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Youth minister retiring but won’t stray too far

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Faith, passion and work ethic. These are the three things Benjie Mathis said he hopes he has imparted in the youth involved in Student Fusion at Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church.

The Floyd County native capped off a 40-year career in youth ministry Sunday. He served the last 28 of those as student pastor at Pleasant Valley.

He and his wife Sandey have spent most of their lives in the company of children and teens. Benjie said they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We went on vacation one year, it’s been a long time — probably 1999 or maybe 2000,” Benjie said. “We were at the beach, and we looked around at ourselves, said ‘What are we supposed to do here? Don’t have any kids with us.’”

Pastor Philip May has never known Pleasant Valley without Mathis. May arrived in 1997.

“He built youth ministry at this church, so he’s leaving us a solid foundation,” May said. “He senses God’s call in his life to be a student minister, or he would not have done it until he was 63 years old.”

When Mathis came to Pleasant Valley, 12 to 20 students might come to an event. Now he estimates there are between 125 and 150 active Student Fusion members. The Sunday crowd meets in the only available space big enough to accommodate them all: the gym.

Though he’s watched most of these kids grow up, Mathis hasn’t let his age become a barrier.

“The gospel never changes, but some of the methods that we use have to change,” he said.

He loves to take selfies and knows how important social media outreach is.

“I can post with the best of them,” he said. “I think if we don’t use the technology, we’re going to lose a percentage of the folks we could reach.”

However, no matter how much work he puts into his online presence, the people who know him best admire Mathis because he leads by example.

“He’ll be beside you whether it’s loading a truck or taking out the garbage,” Wes Rampley said.

In eighth grade Rampley started a worship band. He then interned with the church and today is on staff as the contemporary and college worship leader.

“I remember in my internship, we used to mop floors together,” he said.

After 28 years, Mathis isn’t leaving Pleasant Valley — he‘s just found the right time to step down.

“I said I would like to leave when everything’s running great, running smooth,” Mathis said. “I didn’t want to hold it back.”

Husband and wife team Eric and Melissa Lefevers have been hired to direct student ministry. They plan to move to Rome later this month. Mathis will work to transition them into the position.

Mathis said he wants to teach the Lefeverses from behind the scenes so they have the space to grow on their own terms.

He said he’ll miss working directly with the kids, but also knows he won’t stray too far.

“Working with them has kept that passion inside of me because I see the energy that they have,” Mathis said. “I see the passion that they have, especially for worship.”