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Meet Phil Shields

In June of 2012, Phil Shields joined the Wheaton Bible Church staff as Lead Pastor of Student Ministry. Having been with us now for a little over half a year, Phil talked with us recently to help us learn a little more about him and his vision for Student Ministry at WBC. We share a portion of that conversation here.

Phil Shields, student ministries

Phil Shields

Tell us about your growing–up years.
I was born in Dallas, Texas, while my dad was in Dallas Seminary. After pastoring a couple of churches, he accepted a position at Moody Bible Institute in 1985, and we moved to Carol Stream and later to Wheaton. So I grew up around here from fifth grade on and have a lot of ties to this area.

Because my mom worked at Wheaton Christian Grammar School, my younger brother, Drew, and I attended there, and then I decided to attend Wheaton Academy, then known as Wheaton Christian High School.

After high school I went to Moody, intending to stay only a year, since I never saw myself going into ministry. But I stayed to play basketball because the coach was a great influence on my life.

Around that time, my dad left Moody, and my parents moved to Neenah, Wisconsin, where Dad still serves as the senior pastor of Calvary Bible Church—a church where Pastor Rob once served as the youth pastor. And, yes, they know each other.

When did you come to faith in Christ?
It was in 1982, when I was seven. My dad came in to tuck me in bed, and I started asking questions. Dad knelt down beside my bed, and we had this long conversation. And that night I just knew God was calling, and I answered.

What role did your church have during your junior high and high school years?
Even though I’m sure I became a believer that night with my dad, as I got into junior high and high school, I realized that my faith was basically all about holding on to my parents’ coattails. It wasn’t yet my own.

During those years, I never went to youth group. I really didn’t want to have anything to do with the church. But I’m thankful for other spiritual influences in my life, including Carol Riebock, a teacher at Wheaton Academy who had a huge influence on me—primarily because she talked to me as me—not as the son of the head of Moody’s Pastoral Studies Department—about being closer to God. And at the same time, my dad was pouring into me spiritually, and my mom kept praying that my faith would become my own. As I look back, my parents were massive spiritual influences on my life.

But I thought that because I went to a Christian high school, I really didn’t need a youth group or church. Now I see that I missed out on allowing God to grow my faith through involvement in the greater community of Christ followers.

It wasn’t until I was at Moody that I did something about truly owning my faith.

Talk about your Moody years.
A couple of significant things: I met Angee there. Angee and I dated for four years, got engaged, and then married. She was still finishing her degree in vocal music. I had graduated, so I stayed on as an assistant basketball coach at Moody.

It was during that time when I felt God calling me to ministry. Because I had done two basketball trips overseas as a player, I was able to help as a coach during a trip to Zimbabwe, Africa, in 1999. As I walked through one of the villages there, I realized God was calling me to serve in ministry to students.

“We need to talk, because I think God’s calling me to ministry.”

I can remember having a conversation with my wife in Africa saying, “We need to talk, because I think God’s calling me to ministry.” God walked us through that, and we came home and started asking the Lord where He wanted us to serve.

What happened next?
We returned to Chicago, where I worked as a sales rep for Niketown for two years and looked for a ministry job.

In 1999 I accepted a call to New Castle Bible Church in Mackinaw, Illinois. It had an attendance of two or three hundred at the time, but the church was growing. The senior pastor was just incredible. The assistant pastor was running many of the programs. When they called me as their first youth pastor, I became the third pastor on staff.

For me, this wasn’t just a call; it was a radical call. God took a kid who grew up in suburbia and lived in the city for a number of years and transplanted him to central Illinois. I remember thinking, These people better be great people, because all I see is corn. I don’t know about this.

How did it go?

Phil Shields with Student Ministries administrative assistant Amanda McLaughlin.

Phil Shields with Student Ministries administrative assistant Amanda McLaughlin.

Twelve students showed up for my first night of youth group—that was junior high and high school combined. One of those first students was an eighth grader named Amanda McLaughlin—yes, the same Amanda who now serves with our Student Ministry team here as the administrative assistant! She didn’t like me much for two years after I told her to “get over” herself. We laugh about that today. Amanda became one of our student leaders, and she was on my lay staff for a number of years at New Castle.

It wasn’t long before the youth group started growing. I realized very quickly that we had to split into junior high and high school groups. We got to sixty students for junior high.

I also saw that our high school students weren’t getting the attention they needed because junior high was growing so fast, so we added a junior high pastor to the staff, which freed me to concentrate on high school. The search committee interviewed my best friend and roommate at Moody for that job. He was hired, and I got to work with him for thirteen years.

How did your ministry there progress over those years?
Junior high and senior high continued to grow, along with the rest of the church. About seven years ago, the church was running out of space, so we started planning new facilities. The church leaders surprised us by deciding that the first step would be to build a student facility.

The church board asked us to commit to staying on staff for five years to see it through. The new facility was unlike anything else in that area. We could schedule events for both junior high and high school groups on the same night—and they could meet together or separately. The building was flooded with students.

Tell us about how God led you to Wheaton Bible Church.
Along with all the growth at New Castle Bible Church, a lot was changing, and I began to feel as if God was stirring something in me. I began to wonder what that meant. My wife and I started praying and asking questions. Do I stay in student ministry? What do I want? How is God calling me out? I wanted to be where I could have some leadership over things. Teaching also was important.

For some reason, Wheaton Bible Church was on my mind. My parents were in Wisconsin. My brother still lived in the area, and although he wasn’t attending Wheaton Bible Church at that time, he had attended youth group here, and Bill Brown, who heads our Support Group Ministry, was his youth leader.

Okay, God, I’m going to look one more time at the website, and if there’s nothing there, take this name of Wheaton Bible Church out of my head, because I don’t even want to consider it.

I couldn’t get the words Wheaton Bible Church out of my mind. I would go on the website and look for employment openings, but there was never anything that caught my eye. Then, one day, I felt that same stirring and prayed, “Okay, God, I’m going to look one more time at the website, and if there’s nothing there, take this name of Wheaton Bible Church out of my head, because I don’t even want to consider it.”

That day I saw the Student Ministry position on the website. I sent something in right away and called Bill Brown. I wasn’t even sure he’d remember me, but I told him I was applying for a job at his church. “Tell me about Wheaton Bible Church,” I said. Bill didn’t know much about the position, but I asked him about the health of the church. The more he talked, the more excited I got. I thought, Man, I really hope I get a chance to talk to somebody up there.

What did your family think about a move?
Angee and I have two kids. Gavin, who’s ten, and Kiana, who just turned six.We hadn’t talked to the kids about the idea of moving, but one day, out of the blue, Gavin said, “Dad, I really want to move away from here.”
“I just do.”
“Well,” I said, “where do you want to move?”
And Gavin said, “I want to live by Uncle Drew.”

I was stunned that my son, who’s not a fan of change, would say this. I said, “Well, why don’t you pray that maybe someday we can do that.”

I looked at Angee and said, “What’s happened here? This is not normal for him.”

For me that was a huge confirmation that God was telling me to pursue this. He was saying, “I’m doing something, and I’m using your son in that process.”

You came to Wheaton Bible Church in June of 2012. What are your thoughts after having had a chance to “get your feet wet” here?
I took the first four months on the job to observe and listen. About a month ago I gave a report to the Elders and the Staff Leadership Team. What I shared with them falls into roughly three points.

Phil teaching at Student Ministries Sunday AM for high schoolers.

Phil teaching at Student Ministries Sunday AM for high schoolers.

First, some things shouldn’t change. For example, Wheaton Bible Church has a long tradition and a strong foundation of having students gather on Sunday mornings and participate in Core Groups during the week. We will keep the same structure for Sunday mornings and Core Groups.

Second, I believe that the Student Ministry culture changed with the move to West Chicago. Some elements of the program that worked really well for a church in downtown Wheaton don’t work as well for a church on North Avenue, particularly not one that pulls from as many different schools as we do. So I believe we need to work at creating a sense of community. One way we’ll do that is by getting different groups of kids together at what we’re calling “Community Nights.” Each one will be a little different. For the first one, for instance, a sophomore guys group and a sophomore girls group met together. They had a cookout and got to know one another. They might have known of each other before but had never spoken. That kind of get-together can encourage sharing and create opportunities to build relationships.

During second semester, one of our Community events will bring all the core groups together, and we’ll serve. The next time, we might just spend time in worship.

We are a family, and we have to look at one another that way. So the community aspect is something new this year.

A final concern I have is that we don’t overprogram and divide families. If we end up doing something on Tuesday night and the rest of the family is doing something on Wednesday night, we’ve just divided the family. I’m committed to making sure that we are working with our families and supporting the family structure.

What do you think students need most from Student Ministry?
I see two major things. First, students need a place where they belong and also where they are going to be fed and challenged to grow. I’m hearing students say, “Challenge me.” Yes, we have a group that’s asking to be entertained, but many students want to be challenged: “Tell me what I’m supposed to be about and to do.” “How do I grow my faith?”

They want a place to belong, but they also need a place safe enough for an adult to pour into them. A place where they can come and talk. A place where a student from another school is going to accept them as family.

We’re not there yet, but I see the need, and I know parents do too. We’re working on ways to make that happen.

Second, our students need opportunities to share the stories of what God is doing in their lives.

Sharing faith stories isn’t something you wait to do until you turn forty. You don’t all of a sudden start telling others what God’s doing. So we’re changing that mind-set. On Sunday mornings students share their testimonies, describe what God’s doing in their lives and in their schools. The word is getting out about this—about sharing stories in West Chicago and at Wheaton North and so on. This is creating an excitement for students. They want to know what’s happening. They want to know what God is doing.

What kind of relationship do you want Student Ministry to have with parents?
I want our leaders to be allies of every parent. That means they are saying the same things that the parents are saying about the Word of God and about becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. We want students to hear from their leaders and then say, “Oh wow, my mom and dad have been saying that for years!”

I want our leaders to be allies of every parent.

I also want parents to be a part of the ministry. I expect them to feel comfortable showing up at any gathering. They should feel free to come in and sit with us on Sunday mornings. I don’t want silos. There’s going to be a working together. We’re already talking about what that means.

What do you want the students and the church to know about you?
I want students and their parents to know that I’m committed to them, which means that this ministry is going to be committed to them. I will be here for them. I came here from a long-term commitment to a church family—a thirteen-year commitment.

I believe God wants us to commit to each other.

When I look at Scripture and read Moses saying that we’ve got to pass what God has done “from generation to generation,” I know that happens when you’re together and when you stay together. So my heart is that we’re going to create a staff and a team of adults that are committed to students here. That’s already present to some degree. We have core group leaders who have been here doing this for years. Many of them are moving from seventh grade to twelfth grade with their students. I’m blown away by that.

What spiritual priorities do you have for students?
I believe that all of our students must have a faith of their own and they have to be about the movement of the Kingdom. I know parents want that for their kids. And the earlier in life we help the kids develop their own faith, the more often parents will be praising God as they see their kids moving into adulthood spiritually strong and doing things for the Kingdom far beyond anything they ever imagined.

That’s the vision my wife and I have for our own kids. We want them to be better disciples than we are. We want them to make an impact for Christ in deeper ways. That’s the vision I have for the students who are part of the Student Ministry of our church.

I believe that all our students must have a faith of their own and they have to be about the movement of the Kingdom.

Any final thoughts?
Yes, just one last thing. I can remember when we were in China during my senior year at Moody. I had the opportunity to lead a girl to the Lord. At that moment I realized that the decision the girl had made meant that she would quite possibly be kicked out of her house or beaten. Yet she was saying, “I want Jesus.”

I talk a lot about the need for our kids to “own” their faith. Their parents can take them to church, they can teach and cultivate, but they can’t give their faith to their children like some kind of inheritance. To me, that high school student in Southern China defines what it means to own your faith. She was making a bold decision, knowing that it came with a cost. I want that for these students.

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This entry was posted on December 1, 2012 by in Winter 2012/2013 and tagged , , , .

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