One of the greatest things you can do as a youth worker is to network with others in the field. However, many of us are too busy with the day to day demands of the job to really make many meaningful bonds. The internet can be a great place to begin to make some connections with youth workers in our community and globally as well. That is why it excites me to introduce a new feature to proyouthworker.com: Youth Worker Interviews. I want to thank my first participant: Austin Walker for taking the time to share some of his story with us. He is fresh in a new youth pastor position in Cabot, Arkansas and is looking for ideas on how to get things moving in his first year. I love talking with guys like this, it reminds me of the passion I had when I started and it renews my resolve not to give up on the hard days. Without Further ado, our interview:
Austin Walker: Student Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church's satellite campus in Cabot, AR
What trait are you known for?
I'm a fairly high energy guy! I'm told that I do very well with the "wall flower" students bringing them out of their shell and getting them to open up! However, I also feel like I'm a solid communicator that can take a passage of Scripture and help students know what to actually do with it when they leave.
Number of years in the field:
I've been doing youth ministry for years, but in different roles. I started as a behind the scenes guy at our community's college worship experience named "Refuge." I also served at churches in Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi. After that, I came on staff at Fellowship Bible Church as a junior high intern. When the internship ended asked if I could stay on in a continuing role. It worked out! God is good. I continued to serve as doing all things from buying hundreds of ice cream sandwiches to organizing big parts of some of the summer mission trips. In early 2011, I got a call from one of our teaching pastors asking if I'd be interested in a full time position as a Student Pastor at one of our satellite campuses. ALL OF THAT TO SAY, I've been "in the field" for about 4 years, but full time, paid, vocational staff as of May 1, 2011.
What made you choose to pursue youth work as a career?
When I was in high school, one of my youth pastors in Southaven, Mississippi was super influential in my life. John took me in and really cared for me as a person, not just as a number in a youth group. He was the reason I first started looking at it. As I moved on into a different season of life, I started wrestling with what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be in full time ministry, but I didn't know what that was supposed to look like, and I didn't know if I was supposed to be vocationally outside of ministry, and a super involved volunteer. After I graduated high school in January of 2007, I went to South Africa for the semester. I had prayed leading up to the trip, and all during the trip, that God would really open the doors and give me some wisdom in how to prepare for my life while I was in college. On that trip, he made it abundantly clear that he had full time ministry, and full time youth ministry, for me! I was psyched! I truly believe that students are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today, capable of radically changing their families, schools, teams, and communities.
What does a typical week look like for you?
At this point, I don't know that I really have a "typical week" because I've just been working during the summer. As of now, I spend Monday mornings getting emails sent, catching up on phone calls and any administrative work, then have Bible study that day. At some point during the week, we have a "hang out" event as well. Thursdays I spend the day studying for Bible Study and prepping for any weekend work I have. That's one thing that's been kind of "off" so far, is not having a set groove. But for now, I just take it as it comes!
If you wrote a book based on your experience in youth work what would it be called?
If I had to write one about my life in general, it'd probably be something along the lines of "This Is Real Life." I tend to attract situations that are...sitcomish? Last week, I booked a hotel room in a hotel that no longer exists, and managed to walk into a bank when the bank was closed, and potentially set off the alarm. The doors were unlocked though, so I just turned around, left, and got in touch with the bank manager!
Favorite memory with a teen(s):
One of the things that sticks out to me was a few years ago. I spoke on Mephibosheth during one of our student ministry events. The sermon bombed. I didn't prepare nearly well enough, I forgot my notes on the way to service, and a couple of the creative elements I really wanted to incorporate ended up completely wrong. I walked off the stage with that feeling of "well...some kids are probably never coming back to church because of what I just did. They're probably laughing at how awful that was on the inside. Oh, look, there's a kid smiling, he's about to be laughing at how awful that was on the outside!" About five or six weeks later, Mephibosheth was mentioned in "big church" by one of the teaching pastors (random...not really a character you talk about on a continuing basis). After service, a couple of the junior high students came up to me super pumped saying, "My parents, they didn't know who Mephibosheth was or what he meant or anything, and after service we were able to tell them. Remember that one time you talked about him? That was soooo cool. And then today I got to tell my parents who he was and what the story meant and everything! IT WAS SO AWESOME!" It was an awesome moment, but at the same time, an incredibly humbling moment. It was very obvious through it that God was saying, "Austin. Moron. I work through you, and you never know how I'm going to use to change a student's life. You just do what I've called you to, and do it well next time, and let me handle the changing of lives. Not you."
What are you most passionate about in youth work?
I want to see students that leave the youth ministry with a sustainable passion. It's nothing new to have seen countless students leave a youth ministry and fizzle out. My goal is that FSM would not be a youth ministry that cares about how many atomic fireballs an 8th grader can fit in his mouth in 60 seconds, but that FSM would be a youth ministry known for unleashing passionate leaders who have a knowledge of God's Word and a passion for His Kingdom. One of the first things my mentor ever taught me about youth ministry was to stress that high school ends, the Kingdom of God lasts forever.
What is the best idea you have ever come up with for youth?
Again, I'm really green in youth ministry. BUT, the first thing we did to kick off this summer was got a trailer grill and went out to a city park for the first annual FSM Family Picnic. It was an awesome time to see families come out and just hang out for the evening. We had some music over a speaker, everybody brought a side or dessert, and we had a couple frisbees and balls. We finished the night by having a students vs. adults "Semi-Fair" game of kickball. Naturally, the adults won...thanks to some rule bending, some might say.
What is the best idea that turned into the worst event?
We used to do redneck games. I’ll leave it at that.
What is one thing that would make your job easier?
Right now, we're in a time of transition. The previous guy was there for five years, so naturally, especially with the older students, there are some reservations. Some of them, I feel like, are standing back and saying, "Let's see what this dude is about, and what happens." So really, buy in from older students and from parents would be huge. I have no desire to be seen as that guy who rocks the boat for boat rocking's sake. We'll see once the school year ramps up what happens!
What is one thing you wish you didn’t have to do?
In you are interested in being featured on proyouthworker.com send me an email and we can set up an interview by clicking here