fighting in the Global War on Terror in Iraq.
He believes he can make a positive impact in the lives of youth at Springfield UMC. He strives to earn credibility and trust and he wants youth to feel safe in the group. He also wants them to have fellowship with one another during difficult times of transition, especially middle school age youth, who are developing socially and in their critical thinking skills.
Along with life skills, LaValley has the academic training that equips him to pastor youth. He has an undergraduate degree in social science; a certificate in Christian Education from Garrett Evangelical Theology Seminary in Illinois where he also completed 12 semester hours of graduate work. He has also worked on boards for continuing educational programs.
His desire is that God use all his skills to promote his kingdom and to minister to youth. But in the midst of doing that, LaValley has learned that he needs to take care of himself both spiritually and physically to keep his ministry effective.
“There are times that I need to play, he said, referring to the times needed to regenerate and have fun. “I must have down time with my family. Last June I participated in the bike ride across Georgia with my son.”
Experience with his own children has helped LaValley appreciate his limitations and to have faith that God will work in the lives of others.
“I love this church and I’m committed to our youth,” he said. “I’m a mentor and a pastor but I leave parenting our youth to their parents and I leave God’s work in their lives to God.”