“Hi. I’m Scott.”
Scott Isaak has been the youth pastor at Crossway Elm Creek Church for ten years. We sat down together before the cold snap in January and spent some time reflecting on a decade of ministry, what (or who) led him here and what is on his heart as he looks to the future.
In the hour we had together, we learned that Scott loves motorcycles, games (all kinds of games), stories, people and community – much like loving people but exponentially dynamic.
When asked to introduce himself, Scott begins with family, “I’m the husband of Julia, a fantastic mother and nurse working in Carman, and we have four kids. “This,” referring to his daughter sitting beside him, “is the oldest.”
“I have been involved in a kind of youth ministry with my friends since high school. I was always the coordinator of things, the initiator. And then that turned to camp ministry right after high school, and even while I was attending college, I was volunteering with youth ministry.”
“Eventually, God said to go full time.”
Scott grew up in the western part of the province near Rivers, MB attending the Faith Fellowship Baptist youth group. He is referring to the Turtle Mountain Bible Camp straight south down highway ten near Boissevain, MB.
“I first went to Dauphin Bible Camp, but switched to Turtle Mountain and did my teen camp years and then became a cabin leader…oh man, that was a learning curve!” “That first week was the most challenging group of campers I ever had. I’m sure the experience was compounded by the fact that I was new and missed the staff training (because I went on a motorcycle trip that summer), but I think back on it still sometimes.”
“I’ve never had a group that wanted to fight as much as they did.”
The experience also stands out because it was the year the camp had a plow wind come through on the first night during one week of camp. A plow wind can be as severe as a Manitoba tornado without circulating winds.
“Yeah, it was the craziest thing to see. It pushed through the bush and came across the yard through the main part of the camp. The cabins are arranged in a half ring; on one side are the girls’ cabins, then there’s a bigger gap followed by the boys’ cabins. And you could see that the wind went right through the gap with trees that looked like they should have landed on cabins, but they didn’t – it was the coolest thing; God’s protection of it all.”
Julia and Scott met at Turtle Mountain Bible Camp when Scott transitioned to program director, and Julia worked as the camp nurse for one of the weeks of camp.
The call to full-time ministry came after Julia and Scott were married. He attended Bible College at Prairie in Three HIlls, Alberta, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry – Youth Option and was hired by Crossway in 2013.
While reflecting on the transition from youth ministry volunteer to youth pastor, Scott commented on the surprising spiritual weight he felt. “It was hard to put your finger on it. There’s just a weight that comes with the position of authority and leadership within the care of these students that I didn’t experience when someone else was carrying the authority. I’ve had to learn how to figure that out and try not to carry the weight alone.”
“I’ve been learning how to recognize it and to just take some time to slow down, pause, and pray, like really pray and spend some time wrestling with it.”
If Scott could make one change to his post-secondary curriculum, it would be adding a course where a professor just sat the class down every day and said, “If you are going into full time ministry, it is going to be really hard.” Class dismissed.
“I know I’ve learned some stuff because I do things differently than before. Like, I hope I’ve become a little bit more patient with people as I’ve recognized that God is way more patient than we are typically. God’s just ridiculously patient with people to change…to grow and learn.”
Elm Creek, the town that Scott lives and serves in, is a small town with the dynamic of everyone knowing everyone and where many people that grew up in the town now have kids growing up in the town. Scott refers to this when talking about the patience of God to work on people over the long run.
He also recalls a college professor who inspired him to stick it out in the same place long term. This professor was a youth pastor in the same church for nearly 22 years. What Scott recalled about his impact was something he has now experienced too – that relationships grow deeper and opportunities can expand as you become a ‘known quantity’ in the community, especially for those that don’t attend our church.
“I also think I’ve learned a bit more about how to hold things in tension with one another. For example, what I would believe to be right and what someone else might believe to be right can both exist. In college, I was taught to take a position when writing a paper and to defend that position. But it’s just an academic exercise that doesn’t translate to community. An idea or stance on something isn’t just an idea. It’s embodied by a person and through a relationship. All of a sudden, it’s not simple, and I’m trying to value those relationships over being right – I hope I’ve gotten better at that.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, the dialogue turned to the future and Scott’s hopes and prayers for what’s next…
“My life in the community at large has a neat dynamic of walking to and from the church from our house in the morning, at lunch and home again in the evening. Sometimes, going home for lunch is quite astounding – it’s a 7-minute walk, but sometimes that walk can take an hour based on who we bump into and what we get chatting about. That’s a really neat aspect of living in a small town. Half the time, it’s not church people, but people I get the opportunity to know who maybe I didn’t know before.”
“The path from the church to home crosses the path from the school to the co-op, so I can catch students that way sometimes. It’s neat to see them outside of the usual space. My hope and prayer is, honestly, for students to make their faith real in high school and watch it flourish and grow as they continue through life, but it’s also for the people who have grown up in Elm Creek and have not known Jesus – like, man, what could God do to bring them in? That would be maybe just the coolest thing ever.”