John Jaye reflects on four decades of youth ministry
Words by Terrell Manasco | Images by Blakeney Clouse
John Jaye used to build bridges across Mobile Bay. As a young man growing up in the Mobile area, John discovered a love for designing and building things. “My dad was a civil engineer with the State Highway Department,” he says. “I worked with him and enjoyed that tremendously.”
Years before that, John had a feeling he was meant to follow a different path. Even as he planned to study engineering at the University of South Alabama, he was having doubts. It felt like he was swimming upstream. One day, he gave in to the current.
“I’d felt God calling me to the ministry when I was 12 or 13,” John says. “I wanted to be a civil engineer, but I decided to do what God wanted me to do. I surrendered to the ministry.”
Two years later, John transferred to Mobile College (now the University of Mobile), where he majored in religion and minored in music. While there, he met Sabrina Johnson, who was in the education program. Just before John graduated in 1976, they exchanged vows.
John’s plans for seminary were put on hold until Sabrina finished college so he could put food on the table. “I worked two years for Brown and Root Construction Company, building bridges across Mobile Bay,” John recalls.
While John was a student at New Orleans Baptist Seminary, a chance encounter proved fortuitous. One day he spotted a van in the parking lot that read First Baptist Church of Citronelle. Having been a counselor at that particular church’s camp, John thought he would go over and introduce himself. “I saw some folks in the cafeteria that didn’t look like they belonged,” John chuckles. “I told them I was looking at music ministry and youth ministry. They said, ‘We’re looking for somebody to do that.’”
John was soon hired. After serving as Citronelle’s music and youth minister for over two years, John served three years at a church near Mobile.
In 1985, he was hired as youth and recreation minister at Jasper’s First Baptist Church. “I had some really good years in student ministry,” John says. “We started Upward Basketball. We were one of 17 churches in the whole country doing it. I have good memories, like opening the Family Life Center and getting that going.”
One thing that still gives him a certain satisfaction is seeing his former students still actively involved in church. “That’s very fulfilling to me. I hope I had as much influence on them as they had on me. They really impacted my life a lot,” John says.
The life of a youth minister isn’t always blue skies and rainbows. John admits those years were sprinkled with a few stormy days. “We had some sad experiences. We had some heartbreak,” he says. “That’s just part of it. I tried to do the best I could. When I came to First Baptist Church, I was 31 years old. As I look back on it, I was just a kid. I’m thankful they gave me that opportunity.”
In 2007, John accepted a job with Northside Baptist Church as Minister of Education. For the last several years, he’s also been the student minister. Now with more experience under his belt, he sees the ministry through different eyes. “I guess I’ve mellowed,” John says. “I saw what a great privilege being a student minister is. There are not a lot of 65-year-old guys doing student ministry.”
Then again, perhaps age is an advantage. “Maybe they look at me as a kindly old granddad. They put up with me,” he shrugs.
John says his biggest hurdle isn’t the age gap—it’s technology. Acknowledging he’s “not a social media guy,” and doesn’t “do Facebook or Snapchat,” John explains he doesn’t monitor students’ activities online because he has a level of trust with them. “I prefer to think of it as freeing them to be themselves and not always monitoring every breath they take on social media,” he says. “I want them to know that I trust them to make right decisions and if they don’t, I’m here for them. God’s grace and mercy extends to them, just like it does to me. Land sakes, I’ve made so many mistakes in my life, I have no reason to take a stick and be beatin’ on somebody.”
While most nof his kids are from Jasper, John says the group includes young people from all over the county. “That places us in a unique position to be salt and light in a bigger world,” John says. “We have a bigger responsibility, and I think our kids do a pretty good job with that. I’m super proud of my teenagers here.”
Four decades ago, a young man from Mobile, Alabama made a life-altering decision. John Jaye forfeited a career in civil engineering, so that he could build bridges of a different kind. 78