Tracy Smith came to Vandalia on Dec. 1 as the new youth minister at Northside Christian Church, with 15 years of experience in his chosen occupation, for which he felt a strong calling.
He has lived in Missouri and Illinois all of his life and, although his youthful appearance belies his age, his conversation, character, spoken beliefs and actions reveal a maturity and knowledge that well qualifies him for the challenges, and firmness, tempered with the Christian love and understanding often needed for a youth minister.
The Inspiration and Encouragement …
…to become a youth minister was explained by Tracy.
“Actually, Bond Christian Service Camp in Bond County was where I went to camp as a child, and when I was in high school, I had a church counselor out there who thought I would be a good youth counselor some day.”
At the time, Smith did not plan to follow that advice, “but, about a year later, I decided that was what I was being called to do,” he said.
Tracy and his wife, Annah, have five children – 13-year-old Madison, 12-year-old Alexis (Lexi), 10-year-old Halee, 6-year-old Micah and 3-year-old, Paige.
Annah is a nurse in the federal system and is currently working at Ft. Leonard Wood, but is in transition of getting a job in downtown St. Louis at the VA Hospital there. “She will probably be moving here in January,” Tracy said.
Becoming a Christian
“I’ve gone to church ever since I was a kid,” he said. “I was in the hospital for about two weeks when I was born and as soon as I was out, Mom took me to church, I’ve gone to the Christian Church all my life and I was baptized when I was eight years old. “
And to Vandalia
“We were looking for a new ministry and they (Northside Christian) were looking for a youth minister. We came and visited – we liked them and they liked us, so it was a pretty quick turn-around, and we are glad to be here,” he said.
The Youth Group
“We have a good youth group here, and we are excited to be here with them and visit them at school and hang out with them,” Tracy said. “ I go to the junior high and high school lunch rooms and eat lunch with them about once a month.
“The school district is very gracious to let me in to eat lunch and spend some time with the kids,” he said.
He treats his ministry as not just a ministry for the kids, but as a family ministry. He displays an understanding of the many of the situations kids of today face and, in many instances, struggling with. He tries to help them feel that they are a part of a family in the church and youth group.
Although he is friendly with the kids, he also wants them to understand that he is not just there to be their buddy, but to help them and teach them.
“If you walk into a room and try to be their buddy, then you are in for a rough time, But if you walk in and say, ‘OK, I’m here not just to be your buddy, but to teach you and I’m here to have fun with you and if you have questions or needs, I’m here to listen to those, and I will help wherever I can. They are looking for direction and guidelines and boundaries,
They have plenty of friends – they don’t need me as a friend. They need me to be there for them, to listen to them and to hang out with them, but they don’t need another teenager next to them.”
Reaching Those Who are Not Christians …
…requires associating with those who may have a past, and Northside Christian Church reaches out to all in need of Christ.
“Our goal here at this church is to point people to Christ,” he said., “but we will never put the safety of others at risk,” he said, “But we need to point people to Christ, no matter who they are.”
“We can either be as wise as serpents and as soft as doves, or we can be just be completely hard-nosed and you have to have a pass to get in here – that is a country club, not a church,” Tracy said.
The Youth Group currently has 25-30 youths in it. “We will continue to lay out the best program and ministry we can, to attract people who need to know God. Our goal is not to steal kids from any other churches, but to reach kids who are not being churched right now. We want them to know who God really is, not who they think he is.”
Northside Christian Church has recently expanded to two services every Sunday morning. They welcome all who do not have a church home to join them in one of the services.
Tracy had plans for this evening to take the group on a surprise trip, to the Vandalia Statehouse. He is impressed with Vandalia’s history and feels that if past history is not learned, mistakes will be repeated.