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Young minister ready to be mentor, guide to Hillsboro youth

Staff writer

Steven Vanderhart’s to-do list as youth minister at Hillsboro United Methodist Church reads:

1. Build relationships

2. Earn trust

3. Foster spiritual growth

4. Plan events.

At least one function of his job sounds easily attainable; getting a youth group member to bring potato salad sounds easier than trying to lead someone to peace through Jesus Christ.

However, Vanderhart is entering a position at the head of a strong group. A graduate of Central Christian College of McPherson this May, he is the rookie. The group of over 20 youth group members ushered in his arrival by giving him a package of diapers.

Unlike churches he experienced in McPherson or his hometown, Waterloo, Iowa, outreach is not the goal of youth ministry in Hillsboro. Vanderhart worked in church-run homeless shelters or organized other efforts to relieve poverty.

The youth group at Hillsboro United Methodist is already an active group. What they needed was a mentor, which Vanderhart believes he can provide because of his comfort with people, his resistance to rush to judgment, and his sense of humor.

Vanderhart is familiar with the mentor role. His youth minister in his church at Waterloo would play basketball with him or take him to youth events. To Vanderhart, who is an only child, the youth minister position partially filled the role of an older brother. It was this relationship, the leadership bestowed by that youth minister, that inspired Vanderhart to study ministry.

“I would say I was called to do this job. But, God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called,” Vanderhart said. “I could go to any church and fit in, but I think God has a special plan for me at this church.”

Although his experience is not in a rural town — he went to high school with more than 2,000 students — Vanderhart and his wife Jonalee were searching for a community like Hillsboro. In their first week in town, church members have welcomed the Vanderharts with baked goods and shoveled their driveway during recent snowstorms.

“People care,” Vanderhart said. “You get an opportunity to walk down the block and see the kids in your youth group.”

Jonalee, also a graduate of Central Christian, will help Vanderhart organize youth group activities and may provide one-on-one support for youth group members. She is currently putting her own career as a child-life specialist to assist Vanderhart.

Vanderhart said he hopes to provoke thought in his opportunities to preach.

“To help people realize what they don’t understand,” he said.

While not the foundation of his ministry in Hillsboro, social justice is still one of Vanderhart’s interests.

He pointed out two separate missions he participated in on opposite ends of the spectrum while he was in college.

He taught English in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and he distributed food to homeless people on the streets of Wichita.

“It’s founded on the teaching, ‘whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me,’” Vanderhart said. “You are the reflection of Christ.”

Last modified Feb. 10, 2011

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