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How a young leader is growing roots in ministry

Kellen Young graduated NewSpring Leadership College and is changing lives as a full-time student pastor.

Kellen Young’s vision for ministry is right in front of him.

It’s the couple dozen teenagers who show up on any given Sunday night for youth group at Faith Fellowship Church in Pendleton, S.C.

Teenagers dealing with demanding parents. Juggling homework and social life. Distracted by snaps and streaks. Wondering about the future. Worried they won’t measure up.

Like every generation, they’re trying to figure out what life is all about — and where to look for the answers.

It’s been fun, but it’s also been tough and challenging

Emily Ladines, 17, is one of those students. And she's looking to Kellen to understand what’s different about life in Jesus.

“It’s really cool how he uses his story to teach us what he’s learned from the Bible and what he wants us to learn,” she says. “He’s so relatable. He gets us engaged.”

Part of Faith Fellowship’s student ministry for two years, Emily has felt more of a community atmosphere lately and seen more students coming. Kellen has organized kickball games and dinners, and it's helped bring people together, she says.

"We all know each other, and it’s fun,” she says.

Kellen, a 2016 NewSpring Leadership College graduate, knows ministry doesn’t come with a how-to manual or a model to follow.

Ministry is the simple, patient work of knowing and caring about the people God gives you.

“I have to really pour into students,” he says. “I have to be intentional about inviting and investing in students. It’s been fun, but it’s also been tough and challenging.”

Kellen talks to students during a dinner gathering for Faith Fellowship Church's Roots student ministry. Kellen started family dinners to improve community.

Intentional Excellence

Perhaps it’s not surprising Kellen, 21, can relate to his students. Only a few years ago, he was trying to make sense of what God wanted for his life, too.

When he felt called to preach the gospel, he was part of the Fuse Student Ministry at NewSpring Church.

That led to two years at NewSpring Leadership College and the honor of a third-year, paid partnership on NewSpring staff after graduation.

The full-time student pastor role at Faith Fellowship was unexpected.

LEARN MORE: Find out about NewSpring College's program and how to apply.

Faith Fellowship reached out to one of Kellen’s NewSpring College instructors to find an emerging leader.

Kellen met with the lead pastor and staff and wrestled with the decision in prayer for a few weeks. He started on Easter Sunday 2017.

In his first seven months, student ministry attendance almost doubled. In a 10-week period, seven students made professions of faith.

“He’s really intentional about everything he does, and he wants to do it with excellence,” Lead Pastor David Kay says. “He’s having a great impact. I could not be more pleased.”

The role was an opportunity to build a culture and a community from the ground up.

Kellen became the ninth person to serve as youth pastor at the church in four years, and all of them previous to him were volunteers.

If you want to learn practical, hands-on ministry, NewSpring College is the place to go.

The word God gave Kellen for his students was “roots.” So that’s what the student ministry is now called.

The passage in Colossians 2:6-7 “just popped out,” Kellen says.

“The vision God has given me for these students is to be rooted and built up in Him,” he says.

Kellen is focused on building relationships with students, but there’s value in including parents in the vision, too.

That’s why he sends an email every week to celebrate with parents, to make them aware of what is happening, and to get them involved. It’s a communication strategy he learned at NewSpring College.

To continue to get traction, he knows he has to work harder to plan the teaching series several weeks in advance and develop volunteers, he says.

In a church as big as NewSpring, he saw the power of processes, keeping things organized, and being strategic.

“I can’t focus on things the week of,” he says. “I need to know where we’re going.”

Kellen picks up plates and mingles with students at a gathering before the Roots student service begins.

Personal Connection

Faith Fellowship bears little resemblance to NewSpring.

Weekly attendance hovers around 220 people, and it’s youth ministry numbered barely a dozen when Kellen started.

At first, the contrast seemed intimidating; perhaps even a weakness.

“It was a little different,” he says, with purposeful understatement.

Now Kellen knows the NewSpring College training he received was the type of flexible, character-based, practical education he needed to rise to the challenge.

“If you want a four-year degree, NewSpring College isn’t for you,” he says. “If you want to learn practical, hands-on ministry, NewSpring College is the place to go.”

During his program's ministry partnership, Kellen was responsible for church online.

Kellen organized and led a volunteer team of about five to 10 people who managed the chat room for people viewing NewSpring’s online service stream.

Kellen cultivated personal connections with attenders and offered guidance and encouragement toward next steps.

That experience with volunteers and attenders gave him a taste of what it means to care for people.

“It goes beyond a call or text or phone call,” he says. “Asking people how they are really doing is something that was drilled into me.”

Peeling back the layers with his students is taking time, but he knows patience will pay off. 

“It’s taking them a minute for them to warm up to me. They’re thinking, Is this guy going to stick around?” Kellen says.

Kellen hangs out with students playing video games. Kellen says investing in relationships with students is a priority.

Practical Training

Kellen’s the church’s only full-time staff member, and he has a hybrid role.

He offers the welcome on Sunday mornings, preaches 20-minute sermons to students every Sunday night, and he leads student discussion groups every Wednesday night using video teaching.

Kellen’s time, for the most part, is divided between sermon preparation, crafting discussion questions, and leading a small volunteer team that handles snacks and set up. 

He handles the church website and bulletin and also helps schedule and coordinate the work of Faith Fellowship’s three bi-vocational pastors.

“In terms of practical ministry, there’s nothing I can think of where I can say, ’I wish NewSpring College could have invested more time in here,’” he says. “NewSpring College is the best place to learn from the greatest leaders on the planet.”

NewSpring College’s grueling Bible reading program, combined with theology and communication classes, was critical in building Kellen’s confidence with God’s word, Kellen says.

NewSpring College is the best place to learn from the greatest leaders on the planet.

Kellen’s lead pastor says he’s impressed by Kellen’s systematic view of the Scriptures and what he believes about Jesus, as well as his focus on the essentials of the Gospel. 

“He has a good grasp of that — as good as anybody I’ve seen,” Pastor David says about his Gospel-centered view. “He knows what he believes and why he believes it.”

In his weekly preaching, Kellen uses the frameworks he learned at NewSpring College for selecting the main idea, sharpening the point with Scripture, and presenting the message in a compelling way.

Honing his style also benefited from a weekly hour-long, student-led preaching critique, which taught him things like learning not to use his hands in a distracting way.

“I know I am called to preach, and this is giving me the opportunity to sharpen that craft,” he says about his teaching role.

Kellen poses for a group photo with students. Under his leadership, weekly attendance at Faith Fellowship Church's Roots Student Ministry has doubled.

Lasting Learning

Looking back, character formation was the most essential part of preparation for ministry, he says, and that happened inside and outside the classroom.

In a student body small enough to be a family, learning from each other is one of the things that makes NewSpring College so distinctive.

“I built a little brotherhood at the college, and that was a great experience to do life with them,” he says. “They are the guys I can tell anything, and they can tell me anything.”

The highlight of the two-year college program was a 25-page paper and senior project that challenged everyone to examine themselves and their leadership weaknesses.

“They were tough conversations, but it was very powerful to ask those questions,” he says. “Just about every student I know that has gone through it has loved it. It teaches you a lot about who you are, what you believe, and what is your calling.”

When it comes to growing a student ministry, Kellen has faced many challenges in his first year, and he knows there are more to come.

The close relationships Kellen built with NewSpring staff and NewSpring College instructors give him the opportunity for ongoing training. If he has questions about how to tackle something, he knows he can shoot them a text.

“I am stoked that I ended up taking the opportunity,” he says about Faith Fellowship. “God has definitely challenged me and stretched me during this time.”

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