If you want to be in one of the most entertaining and comedic conversations, look no farther than the Rock Church Youth Pastors. I sat down with three of our five fearless Youth Ministry leaders to get to know a little more about them. Here is what they had to say:
Mike Humphrey (East County) – Before we get started I wanted to lay out my three point plan of how we’re going to revolutionize youth ministry in San Diego county. No I’m just kidding.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
Jesse Vito Cruz (North County): Background well...Guam.
Vittoria Allen (Content Specialist): Just, Guam?
JVC: No, I grew up Catholic and when I was in high school was when I first experienced Jesus. Gave my life to him. And I kind of fell away until I was 25 and I came to the Rock in 2008. Pastor Miles gave a message that I related to and I recommitted my life. I jumped right into ministry. Did Altar Call Ministry, then Junior High for four years and then got on staff at North County. It will be four years in November.
MH: Ya I also grew up Catholic, didn’t really go to church. I was a bad Catholic. It was more because I was Italian. Such good food though. My girlfriend at the time (who is my wife now) invited me to the Rock when I was 16 so we went for a couple years and I got saved when I was 18. Started serving in Junior High Ministry in 2006 and the rest is history. I’ve been doing youth ministry now for 10 years. 1 decade is how long I’ve been doing it. Just one. We only count by decades.
Matt Escobar (Point Loma): I have a question for you. Sorry I know you’re asking the questions.
VA: No, go for it.
ME: You say you didn’t get saved until you were 18. Were you regularly attending church from the time you were 16-18?
MH: I was a stubborn catholic and super offended by everything, but thought my girlfriend was pretty so I kept going. I had to go through and get all the religious garbage out.
ME: Because I grew up in church. My mom was a children’s pastor. So I never had the experience of not being a Christian in a very critical time. So that’s why I asked. But ya I grew up in church and gave my life to God when I was 9. My mom gave an altar call at the end of one of our kids' church serves and everyone went up to the altar, but I sat in my chair crying because she didn’t ask me if I wanted to be saved. So my mom led me to the Lord. When I was 18 I joined the Navy. After getting out of the Navy I ended up in San Diego and at the same time, my fiancé was graduating college and she got a job at the Rock so we decided to come here. I eventually married her. She is my wife.
VA: Thank you for clarifying
ME: That was 2011. We started serving in youth in 2012. We have one kid. One on the way. I graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University and just got the position of Youth Pastor at Point Loma.
That’s a word we keep landing on is identity. Their identity is being attacked in this culture so much right now, more than ever before. So many labels being put on people and people trying to associate with different people groups instead of just saying, “I’m a child of God.” So that’s going to be our message and what we continue doing.
What led you to Rock Church and your position as Youth Pastor?
JVC: For me, I got invited to help out with Friday Night Live, one of the Junior High ministry events. I found out there was skateboarding and throwing dodgeballs at kids so I was automatically hooked. For the next three or so years I had no intention of being a youth pastor. I was trying to pursue other careers. Didn’t know what I wanted to do. After chasing careers and doors shutting...I almost became a border patrol agent actually. I heard God calling me to bible college so I went and I loved it and He opened up the door for the youth pastor position in North County. I started to understand it was a calling.
ME: More than a job you would say?
JVC: It’s more than a job, it’s a calling. I understand it now, because God has revealed to me a passion to usher the next generation into the church and His kingdom.
MH: Thank you Jesse.
ME: Thanks for your story.
MH: I first got involved because of a ministry fair. Believe it or not they actually work! My girlfriend at the time, who is my wife now, we thought we were so mature that we wanted to mentor high school couples. That’s literally what we wanted to do. Once we came to the orientation, they said, "if you’re 18 you have to do Junior High ministry." There aren’t even real couples in Junior High, but we fell in love with it. God put a desire on my heart to really teach and ministry to the youth in a different way. The youth are so privileged to have this type of environment in this kind of setting; people they can go to for accountability etc…I didn’t have that growing up. I felt like the kids didn’t understand what they had. That’s what the Lord put on my heart was to teach them how blessed they are and how to take advantage of the opportunity they have. I happened to be at the Rock East County for a conference and I ran into Pastor Ricky, he told me to apply for the position and the rest is history.
ME: Thanks for sharing your story Mike. When I was coming out of the Navy I had no idea what I wanted to do. But I knew I wanted to go to college and pursue a degree in kinesiology. I was a sub-par athlete in high school, but I wanted to pursue sports. So I was like, this is going to be my dream to work with a professional sports team in sports medicine where I’m on the sidelines.
I was going through a time in my college career where I had to make the decision to stay with kinesiology and I felt strongly like God was calling me out of kinesiology and into ministry. It was a broken time in my life, I was going through a lot and I was really relying on God. I felt God specifically say, “Switch your major to psychology.” I went to PLNU so their psychology major integrates faith. I still didn’t know I wanted to go into youth ministry, but I was still serving. There was one night where I was slated to speak and I ended up not speaking and we had a night of prayer and worship.
VA: He just cried for like 30 minutes on stage.
ME: That is literally what happened. I literally just cried. I apologized to Joshua, because he was leading worship, but I was singing on the mic next to him and Lord knows how it sounded. So we had the testimonies that night and there was one girl that said she was depressed and wanted to commit suicide that night, but she ended up coming to youth and God totally moved in her life. After that night I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do. Fast forward a year and I’m excited to be able to serve students and leaders full time.
JVC: We need a crier in our group.
MH: Bring the emotion you know?
ME: Ya that’s all I do. I’m a crier.
JVC: Cry night. I see your heart on stage bro, and it’s really authentic. I think that’s really what draws in the students to you.
ME: I appreciate that. I’m excited. I love these guys. I love the youth pastors here.
What have you learned about the students who join you each week?
JVC: I don’t know what to do with my hands. Wait, what’s the question? The students. Man. The students. They inspire me to do what I’m doing. There is a lot of brokenness in students. It’s the only place where they can really open up about their brokenness and authentically come together and seek out the next steps for how to get healed. It only happens in the context of Jesus’ presence. For our students, there are a lot of knuckleheads, there is a lot of drama and stuff in their life that they don’t know how to deal with other than showing up at youth group. And God always shows up. My expectation, or what I see is that kids are coming to know the Lord at a deeper level, but I expect them to find their calling and their purpose in life so we can implement that and they can go out and do the same. Discipleship.
MH: What I learn about students is that they are basically little adults. They go through the same things that adults go through; the same emotions and feelings. They are a lot more capable than we give them credit for as a society. They are kind of known as the rejects of society. Junior high and high school especially. I think adults don’t know how to handle them because they don’t understand them. They also just need a friend. They also just need someone to care about them. They just need someone to be honest with them. Especially the kids who seem like punks, those are the kids that need you to be persistent. I think that youth are just little adults, they just don’t necessarily know how to socially act like adults. So it’s just a different approach. They need a relationship with Jesus. They are super capable and super smart and we need to start engaging them in a different way. You know? Engage them like adults.
JVC: And adults are just kids.
MH: Adults are just kids. We’re all the same. So are infants.
ME: The students who join me each week, obviously they come from different backgrounds, but the students who come each week all share the commonality of being able to read if you’re authentic or not. As far as the leaders and as far as pastors go, whomever it may be, they can really see who truly cares for them and who is just giving them lip service. I’ve learned being in youth ministry that in order for them to see you as authentic or in order for them to trust you it takes consistency, and I think that weighs more heavily than any program that’s implemented or any game or worship. Seeing consistency from their leaders is something that they want and see. You see the growth of students. Discipleship happens by being consistent and intentional and I think that the students actually are aware of that. As youth leaders we can think they don’t care because they aren’t listening during a message and I can guarantee that probably 99% of the time they aren’t listening to our message, but real ministry happens outside of service time and being consistent with them. Students are cool man.
As a team, what is your vision for Rock Youth as a whole?
MH: Obviously the easy answer right off the bat is save, equip, and send. That is and always will be our mission because that’s the mission of our pastor. We are never going to deviate from that, but specifically relating to youth I think that it’s the way we approach that mission that will look different. It’s going to definitely be teaching students who they are in Christ and their identity. That’s a word we keep landing on is identity. Their identity is being attacked in this culture so much right now, more than ever before. So many labels being put on people and people trying to associate with different people groups instead of just saying, “I’m a child of God.” So that’s going to be our message and what we continue doing. It’s going to be reaching students, pulling them in, loving them, teaching them who they are in Christ, preaching the gospel to them, and equipping them. Student leadership is a huge thing we do as well to get our students serving and impacting their peers. That’s our vision. It’s save, equip, and send specifically for youth. Jesse, do you want to speak about our vision for youth? I just said a super bomb answer, but if you want to jump in.
Tell us about a memorable moment for you in Youth Ministry.
JVC: There were these three junior high boys that I’ve seen lean into the gospel a little more, and over the years I’ve seen two of them go off the path and party. After a few years I’ve seen it come full circle and now they are killing it in the name of Jesus and just going out and doing ministry. Often times they say the average life span of a youth pastor is 18 months, but being in youth ministry for eight years now, you get to see the fruit of what you, what the Lord, started. You don’t always get to see that. It’s rare. But to see that, where kids come back and start serving the Lord wholeheartedly, it’s a product of them leaning in in the beginning. And understanding. I was a proud Father. Kinda.
MH: You bring up a good point though as far as the average span of a youth pastor because we are breaking the mold like crazy. Except for Matt, he’ll probably only be here for a couple months. Just kidding. But Dru was here for 14 years you know? And I’ve been at East County for three years and you’ve been at North County for four and Ty and Jake have been in it for over a year and are not going anywhere. It’s a testament to the way we are being poured into and that we serve an awesome church.
When I served in Youth, I felt like I was constantly learning new terms that made me feel really old. What has been one of your favorite “youth-isms”?
ME: the dab.
JVC: The running man.
MH: One time I was texting our student leaders and just joking, like trying to be relevant I said, “What’s up fam?” And they said, “You don’t say fam when you’re talking to a group of people. You say fam when you’re talking to one person. Squad is when you’re talking to a group of people." And I said, "No back in my day, fam was a big group of people." So I had to adjust and said, “What’s up squad?” Fam is just one person. I thought that was funny. There's also TBH.
ME: The newest thing they say is, “I’m dead.” Like when it’s something really funny.
VA: I can’t with “I can’t.” It’s not a complete sentence.
ME: On fleek.
MH: Eyebrows on fleek.
If you could do anything other than being a Youth Pastor, what would you do? Like, sky is the limit.
JVC: Matt would be a cage fighter.
ME: I would for sure grow 4 inches and be an NBA basketball player. For sure. I just want to be a dad actually.
JVC: A stay at home dad would be awesome.
MH: A stay at home husband would be awesome.
JVC: I told my wife I wanted to be a stay at home dad and she said, that’s not happening. But it really is one of my goals.
MH: I just want to wear Lululemon and do the dishes. I just want to create a good environment for my hardworking wife to come home to. Candles, something in the crock-pot. And then she comes home and she’s like, it smells so good. I want to Pinterest some good crock-pot recipes and then serve it in a mason jar on top of a burlap pillow.
ME: Maybe on a reclaimed wood table.
MH: That I hand built while she was at work.
JVC: I’d be a world traveler. I want to be a hippie.
MH: If I wasn’t a youth pastor, I’d probably like super random, it’d be super cool to be a homicide detective. Just show up on scene and basically be batman and figure out what happened.