Zach Fleming is the new director of FM:Infuse, the national youth ministry effort of the Free Methodist Church – USA, but he’s not new to youth ministry or the challenges that youth pastors and volunteer youth leaders face.
“There was this feeling, especially when I first started, that I was supposed to have it all together, and I was supposed to know everything,” said Fleming, 40, who has served as the pastor of student ministries at the McPherson Free Methodist Church in McPherson, Kansas, since 2005 and will continue in that role while directing FM:Infuse. “The longer I do this, the more I believe in the wisdom of being able to ask for help.”
FM:Infuse is a resource that equips, encourages and supports Free Methodist youth leaders across the denomination regardless of the size of the church, whether they’re volunteers or paid youth leaders, or whether they’re in an urban or rural context. He doesn’t want the conversation about youth ministry to be limited to leaders from large churches with more resources.
“There is value and importance and kingdom work being done in small rural churches with maybe a mom or dad volunteering. … It’s no less important and it’s no more important than somebody who is paid by a local church,” said Fleming, who added that the COVID-19 pandemic is shifting the perspective of what it means to do youth ministry in 2020. “As all of us are figuring out how to go smaller and go more intimate, I really think right now that we should be listening to the youth workers in smaller contexts.”
Youth ministry has suddenly shifted to Zoom calls, which can make youth group meetings seem more like students’ recent online school classes. Fleming told LIGHT + LIFE that youth leaders are now learning what bears fruit in our changing world and what may not be a good use of their time.
“We can burn ourselves out easily trying to produce content,” Fleming said. “What my students need right now more than anything is relationship. My best energy right now is spent in handwritten notes to students and, as things are beginning to open up, interacting with students face-to-face when possible.”
Fleming becomes director after serving on the FM:Infuse team for 10 years. He joined the executive leadership five years ago, and he was heavily involved in planning and hosting the Free Methodist Youth Conference three years ago. Teens and youth leaders who participated in FMYC 2017 may remember him from his creative antics onstage as an emcee alongside Chadwick Anderson.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to be able to serve the denomination in this way. I love the Free Methodist Church, and I love and am called to youth ministry,” Fleming said. “I am so thrilled, honored and humbled honestly to lead and serve in this way.”
He recently was asked by the Board of Bishops to lead FM:Infuse after being recommended by outgoing Director Jeremy Lefler. Fleming studied youth ministry in McPherson at Central Christian College of Kansas and, while serving at the McPherson FMC, later earned a master’s degree in youth ministry leadership from Huntington University.
Fleming said he sensed a call to youth ministry a little later than the typical youth pastor.
“I graduated high school in 1998. I really came to know the Lord and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was 20,” Fleming said.
After his conversion, he began serving and volunteering through the local Youth for Christ organization. He felt God calling him to youth ministry and began to look into where he could receive more training. A Yahoo search changed the course of his future.
“Central was one of the hits that popped up,” said Fleming, who liked that the college would allow him an experience somewhere other than his hometown of Mattoon, Illinois. “I felt like a fresh start was really important and met with Lenny Favara who was teaching youth ministry and was the campus pastor at the time. I really connected with Lenny.”
Favara is now Central’s president, and Fleming is now the longtime youth pastor at the FM church bordering the Central campus.
“I came to McPherson in the fall of 2001, and I’ve been here ever since,” Fleming said. “I didn’t know what a Free Methodist was until I came to Central. I had no idea.”
Fleming soon developed a love for the Free Methodist denomination. He even met his wife, Suzanne, while they were both college students serving as summer staff at Sky Lodge Christian Camp, a Free Methodist campground in Montello, Wisconsin. They married in 2005, and they now have three children, Isaac, 11; Karis, 9; and Bella, 8.
Fleming emphasizes the freedoms of Free Methodism to students, and he and other FM:Infuse leaders believe FMYC is key to students understanding and connecting with the denomination.
“For any church, you have so many options for what to do with teenagers for a week during the summer,” said Fleming, who described FMYC as “distinctively Free Methodist in that we want to create an environment that helps our Free Methodist students know that they’re part of something bigger than their local church, that they’re part of a larger family that’s a global family.”
FM:Infuse leaders are currently planning the next FMYC to be held from June 28 to July 2, 2021, on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“We’re so excited with some of the things that we see being birthed for FMYC 2021 especially as it relates to helping teenagers identify calling, identify gifting and how to lean into that gifting,” said Fleming, who added that instead of merely using the resources of the Fort Collins community and then leaving, organizers are looking at ways to incorporate elements of service to the community that reflect “the heart of Free Methodism.”
More information about FMYC 2021 is expected soon. Follow the event’s Instagram page at instagram.com/fmyc2021 for updates.
Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. As a teenager, he attended IYC (forerunner to FMYC) in 1988 and 1991 and then covered FMYC in 2014 and 2017 for LIGHT + LIFE.1