Johnny Kjaer grew up in church and attended Christian school.
The environment — and those around him — taught him a lot.
Father John was a prison chaplain throughout his son’s youth, showing Johnny Christ’s love by passionately serving and discipling an often undervalued group of men.
Scott Linnerud, the senior pastor of Kjaer’s hometown church while he was growing up, showcased the sacrifice and work ethic it took to run a smaller church, as Kjaer vividly recalled Linnerud coming back to church at night after dinner with his family and then, of all things, mopping the floor at 11 p.m.
But that all-faith environment wasn’t all good.
Kjaer learned how to fake the Christian walk, got good at pretending he was doing well because he had enough knowledge, would always know the proper response to situations.
He could hide.
He could cover up his turmoil, the struggle.
Until an incident when he was a senior in high school — “I actually got caught in sin,” he said — that led to him getting expelled. Eventually, he was allowed to return to school and graduate. But it was during that process he ultimately started the path toward healing, spurred by Kjaer’s then-youth pastor.
And, ultimately, it was that mentorship and God working on Kjaer’s heart that not only reaffirmed Christ’s love and forgiveness but set his course.
“I just started thinking about how I’d love to go into youth ministry,” Kjaer said.
So Kjaer did.
He graduated with a bachelor’s in youth ministries. He was a youth pastor for several years in Wisconsin, then was an interim senior pastor for two more before he wound up in Lafayette as an intern at Faith.
While at Faith, Kjaer asked God for guidance on what to do once he’d finished training in Faith’s seminary.
“I just really feel like God wants me to be in youth ministries,” Kjaer said. “As far as I’m concerned at this point, I plan to retire as a youth pastor.”
Kjaer officially joined Faith’s staff as pastor of student ministries in April 2014. He oversees ministries for sixth through 12th graders — and finds challenges and rewards in dealing with that age, especially in regards to purity and staying strong in their faith.
“There’s a ton of work being done on trying to get kids to question their faith or question whether God really exists, so I find myself spending a lot of time in those situations,” he said. “But it is great when you see it click and when you see a young person catch onto that. That becomes incredibly exciting. There’s also a whole aspect of helping young people work through a real vibrant faith and not just the religion of their parents and helping them get to that point.”
Kjaer actively tries to teach kids to learn how to face challenges while increasing their knowledge and bringing them closer to a personal relationship with Christ, holding several Bible study options for teens outside of normal group meetings, running the “4:Twelve” youth group and investing Friday nights at the skateboard park near Faith’s Community Center to get to know youth in the community.
Kjaer still finds time for his growing family, too. He and wife Tori have three children, Leif, Tryggve, and Kjirsti.