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Hi, I’m Matt Swider.

Helena, MT

Experience

Life Covenant Church
Pastor of Youth & Worship

Education

Moody Bible Institute Chicago, IL
Bachelor of Arts
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
MDiv

Church Affiliation

Evangelical Free Church (EFCA), Evangelical Covenant Church

Years In Ministry

18 years

Personality

ISFJ

Skills

Evangelism, Teaching, Public Speaking/Teaching, Relationally Driven, Leading Worship

Tools & Software

Breeze ChMs, Microsoft Office Suite, Text-In-Church, MediaShout

Personal

Married

Top 3 Strengths

Passionate0%

Organized0%

Caring0%

Student Pastor Questionnaire Responses
Personal Info
Please share briefly how you became a Christian.
Every summer from my second-grade year through my senior year in high school, I attended Silver Birch Ranch in White Lake, Wisconsin. This camp was always the highlight of my year. In June of 1994, the summer before my freshman year of high school, I attended chapel at Silver Birch Ranch as I had done so many times before. A man named Steve Sanford was speaking that night, and I can still clearly remember his message. I felt like he was speaking just to me. I listened to him, and I can’t explain it any other way except to say this – all of the sudden, I knew God was real. I could feel it. I finally believed that Jesus died for me, and that the only way to spend eternity in heaven with God was to accept the person and work of Jesus Christ. Following his message, and after all the students were dismissed to go to free time, I remained in the chapel. Steve and I sat on the steps of the stage and spoke for about a half hour. And at the end of that conversation, he prayed with me, and that night when I was 14 years old, I trusted in Jesus Christ as my Savior, and my life has never been the same since.
How would you describe yourself?
  • Fun
  • Serious
  • Motivational
  • Loving
  • Organized
Personality Type
On the DISC test – I am D – 50%, C – 19%, I – 16%, S – 16%
Tell me about some people (i.e. authors, mentors, and ministry leaders) that have had a big impact on you.
When I started high school, I was fortunate enough to be part of an amazing youth group. And more important, I had an incredible youth pastor named Bob, and he truly loved teenagers. Bob invested his life into me. Because of Bob, I believed I was understood and valued. Bob made the effort to understand what was going on inside of me, and God used him to absolutely transform my life. Were it not for Bob, I never would have gone to Bible college. I never would have gone into ministry. And I certainly would never have chosen youth ministry. Bob made an enormous difference in my life. He understood me when my parents didn’t. He listened to me when no one else would. He loved me when I was hard to love. And ever since that time, I knew I wanted other high school students to have the same experience I had in high school. By far, Bob was the biggest influence on me during my high school and early college years. Mark Devries, Chap Clark, and Doug Fields have been incredibly influential authors when it comes to youth ministry. I am an avid reader and teacher on the issue of apologetics, and my biggest influences are William Lane Craig, the late Ravi Zacharias, and JP Moreland.
Parents/Volunteers
How do you plan to engage and inform parents or guardians about your ministry objectives and progress?
Currently I send an electronic newsletter to all parents who wish to receive it, and I give all parents who do not receive it the ability to opt in every two or three months. The newsletter contains all ministry events for the month, an explanation of the current teaching series I am doing, any special announcements, and I usually end the newsletter with an interesting article about parenting teenagers. In a new position, I would try to meet with as many parents one-on-one (or small group setting) as possible within the first couple months. The objective would be to get to know them personally and have them get to know me and my philosophy of ministry. Very little of my time (for the first month or two) would be spent in the office. My first and most important task would be to get to know the students and their parents. Without parent buy-in, youth ministry is not possible.
Tell me about a time when you developed a new team of volunteers into a strong working group. What did you do?
When I came on board as the youth pastor at my current church, the high school adult leadership was just waiting to leave. Many of them did not want to be there. Once I took over the program, I allowed everyone to leave who no longer had a passion for what they were doing. Most left, but a few stayed. From there I began to interview and recruit people whom I sensed had true love for people (specifically teenagers) and a desire to serve them. After about a year, we had a great leadership team in place. All of them committed to staying on for at least 2 years, but none of them resigned after 2 years. In fact, some are still serving! As a leadership team, we meet several times throughout the year – both to discuss issues in the youth ministry, but also to do some leadership training. Recently, we all read Hurt 2.0 together by Chap Clark. This book strongly influences the way I do youth ministry, and I was happy to see that it challenged many of my leaders as well.
How would you alleviate the confusion when you are communicating with volunteers and it becomes apparent that they don’t understand what you’re saying or vice versa?
I’m not quite sure how to answer this question other than to say I make it a habit to ask everyone if I am being clear. During leadership meetings, everyone has a voice. Everyone is heard. Very rarely do I make important decisions in a vacuum in my ministry, especially since so many of my leaders have been serving for more than 5 years. When they speak, I listen.
Spiritual Growth
Once you lead a student/child to Christ, how do you communicate their decision to their parents? Once a child accepts Christ as their Savior, how do you begin discipling them?
Once a student comes to Christ, I do not believe it is my story to tell. I encourage the student to tell their parents immediately, but sometimes they need to do it on their own time. I usually keep asking until they’ve told their parents, but that is their job – not mine. Once I lead a student to Christ, we go through “New: First Steps For New Christ Followers” by YM360. I’ve been using this book for several years. It’s the best book I’ve found to go through the first steps of the Christian faith with a new believer. It takes 4 weeks to finish, and I meet with the student once per week until we finish the book. Once they finish the book, I start encouraging that student to consider baptism.
As the spiritual leader of the children’s ministry, how are you going to help volunteers grow in their faith?
Church attendance is required for all of my leaders. If they are to be spiritual leaders for my students, they themselves need to care about their own spiritual walk. I tend to choose leaders who are more mature in their faith, and thus are self feeders. I work hard to create a community of love and trust among the leaders on the team. We pray together and for one another. When one is struggling, the others are usually quick to surround that person and love them. Typically my leaders are the people to whom I am closest. We almost become our own small group.
Ministry Growth
What is your philosophy of ministry?
High school students are not a means to an end. They are an end in and of themselves. Youth ministry is not asking high school students to come to my program. It is not inviting students to come do my thing. It is walking alongside high school students through the craziness of life. Youth ministry is me doing THEIR thing, whether or not they ever come to my program. As a youth pastor, I am committed to being one of the very few adults in my students’ lives whom they need perform for or impress. God has given me an enormous amount of love and compassion for high school students, and I will do whatever is necessary to make sure that they have the opportunity to come to know and love Jesus Christ.
What was the most creative idea you introduced in your last ministry role? What steps did you take to implement that idea with leadership, volunteers, and families if applicable?
I’m not the most creative guy in the world, but we had to shut down in March due to COVID. I had no idea how I was supposed to do youth ministry, but we figured it after a couple weeks. We went to YouTube Live format. I was at the church broadcasting from the sanctuary stage every Wednesday night. We did on-screen games, and students could play the games by using Snapchat and sending their answers to one of my student leaders – who subsequently sent me the winner every night. It was crazy. I also gave the message on YouTube Live, but then when it was time for discussion groups, every adult leader hosted their discussion group on Zoom. Once discussion groups were over, everyone came back to YouTube Live for the end-of-night craziness. It actually worked really well for us, and the attendance (while not great) was decent. Creative as this was, I’m glad those days are over and we’re back to in-person youth ministry!
How would you evaluate systems and structures to see if there could be improvement?
This is something I do in cooperation with my student leaders and adult leaders. I typically don’t make those assessments alone. I may have an opinion on whether something is working or not working, but ultimately, I’m much more interested in what my teams think – both student and adult leaders. If adjustments are made with the input of my leaders, they are much easier to implement.
Give an example of a successful outreach program or event that you put together.
Wednesday night every week is an outreach! When I took over the youth ministry in 2009, it was an inward focused program, reaching only the students from our church – and only a fraction of them at best. One of the biggest changes we made immediately was to change our philosophy to be an outreach youth ministry. We started making changes in order to create an environment where our students would feel comfortable bringing their non-Christian friends. And it worked! Our opening night of my first year we had seven students. Within five years, we were averaging over 60 per week. On a yearly basis to this day, our conversion rate is about 10% of our average weekly attendance. So if our attendance is 60 people per week, then our goal is to see at least 6 students come to faith in Christ over the course of that year. And largely, we have reached those goals through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
How would you deal with a teenager in trouble?
I’m not sure what kind of trouble. If a teenager is in trouble because s/he is breaking the rules at youth group, I would deal with this on my own. If the student was unwilling to make any adjustments in behavior, I would ultimately get the parents involved. But in 12 years at this church, I’ve only had to call parents once for this purpose. I typically am pretty good at handling these things. If trouble means a danger to him/herself, parents need to be notified. Any time a student is suicidal or in any kind of danger, my first phone call is always to the parents. If a student is in danger at home because of an abusive situation, my first phone call will be to Child Protective Services.
What goals have you set in the past for your ministry area. Did you accomplish them and if so, how did you accomplish them?
Our biggest goals we set as a team are attendance and conversions. We believe that healthy things grow, and if we are an outreach ministry, we need to look at how many people are coming to know Jesus through our ministry. During the 2019-2020 school year, we did not see a large number of freshmen participating in the program. This was unusual for us. And our freshmen numbers remained low all year. So as a student leadership team, we took some time to understand why – specifically, what did the freshmen need from us that we did not provide? My student leaders decided there wasn’t enough personal connection with the incoming freshmen that year. So this year, all of my student leaders divided into smaller teams with the goal of connecting with freshmen. They put together little gift baskets and made a plan. All of my incoming freshmen received a personal visit during the summer of 2020, where they were given a gift basket, and they were also given the opportunity to sit and visit with my student leaders for 20-30 minutes. This was wildly successful. Several parents subsequently communicated with how grateful they were for the visits. Needless to say, we have no problem with freshmen this year. 🙂
What do you do to stay current with the culture of young adults today?
It’s impossible! As Doug Fields says, once something reaches you (as an adult), it’s already old news in the world of teenagers. I guess I’d have to know what you mean by staying current, because it is generally not my practice to immerse myself in those things. I love teenagers. My life is deeply intertwined with the lives of my students and their families. So in that sense, I am current. But my students have no desire for me to be current on all the latest lingo and trends. My students need to know that I love them unconditionally.
What do you see as some of the biggest problems plaguing youth currently?
Teenagers need to know that they belong. And teenagers need adults in their lives who don’t expect them to perform. My experience in working with teenagers is that they are largely skeptical of adults since there seems to be a lack of adults in their lives who don’t expect things from them. I approach my students with no agenda – other than to love them and celebrate who they are. I know there isn’t anything special about this answer. It’s just how I do ministry. If I want to read up on current trends causing problems in youth culture, I can check out what Walt Mueller has to say at the Center for Parent Youth Understanding. He knows way more than I do.
Describe what a weekend student ministry experience would look like. What multimedia components would be used to create a learning experience that makes the Bible relevant?
Our Wednesday nights begin with an hour of hanging out starting at 5:30pm. At 6:30pm, we serve dinner to all students and leaders. After dinner, they spend some time with their teams (there are 4 teams) talking about their week and whatnot. After team time, we do our group game, and then it’s time for me to teach. When I’m finished teaching, they students go to their discussion groups, which are led by both student and adult leaders. After discussion groups, students come together one more time for a quick game, announcements, and then they are dismissed at 9pm. So our entire night is about 3 1/2 hours. Regarding multimedia, we use MediaShout, but I’m also familiar with ProPresenter.
Describe the diversity of some of the ministries with which you’ve worked. How did you go about learning and educating yourself in order to effectively reach your community?
I served for about 6 1/2 years on the south side of Chicago, mostly Irish Catholic blue collar families. Even though I served in a diverse area, the church was predominantly white. I now serve in Montana, which is over 95% white. So we don’t see a whole lot of diversity here. But I think what I did in Chicago and what I did in Montana (early on) is what I would do in any situation. You have to embrace the culture in which you are serving. I grew up on the south side of Chicago, so that culture was already part of who I was. But when I moved to Montana, I embraced life out here. I became an avid fisherman, hiker, camper, skier etc. Most people who know me in Montana could never imagine me being a city guy! And quite frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine that I was (a long time ago) a city guy. But in order to serve students in Montana, I had to become a Montanan. Still haven’t taken up hunting thought.
Is there a process that you go through when choosing a platform for screening volunteers, curriculum choices?
I don’t serve in a very large church – only about 450 in weekend attendance. So I know most of the people pretty well since I’ve been here for just about 12 years. I choose leaders who I can trust, who have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, who are in a healthy marriage (if married), and who have healthy social media habits. I have a questionnaire for potential leaders. And once they have filled that out, I typically meet them for coffee and go through expectations, get to know them better, get a feel for their level of commitment, etc. After our meeting, they commit to going through all four levels of classes on Download Youth Ministry University as well as reading Hurt 2.0 by Chap Clark. I don’t have a set process for screening curriculum. I’m a pretty educated guy, and I’ve been in youth ministry long enough to know what I’m looking for in curriculum. Sometimes I write my own, and sometimes I purchase it.
What have you done in the past to ensure your church has a safe environment, including emergency procedures.
Everyone who works with kids (including me) must submit to a criminal and driving background check every three years. In addition to that, everyone who works with kids must be retrained every three years on our policies and procedures. We use RTR (Reducing the Risk). Our church also has a newly implemented procedure in case of an armed gunman.
How would you describe the ideal relationship between senior/lead pastor and student pastor?
The Student Ministry Pastor and the Senior Pastor need to be in agreement on the vision of the whole church. The youth ministry needs to contribute to the larger vision of the church. I do not work well in a micromanaging environment. I work best when I believe the church leadership has confidence in what I am doing. I’ve been working with the Senior Pastor here at Life Covenant for 12 years, and we are not close. We don’t not get along, but we are also not friends. We don’t go out for a beer together. We don’t joke together. I wish we had that. Should I decide to leave this ministry for another, it is my hope that the Senior Pastor and I would have a strong personal relationship outside of the office.
Favorite Bible Story

The Story of the Resurrection

Favorite Scripture

Psalm 73