‘It’s the end of an era in youth ministry in Churches of Christ’
Church members gathered outside a Colorado hospital to pray, while inside Carol Myers watched through a glass window as her husband, Mike, was taken off of a ventilator.
“She couldn’t hold his hand, but she could be there through the glass of the ICU,” said Jovan Barrington, senior minister for the Littleton Church of Christ, south of Denver.
Mike Myers, known as a pioneer in youth ministry within Churches of Christ, died Wednesday after battling pneumonia and COVID-19. He was 74.
His death came after weeks of health battles. Myers entered the hospital with pneumonia in mid-March, around the time social distancing measures were implemented in the United States. At the time, he tested negative for COVID-19. He was even able to leave the hospital at one point, entering a rehabilitation unit, where his family was allowed to visit with him through a window.
However, his condition worsened, and he was readmitted to the hospital. He again tested negative for the coronavirus, but doctors later tested fluid from his lungs. That test came back positive for the virus.
“He plowed the ground for everyone who works in youth ministry.”
“We were all holding out hope,” Barrington said, “but we knew him being on a ventilator, that it was very serious.”
This past Sunday, Barrington said, Myers had a good day. He was alert and sitting up in bed. With help from his nurses, he was able to do a few video calls with his family.
“It was his last bit of strength before a significant decline,” the preacher said. “After Sunday, his body began to shut down.”
On Wednesday, Barrington was alerted that Myers would be taken off of the ventilator.
One by one, Carol and their daughters — Cari, Holly and Amanda (and granddaughters Amanda and Ryann) — were able to go in and see him.
Outside, while practicing social distancing, the church prayed.
“We texted the congregation and said, ‘Today is the day. Let’s go pray,’” Barrington said. “We knew that was the day he was … he was to leave. So we gathered and prayed.”
‘Founder and hero’
Myers was what Dudley Chancey, a professor of ministry at Oklahoma Christian University, calls a “founder and hero of what we know as youth ministry.”
“It’s the end of an era in youth ministry in Churches of Christ,” Chancey said.
Myers’ work and reputation, Chancey said, put him in a special class of men — like Jim Moss, “Big Don” Williams, Wally Wilkerson and Dan Warden — who were instrumental in implementing youth ministry in Churches of Christ.
“There’s a void that he leaves, but it’s not one of those where there’s this deep hole of sorrow,” Chancey said. “He filled it. He filled that void by discipling other people. I see Mike Myers in several youth ministry guys I see around the country.”
Rick Odell is one of those in whom Chancey sees Myers’ influence.
“He plowed the ground for everyone who works in youth ministry,” said Odell, youth and family minister for the West Ark Church of Christ in Fort Smith, Ark.
Odell worked closely with Myers when he served as the youth minister for the Littleton church from 2002 to 2009.
Mike and Carol took the Odell family in and loved them well, Rick said.
The Myerses and Odells spent a lot of time together, enjoying many back alley hamburger joints and long talks.
“He was a mentor, an older brother,” Odell said. “We were kindred spirits in how we looked at God and God’s people. Above everything else though, he was my friend.”
Myers’ life, Odell said, is the greatest example he has ever seen of someone living out the Great Commission from Matthew 28.
“His life was spent passing the baton of faith to those of us around him,” Odell said, “and we have to realize that now it’s up to us to continue passing that baton.”
Concerned for youth ministers
Myers began working in youth ministry in 1973. He and Carol both received associate’s degrees from Lubbock Christian University, which was a junior college at the time. They went on to graduate from Abilene Christian University.
He spent all but a few months of his career with the Littleton church. In the late 1990s, he transitioned into a pulpit ministry position.
He was the lead minister in 1999, when the Columbine High School shooting claimed the lives of 12 students and one teacher in the suburban Denver community.
“His church and leadership during that time were incredible,” Chancey said.
Myers was one of the founding members of the National Conference of Youth Ministers, known as NCYM, and served for several years on the conference’s board.
“His concern was always for the youth ministers coming up in the ranks and how we needed to shepherd them,” Chancey said.
‘A good shepherd’
Barrington worked with Myers most recently. Still at the Littleton church, Myers had moved into a “pastoral care” role.
“He never held the title of shepherd, but he is one of the finest examples of what a good shepherd looks like,” Barrington said.
Myers was humble. He didn’t enjoy the spotlight. He loved people. He was a peacemaker “at his core.”
“He never held the title of shepherd, but he is one of the finest examples of what a good shepherd looks like.”
“Around here we say Mike’s everybody’s best friend,” Barrington said. “His personality and empathy and compassion just made you feel heard in his presence.”
He was persistent and endearing. He pushed the idea that people were always more important than programs in the church. His life was an example of living out Romans 12, Barrington said. He wanted to “live at peace with everyone,” and he did it well.
“There was no doubt that he genuinely wanted the best for you in Christ,” Barrington said.
A legacy that will endure
His influence is far-reaching.
Chancey said that often when great men like Myers die, people will say, “There will never be anyone like him.” With Myers, that’s not the case because he was so focused on discipling others.
“He lived the kind of life that … he lives on through us and through his family,” Chancey said.
And through those he mentored and taught for decades.
“We lost a guy that had a huge, huge impact on the kingdom of God,” Odell said.
Due to the pandemic, the family will hold a private service. A memorial may be conducted at a future date, but those plans are still under consideration.
Sunday, May 3, the Littleton Church of Christ will be sharing one of Myers’ final sermons as a part of its regular Sunday online service. Those wishing to join can do so at littletonchurch.org/churchonline.