Hopewell Baptist Church’s Jayson Keefer and Hope Lutheran Church’s Shea Pennington are ready to help area youths.
Two of Plant City’s newest youth ministers have big plans for their students.
Jayson Keefer, of Hopewell Baptist Church, and Shea Pennington, of Hope Lutheran Church, officially joined their churches in July and have been working to improve the ways in which kids get closer to God. Their paths to Plant City were different, but their main goal is the same.
Keefer, a Lake Wales native, had a connection to Plant City through his wife’s family. Keefer’s brother-in-law was responsible for introducing him to Pastor Dan Middlebrooks, of Hopewell Baptist Church.
“I was able to see a huge difference in him because of the impact the church had on him, what Brother Dan did,” Keefer said. “He turned us on to Brother Dan.”
It’s not Keefer’s first time working at a small-town church: he has been preaching since 2001 and pastoring since 2006 and was one of the founders of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Swainsboro, Georgia. He just finished a four-year stint in Titusville, pastoring to adults.
He decided to move to youth ministry not only for the chance to work with Middlebrooks but also to further his family’s education: both Keefer and his wife are enrolled at Hillsborough Community College, and he said that working in the youth ministry gives them time they otherwise wouldn’t have had.
Keefer said Hopewell has welcomed him and his family with open arms, and the last two months couldn’t have gone any better.
“It’s fantastic,” Keefer said. “Parents get involved like crazy around here, which is great. Kids have welcomed me and my family like crazy. It’s like a dream.”
The biggest thing Keefer is working on is a discipleship program for the youth, which he said will help guide his sixth through 12th-graders toward a clearer post-graduation path.
“When our kids come into youth, they’re going to know where they’ll be at when they leave youth,” Keefer said.
Pennington, who is from Austin, Texas, knew he wanted to go into the ministry since his sophomore year of high school.
He first linked up with the Rev. Dean Pfeffer, of Hope Lutheran Church, through a mutual friend, Buck LeGreco. A long dinner conversation in St. Louis, Missouri convinced Pfeffer Pennington would be a good fit in Plant City.
Pennington served as a vicar at Hope Lutheran in 2014, learning as much about pastoring and community involvement from Pfeffer as he could.
“Here, it was wonderful,” Pennington said. “Dean is an amazing supervisor, an outstanding example to learn from.”
He returned to St. Louis to finish his seminary education and, upon completion, had his current job waiting for him. He came aboard in July and picked up where he left off.
Pennington wants to get the church’s youth more involved in the community by continuing to work with the United Food Bank of Plant City and making connections with the local Boys & Girls Club. He also hopes to start a youth group for the Spanish-speaking congregation, which will later get integrated with the English-speaking group, as well as a young adult ministry for people age 19 through 39.
“To be called as a pastor, you’re not just called to the congregation,” Pennington said. “You’re also called to the community, and that’s a real responsibility.”
Contact Justin Kline at [email protected].