Dordt College News

Dave De Ridder is still keeping up with young people

August 16, 2010

David De Ridder (’71) lives out his conviction that young people need to see adults enjoy faith rather than treat it as drudgery.

He is pastor of teaching and family life at Third Christian Reformed Church in Denver, Colorado, and he exudes a steady enthusiasm for his work. 

Many of those who have benefitted from De Ridder’s teaching and leadership can tell stories about humorous and surprising approaches to studying the Bible. Middle schoolers turned adults aren’t likely to forget the pulpit chair transformed into a throne sitting atop a table, draped in flowing fabric and bathed in white light as they studied Revelation. Nor will they forget spending time in a box simulating the sights and sounds inside a whale while studying the story of Jonah. High schoolers turned adults value his mentoring friendship long after they leave youth group and even Denver. In fact, De Ridder’s selection as one of this year’s Distinguished Alumni was enough to prompt emails of congratulations and greetings from young people he nurtured years ago.

Dave De RidderDe Ridder is probably one of few white-haired youth pastors today. He acknowledges that many people think of youth pastoring as a stepping stone to ordination—once a person gets older. But De Ridder, who admits that he has to stay in shape to keep up with the young people he serves, has never had that view of his profession. In fact, De Ridder resisted ordination for many years because he wanted to maintain the importance of the position of youth pastor, working with and educating young people as they come to embrace their faith for themselves. (His church finally ordained him several years ago so they didn’t have to keep having him renew his preaching license.)

De Ridder says he fell into youth pastoring. As a student at Dordt in the 1970s, he thought he might look for work as a linguist. The son of a Christian Reformed pastor serving in Sioux Center during his high school years, De Ridder served on the Hawkeye League board of the Young Calvinist Federation, the denominational youth agency of the Christian Reformed Church, and enjoyed the involvement. He decided to attend Calvin Theological Seminary and while there learned about a position for a youth pastor at the First Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ontario. The work was a good fit. He later moved to Denver, where he has served for the past eighteen years.

The joy of making contact and building relationships with young people at critical points in their lives is what keeps him going.

“It’s a thrill to watch them grow,” he says. His approach is to dig into the Word together, with joy and not boredom, making what they learn practical, learning to see the humor in both the Bible and in life, spending time hiking and biking, and serving together on mission trips.

“We hiked up a mountain just two days ago,” he said while on campus over Alumni Weekend, “and I can still keep up with them.” He should be able to; it’s been only two years since he biked across North America on the Christian Reformed Church’s Sea to Sea bike ride.

“Walking and talking go well together,” he says, noting that life experiences mean something to young people when you are willing to take part in their world. De Ridder makes himself available to the young people he works with—including by cell phone. Texting has become a standard feature in his life, and in fact, communicating as a prayer partner has taken on a whole new format because of it.

De Ridder is optimistic about the future of the church because of the young people with whom he works.

“They need to make their own way as they live out their faith,” he says. “It’s our job to help them be successful.” That commitment drives the way he leads. Students in his church’s youth programs outnumber adult leaders, “so they can always ‘win’ on decisions about what to do,” he says with a smile.

“Kids today need to be deeply invested because they have many options—and they vote with their feet,” he adds.

He doesn’t want to imply that everything is warm and fuzzy in his or any other youth group. Media misuse, drugs, sexuality, pornography, eating disorders, suicide, and other challenges are as real for young people connected to churches as they are for those not connected, he notes. And a sports-driven culture can rob Christian young people and families of time for “being still and knowing God.” In addition, generational changes where grandparents hate drums and young people hate the organ add conflict even to worship.
Young people need to be able answer “yes” to the question “Is this my church?” says De Ridder. His job is to help them be able to answer that question.

Dordt campus has changed a great deal since De Ridder was a student here, but over alumni weekend he found an interesting balance between nostalgia and freshness.

“There’s enough of the old that it still feels familiar,” he says. And he notes that Dordt’s campus is still a very friendly place. “Campus life was so enjoyable,” he recalls, reflecting on relationships with students, professors, and staff members. He happily encourages kids to attend.


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