By Jeff Brumley
Dale Tadlock is a 45-year-old youth minister, a fact that he says baffles some folks. He’s often been asked when he plans “to grow up” and “get a real ministry job?” But leaving youth ministry isn’t even on the radar for Tadlock, the associate pastor-minister to young adults and students at First Baptist Church in Waynesboro, Va.
Tadlock tells people his goal is to retire in youth ministry. “I always say, ‘You don’t get it — this is my passion, this is my love,” he said.
Tadlock is the president of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Youth Ministry Network, a group formed in February to support future and present youth ministers and church youth programs. Presently, it offers youth group access to Bible games and studies and vacation Bible school programs that conform to CBF theology, Tadlock said. It has just under 100 members so far.
Next up is to apply for non-profit status, to continue amassing online educational resources and to hold a national meeting in February. One day the goal also is to offer certification programs for ministers and youth programs.
But among its grander visions is to change the way individuals and churches view youth ministry, said John Uldrick, minister of students at First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga., and president-elect of the network. “It’s to help people understand that this is a calling, and to equip youth ministers so they aren’t just flying by the seat of their pants,” Uldrick said.
The network’s formation is part of a youth ministry movement going back 15-20 years, said Chapman Clark, professor of youth, family and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. It all began with the advent of mega churches and mutli-site churches, Clark said. He cited Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church and the Willow Creek movement as among the pioneers. What’s developed is an emphasis on involving youth in the life of the church, in worship and other ways, Clark said.
As a result, seminaries are slowly coming around to the demand. Clark said about 110 seminaries offer classes in youth ministry, and about half that number offer majors and minors in it.”There are a lot of seminaries trying to get on that bandwagon,” he said.
Congregations also are coming around, said Tadlock. The challenge is part conceptual, part financial. “Salary is one of the biggest issues because most churches don’t see it (youth ministry) as a long-term investment,” he said. “They don’t see the youth minister as a professional — they are just there to make sure the kids are nice.”
The CBF Youth Ministry Network also wants to eliminate the long-held assumption that younger youth ministers can better relate to their students. “There’s nothing wrong with that 22-year-old (youth minister), but those of us who have been around for a while have life experience and theological depth,” he said. “And our students are better off when we’re not moving around all the time.”
Uldrick said his ministry has changed since he was a young youth minister. Being single and young meant being energetic and available for whatever the kids were doing, in or out of church. Now 37 and married with kids, Uldrick said he now relates to students as family.
Uldrick said he sees the CBF youth network as a chance to convince others that it’s important to “build some continuity by not jumping from one guitar-playing 20 year old to the next.”