By Kelly Young

countybeat@jacksonvilleprogress.com

Controlling a large group of teenagers and convincing them to be civil is a major undertaking. But taking those same kids and trying to reach them with the Gospel is another thing all together. This is the task that Stephen James faces every Wednesday night.

James was hired four weeks ago to be Central Baptist Church’s new youth minister, after their previous youth leader, Jim Heilitman, left the church in January to attend seminary in Waco. James understands that he has big shoes to fill.

“You always hate to hear when someone has to leave for a bad reason, so it’s great to hear that Jim was well-loved and well-received, and that not only talks about how Jim was, but also how great the students are and how receptive they are,” James said. “I’m real glad that they loved on that guy, now I’m hoping they will share a little bit of the love. It’s a good thing all around when students take to a leader like that.”

Raised in Mount Enterprise, James graduated high school there and went on to college at East Texas Baptist University, where he earned a Master of Arts Degree in religion with a concentration in youth ministry. Before joining the staff at CBC, James served as youth minister at his home church for three years.

“After three years there, I just starting seeking God’s Will for my career, so we put out some seekers and send some resumes out,” James said. “I didn’t know if it was time to go back to seminary or to find another church, when Central Baptist contacted us.”

James and his long-time girlfriend Hilarie recently got married.

“I’ve been married for about seven to seven-and-a-half months to my high school sweet-heart,” James said. “It’s kinda wild, you don’t hear about that happening very much anymore.”

James has taken over the Central Baptist youth group, which numbers about 50 members during the summer months and swells to around 75 members during the school year. James said his first month with the group has been awesome.

“They are a really diverse group, with kids from all ends of the spectrum. We’ve got gothic kids, kids that have money and lake houses and that kind of stuff, but they all come together,” James said. “Surprisingly, despite all of their differences, when they all come together, it looks like the Body of Christ — sometimes the fellowship is a really cool thing to watch.”

The CBC youth group has regular meetings at 6 p.m. every Wednesday night and also meets at 9:30 a.m. every Sunday morning for Sunday School. Meetings usually include a time of praise and worship followed by a message or Bible study. At Wednesday’s “Revolution” meetings, dinner is provided.

“Sunday nights starting Aug. 20, we’re going to be having this new thing called “Fusion,” and it’s a youth drama/choir thing that will begin at 4:45 p.m.,” James said. “It will involve music, drama and all kinds of crazy games.”

Last month, CBC made a church-wide missions trip down to Mante, Mexico. The trip lasted five days.

“We did a couple different Vacation Bible Schools while we were down there, and we did a lot of work projects,” said Brian Cummins, intern with the CBC youth group. “We put up roofs on churches, put slabs up and built frames — stuff like that.”

According to CBC intern Sunny Hudnall, 70 church members went down to Mante to help out, including approximately 20 youth.

“When I first received the call into the ministry, during my junior year in high school, I really didn’t know what I was being called to do,” James said. “But youth ministry has really opened up as the thing that God wants me to do right now.

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