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One Generation Calls to the Next: Youth Agency and Leadership Development

In this conversation, New City Kids president Trevor Rubingh talks with New Generation3 executive director Elizabeth Tamez Méndez on the significance of agency in the spiritual and leadership development of teenagers as they try out their leadership skills with and among their peers.

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:00:16] Welcome to this session of Imagining Multiple Models of Ministry with Youth. This is a new series hosted by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. I am Dr. Elizabeth Tamez Méndez, founder and executive director of New Generation3 and longtime collaborator with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and today Rev. Trevor Rubingh is joining us for conversation in this third video in the series. Trevor, thank you for being our guest today. We're so happy to have you here. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:00:45] Absolutely. I'm really excited about this. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:00:49] Thank you. As you know, the CICW has been working on gathering insights around this theme. We want to come together and learn about community worship practices in different contexts, especially those that encourage intergenerational worship spaces and relationships. And in today's conversation, we want to focus on practices that include and empower youth. So Trevor, will you please share with us a bit about your context and your work? We're so eager to get to know more about it. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:01:23] Yeah, thank you. I'm the president and cofounder of New City Kids, and we are in four cities right now and six locations within those cities, in pretty high-need areas, and serving kids who are amazingly resilient and beautiful and also considered at risk. We focus on youth leadership development, and we do it by having these after-school centers. So picture an after-school center. Are you picturing an after-school center? That's not what we do. They are music and drama and lights and energy and academics focused. But what really makes us unique is that instead of employing adults to be the main staff of these after-school centers, we use paid teenagers, high school students. And so it's the high school job, along with all these supports along the four areas of spiritual[ity], leadership, and academic and musical development, that really brings this incredible transformation I want to tell you about. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:02:32] That is very unique. Thank you. We can't wait to hear more about it because it sounds like your work really focuses on these aspects of youth agency and leadership development. So I know we're going to learn a lot from you, and thank you for helping us understand your context better and to see what the spaces look like. Thank you for painting that picture for us. So now before we move forward, we want to let our viewers know that to frame our conversations in this series, we have chosen five values to shape this project on corporate worship and models of ministry with youth, and these values are: youth agency, spaces for theological questions, the role of the family, sparking intergenerational relationships, and designing multiple pathways for ministry with youth. So, Trevor, how has New City Kids been able to engage with youth and work alongside of them in this process? 

Trevor Rubingh [00:03:33] We came into it accidentally. My wife and I went to Princeton Seminary, and we felt called to start a church in an urban area. We were really driven and our imagination was captured by the Isaiah 61 passage: “The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me because he's anointed me to preach good news to the poor and bind up the brokenhearted.” That's the one that Jesus quotes in Luke 4. And what's interesting about that passage is that at the end, in verse four, it says “They will be called oaks of righteousness. They will rebuild the ancient ruins. They will restore the places long devastated. They will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” So when we came to Jersey City, a city that in 1994, when we arrived, was really in tough shape. Just to give you an example. People outnumbered trees two to one; 30,000 people per square mile. It had the highest incidence of AIDS in the country per capita. But also incredible resources, and the resources were the people.

So here we are in Jersey City trying to figure out what to do and how to start a church. . . . and we failed spectacularly. We couldn't do it, and it was a two-year failure. And during that time, we prayed and fasted and we got a new idea: What if we started a kid's church, a church for kids, sort of a Nickelodeon on steroids for Christians with a hard-hitting gospel message? And we just got really energized because this other ministry, Metro Ministries in Brooklyn, was doing it. And so we began to put out letters and requests to all these supporting churches in the suburbs. “Hey, come on to Jersey City, it's going to be great! People outnumber trees!” And nobody came. That's not true. Not nobody. We had a few people come. But we didn't have the staff. It was my wife and I, and we had two 70-year old-women, a couple of volunteers, and our Siberian Husky. And that was it. And the Siberian Husky was one of our best resources. Everybody wanted to pet that dog. But the other thing we had was about five or six teenagers that hung around us, and we began to think like, “OK, God, why aren't you sending the staff?” Have you ever prayed and just said, “God, here I am. I said yes! I did it. Why isn't this working?” And so we just faced obstacle after obstacle. But what God did is, he said, “Go back to your scripture.” And that's where—I can't even ever say this without getting emotional— Isaiah 61:4, “they will rebuild the ancient ruins.” So who’s the “they”? It was those people mourning and grieving and in darkness. And for us, it was these kids in this city and these kids with tremendous resources. So I wanted to share my screen because the story gets interesting here. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:06:57] Yes. Thank you for walking us through this process and how things were shaping, right? Because I think as different people are listening to us, and they're trying to imagine new models of ministry and figure out how is it that we can be reaching out to the community and being more effective and just letting people know that we're there, that's the reality of leadership and ministry that sometimes we're going to try things and they're not going to work out, or they're not going to work out the way we thought, or they're not going to work out at the time what we thought, right? Or with the people that we thought, like you mentioned in our conversation before we started recording, who would've thought that your Husky was going to be the center of attraction? And that's what created then that connection and started the community, right? And so we want to encourage those who are listening, if you're going through a chapter of struggle, that this is part of ministry, and this is part of saying, “OK, Lord, where do you want to lead me?” And sometimes things are going to work out and sometimes they're not. And then we just pick up and we go back to our scripture and say, “Lord, show me: what comes next?” 

Trevor Rubingh [00:08:18] Yeah, and struggle, but obstacles, and sometimes these obstacles that are right in your way are actually the opportunities for a new way to see things differently that you wouldn't have seen had the obstacle not come, right? So for us, the obstacle was no helpers, and I'll just share this little picture here. This is a young man. . .  Can you see Ron there in the picture playing the drums? 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:08:48] Yes, he's going now. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:08:52] So when we met him, he was younger than this, and he was one of those kids that would throw rocks at the church van when he thought we weren't looking. But I realized that he was the key. And so after we got this vision for this vibrant kids’ church on Saturdays with balloons and color and energy and prizes and a hard-hitting gospel message and incredible music, I came up to him and I said, “Ron, how would you like to help us launch this kid's church?” And he said, “I don't care.” And that sounded like yes to me. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:09:32] Exactly. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:09:33] So I went out and took a drum lesson, which I'd wanted to do, and I learned this drum lesson. I taught it to Ron, and he picked it right up, so I had to quick go get another drum lesson. And pretty soon he was getting better than me, and I said, “Would you just be the drum teacher?” And he did. He played nine years, and he began to teach the drum classes that we would hold during the week in preparation for our Saturday Sunday school. And so again, we're bussing hundreds of kids in, and Anthony grew up and Anthony too became a great drummer, and he began to teach the next generation. So he taught Giovanni, who I just ran into a couple of weeks ago at a church. And Giovanni taught this young man, his name is Greg; he's in my wife's lap there, but he wasn't old enough to play the drums yet. So when he turned 11, we began to put the drumsticks in his hands, and he grew up and he taught drums to the next generation. But in the meantime, he became our full-time communications director as the ministry grew. He taught a young man named Derrick, and Derrick taught Giselle. And so you can just see that over time, we thought our mission was one thing: planting an intergenerational church in Jersey City that was multiethnic. And that then we thought our mission was like this kids’ church. But what really happened was our mission became to reach kids through the vehicle of leadership development. And we wouldn't have discovered it had God sent all those suburban volunteers to the ministry. So I think one thing I want to share with your listeners is: what are your obstacles, and is there an opportunity hidden in there somewhere? 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:11:26] Yeah, it will surprise you. You're saying that you thought, OK, the way to do this is to bring in volunteers and get them to do the work. And then we'll have the kids come over, which is a typical model for interacting with the younger generations: it’s the adults doing the work, and the kids come. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:11:50] Our ministry switched over time a little bit. But what we realized is that if we're going to bring whole-life transformation to young people in this city, we're going to work with two groups of kids: teenagers and the younger children. Each brings a need to the table, and the needs cancel each other out. And again, when all you have is need, sometimes having needs cancel each other out can release a tremendous amount of energy. So what we do is we hire these teenagers in these four cities to be the music teachers, and they also get to be academic tutors—every single day are tutoring younger kids. During the summer there are these paid teenagers are now the summer camp counselors, and then all of our programs all year long are going two hundred and forty days a year. So we're really busy. But these teenagers, what they do is they come for the job, and it's a job that they have to work at after school every single day and they try out, and some of them don't get hired. But the ones who are hungry, who want to learn, they get hired. And, you know, at first, it's just a job. But then the job becomes a platform for us to do these four key areas of development that all reinforce each other to create the transformation that we're looking at. 

So that's basically the model. And then after the after-school center is done at six o'clock or so and the younger kids go home, the teens go to all of our different opportunities for enrichment and development. And so we have a Brighter Day therapy group where it's trauma-informed classes and support systems and talk groups. And we have a worship team on Monday night, and on Wednesday night it's college tutoring, and so on. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:13:54] So it's really a very comprehensive way of reaching out to young people in their everyday needs in very tangible ways. And I think part of what you're sharing with us, and maybe sometimes when we're having these conversations about intergenerational worship spaces and relationships is that our imagination runs immediately to how do we bring adults and kids together, right? But this is also a form of intergenerational relationships, where the older teenagers and early young adults interact with and give back to the younger ones. There is a book called Greenhouses of Hope, and it just gives different stories and ministry models in different contexts. They talk about this one of the aspects that some of the Korean churches integrate into their ministry models; mozying is what they call that. That is part of the cultural aspect, of the older mentoring the younger. And so they intentionally find ways, not because it's required, but because this is how their spaces and their congregations are set up. And so we see all the time, like you're sharing with us, young people just start to flourish and to be energized by understanding, “I actually have something to give,” and how cool it is, because I hear it all the time from the teenagers and early adults is like, “Oh, the kids think I'm so cool because I'm older and I know more, and they’re looking up to me,” and that just blows their mind. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:15:40] Yeah. I can't resist showing you a picture here because this is what happens every single day. The younger kids are in their music class. And let me just share my screen again. They do their homework first. But once their homework’s done, they go to music class, and the teacher is, in this case, you can see Dionellis on the left and Dishonette on the right. And Dionellis is an amazing classroom manager; she's got those kids wrapped around her finger. She never became a great bass player, but it didn't matter because she can reach Dishonette in ways that I certainly never could. Now this is a picture from Grand Rapids, and you can see in the back row the three kids. Can you see that red box? 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:16:32] Yes. Yes. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:16:34] They grew up, and they are all now teenagers. So that's kind of part of the intergenerational thing. We're hoping to be with kids for ten years, and five hundred hours each year, because that's the depth we need to go to really to change a life. That's one of the lessons we learned over the course of twenty-seven years of doing this, that an hour a week just wasn't going to cut it. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:17:00] I think that's why a lot of ministries are struggling at times, because there's the sense of expectation that the model should be able to impact the lives of people regardless of their age, because we have an interaction of forty to seventy minutes a week, and there are parents who feel that, well, if I'm bringing my kids to church and they're listening to a Sunday school class or a Bible story, that should cover their whole spiritual development in twenty minutes once a week. I think with ministries like yours, New City Kids, understanding that it really does take that walking alongside of them, and your structure has a way that lends itself very well to doing that. And I'm just thinking of congregations and their struggle then to walk alongside people. Some of the things we hear from others is that precisely they have to reimagine. How do I find ways to interact day to day with the young people and the kids in our congregation? Is it going to their school and being present during lunch? Or is it just finding out where they work and having these intentional ways of interacting, even in social media? Because otherwise if we're not there with people throughout their day, it just makes it very hard for us to connect to them. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:18:39] And one of the things, if you think about a pie chart and at least three pieces of the pie—you have nurture, you have training, and then you have leadership deployment. And I think that what happens is the nurture part of the pie gets to be the biggest for most youth ministries, and a little tiny bit of training or Bible study or Bible lesson, and then almost no deployment. And what I always say is, let's focus on deployment and ignite the kids’ imaginations. You're in charge. We need you. So at New City it's not a hype; it's not something we say to kids, like, “Hey, we need you.” We would literally not be able to run our ministry if we didn't have two hundred and twenty two paid teens doing everything from sound to video to teaching to administration to everything. And when they're given that job—and we say to them, we believe in you, we think you can do more than you ever thought you could do—they rise to it. Sometimes groups set the bar as low as possible. Just come. It's a safe place. It's a safe haven. Just drop by. That nurture part of the pie is important. We have to do that. But the thing that's going to keep them is when you challenge them to have a really important mission. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:20:02] Yeah, because then it becomes theirs, and it's not just this option that I can or may or may not go to, and maybe I come this week and then two weeks later I don’t, and then I come back again when it's convenient; it's rather they know this responsibility and also the joy of it, that it's like, Oh my goodness, maybe I live in an environment where I'm not told that I'm smart, that I'm capable, that I have so much to give, and yet I come to this place where I can manage a classroom; I can teach kids. It sparks something in them, like you're saying; it just sets the bar for there is so much you can give. And I think a lot of churches and congregations sometimes miss out on that because we have maybe this unspoken tendency in models that we have inherited, that it is about the ones who can actually participate and have a voice and be able to help co-create what is happening in these worshiping spaces. And then we see models such as yours, where it’s like, What do they have to say?We want this to be a space where they construct and they have the voice and they do the work. And I think that creates spaces for imagination, for different people as they're looking into their models. I did want to mention, that's something that I always when we did training was sharing with with leaders is . . . what a lot of people don't have in mind is that if you want to develop leaders for the church, well, research shows that when you do any kind of training or intervention for an adult, the difference between their leadership development and their growth and their knowledge with having an intervention, whether it be a course or anything of that sort, and not having it is only a 16 percent increase at best in their leadership abilities. However, when you start investing in young people, their brain is developing, their values, their character, their way of seeing themselves, their purpose, their belonging—it's in that prime time where it's being bombarded with information and where they have the ability to learn, right? So if we want to see leaders for the church, then when we invest in them early on, this is what happens, what you're seeing in your ministry, right? 

Trevor Rubingh [00:22:55] Yes. So you're just preaching my sermon here, because so many institutions in society see that downward trajectory that kids might go through, especially kids growing up in the systems of poverty and social injustice. And there's a reactive intervention, right? If there's homelessness, we’ll start a homeless shelter, which is an important thing. If there's criminal behavior, we'll start a prison, and we have to have that. But what if, as you're saying, we could intervene at the beginning of this window of time that we have with this ten years of super-formative time? That's where we, through our failures in the early years, learned that we needed to intervene, and not just one day a week. It's that constant dripping, dripping and the relational engagement with them day after day, week after week, year after year that's going to get to the transformation point. So the thing that we learned was, a couple of hours a week we're not going to make the impact that we needed to make, and we want to do this week after week, year after year, so that these kids grow up knowing they’re loved and they're important. And that's when we get to a breakthrough point. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:24:20] Thank you for sharing about these aspects. I think when we have a chance to focus on the theory behind it, then it starts to inform our practice, and it makes sense that then we start to look at these things and say, OK, so does my practice match this information? If I'm hearing that an early intervention is what's going to help us get to our goal, what do I need to rethink, what do I need to reimagine, what new innovation needs to come into our ministry? So thank you for also highlighting that aspect. You mentioned that there were some points where you also have spaces for theological questions. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:25:12] Yes. My wife, who is the co-founder of New City, Linda Rubingh, she is an MSW and a pastor. More degrees than me. And she has created a program called Brighter Day, which is this trauma-informed support and learning group that kids come to, mostly teenagers, and maybe five to six teens a week. And they have food together, but then they get a chance to ask any question. And there's usually a theme, and it's a protected space where they know they're going to keep their stuff confidential. So some of the topics [have been]: Change is always possible. Dealing with depression and anxiety. I do not understand girls/guys at all. Understanding and healing from physical abuse. And so each week there's going to be a topic like this and they're going to really pick it apart together, and it's a safe place of love and mutuality, and then the kids begin to minister to each other in that space as well. So that brings you real community. That's one of those enrichment things that we have after the program shuts down on the younger-children side. And my wife usually will have either another staff person or volunteer from one of those supporting churches come. And so that's another thing that makes New City Kids intergenerational is, if you're a teenager and you're in 10th grade and you come to the interview to get this job, on day two of the interview, drumsticks are put into your hands and you're asked to play a beat, and you don't know how to play a beat. But we teach you how to play the drums. We ask you to sing. Day three, if you have any musical ability at all, you are invited to become part of the worship team. Now what's the worship team? The kids don't know. They just come because it's fun. A lot of them, they're not overattenders at any church, let's say that, or maybe they don't go to church at all. But by the fifth week the worship teams are going to get to like, “This is about God, isn't it?” And like I said, maybe I didn't mention this, but we are not targeting Christians. We are in all the public high schools and we're really inviting all kids to come in—Muslim kids, agnostic kids, whatever background they have. But then, as this worship team gets polished and they go out to these churches and we share youth agency, that look, kids can lead a whole service, that the adults then in that congregation say, “You know what, I want to go check this thing out.” So then they come, and we have Charlie Postema volunteering a couple of times a week. And we had Ward and Myrna coming every week to read with the kids or to be in the Brighter Day group. And you know, there's this rubbing of shoulders. In one case, we have a sailing program, and this captain of a sailboat, he got so invested with the kids who were learning to sail that he underwrote the loan for one of them to go to college. And now that young man is assistant to the mayor of Washington, D.C., or something like that. But that intergenerational part is really important. It's not the assumption that the church is for the adults and then the kids fit in. Rather, it's really—in our case, we're not a church; we're a faith based nonprofit—but it's New City as a place for kids where adults fit in. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:29:17] And you were telling me about a couple of volunteers that come to these theological question spaces? 

Trevor Rubingh [00:29:25] People are young in their hearts, and the external things like wrinkles on your skin or gray hair or whatever push us apart, or the color of our skin, but we had this one woman who was I think about 70, and she would come to the Brighter Day group to facilitate it with my wife. She would bring amazing food, and mostly she would be silent at first and the kids would get to know her. By the third week, she was interacting with these teenagers and hearing all their gory stories about their life and sharing her own stories about her life, which is real, and just the bonding that could happen then as the trust developed . . . I mean, it's unusual for a 55-year-old woman to be talking to teenage boys about sex, and because my wife runs it for guys and for girls. The intergenerational part is really significant. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:30:37] And I think you were mentioning she becomes like a grandmother for these kids. And I think that's a lot of what our ministries are starting to see, that weight of the relationship, the heart connection, the knowing that I can count on you. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:31:02] One of our core practices is what we call one-on-ones, and each teen that works at New City will have their one-on-one partner, and they will meet together just to talk about life completely separate from the job, just, how’s things at home? What's going on? And those are scheduled, but also real life happens in the margins, right? That's where the relationships go deep: when you're driving to the event together, or when you're taking a kid to a college visit and it's a three-hour drive. Those are the places where the trust really begins to develop. We were doing a show about God— light shining into darkness. And it was called “Light, Shine in the Darkness,” based on John 1. And at the end of the show, the kids went home, and the cops had blocked off the block, and there had been a shooting, and the bullets went through this kid's window. Sometimes, not every time, but that's sometimes what our kids are coming home to. And so it is a place where they can come and feel a love, a connection, and a challenge to be agents of change themselves. Because we're in this era right now of depression and anxiety from COVID. And you know, depression is looking at yourself and your needs and they're not being met, and they come to New City and they have to look out because they're immediately in charge of ten kids and they can't think about themselves. And so suddenly by the end of the two, three hours, they're having fun and they're engaged. They're not on their screen, they're not stuck in a bedroom. They're doing important work that's focused on someone else. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:33:04] And then that cycles back, because then they were able to take the focus off themselves and put it on someone else, and then now their needs are being met by giving back to others. It's the beauty of being able to give the younger generations and even the older that space to be able to use their skills and their knowledge and the abilities that God has given them to then put it into service for others. And that's something that we're always pointing out for leaders who are working with youth or in just a different context of congregational leadership, that that is something that is the reality, that we are living in a time where the younger generation and the elders, they're the most segregated and alone generations in society ever, and they’re spending so much time by themselves. And they're both hungry for connection, for relationships, for love. And then yet we have this myth that the young people are not going to want to hang out with the older people, and they don't want to listen to them, and they think they're outdated. And so we start creating these imaginary barriers. And then we come to places like yours and like, you see, it's like, no, they want to be together regardless of those perceived hurdles that may keep them apart. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:34:32] Yeah. And the other thing I wanted to say to congregations or people who are in congregations thinking about how to do innovative youth ministry—and you may be hearing this thinking, you know, I don't have that kind of budget. I don't have a staff full time—and everybody starts where you are. You know, Jesus said, “What do you have?” Well, we got five loaves and fishes. I can't do much, but you start where you are. And if you have the right values, the right commitment, you can make your congregation a place filled with youth agency and involvement. I’ve got to share this picture because this is one of our five core values, and it has a cost, right? OK, so if you look at this picture of the microphones, what do you notice about them? 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:35:37] They're bent out of shape. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:35:39] They're dented, right? The first thing I do when I go to a church is I check out their microphones. If no microphones are dented, I know there's no teenagers involved in worship leading. Kids run and they trip over the cord and the whole microphone stand tips over, and you see the foam is all torn up there because these things are getting used every day, 240 days a year. So we're running church services fifty-two weeks a year. There's an opportunity for teenagers to be involved. What if the pastor said, “You know, three weeks from now, I'm going to be doing a message on the prodigal son. Write a script, come up with the message, we're going to give you six minutes.” Boom. What if the church approached every scripture reading as dramatic reading, and adults weren't allowed up there, but every time teens who are coached got a chance to do dramatic reading from the front. What if there was built-in teen testimony—not forced, but when you hear a testimony, say, would you be willing to share that in the church? What if the worship team were a team made up of mainly teens or including a lot of teens? These are things that we can do without a huge budget or without adding a lot of staff. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:37:05] And to be able to create these spaces because then that's where the connections come. . . . And we know, we want to be responsible for things, but at the same time, these are things—they're objects, they're tools for us to help us to connect with people and create the spaces and be able to plug them in. We're always sharing about the story of our church in Texas because many of us in our New Generation team, we have similar stories. I grew up as a pastor's kid, and so in the Latino church, by default the whole family is the pastoral team, so you have to do everything. So somebody might say, “What? You were teaching Sunday School at 12?” [Well,] you’ve got to do the work, right? But it was because someone took the time to mentor me. She saw the skills, and she said, “Let's get together outside of this, and you can start helping me, and I can teach you how to look at this massive Sunday school curriculum and what do you do with the kids.” So it was that spark of someone saying you can do it. And I messed up. Of course I messed up. I was 12! And I also surprised myself. I know that it was God's intervention when all of a sudden a kid asked me about the Holy Spirit, saying, “What is that? I keep hearing that in church,” and all of a sudden this illustration about what that meant that could tie to them . . . came to mind, and I didn't have that rehearsed, right? And then you're like, Oh, that makes sense. . . . Yes. And of course, we're going to make mistakes. We're going to mess up things. The same thing happened with the church in Tyler that trusted me, like, what does an architect know about working with youth? And that I was a teenager myself because I was in college when I was 15 and I was living on my own in Mexico City, and so . . . What's a teenager? What do they want? Why can't they just behave like an adult? And their parents were as baffled too because culturally it was a community that in the past generations they expected especially women to be married around 12, 13. And so they were trying to figure out what is this American construction of teenagers? 

Trevor Rubingh [00:39:35] And your family in ministry had a core value of like, We're going to do it, we're going to be active, the sainthood of all believers. There's a place for children. They are the church, not the future of the church. They're not waiting to become the church. They are the church right now. And your family emphasized that. A lot of churches, Black churches are often that way. And so we incorporated those ideas as well out of necessity; we just didn't have the staff. And I think that's what your parents probably were experiencing as well. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:40:15] Yes. Yes. And I think also because the congregation, because I'm talking about different congregations in different places, at different times, with different characteristics and social demographics. And yet, because of the Latino church and the way of doing things, we have the sense that everyone has to be involved and everyone is needed. A lot of it is guided by culture; it’s also guided by the history, the legacy of church models, but also out of necessity because we cannot hire a pastor, a co-pastor, an associate director of this; it's the congregation doing the work. And so part of what we always share when I started leading ministry in this church in East Texas, those kids that were in elementary school and middle school and were hanging around, and then the teenagers, one of them is the pastor of the church, and one handles all of the administration with the funding, and the other one is guiding the the ministry with kids, and the other one the education. Because this was my parents' church, or a place that I kind of go to every so often, and others are not in that congregation anymore, but they're leading another congregation. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:41:37] Gallup does these polls regularly, like 50 to 80 percent of all kids growing up in the church leave the church by age whatever, and most of them don't return. But I think that if we switched our culture—I mean, we have to switch a few things in the American church, but one thing we need to switch is our culture of active adults servicing the passive receptors of the youth. What if we change that mindset and we put the youth in charge of everything, or partially in charge, and we set them up for success by training them, then when they turn 19 they're going to forget to leave because it's in their blood. And I think that that's just one of the things wrong with our approach to American Christianity. But that's an easy one to fix that probably we won't fix unless we have a need. And if you don't have a ton of need, if you have all the money you need in your church, you may not end up at a place where you're forced to use the youth in a way that is actually healthy. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:42:43] I hope that we're able to do another series because I feel like we need to have a conversation about these whole aspects of the church and how we interact with kids and the theology of these aspects and how Jesus interacted with children all the time. It just kind of flips the conversation over as we're looking into the church and what the spaces need to look like and the relationships and and the openness to Hey, it’s going to be messy. It's OK. This is how we learn. Things are going to get broken. It's OK. Kids don't have all the maturity, so they're going to make some mistakes, do some stupid things, say some stupid things. But it is that scaffolding, mentoring, that we're able to unpack in another conversation. Thank you so much, Trevor, for this engaging conversation. We have learned so much from you today. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:43:46] Well, great. And it's just a great pleasure to be here. It's good to hear your story as well. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:43:51] Thank you for the ministry that you're doing there, and we continue to pray over you. May God give you favor to continue reaching these communities and the kids, and thank you for what you're doing there. 

Trevor Rubingh [00:44:04] Thank you. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:44:05] And to our viewers, thank you for joining us in today's conversation for this session of Imagining Multiple Models of Ministry with Youth. We pray that these conversations inspire and encourage your ministry efforts in reaching the next generation. Please join us for the next video in the series, and leave us a comment—we really want to hear from you.