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Systemic theology

Systemic theology
Systemic theology
Tom Barton and his family yearned to come back to Harrison County. Now he is youth pastor at Old Capitol United Methodist Church in Corydon. (Photo by Randy West)

The many aspects of Tom Barton’s life will all come into play now that he is the youth minister with big ideas about small group ministry for the Old Capitol United Methodist Church in Corydon.
Many local people, especially those interested in music and band, may remember Barton, now 40, from his days at Conrad Music in Corydon, from 1992 to 2000. For about eight years, he was sales floor manager and in charge of purchasing and inventory for Charles Conrad.
Then the Clark County native and Indiana University grad (a bachelor of science degree in education, 1990) felt the call to ministry and enrolled at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary to study marriage and family therapy, but he put that on hold after one semester when he was called to be youth pastor at Hillside United Methodist Church at Princeton, Ind.
His wife, Ginger, 35, was part-time children’s minister there and now is a teacher’s aide at a school in Princeton. The Bartons have two children, Bethany, 10, and Courtney, 6.
Barton enjoyed his work supervising all youth activities at the church, but he and his family wanted to return to Harrison County where they have always felt the strong support of family and friends. He had begun to feel that the ‘doors were closing’ in that part of the world. In April of 2005, he ‘staked a claim’ here by signing on as a security officer at Caesars Indiana, where his father-in-law, Bob Johnson of Palmyra, is on-site carpenter.
In all those years, the Bartons did not allow their membership at Heidelberg United Methodist Church to lapse ‘ a clue that they had not cut their ties to an area they love, he said.
Brent Lewis, one of Barton’s co-workers at Caesars and a good friend, told him one day that OCUM might be looking for a part-time youth minister. Barton inquired, talked with Pastor Doug Finney, and he was hired on a full-time basis.
Now he is responsible for junior and senior high youth activities at OCUM, developing a strong small group ministry on Wednesday nights, and starting a contemporary worship service on Wednesday nights.
Regarding the contemporary service, Barton said he tends to be more of a ‘producer,’ not necessarily an ‘up-front kind of guy.’ He will rely upon laypeople to lead the service. They will all plan the services with the program technicians and perhaps even a visual imaging group.
When you consider all the various individuals and groups working together and overlapping on Wednesday nights, Barton believes they will have the foundation for what could be a powerful small group ministry. Combine those groups with the traditional church personnel ‘ Sunday school teachers and students, choir, Bible study, women’s groups, dinner crews, and so on ‘ and the foundation gets larger and usually stronger.
‘I hope it will be a win-win situation all the way around,’ Barton said.
He bases a lot of his thinking and philosophy on what he has read by Rick Warren and Doug Field. Warren is the author of the runaway best-seller ‘The Purpose Driven Life,’ and Doug Field is Warren’s youth minister and co-author at Saddleback Christian Church in California. Barton said he wants OCUM to be purposeful in worship, discipleship, fellowship, missions and evangelism.
By making as many connections as possible between the youth and adults and between adults, he said, ‘it’s like networking, where each one connects with the other. Maybe it’s more like systemic ministry.’
Barton said you can think of people’s lives as being part of big, interconnected systems. ‘Congregations can act the same way. Think of a spider’s web. If you tug on one part of the web, tension can be felt in every other part of the web. We are all affected by what goes on in every other part of the system. For example, what we do in youth ministry affects every other part of the church.’
Barton has some other ‘radical’ ideas he wants to implement. For example, he said, the perfect teaching ratio of one teacher for every six or seven students is considered an educational ideal. But according to Barton’s way of thinking, an even better ideal lies in inverting that ratio so that every young person in the church has five adult mentors.
He wants a ‘cloud of witnesses’ to feel responsible for one young person. The cloud can consist of family members, friends, teachers, custodians, people of various ages, education and experience. They will make a conscious, organized effort to support the youngster for years, by praying, remembering birthdays, sending cards, attending graduations and other major life events, and being present during times of stress and trouble.
The protective ‘cloud of witnesses’ is an ambitious project, but, Barton said, if it has good guidelines and is properly coordinated and executed, it will become one more example of what the body of Christ can do: a small group ministry that can have huge consequences on human lives and relationships.