Andy Pasek doesn't wear a cape and he doesn't claim any superhero powers.
But for the two dozen or so churches in Classis Northern Illinois, a regional group of Christian Reformed congregations, Pasek is a champion when it comes to youth ministry.
Pasek, who has been youth pastor at Elmhurst (Ill.) Christian Reformed Church for the past seven years, is one of about 30 people across the denomination who hold the title “youth ministry champion.” Their role is to help churches in their regional assemblies with youth ministry initiatives.
One of the roles Pasek has taken on is putting together large-scale events to help bring teens together. Last September at Elmhurst CRC, about 200 teens from six Chicago-area congregations turned out for what's been dubbed “A Big Night of Worship."
“We have slow days when it comes to youth ministry, like coming back from Christmas vacation or coming back from spring break,” Pasek said. “You have a lower number of kids showing up and in youth ministry, if you have a low number of kids, the kids that are there feel very awkward. I was trying to figure out how to solve that.” Blessed with musicians at Elmhurst CRC, Pasek thought they could serve as a blessing to other churches, putting together a big event that might generate excitement if all of the youth groups came together.
Pasek and youth leaders from three other CRC congregations from the Chicago suburbs put together the event, the third they’d tried. Lombard CRC, Wheaton CRC and Faith CRC have all been involved, with Faith hosting one of the earlier events.
The Big Night of Worship has included opening with an ice-breaker game, a worship band leading in a time of singing, and a speaker, Pasek said.
Another Big Night of Worship is planned for later this spring, around spring break.
While most of the churches in the Northern Illinois Classis are in the Chicago suburbs, the assembly also includes congregations as far west as near the Mississippi River, which can present logistical challenges for connecting youth ministries. But Pasek doesn't let distance deter him.
“A lot of what I do will be on the phone or over email,” he said. “If [church youth workers] have questions, if they're looking for best practices, if they want ideas, I'm available essentially 24/7.” While some youth ministry champions receive a small stipend for their work, Pasek said he does his work on a volunteer basis.
The “youth ministry champion” concept started with CRC churches in Canada several years ago and has slowly worked its way into U.S. churches. “It's still all very new. We're still figuring it all out and what it looks like here in the States,” Pasek said.
Pasek reports regularly to classis on various projects that are being worked on as well as what hot-button issues are being dealt with in youth ministry. He also sends out a monthly newsletter to churches in the classis. When a church recently lost its youth minister, Pasek got a call to help the church discern what the role looked like for the size of that congregation.
“I'm trying to be a resource, a sounding board, and an area of support for youth ministry,” Pasek said.