God works in the seemingly mystery of our lives, only to be revealed completely in reflection. If one unpacks this completely, the labyrinth of life seems to have purpose.
It only makes sense, given that perspective, that a Midwest young man would accept a part-time job as a youth minister so that he could pay his way through law school at the University of Kansas. What began as a means to an end became the end itself.
Following graduation, Steve Schneeberger became a youth minister and not a lawyer. He moved to Florida, never considering a move out of state just 3 months earlier. He quickly realized that he was alone and ill prepared for the profession that chose him. He explored educational opportunities that would give him vocational success, but he found that short-term workshops didn’t provide long-term support. He sought mentors, but there weren’t many, because most other youth ministers were also inexperienced. After the excitement of his new job wore off, people in the church had increasing expectations of Steve’s performance. He relied mostly on intuition, his own experience as a youth in a youth group, perseverance, and stubbornness – a recipe for survival, not necessarily excellence.
Time became the most effective teacher. Steve learned that the longer he stayed at a church, the greater the trust. And the greater the trust, the more teenagers were able to clearly articulate their values and beliefs before they moved into adulthood. Steve stayed for six years in his first full time youth ministry job and 17 years at the next church.
Along the way, Steve observed colleagues that weren’t quite as stubborn. Many were skilled yet untrained, loved young people yet failed to be appreciated. They burned out or were burned for not meeting the expectations of church members. As a result, churches that kept their youth minister for longer than three years were seen as unique. In the 1990s one church in Orlando, Florida, had five youth ministers in seven years. Another had four in five years. Young people were the innocent victims of the high turnover rate. Something needed to change.
The Youth Ministry Institute formed in 2005 under the direction of Steve Schneeberger and a team of colleagues and volunteers who were committed to providing training and long-term support for youth ministers. Since its inception, YMI has certified over 60 youth ministers in its two-year training and education program and has provided consulting services to over 100 churches across the country.
The Youth Ministry Institute expanded to the Midwest in 2013. The regional director, Matt Vaughan, brings 18 years of youth ministry experience to YMI, including 12 years at one of the largest mainline churches in the Midwest. Matt’s commitment to long-term youth ministry makes him a great fit to establish YMI in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and other neighboring states. In 2017, Kirsten Knox was hired to run YMI Florida. She brings 16 years of youth ministry experience, with 10 years at her last church. Longevity is important to YMI.
A diverse board of directors and managers from a number of Christian traditions governs the Youth Ministry Institute in areas of curriculum development, program direction, and funding. It is the continuing commitment of the entire team to work with churches from a variety of Christian traditions in regions all over the United States so that their youth ministries may rise to the level of excellence.
God continues to work through a variety of supportive relationships fostered by YMI. Now it is apparent. God can be seen in real time, working to strengthen the local church.