OWENSBORO, Ky. (4/23/13) – A Henderson native has made reaching out to Daviess County area adolescents his mission in life, but Chris Dillbeck told SurfKY he doesn’t run a youth ministry, or even an outreach youth ministry.
“We call ourselves a high school missionary organization,” Dillbeck said of the organization called Young Life.
Dillbeck said his work through Young Life takes a different approach than traditional “youth ministry.”
“When you say ‘youth ministry,’ the majority of people automatically think of a picture and they will assume that is what you do. When you say ‘youth ministry,’ people think of lock-ins, pizza parties, Super Bowl parties, and we are not any of that stuff,” he said.
Dillbeck said he hopes “when you say “high school missionary organization,” it causes people to pause and wonder what exactly Young Life does.
Dillbeck began his career working as a part time youth director for a local church when he was in his early 20’s. He was the Director of Henderson’s Young Life program from 2001 to August of 2012 when he and his family moved to Owensboro to initiate the Young Life program here. Greater Owensboro Young Life’s focus is to be in every middle school and high school in Daviess County, with a possibility of branching out into the surrounding counties.
“We have a vision for not just the Daviess County proper, but also for the smaller surrounding counties around us that we want to impact. We want to be in every middle and high school in the region,” he said.
Eventually, Dillbeck discovered then that he had a real compassion for high school kids that weren’t church kids.
“I loved the high school kids,” said Dillbeck, “but what I discovered was that I loved the kids that lived around the church more than I loved the church kids. The thing about most church kids is that their parents are making them come and they knew how to act, just like me. I could not cuss in front of the church, but I knew I was somebody else. So, the kids that I found myself drawn to were the kids in the neighborhood who were rough. Their parents may have been pot-heads or whatever. They didn’t pretend to be somebody around me that they weren’t.”
At the age of 26, Chris Dillbeck entered college full time at the University of Evansville. While enrolled there, he came into contact with the organization called Young Life. He said interacting with the youth there and seeing how conversational they were in talking with one another inspired him.
“When I was there, their Young Life club was full of these kids who were talking about what they did the weekend before, and I remember one of these kids yelling at one of the leaders who was trying to fix a TV or something,” he said, noting that some of the kids cursed in their speech. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, kids never talk like that in a church youth group!’”
Dillbeck said what surprised him was that the kids there that night knew that they needed Young Life.
“It’s a Christian organization and they didn’t hide that fact, and yet these kids wanted to come to it,” Dillbeck said. “I discovered that night that Young Life pursues kids who would never step foot in church, and we (Young Life) pursue kids who are not interested in spiritual things. Some of them are opposed to the gospel, or some are Christian kids who are stagnant and don’t care.
We pursue those kids not through a program, but through a relationship.”
The mission of Dillbeck and Young Life is to go into every middle and high school in Daviess County and to tell kids, as Dillbeck puts it, “Hey, we want to know you whether you believe in God or not.”
According to Dillbeck, when Young Life trains their leaders, they say that you can’t expect high school students to have Kingdom-based values when they aren’t in the Kingdom. Kids have to be treated just the way they are.
“They have to know that we want to know them, and that we want to come alongside them. I love authentic, real relationships that do away with the superficial junk that I experienced in high school,” Dillbeck said. “You can get that ‘superficialness’ in church sometimes, too. You have to wear a tie and suit and be fake that’s what people hate about church. They are looking for authentic and real faith.”
Dillbeck said his own faults and missteps help him relate to kids in his role with Young Life.
“I, like most everyone else, am always one bad decision away from messing up. It’s only by the grace of God that I am walking and living my life the way that I am. It’s not because I am anything special,” he said.
Drawing upon this philosophy, Dillbeck and Young Life encourages their leaders to be authentic and real.
“We have to love these kids right where they’re at,” Dillbeck said. “That’s why we do what we do. We feel called to it. The club is a place that is not really a kid’s world, but it’s not an adult’s world either. About once a week, maybe for an hour, these kids get a chance to just be themselves. We laugh and be silly and do fun stuff, and at the end of every club for maybe ten to fifteen, one of the leaders, that the kids know because of these relationships we have built, gets up and starts sharing the Gospel and the good news.”
Young Life first began to branch in Daviess County through Apollo High School and Young Life Club. He went on to say that Young Life has done such a good job of building relationships at Apollo that they are now in charge of coordinating Apollo’s freshman orientation. Apollo currently holds their Young Life club in Dillbeck’s barn.
“The upstairs is finished, so Apollo High School has their Young Life club on our property,” he said.
Dillbeck also is in the process of beginning a Young Life chapter at Daviess County High School.
He said “any student can belong to Young Life.”
“However to be a leader, you must be a Christ follower,” he added.
Young Life is a world-wide organization, serving youth in more than 120 countries since 1941.
According to Young Life’s website, in 1938 Jim Rayburn, a young Presbyterian youth leader and seminary student in Gainesville, Texas, was given a challenge. A local minister invited him to consider the neighborhood high school as his parish and develop ways of contacting kids who had no interest in church.
Rayburn started a weekly club for kids. There was singing, a skit or two and a simple message about Jesus Christ. Club attendance increased dramatically when they started meeting in the homes of the young people.
After graduating from seminary, Rayburn and four other seminarians collaborated, and Young Life was officially born on Oct. 16, 1941, with its own Board of Trustees. They developed the club idea throughout Texas, with an emphasis on showing kids that faith in God can be not only fun, but exhilarating and life changing.
By 1946, Young Life had moved to a new headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the staff had grown to 20 men and women across several states. Volunteer leadership began at Wheaton College in Illinois in the late 1940s, and today Young Life clubs depend heavily on the mission’s 19,000 volunteer leaders.
Prior to the 1960s, Young Life had directed its ministry almost completely to suburban high school students. By 1972 it had begun ministries in approximately 25 multi-ethnic and urban areas. Today, Young Life has more than 700 multicultural ministries reaching more than 18,000 inner-city, racially underrepresented and poor young people. In the 1980s the mission developed two new cutting-edge ministries — WyldLife for middle school students and the Capernaum Project for kids with disabilities. Young Life has also developed the Small Town Initiative, which aims to bring Young Life to rural areas around the country. The most recent new outreach ministries to be formed are Young Lives, which focuses on pregnant teens and young mothers, and Young Life College, which targets students on college campuses.
Young Life’s outreach to kids outside of the United States began in 1953 with the work of Rod and Fran Johnston in France. That ministry, under the name of Jeunesse Ardente, continues to this day. Within 10 years of that first overseas outreach, Young Life had extended its reach to British Columbia, home to a camp called Malibu; to Germany, where MCYM began reaching out to kids on military bases; and to Brazil. In the decades since, Young Life’s international outreach expanded both in scope and types of ministries. A mix of American and national staff and volunteers are reaching kids with the Gospel through more than 700 ministries in more than 70 countries.
Young Life's mission remains the same — to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith. This happens when caring adults build genuine friendships and earn the right to be heard with their young friends. For more than six decades, God has blessed the Young Life staff, increasing its numbers from five to more than 3,300 — from one club in Texas to clubs in nearly every corner of the world.
Photos provided by Chris Dillbeck
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