Pouring In, Raising Up

Rebecca Lang

Volunteers make real difference in students’ lives

As a parent who’s walked through four years of student ministry with my own children, I am often fascinated by the stories I hear when picking them up from LUGrox or high school youth group. If I’m honest, I also find myself so enormously grateful for the people behind those stories who pour into the lives of my kids each and every week, talking through some really hard things.

Sometimes it’s about the nature of God; other times it might be about an awkward situation at school, or even a family dynamic they want some outside advice on. Sometimes I’m a bit sad that these people get to hear things my kids think about, dream about, struggle with and long for.

But then I realize how incredibly fortunate I am that these people stand in the gap for me so that my kids are not turning to the world for input, guidance or answers. They are adults who love Jesus, love my kids, and have the same sort of desires for them that my husband and I have: to be immersed in a vibrant Christian community, to have a heart that loves God and loves others, and to long for a life with Christ at the center.

Those are some big goals! But I have a great deal of confidence that with the kind of volunteers God has placed at Northland to shepherd and serve our students, it’s possible. Let’s meet just a few of those awesome adult volunteers.

Keith and Roz Schoenwetter

Keith and Roz have mentored and discipled hundreds of students during their time serving in Student Ministries. Between them, they’ve put in nearly 25 years! In fact, they got engaged at Christmas Camp, an annual student retreat, and many of the students were part of making the proposal special. To say that student ministry is in their blood would be an understatement.

Keith began volunteering in 2001 after transitioning from young adult/college ministry. Young adult ministry was pretty easy for him, but he knew he was too comfortable and God was calling him elsewhere. He really wanted to reach students before they graduated, but he was concerned that students wouldn’t want to hang out with him.

He stuck with it, and at his first retreat, a group of kids yelled to him, “Hey! We need another player!” and before you knew it, he was one of the guys and he had a front-row seat to the amazing transformations that God was working in those kids’ lives.

“I’ve quit in my mind five or six times,” says Keith. “Once this class of seniors graduates, I’m done, and then God says, ‘What about those sophomores?’ And ... I’m back!”

Roz spent a couple of years early on volunteering with the high school girls before her daughter was born. “Some of the girls I worked with when they were in middle school and high school – Barb Gritter, Lauren Travers and Kailey Simpson – are now leaders in the church. And now so many of the girls who were in my Children's Church classroom are starting leadership positions in student ministry,” says Roz.

Roz shared that one of her favorite stories occurred recently on a Local Serve Day.

“We were at Serve Day, and a student with disabilities was in our group. I needed help moving some heavy potted plants. I asked this student to help, and we struck up a conversation about Batman and superheroes. Later, in a sermon, Vernon shared a story about a family who had a special needs student. One Saturday they decided to go to Serve Day and stopped to tell Vernon how the experience was so impactful in helping them feel like they belonged here.”

“That interaction was the reason the family stayed and felt welcome here,” Roz continued. “All I did was talk about superheroes and ask him to help me move plants. God did the rest!”

Keith loves being involved with the students and watching them grow in their faith. “Seeing kids grow in Christ is what I love most. I get to watch them grow from medium to on fire! I get to see it not just with the high schoolers but also the middle schoolers. As an adult volunteer who mentors high schoolers who lead middle schoolers, I get to be a part of some really cool things.”

That idea of intergenerational leadership is at the heart of how Northland mentors, disciples and coaches students, calling them not only to be constant learners of the gospel but to move toward being leaders who share the gospel. The adult volunteers are there to encourage and inspire these students toward that endeavor. After all, these students are already so committed to school and sports, some of them have jobs, and now they’re being challenged to lead.

Student leaders run the cafe, the programming, small groups and more! The support of adult volunteers such as Keith, Roz, Michelle Solberg, Geoff Hensley and Cris Santos is crucial for students in the turbulent season of middle and high school.

Michelle Solberg

The call to “grow up” with the students is one of the things Michelle is most passionate about.

“I have loved having my own group and growing with them,” she says. “It has given me more relational equity and integrity to be able to speak into their lives when they’ve made some not-so-great decisions. I’ve had some amazing high school leaders. They are role models to the middle schoolers (and others around them), and I can help them see that as their mentor and leader.”

After starting with her first group of sixth-grade girls, she wanted to continue on with them. “I got very attached to my sixth-grade group, and we have all moved up together over the years. My first group of girls are now sophomores in high school. Some have come and gone, but we have a solid core from that very first year.”

At the heart of her ministry to these girls is a desire to help them realize their purpose.

“I’ve had the privilege of helping them live a life of purpose and away from the drama of middle school and high school,” Michelle says. “l help them navigate the muddy waters of high school and help them step out of the seven-year blip. … On God’s timeline those seven years are so small. Your life is and will be so much more than those seven years.”

She goes on to share: “I try to help them step outside of themselves and embrace the greater purpose they have in Christ. I want them to know the hope they have in Christ. During middle and high school, that hope is huge. I’ve been able to walk through some really tough situations with my girls. I’m so honored to be able to do that. Fortunately, I’m able to help them embrace that ‘God’s grace is upon you, and He still loves you and accepts you. You’re bigger than those mistakes.’”

Michelle and her husband, Kirk, also host exchange students, juggle a successful business and are deeply invested at Northland. Yet she finds time to continue mentoring and discipling students.

“It’s a huge privilege to be used by God to help grow the faith of young people, a sustainable faith that will carry them into adulthood. I worry about some students who are just here for the “feels” of worship. I want their faith to mature into real-life-application faith that they can hang on to when the “feels” may not always feel present.

Geoff Hensley

After being invited to a middle school retreat, Geoff kept finding ways to go to Student Ministries events.

“I just loved it!” he said. “It was the first ministry I decided I wanted to serve with … my first volunteer opportunity.” Soon after, he was asked to be a coach for middle schoolers at LUGrox, and Geoff immediately said yes.

His involvement with Student Ministries changed the optics of how he looked at technology and the church. He shared, “I went to Christmas camp, and we had a group of Brazilians from IPM, a Northland partner ministry, join us. It inspired me to be more intentional with technology because now I knew all these students in Brazil. My job at Northland was to help be the church outside of the walls. That mix of student ministry and technology at camp really helped me find a purpose with both.”

Over the years, Geoff’s role has expanded to include more than being a LUG small group leader. Today he serves creating the worship experience for LUG and high school ministry, designing the flow of the nights and scheduling teams.

“I had not been on stage for Student Ministries until they convinced me to be Chewbacca in a skit in 2014. It gave me a desire to be a part of the creative process. I started working with Kailey, the worship leader at the time, and when she transitioned to the worship team in the main sanctuary, a huge need was left. There were some interim worship leaders for a while, but eventually we worked to merge the creative and worship teams, and I was able to step into leading that team. Now I get the incredible honor of planning and scheduling the worship experiences for Student Ministries.”

What’s so wonderful about Geoff’s role now is his passion to train up others.

“On the creative team, we’ve actually trained up quite a few students who now serve at our other campuses,” he shares. “They are passionate about creating a special worship experience for their congregations.”

Toward that end, Geoff wants the parents of our students to know this: “We are very intentional about training up and raising the now generation because they aren’t the future generation. They are actively involved, serving now. And they have the opportunity to tell people (their friends) about Jesus now – which is why all the teams we have are about not just showing them how to serve here but also how to be the church here, there and everywhere.”

Cris Santos

With four kids, Cris kind of already has a homegrown student ministry of his own. Yet he still commits to showing up at The Rink and in the lives of students each and every week.

“My daughter going into sixth grade is what pushed me into volunteering,” said Cris. “I wanted to serve somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where. I thought about children’s ministry, but I knew I couldn’t connect at a deep level with the kids there. With Grade School, I couldn’t really dig into the theology of the Bible in that setting. So I took a look at middle school and who was teaching my daughter there and how that curriculum was bringing her closer to God.”

From there Cris had an interview with the Student Ministries pastor, who was transitioning out at the time, to learn more about the opportunity. There was a lot of talk about upcoming changes to the ministry, but Cris was not worried in the least.

“Change doesn’t necessitate loss, and I knew it was a great time to jump in,” he shared. “Change brings about opportunity, and I felt like God was telling me this was my opportunity. They asked me to go to the Doulos retreat so I could see the training in action. I loved that they emphasized ... adults becoming friends with the students and how students benefited from those relationships.”

His first assignment was leading Setup Crew, the group of incoming ninth-graders who work behind the scenes and learn a lot about servant leadership. Cris recalls his first time at Setup Crew: “Just seeing the size and quantity of kids in setup compared with the number of volunteers screamed to me that God truly put the leaders He needed there. There were a lot of kids! But I didn’t mind the challenge.”

To say the role of coach and mentor is challenging is an understatement.

“These kids are living with the past guilt, trying to live truly redeemed lives instead of questioning their redemption. I am very candid when I talk to them, especially high schoolers. I want them to see that I am authentic and real. When I speak with them, I want them to hear this: ‘Yes, I understand your struggle, but what are you doing about it? You are responsible for your actions – fully own it, decide what you’re going to do, and be true to yourself and true to God.’”

Cris is passionate about the relational aspect of his role. “I feel like I can go deep with students because I work to be friends with everybody. I don’t ever say, ‘I told you so,’ but when they come to me, instead, I say, ‘I already told you, so what are you going to do from here?’ I try to dive into the why and the reasoning behind their decisions. They work against peer pressure, anxiety, recklessness, impulse. Regardless of the decision, I encourage them to acknowledge it, learn from it and make the change to correct it. I challenge them to decide what needs to change, the situation, the relationship or the approach?”

As a parent of a teenager, he said he wants our congregation to know that he is an adult who is responsible, has his own family and loves Jesus. He feels honored to listen to our students.

“I ask them if they want any advice,” he said. “If yes, then I offer advice that gets their life out of drama and focused on their success, getting through school and showing their parents who they really are. Of course, my priority in it all is to point them to Jesus.”

Sitting down with these amazing volunteers was a huge privilege, and I was grateful for the behind-the-scenes look at the heart of each and every one of them. I walked away knowing that these are people who really love and care for my kids and all of the students who are part of the Student Ministries community. In fact, they are the reason why our Student Ministries is a community and not just another weekly program for students. They, along with so many other dedicated adult volunteers, create a place for our students that feels like and is family – a spiritual family.

As Michelle told me, “It’s not just about showing up on a Wednesday or Saturday night. It is about investing in the lives of those students and their families. I’ve walked with my students through some really hard experiences – serious illness of a parent, divorce, job loss, hard transitions at school, and death in their family.

“But to see them come full circle and see the redemptive nature of God has been incredible. Then to go on and see them use that as part of their story to help others who experience similar situations is a front-row seat to the awesomeness of our God.”

Our Student Ministries season just kicked off in August, and hundreds of kids have joined us so far! It’s not too late to jump in and find out more about mentoring and coaching our students. We could use your help! To learn more about Student Ministries and how to serve our students, visit northlandchurch.net/students.