Up Close: The Journey Into Youth Ministry Certification

Date Posted: 2/12/2015

Some youth workers across the conference opt to pursue certification through the SMU Perkins School of Youth Ministry (PSYM) and School of Theology, some don’t. Here’s an inside look at the options along that journey from Chad McElveen, Cedar Bayou Grace UMC, Baytown, and Kristen Tropeano, an intern with FUMC Katy.

Starting off in PSYM  
First year attendee Kristen Tropeano Intern, FUMC Katy
Taking the Foundations course at PSYM was such a fantastic experience for me both in and out of the classroom. I had the opportunity to meet so many different people and really network with others with a similar passion. The Foundations class gave me an opportunity to see where I stand when it comes to the basics of running my own youth program. I also was able to talk to fellow students about various situations and learn how I might better handle some of them. While there was plenty of learning to do in the classroom, I also had some of my best learning moments away from my desk. At the hotel, at lunch, dinner and occasionally at worship, I had the opportunity to talk to other PSYM students about the workshops they were taking and the youth ministries they are running. I’m extremely grateful to the friends I made there throughout the week and the lessons they taught me; it was a great comfort to see how we really are all there for one another.
Youth Certification
Perkins’ certification class involves a one-week course per year over the span of five years. Youth ministry leaders are given pre-class assignments in the fall and a list of required readings. After the week of class, participants have a final assignment that is usually due at the end of January. Attendees come from all over the nation.

Taking the Certification Plunge  
Chad McElveen, Cedar Bayou Grace UMC and Co-coordinator of Youth Ministries in the South District
I have been in youth ministry for eight years and really feel called to it.  I know some people go into youth ministry and somehow come out ordained but that just doesn’t interest me. Naturally, I want to grow in my knowledge and love for what I do and I discovered a great little getaway in Dallas that met once a year that could help me do just that; it is called Perkins School of Youth Ministry. Along with this, I had also heard about this Youth Ministry Certification course that SMU’s Perkins School of Theology and the United Methodist General Board of High Education offered that involved a lot more work and time. More work and time? Is it worth it?  I struggled with the idea of taking this class for a while but I finally took the plunge. Initially, it wasn’t easy for me to convince myself, however, now I realize it is something that I was called to do.
I had already attended PSYM three times before I decided to go into the Youth Ministry Certification.  The first year I took the Foundations course, a course that is recommended to all first timers.  Even though I had already been doing youth ministry for three years, I still found the information really helpful and relevant.  The next two years I attended different workshops (Finding Volunteers, Science and Christianity, Developing Youth Leadership) that I either found interesting or felt called to take.  Some of the workshops were great and inspiring while others were not what I was expecting -- but still valuable.  My mission in attending PSYM was to learn and grow as a leader within my church and ministry.  I felt these resources were really effective and the training couldn’t get any better. 
Then I discovered the certification class
Often, when I was walking to one of my youth workshops, I would walk by the classroom where other youth leaders were simultaneously meeting to take their certification course.  I would see them in the same room for what seemed like hours at a time, typing away on their laptops taking notes while listening to the instructors. This seemed pretty intense, at least compared to the workshops I was taking.  I mean PSYM is about four days and the certification class is seven days with longer hours and assignments!  Often a representative would come and speak to us in our workshops about the certification class, yet all I ever really took away from it was a sense it was a lot of work and cost more money for a piece of paper that says you are certified in youth ministry.  I didn’t even understand what that meant.  By this time I already had a full-time job in youth ministry and I didn’t need any sort of certification proving I’m worthy to get it, so what would be the point?
While I continued attending basic PSYM, many of the friends I made in my Foundations Class were not attending the workshops I was taking. Instead, they were in the certification class.  When I talked with them to get a better understanding of what the course really had to offer, I still struggled with the idea. Maybe I was just lazy or maybe I was just trying to be rebellious by saying I can be a great youth minister without any certification. 
As PSYM registration was approaching I began looking at the workshops offered for the year. Many of them were ones I had already taken; some didn’t interest me or fit a need for our church.  I looked back over information about the certification class, prayed on it and figured I would give it a shot. What a great decision it was!
I was overwhelmed at first because of the assignments and readings due before class even started. I had been finished with college work like this for about four years and did not feel like getting back into it.  Luckily, this year’s class was titled “Adolescent World” and the pre-class reading assignments were really interesting and intriguing.  We also had to write a paper over one of the books we read, but it wasn’t too difficult and it really got me thinking and prepared for the class.
I began my first day with plenty of questions concerning the value of this training and before I knew it I was fully engaged. The instructors had a strong passion for youth ministry that was evident in their teaching.  The class was very interactive as we often got into small groups to discuss topics and ideas. Besides learning, one of the best things I got from attending PSYM was meeting other youth ministers and the certification class was no different. Not only did we learn with each other but also we worshipped together, shared communion with each other, prayed for one another and enjoyed fun fellowship after class. Some are serving at small churches and others at larger churches, so hearing all their stories and experiences is very helpful and interesting. There are a lot of ideas being exchanged constantly in the class and what isn't mentioned in class will probably be brought up in our Facebook group.
My biggest take-away from the certification class is feeling I am now being equipped with more tools and knowledge to go back home to my youth and be a better leader. It has challenged me, changed my ways of thinking, put me outside my comfort zone and I am only in year two out of the five year program. I am still struggling in some areas, as I am sure anyone in any job or ministry does, but I feel that being a part of the certification class is a huge step in my journey of being a long-time youth minister. 
So far I have studied Adolescents and Methodism and have yet to study Youth Ministry, Theology, and The Bible. I now think of the certification as much more than just a piece of paper to hang on the wall in my office. It offers me experience, friendships, knowledge and support that will continue to affect me as long as I am doing ministry. 
Key insights so far
Our job as youth ministers is not to fix students and their situations but to be with them and show them love and support.  Even though we do not "fix" them we still need to know the right direction to point them to get the help, love and support they need. Youth have always looked for a place to belong and feel accepted.  If they don't get that at the church they will find it somewhere else.  The church needs to open up and be more welcoming to youth.  At the same time, youth need to be challenged and feel they are a part of the church. Youth are fully capable of taking on leadership roles as an active member of the congregation.  Also, youth want to help make the world a better place and reach out into the community
I feel youth ministry will always be challenging. To meet students where they are, we mustn’t wait for them to walk into the church doors looking for acceptance, but instead go out to the school, in the community and reach them where they are.  This is something John Wesley did and it worked out pretty well for him. Whenever I see a student who tells me they don't have any friends at school and yet they show up and are having fun with other youth, that's when I see God at work in the ministry.