Behind The Ministry: Jessica Thurston
Jared Elrod started this great blog series called “Behind the Ministry” to highlight youth workers who are doing some amazing things in their church, youth ministry, and in their communities. If you’d like to share your story in a Behind the Ministry post, email us HERE and we’ll connect you with Jared.
Jessica Thurston, Director of Youth Ministries at Rush Church
Give us a backstory of how you got into youth ministry.
I grew up heavily involved in youth ministry because my dad has been a youth pastor and youth ministry educator for about 30 years. I have always been extremely involved in volunteer ministry, particularly event planning, college ministry, and drama ministry. In 2014, I knew I wanted to work for the church full-time. As I continued applying to jobs, my call to teens and pre-teens grew stronger, and I was hired as Director of Youth Ministry at Rush Church in the summer of 2015.
What are your strengths as a youth pastor?
What do you love most about youth ministry, and what areas do you struggle with/in?
I am very creative and visionary. I excel at planning curricula, themed retreats, and trainings, as well as writing and producing youth dramas. My struggles are with logistics and timely communication with parents and congregation members. I’m great on the trendy social media! But adults and their traditional modes of seeking information are harder for me.
What are your thoughts on the high turnover in youth ministry?
I think the numbers floating around are a little inflated. Yes, turnover is higher than in other industries, but not significantly higher than in other low-level ministry jobs. youth pastors love their kids, and that is often what keeps them around. However, they do need more respect and support from senior church leadership in order to be able to commit for longer careers.
What would you say to a new youth pastor who wants to give up, or is questioning his/her calling?
Express your need for support. Say the words to your family, senior pastor, volunteer leaders, colleagues, etc. Decide what you need in order to feel like part of a successful team and/or teams, and then communicate that to the relevant individuals.
What are your favorite youth ministry resources?
If you were starting over today as a youth pastor what would you do?
Be more proactive about communicating with adults in the church instead of just focusing on building relationships with my teens.
Share some stories from your time in youth ministry. Good, Bad, or Funny.
The former youth pastor had reserved a non-refundable retreat site for a week less than a month into my new job, but he had not prepared anything! I scrambled to get students signed up, get emergency info, write a curriculum, plan recreational activities, buy supplies, put together a packet, secure drivers and chaperones, etc. We ended up with 10 kids and 4 leaders including myself. Half of the kids were from the local school district and did not even attend our church.
The short version is that we had an amazing time. We spent time on the waterfront, learned archery, played late-night flashlight games, went on a creek walk, and spent a day at a really fun and affordable nearby amusement park. I planned a study series called Meaningless in which we studied all of the things that the author of Ecclesiastes decries (pleasures, work, knowledge, etc.) and how only God can make them meaningful. On our last day we had interactive workshops for each of the six topics we had covered. It was a hit.
HOWEVER, one series of disasters occurred the night of our amusement park day trip. We were going to watch the sunset and eat dinner (pizza and wings) on the beach. How cool, right? But our delivery guy was mugged on a previous delivery! I drove 20 minutes to the Pizza Hut (we were on an island) to see what was wrong and pick up the food in person. I actually forgot my wallet on the beach! I had to call my husband at home to read off the numbers on his card just so that I could pay. Meanwhile, my co-leader is waiting on the beach with my teens, and doesn’t know where the two girls who decided to tag along with me have gone! Also, he and the others are being eaten alive by sandflies as the sun sets! As if that is not enough, we ran out of food and I had to drive back a second time and do it all over again.
What is your philosophy in youth ministry?
My short answer is that I want to be such a great friend to my teens that when I tell them how much greater a friend Jesus is it blows their minds. My ministry is structured to facilitate valuable friendships and then teach that group of friends how to be friends with God.
Give an example of how you operate in your strength. For example, if you are super organized, walk us through how you set up your calendar, or whatever you rock at. If you are great at communicating break down your process.
Well, you’ve listed the two things I’m least great at ;-). I’ll share the process for one of my greatest successes.
Planning and Executing a Student Theater Production:
1) Write a play– As a general rule, choose a theme, then imagine a simple abstract scenario that could communicate a message about that theme. Attempted realism will never be relatable to all of the teens in your group, so stick to relevant ideas they can apply to their lives instead of specific scenarios. A script of about 50 pages will typically get you a 45 to 60 minute play.
2) Get involvement– About two months in advance, begin promoting the show and its auditions to your youth. Include what funds raised will be used for. If you have the means, create a teaser trailer to show in the service and post on social media to get people excited.
3) Cast the show– Six weeks prior to the performance, hold auditions at two different times to accommodate different schedules. Do some group-building activities and theater warm-ups, then have teens try reading a few scenes. Expect kids wanting parts to come to you after the dates have passed. Let these kids participate, but do NOT give them speaking parts. Assign parts based on talent, interest, and commitment. Distribute the cast list a day or two after the last set of auditions.
4) Rehearse– A two-hour block on Saturdays and again Sundays after church always works best for me. This gets you about 12 rehearsals. Add more or longer rehearsals the week of the show to set up lighting, sound, costumes, etc. and do a dress rehearsal. Always start rehearsals with one fun warm-up and one that builds focus.
5) Advertise– Promote the play via all traditional channels within your congregation. More importantly, print posters for the kids to distribute at school. If they are anything like my teens, they will really get into this. Also look into local newspapers, newsletters, and online event directories that are free.
6) Perform– I suggest at least two weekend performances, one evening and one matinee. Have actors come an hour early, but DO NOT rehearse right before performances. This will create anxiety. Instead focus on costumes, makeup, warmup activities, and relaxing. If you have to do a sound check for microphones, do that about a half-hour prior to “curtain” going up. Don’t forget to assign people to usher and collect admission.
Break a leg!
Anything else you want to say?
I am 24 years old and working in my dream job. Who can say that? I want nothing more than to excel at my career. God is so good to place me here; I want to do his work.
Jared Elrod is a Youth Pastor, Online Marketer, and part time YouTube video maker. He has been involved in youth ministry full time since 2009, and spends most of his free time studying the latest trends in both youth ministry and Online marketing so he can try out what works best (and what completely flops) then writes about it at Youth Factor.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.