Posted on : Monday November 21, 2011

By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent

ESSEX, Md. — I had a welcome committee when I arrived at First Church Essex on a very hot August afternoon. Haley Scurto and Nick Blevins, awaiting my arrival, welcomed me at the door in a professional yet friendly manner and escorted me to the classroom where I was to be the guest speaker, sharing with a small group of eager listeners how God directed my path to eventually become a Christian journalist. My interview was part of a youth leadership development program developed by FBC Essex Pastor John Smith. 

The group sat and amazingly listened almost raptly while Smith, casually interviewed me about my life, about leaders I’ve interviewed and leadership skills I have learned.

The youth asked me questions such as “How long did it take for you to feel successful?” and “How did writing poetry help you express yourself?” Insightful, intelligent questions from young teens.

Haley and Nick are 14; Sebastian Blaylock is 15; Dakota Reynolds is 13; and Alexander Potts is 12.

Haley wants to be a dance instructor for kids with speech problems; Nick is considering teaching; Sebastian and Dakota plans to join the military and Alexander wants to be a doctor.

When I asked them what they intended to learn from this program, Hayley said, “I want to do harder things and grow as a person. I want to learn how to take challenges.”  Others expressed wanting to learn to how to better serve.

As Smith interviewed me he reviewed leadership traits the class had been studying.

“We learned that over 70 percent of our body language is nonverbal,” Smith said as the teens looked on.

“Leaders take notes,” he said as the students quickly picked up their pens. “They read,” he said, after we discussed books.

Earlier in the summer, local car dealership owner Rick Metzger was a special guest.  Metzger also ran for public office, but lost by a small margin. Metzger shared his experience and his own leadership journey. “Leaders don’t give up!” Smith told the students.

Each week, students learned different aspects of leadership through interviewing guest speakers, role playing and doing team building activities. They role played preparing for the governor to visit; they worked as a team to collect trash.

“It has been an incredible experience,” Smith said.

The idea began when Smith and his wife, Amber, began getting to know several youth who started hanging out at the Smith house shortly after the family moved in and began ministering last year. The Smiths thought perhaps they could use the time that the youngsters were just sitting around to teach leadership development and life skills from a biblical perspective. They envisioned helping the kids become leaders in their community and schools who could deal with their own day to day issues and minister to their friends.

This summer, working with intern Ben Ritter at Liberty University, the Smiths decided to take the next step and write a curriculum to focus on specific leadership skills.

The most important aspect Smith teaches is what the Bible says about leadership.

“Jesus influenced people by serving,” Smith said. “That’s the simplest, most important lesson in the program.”

As the teens prepared for a mock visit from the governor, they scurried about making sure things were just right for the important guest.

Afterwards, Smith told the kids, “You are all important!” He encouraged them to treat each other as special people. When they collected trash as a team, Smith shared with them a story about a man he had been trying to reach out to who had been leaving the cigarette butts the kids had been picking up. It changed their attitude about their service.

The group will meet from time to time through the school year, then Smith plans to expand the program next summer with more guests and activities.  When asked about one aspect of leadership they’ve learned so far, Nick said, “How to treat people.” Dakota replied, “Doing things without being asked.” Haley said, “How to respect people.” Alexander said, “How to have character.”

Smith is psyched about the program. “It’s been fun-fantastic! This has energized me unbelievably.”