Mark Lichtle: Answering the call
Director of youth ministry, St. Paul's United Methodist Church,
Major: business administration
In 2006, Mark Lichtle was enjoying working full time in Bluffton's technology department and volunteering in youth ministry at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, the Findlay church that he and his wife Kristen (Chozinski '03) had been attending for four years.
But when St. Paul's youth ministry director left to start a new church, Lichtle suddenly found himself at a crossroads. "When he made the move, I felt called to do it," says Lichtle about the potential career switch. At the same time, though, "I struggled," he admits, because he was unsure about changing his work and volunteer schedule.
So the Bluffton native prayed, "God, you're going to have to give me some clear sign this (the church) is where I'm supposed to be," and, more specifically, that he needed to hear those words from his wife. A month later, he recalls, Kristen told him that with his passion for youth ministry, the St. Paul's position was where he needed to be. Lichtle was convinced to take the "leap of faith" and not look back.
Helping youth see truth.
He now leads a program with 30-35 active participants in grades 6-12 from Findlay and five other school districts. His challenge, Lichtle says, is "helping them overcome all the outside pressures"— largely from family, school, sports, friends and romantic relationships—and see what God has in mind for them. "How do you find that when you have all this other noise in your life?" he asks. "How can you listen for God in a world that's so busy and so anti-religion?"
What young people want from the church isn't so complicated, says Lichtle, acknowledging the assistance he gets from other adult role models and "prayer partners" at St. Paul's. "They're looking for a place to ask questions and find truth," he maintains. "Youth group is a place where they can ask the questions and not be ridiculed for it. To know that they can come here and know what truth is, I think, is a big deal."
Making it worthwhile.
Fulfillment in his job comes, Lichtle says, from "watching the students take what they've found out about themselves and who God has created them to be, and to be comfortable enough in their faith that they'll step outside their comfort zones to share Jesus with others."
The Findlay resident has seen it in middle school students talking with athletes at the Ohio Special Olympics in Columbus and in a student who, on a mission trip to Toronto two years ago, struck up what became a two-hour conversation with a stranger at a soup kitchen. "They just went to town," he remembers, marveling at the opportunity to watch a young person "shine the light of the Holy Spirit in the world. Amazing."
When he graduated from Bluffton with a business administration degree, he "never would have guessed" that he would be in youth ministry now, Lichtle says. And considering he's already made that major change, "I don't know what God has in mind for me," he adds. "I'm not ruling anything out."