OCEAN PARK - Travis Ruhter is in the process of getting himself accustomed to his new surroundings, decorating his desk and deciding what color to paint the walls. It's a noticeable difference from his previous job as a teacher at Ilwaco High School. One of the first things you notice is how quiet it is.
"It's definitely a very different atmosphere, there's not the rigidity of 'you have to do this at this time,' it's much more flexible," he said of his new job as youth and family pastor at Peninsula Baptist Church, where he has attended the last five years. "It's an environment that is really desiring to see people grow, not just in a particular area, but as people. My pastor really wants to see me continue to grow as a person and in my relationship with God. It's much more of a well-balanced look at things."
The 30-year-old Ruhter was hired in May, essentially replacing associate pastor David Cree, who recently moved his family to Canada. Ruhter said he had always wanted to get into ministry, that "it was just a matter of how and when."
This is his first job in the church, though Ruhter has been active for many years. While attending Idaho State University, he was involved in the Baptist student union, where he was named state president for a year and did missionary work in the Middle East. After college, he took his first and only teaching job at IHS, working there six years. In that time he moved up from teaching Spanish and history, to also taking on such classes as AP government, Leadership and contemporary world problems. He also became the social studies department chairman, drama club director, ASB advisor and advisor to the LINK Crew.
"I always enjoyed working with young people, there is just so much they have to offer," he said. "I remember what it was like growing up and how difficult it was for me and how just a couple of key adults really helped me through that time, who didn't tell me who I had to be or what to do. [They] just listened to me and guided me and gave me advice."
In his new job, he's responsible for working with the youth, in both Wednesday night's youth program, as well as Sunday school. He'll also be developing ways to help families to better understand their youth, giving parents a place to talk about issues they're dealing with, making them more effective parents.
"A lot of times people get this image of the parents and the children being adversarial," he said. "We want to work with them to make that situation better."
Ruhter leaves the high school as one of its highest qualified and most popular teachers. He said he will still see kids at the high school, through things like Friendly Faces - a group of pastors and youth group leaders who welcome and talk to kids at school everyday. Ruhter also said that if the teachers who will take over his classes ever need any assistance, he'd be happy to be a resource, on their terms.
"The high school is going through a lot of changes right now, and they need to struggle through those changes," he said. "I would hate to be a person who's on the outside looking in, telling them [how to do things]. I don't feel it's my place."
Ruhter said that leaving the school system, where he reached a wide spectrum of kids, to his new job where that group is smaller, was hard but worth it.
"It is going to be a different way of reaching out to kids and working with students," he said. "This really provides the avenue that I want to work with kids on. It will be a smaller group of people, but it's a different emphasis, meeting their needs in a different way."
Ruhter does not have a degree in theology, but will be taking a correspondence-type course in order to get the equivalent. It's called the "Shepherding Program," put on by Conservative Baptist Northwest, where he will work with other pastors on the Internet and at conferences.
"It's basically bringing seminary to guys who want to get into ministry without having to move."
To help get the ball rolling in this direction, the church is sending Ruhter and his wife to a specialist in North Carolina who mentors pastors, identifying their goals. Ruhter said this will give him a "firm foundation" in which to build on.
"At this point in time, I've been just looking to see where they're at, what they're doing and then from there just trust to see where God will take us."
In the end, Ruhter said that this job is exactly what he wanted: more freedom in his work, plus he'd get to do everything that he loves to do, but on his terms.
"There's just a time where everything in your life kinda comes together to where it's supposed to be," he said. "It's just a real time of ease for me. I'm not struggling with things that I know God wants me to do."