The Phelps Student Center construction wasn’t even completed yet, but Mel Walker claimed the honor of scoring the first basket in the new gymnasium on Clarks Summit University’s Northeast Pennsylvania campus.
Basketball was his passion when the 6’6’’ Walker was a student in the early 1970s, but God ushered him to a new and greater passion when Walker discovered what it was like to introduce a young person to Jesus. For the rest of his life, Walker would be an advocate for the next generation, investing his life in youth ministry for more than 45 years.
Walker passed away on Thursday, December 2, 2021 in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Lifetime of Service
The Montrose, Pennsylvania, native came to know Jesus as his savior as a child. As a student at CSU, Walker dedicated his life to full-time ministry. He was a starter on the basketball court all four years as a CSU Defender and earned his Associate of Arts in ’74 and Bachelor of Religious Education in ’76. After graduating, he moved to Michigan to jump into local church ministry and married Peggy (Bartling, ’76) that summer. He served in Michigan until becoming the dean of men and instructor of youth ministry at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa.
The Walkers returned to their alma mater in 1989. Mel taught youth ministry classes and served as director of alumni and placement at CSU.
When hired, Jim Huckaby, who was formerly Walker’s basketball coach and later his supervisor, described: “Mel is a skilled communicator who will capably convey the heartbeat of BBC to alumni, and in turn, give a sensitive ear to alumni needs and concerns.”
During these years, Peggy served as a resident director in a women’s residence hall. Mel also served at CSU as director of public relations, instructor of youth and family ministries and vice president for alumni, communications and external relations in more recent years at CSU.
God opened the door for Walker to combine his love for writing and his passion for youth ministry as director of student ministries and youth editor at Regular Baptist Press, where he completely revised the youth ministry curriculum.
In addition to graduate work at Iowa State University and Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, Walker earned his Master of Ministry from Baptist Bible Seminary in 1996.
“Mel Walker was ‘Mr. Encouragement’ to me and scores of others,” says Dr. Jim Lytle, CSU president. “I knew that when Mel said he would pray for me, he did. Mel was a faithful servant in a series of roles at Clarks Summit University…Everything Mel did, whether here at CSU or for the church at large, helped students and alumni grow to be more like Jesus and learn how to serve him more effectively. He only thought about others.”
Walker earned the 2017 Alumnus of the Year Award from CSU. In his acceptance speech, he highlighted life-changing lessons he learned at CSU, leading with the importance of thinking biblically.
A member of the Association of Youth Ministry Educators, he has received the Outstanding Faithfulness in Youth Ministry award. He was named in the Outstanding Young Men of America and Who’s Who in Society in the 1980s.
Throughout his years in ministry, Walker was known for his encouragement and his smile as he served. Glenn Amos (’11), lead pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Clarks Summit, served with Walker for years at CSU, TLC and Vision for Youth. He recalls, “As I think back on those years, the thing that stands head and shoulders above everything else (like Mel) is how much fun we had serving God together. And I mean FUN! I know that sounds so self-focused, but it’s not. It was fun because we saw God transform so many lives, both young and old. We were privileged to see God do amazing things year after year in churches, youth groups, conferences, camps and on campus, and we never really thought that it was anything that we did. I loved his heart for the next generation and am honored to have served with him.”
Youth Ministry Influence
The combination of his call to serve in youth ministry and his welcoming personality led Walker to form many relationships with others who had the same desire to reach young people for Christ. He and a group of like-minded people created the National Youth Ministries Conference in 1986. He went on to be co-founder and president of an international network for youth ministry. Vision for Youth, Inc. now encompasses the conference, mission trips and a publishing arm, as well as serving as a resource for youth pastors and youth workers around the globe.
Tim Ahlgrim, (’74, ’76) is a longtime friend of Walker and the executive director of Vision for Youth. “It is difficult to put almost 50 years of friendship into a simple quote,” acknowledges Ahlgrim. “Mel and I met several minutes after our parents dropped us off for our freshman year of CSU. I was sitting in the upstairs lounge of Ridley Hall wondering what to do, when he walked out of his room and said, ‘Hi I’m Mel Walker, who are you?’ We were both the first people we met that we didn’t already know. The rest is history! I seldom have wondered what to do again! He was a visionary entrepreneur in ministry who was willing to follow God’s leading into the great unknown of youth ministry. His ministry shadow is far bigger than he was, and that is saying a lot. His shadow falls on inner-city ministry, mentoring, international ministry, student ministry, educational ministry, writing and publishing, Vision For Youth, and most importantly his shadow falls on what these ministries represent. People. Someone said, ‘the shadow proves the sunshine.’ So, today when I’m in the shadows of sorrow, it proves the sunshine that was Mel Walker!”
Walker consistently looked for ways to reach young people and equip others to disciple them. He served as director of CSU’s Teen Leadership Conference and expanded it by providing deeper opportunities for youth workers to learn best practice ways to better serve young people through a youth leader track. While teens attend life-changing sessions at TLC, adults who are discipling and mentoring them can be encouraged and equipped to keep serving as they attend classes in the NYMC track. He was also a key force in other CSU initiatives for younger people, including a Growing Leaders Conference and Radiate.
Emily Gehman (’12) met Walker on a Vision For Youth mission trip. “I was 15 and had no idea about anything except for two things: I loved youth ministry and I loved to write. But two more things quickly became clear: I’d met a giant in both of those fields, and he was someone I wanted as a friend,” she recalls. “Mel loved Jesus and loved students not only with his words, but with his life. I knew everything he wrote was true because I experienced it first-hand. This guy was the real deal. Mel helped me publish my first article with Regular Baptist Press as a student contributor, and I even interviewed him a few times for different projects over the years. Whenever we’d see each other at conferences or trade emails, he’d always leave me with those two words that will forever inspire me to go on for God: ‘Keep writing.’”
Similar stories echo this pattern of care and discipleship. Jason Jackson (’01, ’04) and his wife Meredith (Crocker, ’01) were encouraged by the Walkers as well. He explains, “I first met ‘Big Mel’ Walker as a high school senior, although I quickly found out that he and Peggy had attended (then) Baptist Bible College with my parents in the ‘70s. When I settled at Heritage Baptist Church as a college student, Mel encouraged me toward ministry, as he did with so many young men over the years. When I joined the Heritage staff as pastor of student ministries, my wife Meredith and I were loved, taught and challenged by both Mel and Peggy. I’m humbled and honored to have been mentored by Mel for many years. His wisdom, godly influence, love for Scripture and strategic thinking formed my own marriage and ministry in ways I cannot possibly explain. I’m eternally grateful to the Lord for the way Mel Walker left his imprint on my life, and the lives of men and women who ‘go on for God’ all over the globe.”
For nearly five decades, Walker invested his life in youth ministry, including ministry to his own family. He and Peggy’s three grown children (Kristi, ’00; Todd, ’03; Travis, ’04) are all CSU alumni, and Walker was especially pleased to share that each one of his children served Christ in career ministry. The Walkers found joy in the next generations of their own household through loving their 10 grandchildren.
Sharing Knowledge through Books
Walker authored more than a dozen books on youth ministry, spiritual life and connecting generations. The book “Mentoring the Next Generation” allowed him to share practical strategies for carrying out something he was passionate about: connecting people of all ages in the church to equip young people to remain faithful to God.
“Going on for God,” available in both a book and study guide, shows how to encourage the next generation to serve Christ. On the book’s website, Walker shared his heart: “This book is a practical conversation for Christian parents and church leaders who are interested in proactive suggestions for encouraging the next generation to grow up spiritually and to live their adult lives as devoted followers of Christ. This process isn’t easy, but take it from someone who has been a fellow-struggler on this journey—it’s certainly worth the effort. We’re in this together as part of God’s work in the world today. We want our kids to grow up and go on for God!”
Walker’s latest book “Youth Ministry Questions: Lessons from a Life-Long Youth Worker” is available for pre-order at YouthMinistryQuestions.com.
On the book’s website, Walker is quoted: “We get too old to play tackle football; but we should never get too old to minister to kids.” The statement isn’t a trite saying; Walker put it into practice.
In his 60s, Walker chose to follow his God-given passion for the next generation instead of choosing a quiet retirement. He served as part-time youth pastor at Wyoming Valley Church in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He believed God has gifted every person, no matter his or her age, with a responsibility to follow Him and to encourage others to do so. Mentorship and discipleship aren’t merely concepts in his books; they’re a lifestyle he followed, leaving countless Christ-followers spread across various generations to carry on his influence.
“My legacy, I know, is not a big deal,” Walker said in an interview with Gehman for his newest book. “But if I can impact the generations after me, then I’ve done something that matters for eternity.” Based on the influence of so many, his contributions to eternity are even wider than his seemingly ever-present smile.
Walker was planning to continue equipping others before His Savior called him home. “Encouraging the Next Generation to Consider Career Ministry” was planned as his next free webinar. He writes on his blog at MelWalker.org his 11 observations about church and career ministry as he prepared for this study, leading with #1: “God expects and has gifted every believer to serve Him.”
Walker invested His life in serving Christ by equipping the next generation. His testimony demonstrates a life grounded in the truth of God’s Word, which propelled his passion for helping young people to understand and live in that truth. His energy and hope that came from knowing His Savior drove his calling for spreading that same hope to those who came after him.
Walker believed that God’s grace and love are powerful enough to span every generation, that no individual was too young—or too old—to benefit from the Savior’s love. He believed that Christians need to be encouraged to serve Him starting at a young age. His legacy of youth ministry carries on to impact the church both now and in the future.
Walker’s clear hope in Christ spurred his belief that Christ would continue to use future generations to build His Church. Some see current challenges and younger people as part of the problem, but Walker sought to bridge the gaps between different generations in the Church, advocating for mentorship and relationships that encourage young people to lead in their churches, both now and in the future.
Walker is survived by his wife Peggy (Bartling) Walker; Children—Kristi Walker, Todd and Janine Walker, Travis and Kaci Walker; Brothers—Norman and Ruth Walker, Vernon and Pat Walker; Grandchildren—Lana, Ellie, Haddon, Finn, Titus, Levi, Adelaide, Evangeline, Marcus and Thurmond Walker.
Celebration of Life
The Celebration of Life Service for Walker will be held at Heritage Baptist Church in Clarks Summit, PA on Tuesday, December 7, at 6 p.m., preceded by a time of visitation from 4–6 p.m. Those unable to attend in person may watch the service on livestream at https://youtu.be/0FQUatxWnVY.
In lieu of flowers please consider a contribution to help the family with expenses. Checks should be made payable to Peggy Walker and sent to 538 Venard Road, Clarks Summit, PA 18411. A GoFundMe account has also been established at https://gofund.me/759fe739.