Three youth pastors at Christian Reformed congregations in Kalamazoo, Mich., swapped youth groups for two weeks in February, hoping to avoid a sometimes common “winter lull” in youth group ministry.
Bryan Keeley of Third CRC, Joey DeKoekkoek of Grace CRC, and Alex Dewaal of Westwood CRC decided to try a youth pastor swap for two of their regular Sunday evening meeting times. On those evenings, each of the youth groups would be led by one of the other two youth pastors.
The youth pastors had other reasons for trying this change of pace as well. According to DeKoekkoek, they saw this as an opportunity to teach unity in the larger church, to show that we are better together, and to give a taste of voices other than their own. The groups gathered at Westwood Church. After a little friendly Family Feud competition and a student-led band leading them in praise songs, the individual youth groups were excused to separate rooms. Each week they met with a different youth pastor who purposefully shared his own spiritual journey or testimony with them.
Student reactions to this youth pastor swap were overwhelmingly positive. One of DeWaal’s students, he said, “appreciated seeing that Joey, Bryan, and I each have a unique story, and yet God used all three of our stories to lead us to become youth pastors.”
Noah deJong, a youth group member at Grace CRC said he “saw the reality of a realistic faith journey—how it was rough at times, which makes [the youth pastors’ stories] more relatable and gives me confidence in my own journey.”
DeKoekkoek has been a youth pastor for 25 years, Keeley for eight, and DeWaal for two-and-a-half. Keeley observed that this range means there’s a spectrum of stories to share. He also noted that although the three pastors are quite involved at Kalamazoo Christian High School, where most of the students attend and so are somewhat known, this opportunity gave the three a chance to go deeper with more students.
Excited to see the joy the students brought to both “swap” nights, DeWaal’s youth group leaders consider themselves blessed to have been a part of that awesome combined group. DeKoekkoek summed up the experience: “My hope and prayer is that our students can grow in their personal faith journey because of what was shared. I hope it is something we establish as an ongoing tradition.”