As part of our continuing series of profiles of women serving in youth ministry, we visit with Youth Director Sami Pfalzgraf of St. Charles, MO.
Sami began her work in Youth Ministry in Omaha, Nebraska after she graduated from Luther College in 2003 with a degree in Psychology. She has been at St. John United Church of Christ in St. Charles, MO since 2007. In addition to directing the Youth Ministry, Sami occasionally preaches during the Sunday worship services and supervised the Children Ministry for three years. Sami has a passion for mission trips and has conducted many trips all over the United States for Middle and High School youth.
Our "Women in Youth Ministry" series highlights the invaluable work women are doing in ordained, licensed, and lay youth ministry even as the majority of the Church worldwide still refuses to allow women to serve in pastoral roles. You can read previous profiles in this series here.
What do you find most enjoyable about ministry with youth in the Church?
The most enjoyable part of youth ministry is the youth. I love watching them grow in their faith; wrestling with the hard questions. My goal is to help youth figure out what they believe and why they believe it. I love encouraging them to get outside their boxes. God doesn’t have to be a white male with a long grey beard up in the clouds. I love challenging their image and character of God so that they get a better understanding of God and then can talk to others about it in an open and loving way. However, it’s hard to find curriculum that doesn’t wrap everything up in a nice package. I want curriculum that asks difficult questions and allows the youth to figure out the answer. That is why I write most of my own curriculum and get feedback from the youth and leaders. I honestly think they are as picky as I am with curriculum.
What do you find most challenging about ministry with youth in the Church?
I think one of the biggest challenges is changing the way churches see youth. They can do more than serve food, clean, and do service work. They can lead worship, be on committees that make major decisions, and they can be in Bible study classes of all ages. I think churches do youth a disservice when the youth room is in the back room where no one can hear them. Youth really don’t want to be separated from adults; they want to feel a part of the group. Youth and children should never be paraded in front of the congregation, letting them know we have youth and children in the church. There are better and more intentional ways of incorporating young people into the life of the church and worship. That should be high on ever youth worker’s priority list.
What shifts or changes would you like to see in youth ministry in the next decade?
I would like to see a shift towards a more “missional” youth ministry; if I can borrow from Brian [Kirk], where food, fun and fellowship are partnered with spiritual disciplines and relevant, engaging Christian education. However, first it’s really difficult to figure out what that looks like, and second, it can be hard to actually make that a part of the ministry in a way that doesn’t turn youth and parents off. I would like to see veteran Youth Leaders mentoring less experienced leaders to help them answer these concerns. My pet peeve is when I ask a question and someone gives me a book. Thanks for the suggestion, but I want your answer and to talk to you about it because you have more knowledge and experience than I do. Please talk to me!
What advice might you give to those just starting in youth ministry? To those who have been at it as long as you?
I wish I could mentor every new youth worker to not make the mistakes that I did. When you begin your ministry at a church, wait and honor those that have come before you. Don’t go in making huge changes. Be patient, listen, learn the church’s culture and history, create relationships with the church so that they trust you when you do decide to make changes. However, make changes slowly! The only thing that likes change is a wet baby. Also, watch what you say. Words can be used for good or evil and the walls at church have ears. Use your words wisely, even when you think no one is listening. For both new and veteran leaders, balance your time. It’s a never ending battle but Doug Fields was right when he cautioned for every yes you say, you’re saying no to something else. Find that balance between life and work and strive to keep it. One thing to help you balance is a strong volunteer team. You are not alone. Find leaders that are strong in areas you are weak and whom you can work with, well. Then, trust them and let them go to do ministry, after you have trained them, of course. A strong leadership team is vital to the ministry and your sanity.
Interested in being profiled in our "Women in Youth Ministry" series? We'd love to hear from you.