Being a teen has never been easy, but being a teen in 2014 is especially tough with the epidemic of school shootings, cyber bullying, drug use, teen suicide and other serious issues throughout the country.
Teens need a solid support system to be spiritually healthy, according to Jake Brown, the Springfield United Methodist Church senior youth minister, and wife Melinda, who assists. The couple met while earning ministry degrees (respectively) from Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky. After graduating 12 years ago, they got married.
The Browns are united in the belief that the Bible is the ultimate source of truth. They also believe that its power can enable teens to successfully navigate the pitfalls of a toxic environment. They describe their mission as discipling teens to grow into Godly men and women, to enable them to find their own faith and a life-sustaining relationship with Christ.
“We don’t water down the word of God with fluff and frills,” said Jake. “We have fellowship and we have fun, but we hit relevant issues hard and count on God’s word to provide answers to difficult questions. Big numbers aren’t our goal— our mission is to teach the Bible and leave the rest to God. It would be a disservice to these kids to offer anything less.”
Stephanie Harrison, a youth group volunteer and the mother of two teens in the program said she appreciates the relevant information and Biblical answers that her two sons get through study and open conversation forums with teachers and other students. Since leading the group three years ago, attendance has grown with the Brown’s leadership. Previously, three to four teens participated on Sunday evening; attendance is now about 30, and occasionally 40-50.
“It’s not by my ability,” said Jake. “It’s the Bible’s power to draw. To be honest, I never thought I would work with teens; they’re a little scary. I was mostly drawn to children and older folks the age of my parents.”
But his life experiences and education trained and qualified Jake to work with all children and youth. He credits his parents with teaching him by example, and the experiences and lessons he gained from the small, generational church of the “Friends” faith where he grew up and was later called to preach.
That example includes opening the program to teens of varying ages so they can learn how to function together as the body of Christ. Older teens mentor those younger, who learn by example, he said. It’s a win-win scenario—senior teens grow in their leadership skills and take more responsibility for their actions. They also gain confidence and step out in faith as they take turns leading the Sunday night studies.
Melinda said she also has been called into ministry. After high school, she served as an intern with the Garden City Methodist Youth Ministry for four summers. When she moved back to Springfield in 2009 with Jake, she volunteered part-time with the SUMC Youth Ministry before her husband’s involvement there.
But Jake had been very involved in ministry in Indiana before moving to Springfield. He pastored a small church for seven years.
At the same time, he worked full-time as a programmer for a software company until he was laid off when the company downsized. After struggling financially for two years, the couple agreed to move back to Springfield for Jake to accept a position at Fairhaven Funeral Home in Garden City.
He eventually left that position for full-time ministry at SUMC with youth. Shortly after, Melinda began to homeschool their children, 7-year-old Crista and 4-year-old Addie Grace.
“God has seamlessly unfolded the changes in our lives,” said Jake. “He has a plan for everybody.”
He said God’s plan for his family included two lean years in Indiana before coming to Georgia, living off a meager salary of $18,000 a year.
“But there was an upside — I got to rest and Melinda got pregnant with our second child, even though doctors said we couldn’t,” he said, adding that because of infertility, the couple adopted Crista, from Guatemala, when she was 6 months old.
This past year Melinda began another ministry — homeschooling both girls, a parenting priority that she and Jake feel strongly about.
“I love being the primary person to teach my daughters,” said Melinda, admitting that there are days when she feels a little overwhelmed. “As parents, we are always teaching our kids but school hours are a little more structured. We take field trips and do things you can’t do in a traditional classroom. We follow the classical model of education, and meet weekly with other homeschoolers in the area to discuss the girls’ progress and our goals for the future.”
Second-grader Crista is thriving in the program with high test scores and an increasing appetite for knowledge. Four-year-old Addie Grace also does well as a pre-schooler, but with a less demanding curriculum.
The Browns enjoy the slow pace of the Springfield community, where they live near the church. They strive to live the faith they preach daily, in every area of their lives, including family outings such as bike rides with their girls or fellowship gatherings at church. Another example are youth fellowship events on Sunday evenings when they play games. One of the favorites, a basketball game that the teens invented called “ultimate trash can,” provides fun and interaction before they begin the Sunday afternoon dinner and Bible study.
“It’s all about relationship building,” said another volunteer/counselor, Cameron Pierce, who participates in games with the teens and the Bible study that follows.
On one Sunday night in May, the group studied Job 23 and discussed what a man of faith might feel in his suffering and how God sustains us through it.
“When you suffer,” Jake said to the group before opening the conversation up to teens sitting around him on couches and chairs, “you may feel upset or that God doesn’t care.” The discussion then helped explain how our faith grows and how God’s promises are fulfilled through hard times.
After the study and open discussion, Jake asked for a volunteer to teach next week’s lesson. A high school senior raised her hand and took on the assignment willingly.
It’s the response for which Jake and Melinda hoped. By faith, the couple expects that other group members will follow that example and eventually, all the teens step up in some way to fulfill their responsibility as part as the body of Christ.
For information about the Springfield United Methodist Church’s youth program, go to www.springfieldumc.com and follow them on Facebook. Or contact the church at 754-6646.