Erika Byler '18

08/22/2017

Bluffton student explores ministry during summer program

Erika Byler ’18, a communication major from Shipshewana, Ind., found her calling this summer through the Ministry Inquiry Program. It just wasn’t the calling most participants find during the program, a collaboration between Mennonite Church USA and the Mennonite colleges.

“I wasn’t sure if I was feeling called to the ministry or just to the program, so I decided to try it out,” said Byler. “At this point in my life, pastoring is not for me.”

While Byler learned she isn’t currently cut out to lead a church, she did find a renewed passion for teaching and theatre, and she developed a new appreciation for other forms of ministry.

“The program gave me the chance to explore. I’ve been the worship leader a few times, I’ve helped with music and I’m doing young adult events,” said Byler. “These are all forms of ministry that I didn’t really think much about before."

Byler completed the 11-week program at Hesston Mennonite Church in Hesston, Kan. She became familiar with the congregation while earning her associate’s degree at Hesston College.

The most nerve-racking part of the experience was giving the sermon near the middle of the program. With the church focusing on the theme of community for the summer, Byler chose to preach on 1st Corinthians 12:12-26. The experience was both terrifying and exhilarating.

“I’m very comfortable acting or singing, but I’m not very comfortable with public speaking,” explained Byler. “A sermon is much more personal than even a persuasive speech given in class. I put so much thought and prayer into what I was saying.”

On top of giving the sermon, Byler was put in charge of developing programs for college-age youth to connect over the summer. On Mondays she led a Bible study and on Wednesdays she planned a social activity such as game night or community potlucks.

“I was given a little bit of guidance but I was pretty much given free rein. It was a learning experience. Usually I have clear cut assignments and I just need to make sure I get them done and turned in. That hasn’t been the case this summer,” explained Byler.

Along with growing spiritually and professionally this summer, she’s also grown personally. MIP participants typically live with a host family; however, Byler and another student house sat for their hosts for a month while they went on a trip to visit family.

“We had to take responsibility for the house: watering flowers, feeding chickens, buying groceries. Sometimes we would forget to buy certain things so we would eat a lot of eggs,” Byler joked. “They had chickens so we had an endless supply of eggs.”

With a clearer sense of vocational direction and the opportunity to practice new life skills, Byler says she feels much more prepared for graduating in a year and living on her own.

 “I realized fairly quickly that I didn’t want to be a pastor, but I’ve learned about myself and ministry and it’s been a really valuable experience,” Byler said.

The program provides students a first-hand opportunity to experience ministry for 11 weeks during the summer. Working under the supervision of an experienced pastor, participants become involved in many areas of their designated church.

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