Jake Pluenneke will take over as Covenant’s Director of Middle School Ministry this coming June after he graduates from the University of Texas at Austin. Jake is not a new face. He’s been working as a student ministry intern since August 2017.
“I am so excited to be the next middle school director,” Jake said. “Ever since I was a little kid and watched my dad work with the youth at our home church, being a youth director has been my dream job.”
Hiring Jake is one of a couple of changes – with familiar faces – that will take place in student ministry at the end of the school year. Current High School Director Billy Streu will leave his position in June to pursue a degree in social work. Ali Bolsinger will move from her middle school leader position into the high school role.
Covenant students and parents who have interacted with Jake knew we had a quality candidate right here and because of this, the search process was not opened up nationally. Kelly Dwyer, a member of the search team, explained: “We had just conducted a national search for a middle school director. As a result, we had a good feel for what was available.”
By managing the hiring process internally, Kelly said, the team was able to have a transparent, three-way conversation among Billy, Ali and Jake about the specific gifts and callings of Ali and Jake. This allowed the team to confidently move Ali to the high school position and bring in Jake as the middle school director.
“If we had been in the more rigid or formal national search process, that would have been much harder to do,” Kelly said. “It was a very unexpected but very cool thing to be able to first confirm Jake’s interest and qualifications to accept a director role, and then to work with Jake and Ali to determine the optimal assignments for them to succeed in serving the combined student ministry.”
Jake has been tested in this position. When Whitney Bell moved into the missions director role, Jake stepped in as the interim middle school director. For that semester, he assumed all the responsibilities of the job he will soon call his own. He planned, led and often taught Covenant’s weekly middle school youth group on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. Jake also helped plan and lead Love Austin that year, when more than 120 students and volunteers participated.
“Working at Covenant throughout college has been such a joy and honor,” Jake said. “I have had the privilege of working with so many incredible leaders that have prepared me for this job. I have also been able to experience many different trips, retreats and events at the church that have helped me feel confident moving forward.”
Jake will spend the spring semester finishing up at UT Austin with a bachelor of science degree in applied learning and development. “Throughout college, I have spent many hours learning all about how students develop, think, interact and engage with each other,” he said. “I have also completed a professional development sequence for my teacher certification. These experiences will be very valuable as I teach and lead our youth program.”
Covenant isn’t the only place where Jake has excelled leading youth. For the past three summers, he worked at T Bar M Camps & Retreats in New Braunfels. In 2019, he served as a member of a nine-person leadership team there.
“God has given me lots of extracurricular and other work experiences that have prepared me for this job,” Jake said. “The most impactful experience was working at T Bar M sports camp, an overnight Christian sports camp. I spent my first two summers as a camp counselor working with sixth grade boys, serving them and telling them all about the good news of Jesus Christ. This experience helped develop my ability to reach and communicate the love of God and the grace that He shows us every single day through my words and actions.
“During my third summer, I served on the T Bar M leadership team. I led eight college freshmen and sophomore young men. I spent my time pouring into and investing in these eight as they led their students. My time at T Bar M has had a significant impact on my life and will be very valuable as I start this new role at Covenant.”
Jake will most certainly hit the ground running. “I have so many exciting, fun ideas that I can’t wait to implement to strengthen our student ministry program. We have had incredible youth directors in the past, so I am going to build on what Whitney and Ali have started and add many new fun ways to worship and learn more about Christ as we create real authentic relationships with God.”
After only a year in middle school leadership, Ali is on her way to her high school role. Ali’s contagious enthusiasm and creative new ideas lend themselves to any age group, and soon she’ll focus on an older age group.
“I am really excited to take over the high school program,” Ali said. “My background and training stem from working with high schoolers; it can be a hard season with lots of changes and I feel really lucky to be invited into that space with them.”
Ali added that she’s a little sad to leave the middle schoolers so soon. “I have learned so much from working with them. You never know what they will say or how they will react. I just absolutely love the way they embrace life, laugh easy and their curiosity for all things. They want to learn, they want to explore, they aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions. It really is such a beautiful thing to see students showing up week after week, wanting to have a deeper relationship with Jesus.”
Billy Pursues Degree
Billy Streu, current high school director, started working on his master’s in social work at Texas State last fall. He will continue that program, which requires he be available full-time for practicum during the fall 2020.
Knowing of his imminent departure, Billy said he has been looking at his high school programming activities from a different perspective. “I’m looking at things through a thicker lens — past, present and future — and experiencing the trips with deeper care, knowing that it will be my last. There have been times during the past months when I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude for the students and this job.”
Come June, Ali and Jake will be leading Covenant Student Ministries. Both are eager for what their partnership will bring. “I am really excited to work with Jake!” Ali said. “It has been a gift having him as my intern this year, and I knew right away he had a way with students. It will be so fun to get to see him leading and making the ministry the best it can be.”
Jake added, “I am so excited about being the next middle school director. I am so grateful and excited that God has opened this door and can’t wait to see all the incredible things that He does next.”