Youth ministry can, at times, be dramatic yet on the whole quite rewarding. To see the youth standing up to put their faith in God, accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour, gives the church hope for the upcoming generations. To know that the church of the future has a generation rising up to know and serve God is comforting, as teenagers discover what God is calling them to do.
For many teenagers, their youth leader and youth pastor are vital people in their life. To have a leader investing time, sharing the love of Jesus with them, and journeying with youth through the turbulent years of adolescence, can make those years a little less troublesome. This spiritual guidance offered by a youth leader is not quickly forgotten after the teenage years, and it can be an encouragement to be involved in ministry for the long term. With many people making their decision to follow Christ before the age of 20, the teenage years are crucial to develop their faith, and encourage sticking with their faith.
Annie Lindsay, Youth Ministry Co-ordinator at Springwood Baptist shared with us some of her experiences in youth ministry. She has been working in youth ministry for about nine years. At present Annie works two days a week at Springwood Baptist, and two days a week employed as an SRE teacher at Springwood and Winmalee High Schools in the Blue Mountains. Annie became a Christian at 5 years old. She points to the Godly example her parents and grandparents lived out, and she witnessed, in helping her decide that Jesus was needed in her life.
Hearing many stories of how youth leaders get started in youth ministry shows how God can use anyone at anytime for his purposes. Annie saw herself heading in a specific direction, though had a passion for sharing her faith with youth. Annie says, “In year 11 and 12 I was part of the leadership team at school where we were encouraged to lead, disciple and run bible study groups for those in younger grades. That was when I realised I really loved sharing Jesus with young people and walking through life with them.”
Towards the end of high school, things began to change for Annie. “I had always wanted to be a primary teacher and had life post school all planned out around that, but God had other plans. I ended up unexpectedly underperforming in my HSC meaning I was not accepted into any university course. I was devastated but it was in this place that God challenged me to not just make my own plans and ask for his blessing on them but to fully hand my life to Him and what he was asking of me. That’s when I began leading at youth group, teaching scripture and getting involved in ministry however I could. With lots of learning, mentoring and encouragement it became clear that God was calling me into a life of ministry to young people.” In trusting God’s plan for her life, Annie finds herself in the roles she holds today.
It is important to recognise that youth ministry, or any ministry cannot be done in ones own strength. Annie points to a piece of advice that she was given that has helped her in her ministry so far. “Some advice I was given early on was that ‘the battle is won on your knees’ – basically prayer makes the difference. That would certainly be what I would hope to pass on. The way has been made for us to boldly approach the throne and make our requests know and our God delights to hear and answer in amazing ways. So ask!” This advice is relevant not only for those in youth ministry, but in any ministry that a person is called to do.
In approaching ministry prayerfully, Annie realises that she is ever learning throughout ministry. We will never have all the answers, all the time and that is ok to admit. It is God who is doing the transforming work in the lives of the people we minister to. Annie says “I have been learning that I have to approach it with total reliance on God – for every single little thing. He is the one who opens opportunities, who changes hearts, who brings the teens along, who unites the team of leaders, who gives us the words, who enables us to understand his word, who sustains me when its all way too much and who ultimately saves. I am pretty good at trying to hold it all on my own and unsurprisingly it just doesn’t work! It’s hard to let go but when you do it changes things. I have also been learning that so much of youth ministry is just walking closely with Jesus and inviting young people to join you on the journey.”
Partnering with others in ministry can help you feel encouraged in the hard times and celebrating the good times. Being linked in with the Baptist Association also provides opportunities to connect with other churches. For Annie, she was encouraged by attending the Baptist Youth Pastors Conference earlier this year. “It was so great to meet with so many other individuals who have the same heart to see young people living lives of radical discipleship and love for Jesus and to share experiences and learning. The teaching was so helpful and really changed things for me in a number of ways.”
In attending the Youth Pastors Conference, it is possible to see that youth ministry can be a male dominated profession. For Annie, her experience in youth ministry with other males has been positive. She says “Most of the times I have felt this to be a problem have not been intentional or thought through. It seems that the people I come across, in my experience, generally are all for gender equality, they just sometimes unthinkingly subscribe to what culture has always done and thought. I have learnt to remind myself that what matters is what God thinks of me and what he is calling me to do. So I fix my eyes on Him and just faithfully get my job done. Open and honest conversations around these issues are essential.” This is something we can pass onto the youth of today, to find value in the eyes of God, and to trust in Him wholeheartedly.
The journey for Annie in youth ministry has not always been easy, not only seeing a complete change in direction for her life, but also with some health struggles. Annie shares a major struggle for her, as an encouragement for people who may face something similar. “I suffer from a pretty bad anxiety disorder and in the past have struggled with depression. These things make so much of life and ministry a huge challenge. It has been amazing to see God at work even in the darkest and most challenging parts of my life. Working with young people at the moment involves a huge amount of work with mental heath related issues and I realise that I am able to care for and journey with these teens and young adults in a way that I just really couldn’t had I not experienced my own mental health struggles.
My illness, though still such a challenge, has turned out to be used by God for the ministry he has given me – a definite case of his power being made perfect in my weakness day by day!”
Even though the journey hasn’t always been easy, there are many moments of joy in youth ministry. To see teenagers accept Jesus as their Saviour is a cause of celebration. A specific event sticks out for Annie, seeing a heart transformed for Jesus. “Six years ago I met my new Year 7 SRE class. In the group was a young woman who was just so angry. She made it clear from the get go that she hated me, she hated having to be in scripture and she hated everything to do with God. She made it her goal to make life hard for me. She was the one in my class who I felt was just the most far off from Jesus and I would pray and cry over this fact often as she clearly needed Jesus in her life. Towards the end of that year she began to soften and ask more genuinely interested questions. At the end of term four God had worked a massive miracle and she told me that she had given her life to Jesus! She told me that her parents were very anti and would not allow her to attend youth group or church but she would keep asking. In the mean time she came to our ISCF group each week and it was clear that God was powerfully changing her heart. She was so far from being the angry young girl who initially joined my class. After a few tough years her parents gave in allowed her to come along to youth group where it was wonderful to see her connecting with out young Christians and mature greatly in her love and knowledge of Jesus. It was also awesome to see her welcoming and encouraging other new Christians who came to ISCF from unsupportive homes.
At the beginning of this year at youth group she told me she wanted to get baptised and asked that I be the one to do it (which produced immediate tears in me!) She shared her testimony of what Jesus had done in her life with joy and passion (I am sure she will go on to preach!) in front of our evening service and amazingly, her whole family – a massive answer to prayer! It was honestly one of the greatest joys of my life and continues to be as I watch God working in and through her life!”
Knowing that God used Annie in this way should encourage others in ministry to stick with it. Maybe there is a person you are trying to minister to, who has a similar attitude to the girl Annie met. Don’t give up and keep on praying.