John Jelinek was going to give it one year.
Jelinek dreamt most of his life of becoming a pastor, and a position as a youth minister didn’t really seem to completely fulfill that goal in his eyes. But he was not about to pass up an opportunity to serve at The Church of Holy Apostles in McHenry, so he said he would take on the position for one year before pursuing a traditional minister position.
That one year has turned into 10 years, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I always kind of knew I wanted to be a pastor, but I never had any intention of working with teens,” Jelinek said. “But it’s just such a wonderful ministry that now I can’t imagine doing anything else. To see kids come back from college and see how they’re doing, seeing some of them get engaged; it’s the most rewarding thing.”
As head of the youth ministry at The Church of Holy Apostles, Jelinek works with junior high and, primarily, high school teens. The high school schedule keeps him busy with a youth group night every Sunday, a prayer group Tuesday night followed by a peer ministry meeting and then a teen bible study night on Wednesdays.
Jelinek said different teens are attracted to different groups, with some going to multiple groups and others choosing just one. But the issues they deal with are often the same.
“The issues for teens today are the same they have always been,” Jelinek said. “I would just say the manifestations of the challenges have changed. It’s still about wanting to be accepted and loved by peers. But the way that comes out is different, and there are different pressures.”
Jelinek said the weekly small groups are conducive to helping teens work through those issues and grow in their faith, but it is the annual mission trips where he sees some of the largest growth.
During his 10 years at the church, Jelinek has taken mission trips with the teens to places ranging from St. Louis to Memphis and Oklahoma to Kentucky. But that same spiritual growth that is fostered on those trips hundreds of miles away can be seen close to home, too. Jelinek said this past year the group decided to help locally by raking leaves, doing yard work and contributing any way they could, which led to some great results.
“I don’t know that I can point to a specific incident, but you can really see them succeed afterwards,” Jelinek said of the mission trips both near and far. “Growth happens in both places. They step out of their normal realm and serve others, and they find a connection that can be a life changing experience.”
Dan Rosen, a former member of the youth group, said Jelinek’s influence on his life was a huge factor in finding success in high school and beyond. He said Jelinek provided stability and perspective when he needed it most.
“There is just so much new you go through when you are in high school, and it can be easy to lose sight,” Rosen said. “John has always been great and bringing perspective to anything you may be going through.”
Jelinek’s approach to the youth ministry has proven successful as participation has increased. There is more participation in the small, weekly groups, and the mission trips now have a waiting list after topping 70 people.
He said the ability to connect with teens comes from being authentic and not trying to act younger just to fit in.
“It’s not about pretending to be a teenager,” Jelinek said. “It’s about being real and authentic with them. As long as you are authentic that is what they are looking for. You don’t need to know the latest songs.”