Mark Holcomb: Helping Students Find Answers

Mark Holcomb: Helping Students Find Answers

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Mark Holcomb is the general president for Nazarene Youth International (NYI). At the General NYI Convention in 2009, he was elected to this role. He is university chaplain at Olivet Nazarene University (ONU). Previously, he was on the ONU faculty and has also served as a local church youth pastor. Mark and his wife, Terry, have two adult daughters, Kristin and Kelli, and three grandsons, Brayden, Jackson, and Bradley.  

Where were you born and raised?
Born in Akron, Ohio. I was raised in Michigan. My dad was a Nazarene pastor so I can't nail down one place.

What would HT readers be surprised to learn about you?
They wouldn't be surprised to learn that I'm an Ohio State fan, that's no secret. They might be surprised to know that I watch Project Runway with my wife.

What's your earliest church memory?
I was probably three years old. My dad's first church didn't have air conditioning so the windows were sometimes kept open. The nursery was in the back of the church with a window that looked out on the sanctuary. One hot Sunday afternoon, many birds, probably sparrows, and a bat, flew into the sanctuary.

So for the evening 'service,' the women and children sat in the nursery and watched the as men ran around with broom and climbed on ladders as they attempted to chase a flock of birds, plus the bat, out of the sanctuary. Very entertaining. You can imagine what remained after the birds left. It took two days to clean that sanctuary.

What phrase do you most overuse?
Let it marinate. Let it simmer. (Said in chapel to the students when we've heard something deep.)

Habit you'd like to change?
I probably watch too much college football on TV. And I drink way too much coffee.

You were elected in 2009 as the General NYI President. What do you do in that role?
I chair global council meetings, and help to plan and coordinate two events - Third Wave (January 3-8, 2012, in Bangkok) and the Global Convention. We will not only manage the convention from Indianapolis (site of the 2013 convention), but also are planning to have 14-16 sites connecting us with delegates around the world. The multiple sites allow us to have the greatest representation at our convention in an era when global travel, cost of airfare, acquisition of visas, are making participation in our convention more difficult for those outside the US. The Haitian church has two of the five largest districts in NYI membership, so if technology allows us to give them a voice and a vote, why not?

Global NYI Director Gary Hartke and the NYI staff at the Global Ministry Center help implement these things. They do an incredible job of managing all that NYI is, and also resourcing, networking, training, and evangelizing with the local church and casting the vision for the global youth ministry.

From your vantage point, where do you see the future of the church?
About half of our university's religion majors are women who feel called into ministry. The future of the church will have us dealing honestly with the growing number of women being called and giving them a place to serve behind our pulpits and in our churches. If you have a call to preach, don't let your gender define how your call is expressed. It's important for the church to not just give lip service to these women, but to come alongside and give them places to serve.

Anything else?
Youth ministry has to change. Studies indicate how students walk away from their faith. I'm convinced that we don't lose them in college; we lose them in junior high. The professionalization of youth ministry has moved us away from an intergenerational church. If all generations don't start connecting in the church, this trend won't stop. Youth will leave the church because they don't have mentoring relationships with adults other than the youth minister.

A youth minister cannot do it alone. Congregations must have connection points and build relationships with students.

Why do some young people not return to church life after college?

The reason they walk away in college is because they can. They vote with their feet.

They don't get their 'feet' until they get their car and their freedom. You can tell the junior high kids that are checked out and the ones who are engaged. The junior high kids who are engaged, more times than not, are the ones who are connected relationally with adults in the church.

Is this true around the world?
It seems outside the U.S. everything is intergenerational. And the church outside the U.S. is young - a lot of the leaders in the churches I have visited are young. But in the U.S., because of our compartmentalization and emphasis on development and age-group ministries, we have segregated the church.

What's your idea of a perfect day?
I like my job, so a good day in the office, followed by a nice dinner with Terry, and cap it off by playing in the park with Brayden, Jackson, and Bradley.

Favorite food?
Giordano's Pizza. (Chicago style.)

Hunting, reading, walks on the beach with my wife, and Tweeting from my porch.

What do your chaplain responsibilities include?
Shaping ONU chapels. Overseeing campus worship. We have a worship coordinator who manages public relations groups, the worship bands for chapel, and Party with Jesus, a worship service on Monday nights. In my office we also have director of missions and on-campus student ministries, involving both outreach and 'inreach.' I manage and write curriculum for discipleship groups, and I write a weekly devotional for the campus.

How do you 'shape' a chapel?
Themes, subthemes, finding speakers. We're intentional about where we are going thematically. My role is to create good church men and women, and to help students discover their vocations, not just careers. Their calling. The best compliment the local church can give the university is that the students who leave here are great church men and women, wherever they land.

I also don't believe our role is to create questions for students. They come with enough. But I'm trying to help them find answers to the ones that can be answered and trust God with the ones that can't, while learning to live in the mystery of God.

Holiness Today, January/February 2012