From nuclear terrorist to youth minister


From nuclear terrorist to youth ministerYouth ministry: it’s not rocket science. But every now and then it is nuclear physics.

A couple of weeks ago we put out an all-call for new voices to write for us. Not every week, but we see a lot of value in our members getting to hear from within, so to speak. We’ve had a pretty great response and are batting around ways of keeping that an active part of our content going forward. Great stuff from great people.

Our initial “write for us” prompt asked for you to share your greatest defeat in youth ministry. Again, great response. But one of the surprising submission standouts came not from the article submitted but from the bio of the author. John Hockert is a youth ministry volunteer and has been for 10 years. His story put the brakes on our worrying about content for a minute to celebrate the story of one who, after an already remarkable life, found his way into a call to ministry.

Here’s John’s story:

My name is John Hockert and if there is a stereotype for a youth worker, I differ from it on almost all counts.  I am 67 years old and have been serving as a youth ministry volunteer for the last 10 years.  My formal education is in the physical sciences rather than theology or philosophy.  I earned a doctorate in nuclear physics in 1975 and have spent the last 29 years working in nuclear safety and security.  For just over 7 years I was a “nuclear terrorist” for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, finding and helping correct security vulnerabilities at nuclear plants.

Although I was reared in a Christian home, I fell away from the faith in college and wandered in the far country for about 18 years.  I finally came to myself after being convicted when my older son asked me a question about Sunday school.  Since then I have belonged to three United Methodist churches.  My theological education, such as it is, came from much Bible reading, studies in church, and devouring mostly solid books on the beliefs and history of Christianity.  I owe a great debt to C. S. Lewis as Mere Christianity gave me the head knowledge to respect intellectually the faith and savior that my heart loved.  For my first twenty years of church membership, I was active in my church but not involved with youth ministry as my gifts, talents, and interests were focused elsewhere.  One March morning in 2004, during my devotional time, I received what I can only describe as a distinct call from God to work with youth.

I was shocked and certain that the Lord had mixed me up with someone else.  I was not cool.  I had never been cool, not even when I was a youth.  I had no understanding of youth and had not been a particularly good father to my own children when they were tweens and teens.   After agonizing with the call for a while, I went to our church youth director, a remarkably gifted and gracious woman who, despite whatever she may have thought, did not say, “John, you are insane!”  Instead she introduced me to the youth group and I began to help out in whatever way I could from setting up chairs and shagging Bibles to leading studies during youth meetings.

I have been her assistant ever since.  God changed my heart to love the tweens and teens in the group.  They were gracious and accepting of a nerdy old fogey who loved and accepted them.  I did not realize until about 5 years later just how dramatically I had been changed.  Circumstances arose where I could not serve a youth group for about two months.  I can empathize with Paul, when he wrote “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16) and with Jeremiah when he wrote about the burning in his heart and his bones if he neglected his call. (Jeremiah 20:9).  For me those two months were a painful woe that was only relieved when I could return to youth ministry.  Ministering to and with youth has been and continues to be one of the great joys of my life.


Exactly. We say it all over the place, but we really mean it: the Youthworker Movement is all about the hearts and soul of youthworkers. We rejoice with John in finding his home in youth ministry, as we do with all of you who have found your way into ministering to kids in any form or fashion. We certainly look forward to hearing more from John’s unique perspective going forward.

Don’t keep your story to yourself! Send it to us at


Photo courtesy of Jennifer Flora

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