Conner Halstead ('10) | Bible, Missions and Ministry
In the ACU College of Biblical Studies, students are taught to expect the unexpected in order to prepare for some of life's toughest challenges. That training tends to serve them well.
Robert Oglesby, a professor in the Youth and Family Ministry Program, teaches future interns about such situations in his youth ministry class. He's been consistently impressed by the strength and compassion of the young men and women he has worked with.
"It's been amazing to me that our interns go out and perform remarkable work under some pretty tough times," he said.
Dealing with tragedy
So when Conner Halstead called him asking how to deal with the unexpected death of a student in the youth group he was serving, Robert was ready to offer some deeply practical advice. Conner was interning at the Conroe Church of Christ when a student was killed in a car accident. When the teenagers in the church youth group turned to Conner for answers, he immediately picked up the phone.
"It speaks of maturity to say, 'I'm in over my head,' " Robert pointed out.
Conner acknowledged the difficulty of trying to explain the inexplicable. "How do you deal with these deep questions?" he asked.
Robert was on hand to walk him through the experience and reassure him that what the church needed most was someone not just to answer their questions, but to care.
"You don’t deal with a lot of deep theological questions immediately," he said. "It becomes a really confusing time."
A time for answers
Conner did have to deal with the hard questions eventually, though. Robert warned him that people would begin to wonder, "Where was God? How could He let these things happen?"
The best thing he could do, Robert said, was to listen and be honest. Sometimes the only answer, he said, is to admit that you don't know.
Conner could depend on his ACU family to keep him grounded and give him wise advice. As Robert Oglesby pointed out, "ACU is not a four-year deal. It's a lifetime commitment on our part."
Youth ministry as a calling
Conner also had a background in youth ministry on which he could draw for support. His father was a youth minister when Conner was a baby, then worked in ministry for many years afterward. During Conner's senior year of high school, his family moved to Odessa to plant a church there. He also watched his older brother come to ACU and get a degree in youth ministry. Through these experiences, Conner came to realize that youth ministry was his calling as well. In fact, it just seemed to come naturally.
"Church was always something I was around," he said.
One of Conner's favorite experiences with youth ministry has been Wilderness Trek. A two-week camp held in Colorado throughout the summer, Trek bonds youth groups by taking them on a trip into the mountains. Along the way, teens learn spiritual applications of what they're trying to do physically.
Conner served as a guide during the summers of 2007 and 2008, and discovered that he loved the concept of working with young people in the outdoors despite the challenges involved.
"It takes you out of your comfort zone, and it really bonds youth groups," he said.
Lessons from an internship
Conner learned a great deal from his internship in Conroe as he worked with the resident youth minister and built relationships with the teens he sought to mentor. The church is large, with 600 or more members, and Conner enjoyed learning things about youth ministry that the more communal environment of Trek couldn't teach him.
"It was a really positive experience," he said.
Conner taught the older boys' class on Sundays, planned the junior mission trip, and helped plan other youth activities throughout the summer. He also had "skills and drills" sessions in the youth minister's office; these exercises involved practicing how to handle real-life situations and problems that Conner might encounter later in his career.
Most of Conner's time, however, was spent with the teenagers themselves, sharing faith and building memories.
"Just a lot of running around with the kids," he said.
Goals for youth ministry
Conner is looking forward to being a youth minister for many reasons, but one of his foremost motivations is that it's a job that involves lots of social interaction.
"I love to deal with people," he said. He looks forward to interacting with both teenagers and their parents, as well as seeking to model faith for the young people with whom he interacts.
That may seem like a tall order, but Conner is ready to take it on. He likes planning events and delivering lessons, and he feels that there is a need for role models to call today's young people to a higher standard.
"I really enjoy it," he said. "I understand the need for solid discipleship in our youth."
Robert Oglesby concurs with his view, pointing out that youth ministry has changed to become more relational and family-based, with additional emphasis on social justice.
"Youth ministers have made a significant difference in kids' lives," he said.
As a youth minister, Conner has already set some goals for himself. He wants to be formation-oriented and focused on discipleship. And while he plans to have fun with the teenagers in his youth group, he wants them to understand that the point of coming together for fellowship is to worship God.
"I want to be much more of a discipler," he said. "Somebody who can make a lifelong impact on youth."
He also wants to get to know the teens he's leading. He's looking for honesty, deeper relationships within the group, and a willingness to reveal his struggles as well as seeking to understand theirs. He plans to invite the youth group over to his house, go to their events, and be involved in their lives.
"A lot of it depends on the way you interact," he said. "Do they feel like you care? That’s a big part."
All about building relationships
In that process of building relationships while practicing discipleship, Conner will be influencing not only the kids he spends time with, but their families as well. In time, he could change the dynamic of an entire home. This reflects Robert's point that youth ministry is no longer focused simply on what happens when kids walk through the church doors.
"We’re part of a bigger family," he said.
Conner admits that the job won't be fun all the time. He'd rather spend time with people than in the office, and that's a challenge he'll have to work with as he establishes his career in youth ministry.
"Some of my struggle will lie in administrative duties," he said honestly.
But even during the difficult moments, Conner is looking forward to working with young people through all aspects of their lives, teaching and modeling for them the life of faith he hopes they'll someday develop. And as he connects with teens and their parents, he wants to exemplify Christ to them as much as possible.
"You get to become an avenue through which they [the teenagers] look for guidance," he said.
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