Rooted in faith: Highland Baptist Church hires 19-year-old college minister

Highland Baptist Church encourages believers to grow alongside one another in newly-formed friendships. Photo courtesy of Megan Calkins

By Jackson Posey | Reporter

Sitting in a redwood tree with a man named Spud, Abe Yeager found Jesus.

“I feel like that’s when I had a moment of commitment,” said Yeager, a San Mateo, Calif., sophomore who was recently named Highland Baptist Church’s youngest-ever College Guys Associate. “For the first time, I understood what that meant of like, ‘Oh yeah, I want to be committed to the Lord every day, and I want to live a life for him — worthy of the Lord in every way and bearing fruit in every good work.’”

Yeager’s conversion experience, now nearly nine years ago, felt particularly stark against the backdrop of his hometown. A 2020 study by the U.S. Religion Census found that only 33.6% of San Mateo County residents reported adhering to any religion, including high numbers among some non-Christian groups. Despite graduating high school in a class of 1,600, Yeager recalled knowing just three Christians, including himself and his brother.

After the COVID-19 lockdown, Yeager said he became much bolder in his faith. He also said people began to distance themselves, and he assumed it was because of the outward expression of his faith.

Yeager joined many other Californians and moved to Texas. For the past two years, California-to-Texas migration has marked the largest state-to-state movement in the country, and Baylor’s enrollment is no exception. Among all undergrads, 9.2% are Californians — the second-biggest group behind Texas and larger than the next five states combined. For at least one member of that migration, the transition brought a swift and welcome entrance into the community.

“I met Abe at my house at the beginning of his freshman year,” said Jacob Duffer, a Cedar Park senior who led Yeager’s freshman connection group. “I was like, ‘This kid is so young, but he knows so much about the Bible.’ He clearly loves the Lord, and I think the biggest thing is he clearly loves ministry.

“Last semester, we started grabbing lunch once a week. And he would say that it’s ‘discipleship’ or whatever, but honestly, I probably learned just as much — if not more — from him than he learned from me.”

Yeager’s friendship with Duffer, a fellow member of Phi Kappa Chi and a prospective seminarian, wasn’t the only key relationship he found early on. After attending a Presbyterian church throughout high school, Yeager noticed a man at a Pathway event wearing a foster and adopt T-shirt. That man was Drew Humphrey — Highland Baptist Church’s college pastor — and their shared passion for fostering children quickly became a special friendship.

“He came up to me, and we started talking about that,” Humphrey said. “Quickly, we grabbed some Torchy’s lunch, some queso, and became fast friends from there.”

Everything from early calls to hearts for fostering seemed to draw them together. And it didn’t take long for Humphrey to see something exceptional in his protégé.

“He clearly had spiritual gifts of leadership and evangelism,” Humphrey said. “I could tell he was really serious about his spiritual disciplines in a unique way, which I felt needed a unique stewardship. … It felt right to give that special attention, and not in the sense of friendship or favoritism, but stewardship is how I’d say it.”

Highland Baptist Church’s spring break mission trip to England included just two freshman men: Yeager and Aledo sophomore Colton Snow. The pair roomed with Humphrey between service projects with schools and local ministries.

“We got compared as a dynamic duo, actually,” Snow said. “We’re both entering into very similar jobs in vocational ministry, where I’m doing his job but with high schoolers and middle schoolers, and he’s doing my job but with college students. … [It’s] just such a natural stumbling into a friendship that isn’t face-to-face but shoulder-to-shoulder in how we do ministry, how we love one another and love others together.”

Together, Yeager and Snow co-lead a college connection group at Highland. Admittedly, though, Snow said it took a little persistence to get the ball rolling.

“Abe asked me to lead a [connection group] with him, [but] I told him no,” Snow said. “And then he asked me again. I told him no. He said, ‘Pray about it,’ and I was like, ‘Dang Abe, now I have to pray about it. Thanks for calling me out on that.’ And then he asked me a third time, and I said yes.”

This semester, Yeager took another step into ministry: joining the college staff at Highland Baptist Church. In the eight years since Humphrey became the college pastor, Yeager is the first 19-year-old to fill the role of College Guys Associate.

“I think it is definitely something that is a hurdle,” Humphrey said. “It’s always easier for the 24- [and] 25-year-old to minister than it is for the 19- and 20-year-old for this exact reason. But the reality is, I’m 33, and I don’t just minister to college students. I’m one of the pastors of the church, so I minister across different groups. We all have to learn how to minister to our peers. We all have to learn how to minister to people older than us. That’s never going to go away until you’re the oldest person in your congregation, and at that point, you … will probably be retired.”

For Yeager, the job offer felt like a dream come true. He said he had felt a divine call to ministry since seventh grade, and when he finally got the opportunity, he didn’t let it go to waste.

“It was something that I had thought about as almost a pipe dream — like maybe my senior year, maybe after I graduated — and not something I was expecting at all in that moment,” Yeager said. “And when my boss, Drew Humphrey, offered me the position, I was just beyond blessed, and I had to go fill up my Dr Pepper cup and take a minute just to think and just praise the Lord for the opportunity.”

Nowadays, Yeager can be found leading evangelism training and playing Spikeball. However, he will never forget that night, almost nine years ago now, sitting in a redwood tree — a few feet off the ground and a mile closer to heaven.

“[It was] really special,” Yeager said about that night, when his faith turned into commitment. “I don’t remember all the specifics, but I remember I was in that tree. … Being in the trees is a really special place to me. That was a wonderful moment.”