Florida youths use MAC Track to explore God's call




At age 17, Brandon Hardy believes he has been called to ministry, though perhaps not in a traditional pastoral role. 

Marisa Gertz and Olivia May, MAC Track
Marisa Gertz and Olivia May enjoy fellowship at a MAC Track ministry exploration event.

High school senior Marisa Gertz wants a career that enables her to wholeheartedly serve God as she fulfills the daily duties of her job, but she is not necessarily seeking ordination.

Providentially, for these and other teenagers in Florida, a program nicknamed MAC Track is available to help them in their discernment journey.

MAC refers to Ministry as a Career, a program developed by the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, Mo. It is designed to provide avenues for students who have an interest or possible calling to explore vocational ministry, whether in ordained or lay service.

The program provides support, encouragement, resources and options to these students as they explore their calling. The goal is to offer young people a realistic view of ministry while developing leadership through experiential learning. The program also provides an authentic Christian community where youths with similar goals are wholeheartedly seeking to discern God's direction for their lives.

In Florida, the MAC Track Program is being pioneered by First UMC, Lakeland, where  Rev. Kirk Dana and his team are preparing to begin their second year. Dana oversees the student ministry program. He learned about MAC Track during the Church of the Resurrection’s annual Leadership Institute and then brought the program to the Florida Conference last year. 

“I simply took what COR had and revamped it for us,” says Dana, who has posted a video overview of First Lakeland’s MAC Track on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raSjvMoHb8M&feature=plcp

First Lakeland’s version coincides with a typical school year, September to May, and includes resources that help students assess their spiritual gifts. The program also features monthly meetings that begin with lunch and fellowship, followed by guest speakers discussing different career paths in ministry and talking about their own calls to serve.  

Delaney Noris, Andrea Payne, Hannah Keyt in MAC Track
Mentor Andrea Payne is flanked by Delaney Noris, left, and Hannah Keyt during a MAC Track meeting.

For  the duration of the program, each student participant is paired with an adult mentor of the same gender who is either a lay or ordained minister. After each guest speaker’s presentation, the students have one-on-one meetings with their mentors to discuss what they have learned but also to hone leadership skills and their individual discernment journey.

“That is the part that helped me the most because I’ve never really had a mentor,” says Brandon, who credits his mentor with teaching him to think more deeply about the Bible, the importance of prayer and how to meditate on answering God’s calling for his life.

“I have such an appreciation of the mentors and their commitment to this program,” says Dana, who acknowledges the significant time commitment required of mentors. “They are from different walks of life, all different ages, and yet they were able to connect with teenagers.”

Dana notes that meeting the 1-to-1 ratio of mentors to teens was perhaps the most challenging part of the program, as he attempted to match personalities and interests.

“I beat the bushes at different committee meetings to find people,” he says, noting that the mentor group is a mixture of church staff ministers and active laity who all have been screened and trained to work with young people.

Outside the monthly meetings, students also may shadow their mentors while they attend church meetings or events such as Annual Conference or even General Conference. Both students and mentors also participate in a group study on the book “Call Waiting: God's Invitation to Youth,” by Larry L. McSwain and Kay Wilson Shurden.

Mentors and youths agree that the program has been beneficial. Dana reports that eight of the 11 teenagers who started the program last year plan to return for the second year, and one has graduated from high school with plans to attend college out of the area.

Even for students who leave the program early, Dana believes MAC Track succeeds by helping them determine that ministry is not a career path they want to pursue.

MAC Track students at First UMC Lakeland
Student participants in First Lakeland's MAC Track are, front row left to right, Freedom Roche, Teddy Payne, Austin Irazoqui, Brandon Hardy; second row left to right, Hannah Keyt, Rachel Underwood, Olivia May, Delaney Noris, and Marisa Gertz.

Now, as he works with his team to develop the second year of the curriculum for returning students, Dana is also sending out letters inviting about 50 additional young people to start the program. The success of MAC Track makes the juggling of time and resources worth it, he says.

Marisa is the perfect example.

“I didn’t know if I had a calling into ministry outside of the church,” she says. “But this program and my mentor helped me see the bigger picture of God working through everybody.

“So for anyone wondering about their calling – if they really want to grow in their faith and push forward in their discernment – this program is key. I think it will benefit every teenager.”

Florida churches interested in launching their own MAC Track or just learning more may contact Dana at kdana@firstumc.org. He recommends starting with the materials provided by the Church of the Resurrection both online (www.cor.org) and in person, through the Leadership Institute. He credits Jason Gant, COR’s student ministries director, with being particularly helpful.
 




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