'We need to be developing their gifts'
Bristol Baptist College, the world’s oldest Baptist college, currently has a number of young adults training for ministry. All are undertaking placements in Baptist churches alongside their studies. How did they get here? How’s it going? And what are their thoughts on reaching their generation?
Jamie is in the second year of a theology, mission and ministry course, which he’s combining with leading Rodbourne Cheney Baptist Church in Swindon. The 32-year-old’s journey to faith encompasses a fractured family background, despair, healing and the discovering of an evangelist’s heart to share the love of Jesus with those yet to know Him.
“It’s seven years since I came to faith and there has been an incredible transformation,” he says. “God has de-rooted lots of things, and there’s more to come. I’ve learnt it’s ok not to be ok, and have been given the grace to get through each day.”
As a child Jamie had a church background, “but left as soon as I could.” “It was a C of E church, and it just seemed to be a group of old people singing hymns. It didn’t do anything for me.”
His mum and dad separated when he was five. She remarried, but it was an abusive, difficult relationship, driving the young Jamie “off the rails”. “I took what the world offers. Sex, drugs, cannabis, drinking.”
He was able to start a career as a BT engineer, and became engaged. But when that long-term relationship fell through, many issues resurfaced.
“I actually had a job and was earning good money, but I was empty. After the break-up I began to have anxiety, depression. Eventually I just go on my knees and prayed.” He was 25 at the time, and spoke to his grandmother and about going to a church where there would be people his own age. She recommended a local Pentecostal congregation. There, he had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit and his faith began to grow.
Jamie soon started to realise a calling on his life. He says there was a lot of prophecy (for instance, and he was told he would inherit the gifts of his grandfather, who had been a vicar). Very quickly he found himself leading an Alpha Course and a youth group. He realised he had a gift for evangelism and a heart for outreach. The church he was at believed he was being called to ministry, and he too sensed the same call.
Jamie explored different options, including Hillsong in Australia. “I didn’t have peace with any of them, until I met Steve (Finamore, Bristol Baptist College principal), and we hit it off.”
He has dyslexia, and no qualifications. To show a level of study and commitment, he did a Prepare, Feed, Sustain course, as well as a placement with Owen Green and Ali Boulton at the Stowe. Now in his second year at Bristol, he is thriving at the College.
“I love it here, the support is great and the community is massively important – we hold each other up. The learning is great and I love the unity with Trinity (the Anglican College with which Bristol Baptist College partners). Millennials don’t really care about denominations, it’s all about the kingdom. Young adults have less concern for the politics of the church.”
Jamie is already putting his experience and calling to good use in a number of ways. He works alongside Swindon Youth for Christ to lead a listening service in a local secondary school, a place that had been hostile to Christianity for a number of years. The school’s mental health provision had been cut, and they actually approached YFC. Jamie and the team provide a listening service to a range of pupils “for as long as it takes”.
“We’re seeing lots of anxiety. Many don’t understand the concept of love. They want people to genuinely listen. We’re able to listen, and it’s made a difference to many of them. It’s actually led to many faith-based discussions. Parents have contacted us – they can’t believe the transformation.” More broadly he believes churches need to consider how best to engage with secondary schools. “If we’re not, we’re missing a trick.”
He thinks worship is a key area. “Young people respond better to the emotion of modern worship. I’ve grown to love hymns, but in my early years they wouldn’t have meant anything to me. We need to be aware of that. Where are we providing space for young people to connect?”
Another is recognising their potential. Jamie says he is encouraging people in his church who have shown an interest in poetry, rap, media and spoken word.
“Young people in Christ – we need to be utilising them, encouraging them, using and developing their gifts. We need to be equipping young adults to serve. If we are not equipping them, we will lose them. They have so much to offer!”
Richard Hall grew up in Warrington, where his family were members of Hill Cliff Baptist Church. He sensed a call to ministry around the age of 17 or 18. He studied maths at university, with a view to then joining the army. However, he didn’t get through the army selection process, at which point he re-evaluated his life and realised the call had not gone away. He returned to his home church and shared this. “No one was surprised,” he remembers. “In fact they were very supportive.”
Richard became a deacon at the church, who recognised he needed more leadership experience. He was able to discuss and discern his calling with his minister, and take on extra responsibilities. During this period he earned money through a number of entry level jobs, such as at McDonald’s and in a haulage firm, which broadened his life experience. His interest and subsequent call to ministry has led to some interesting conversations. “A lot of people hadn’t met a minister, so it gave me the opportunity to talk about it.”
Richard, now 26, is in the first year of a BA in ministry, mission and theology at Bristol. He has just started a church placement at Minehead Baptist Church.
He continues: “I feel lucky to have been encouraged, to have been able to pray through it and discern it. My minister very intentionally discipled me. It can be easy to pigeon hole someone of my age and get them into youth work: while I’ve done a lot of that, it was good that my calling was recognised, and be given the opportunity to do things like preaching.
“If you have young people, you don’t have to change everything: be welcoming, empower them to be involved, and not in a tokenistic way. Create a sense of community – people want to belong.”
He’s always felt a call to pastoral ministry, and possibly army chaplaincy, but for now is enjoying the academic rigour of his course alongside the church placement at Minehead.
“I imagine it will be back up north, but I’ll go wherever I sense the call,” he says.
Unsure of what to do following her A-levels, Katie James, 23, embarked on a number of gap years, the third of which was an internship at Fishponds Baptist Church in Bristol. It was here her minister said he thought God had placed a call on her life – at the very time she had begun to sense the same thing. “I was seeking and just knew it was right.”
Katie is now in the second year of a ministerial formation degree, while working part-time at Fishponds.
“I love college life so much,” she says. “I knew I would be the youngest, but I am treated as an equal.” In her time at Bristol she has studied Old and New Testament, doctrine, spirituality and worship, all of which have impacted on her ministry at Fishponds, where she spends three days a week. “All aspects of the ministry there are influenced by what happens at college. For example, my preaching has developed so much.” Though it’s still early days, as she continues to explore her calling she thinks she may ultimately lead a traditional church.
Katie’s friends are generally non-Christians, but she says they are supportive of her direction in life. Some, when going through particularly tough periods, even ask for prayer. She makes a distinction between people’s perceptions and reality. “People my age are generally quite suspicious of church,” she says, “they just don’t like the idea of it, and think it’s judgemental.
“But I’ve found that when they come they quite like it – it’s not what they thought. It’s a big thing for them to walk through the doors. Be open and friendly, go and say hi.”
She adds: “My generation just want an authentic community, a place to belong – and they can find that in a church.”
Mike Hudson had very little exposure had very little exposure to Christianity as a child and young adult. After getting married in February 2013, Mike and his wife attended Andover Baptist Church where during the preaching of God’s Word, he was overcome by the Holy Spirit and. In that moment, realised his need for Jesus.
Soon after, Mike was deployed to Afghanistan which was a testing period for him. However, it was also a time full of blessing where he read the Bible from cover to cover.
On his return from Afghanistan, Mike began to sense a calling to ministry but was unsure and apprehensive. After several promptings he began the?‘Prepare, Feed, Sustain’?course at Bristol Baptist College. He soon became more active in church life and began his preaching ministry with opportunities to lead worship, Alpha courses and youth ministries.?
In November 2016, after a conversation with Steve Finamore, the principal of Bristol Baptist College, Mike was completely convicted by the Holy Spirit to seriously pursue a calling to full time ministry and was soon commended by ministerial recognition.
Mike, now 31, is now two years into a four year BA in Theology. Alongside this he is the associate pastor of the Beacon Baptist Church in Kilmington.
At Kilmington he’s started a youth club, is involved in the normal preaching and leading duties, as well as local outreach and mission. The church has a relatively new building and is making the most of that by hosting a variety of groups.
With a young family alongside church and college demands, life isn’t straightforward, but he has no doubts he is doing the right thing. Given his own story, he says he has deep empathy for those who do not yet know Christ. “I had a misunderstanding of what Christianity was all about – it’s only now I realise it’s about a relationship with God,” he says, before adding: “My age and younger are hungry for something more. They’re becoming aware of the lies on social media, and are suspicious of anything that’s superficial. There’s a search for genuine community. People doing life together in an authentic way – that’s something the church can offer.”
This article appears in the Summer 2020 edition of Baptists Together magazine
Do you have a view? Share your thoughts here.