Stories of the Spirit- Youth + Family Ministry

Group 236

The Fellowship of the Believers-Acts 2:42-47, NIV

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.


People often say “children are the future” in a variety of ways, but especially when talking about the church. What this saying misses, though, is that our children and youth are also the present. They are here right now, looking for adults to guide them in their faith, build community, and feel God’s love. 


Barbara Harner, with over 20 years of ministry including her time as Synod Youth Director, always understood this about our children and youth. She also understood the responsibility to teach and gather around God’s unconditional love. While having an active youth ministry is often thought of in a congregational context, Barbara saw the opportunity to strengthen and help create a longstanding and faithful youth organization for the Metro D.C. Synod as a whole. As such she began volunteering with synod events back in 1994, eventually getting more and more involved with planning events. The more involved she became the more she confirmed the importance of exposing youth to the larger church beyond their congregation. She understood the synod as a resource that could offer space to explore their broader community; community that would embrace different backgrounds, more community organizations, and learn how to be church together. 

One of the most important parts of Synod Youth Ministry are the events, whether they provide necessary training for adult leaders, or overnight/weekend retreats for youth. What we now know as RoadTrip and FreeRide used to be Chrysalis and Shekinah – while the names have changed, the purpose has not. A dedicated night or weekend to get away and focus on being community and growing in faith is central to what our youth do together on these retreats. 


Barbara said these events were the most fulfilling part of the role- seeing everything come together after all of the planning. The “aha” moments that happened each time, however, were the most rewarding. Watching something “click” for the first time, or realizing “oh, I didn’t know I could ask that,” or  simply seeing a new way of thinking, made all of the hard work and dedication worth it. 


While the way we do ministry is always shifting and changing – as it is now as we explore our partnership with the Delaware-Maryland Synod for children & youth ministry – the goal of helping youth discover and grow in faith has always remained the same. The biggest challenges to working with youth have also stayed the same. This is something Barbara faced in her many years as director. She talked about helping adults realize that they could do this despite the challenges. “It doesn’t require being biblically literate, it just requires having a heart for Jesus and for youth.” she said. She helped institute a “Youth Ministry 101, 201, 301” series to help adult leaders get the tools they needed to accompany the youth and families they were entrusted to serve.


Her hope and prayer for all were encompassed in the three key parts of the curriculum she created; that they might know that:

  1. They were beloved by God.
  2. God’s grace is given to them, no strings attached and
  3. They discover who they are in Christ and how to live as a Christian in community with others. 


Barbara reminded us that all our youth need are adults in their corner. She mentions a statistic that children need five adults other than their parents they feel they can trust and lean on- our adult leaders, church, and synod staff have the opportunity and privilege to be those people. We are those called to help build trusting relationships with them and help strengthen their faith so that they might grow to be confident, bold, and unapologetic Christian disciples of Jesus in today’s world. What an honor! 


Just as we are experiencing a world and a church that is consistently invited to change and accommodate the needs that exist, Youth + Family Ministry is also changing and seeking to accommodate the needs that exist. We are currently in a season of exploration of what youth and family can be here, in The Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod. What has and will remain a constant in our motivation and approach is the understanding that our youth are not the future, but the present of our church. They are beloved, used, and called by God right now. As such we are committed to their discipleship and leadership development in our synod and beyond. 

Current synod youth leaders and pastors are invited to a gathering on Wednesday, June 14 at 7:00 PM, at St. Stephen in Silver Spring, MD. We will gather to glean from one another and discuss how this commitment can take on flesh in our synod. You can RSVP for the gathering here.

If you are interested in learning more about our children and youth partnership or becoming an adult leader for synod youth events and following in the footsteps of our beloved Barbara Harner, visit