Breaking 'Bread' Together

February 02, 2020 | Youth | Jeni Schmidt

Jim Jenkins was searching for a way to connect with his unique congregation.

After pastoring in the Montana Conference for 18 years, Jenkins was assigned to the Mount Ellis Academy Church, along with the Bozeman and Livingston churches he was already pastoring. This meant nearly a third of his congregation would be teenagers attending church without their families. Many of them are a long way from home. And while Jenkins knows that the adults who attend Mount Ellis Academy Church do so because they want to be a part of these kids’ lives, many of them don’t get the opportunity to get to know the Mount Ellis Academy (MEA) students.

He knew he needed to bridge that gap.

Jenkins admits to being a little nervous, “Working with high school kids is kinda scary. It’s not in my wheelhouse.” So he began searching for a way to relate to and with them — for his own peace of mind. After he attended Outdoor School with the academy, he had an idea.

“I had been going through a sermon series on the Book of Acts, looking at the early church and what made it successful,” he says. Jenkins noticed the early church did a lot of eating and fellowshipping together. He conceived of a plan to take small groups of three or four students who were already friends out to eat every Friday, to hang out and get to know one another. He asked around and found Taco Bell seemed to be the place to go.

The first time out, he found that “the biblical experience of eating together breaks down barriers.” By the end of the meal, it wasn’t just Jenkins and his wife, Sandy, asking the kids questions; the kids were asking them questions. “It was a really cool experience," Jenkins says. "They are super kids. We had easy conversation.”

During that initial run Jenkins had an epiphany. He had brought a notebook, and, as he was writing notes, he thought, "I am getting to know a lot about these kids." He thought about how the adults in the church would love to learn what he was learning. Out of the blue, he asked the students if they wanted to go up front during church and be interviewed. That first group was reluctant.

Jenkins describes it as a God-inspired idea: “I believe that God laid it on my heart.” 

As he was introducing the students the next day, the church was most appreciative. In fact, when the interview was over, the congregation applauded. What had begun as a way for him to get to know his young congregants had morphed into a way for the adults in the church to learn something more about individual MEA students.

Jenkins envisions Taco Bell lunches becoming a tradition, and the students at MEA would be just fine with that.