There is often a bit of a time lag as things from the city slowly make their way to country Australia. I work as a vicar and a youth encourager in the Armidale Anglican Diocese, and we have yet to see an UBER, a Krispy Kreme doughnut, and traffic lights in most of the towns in our region.
They're all trivial examples, but the same could be said more broadly of Gospel ministry in the bush, and specifically of youth ministry in country Australia. As I think about Youth Ministry in our part of the world, the teaching of Jesus that immediately comes to mind is His famous challenge, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few" (Matt 9:37b).
This verse of scripture has taken on new meaning for our city friends in recent years. We've all learnt that a lack of human resources in agriculture can severely impact the dinner table. The same is true for ministry to youth in country Australia.
In this edition of Essentials, Graham Stanton has encouraged us to keep putting ministry to young people on the agenda; to resource it and to make it a priority. Just like the cities, this is something that country Australia needs to remember too. Though, just like taking a ride-share, eating sweet treats, and sitting in traffic, we in the country are often way behind when it comes to being able to resource ministry to young people.
Growing up, I had the blessing of having a steady stream of well-trained and well-resourced youth leaders in the church my family attended. Even during my ministry training, there was always capable, trained, and resourced Youth Ministry in the churches where I worked. This caused a shock because I realised how rare my experience was as soon as I left Sydney. Oh, the blessings I received while thinking my experience had been normal.
In my part of the world, at the time of writing this article, we do not have one theologically trained youth minister working in our Diocese. At various points in our recent history, we have had such ministers, but their appearance is often sporadic and only for a short time.
In reality, churches can often only support a youth minister part-time or for only a short time. This means that we rejoice at their arrival, then only a few years later, we often say goodbye as they head back to the big cities. In the bush, longevity is often crucial in becoming an accepted community member. Pushing through these early years is often challenging and isolating, and by the time the point of acceptance comes, the money has usually dried up, or something full-time has popped up somewhere else. Despite this, we rejoice in the many keen and committed lay people who keep the doors of our youth groups open so they can run each week.
Though the reality is that among the regional Anglican dioceses in Australia, Armidale seems to have more going on in terms of deliberate, proactive, & Gospel-driven ministry to young people. We currently have around 20 youth groups across our large geographical area, with about 350 young people. We run many events during the year that draw in most of our young people, who are trained and encouraged in their Christian walk. This shows us that there is a massive hunger for teaching and training opportunities.
Most regional Anglican Dioceses in Australia can only dream of such “huge” numbers. Across the board, youth ministry in the country is often a struggle.
Another aspect of country Australia is that people on the land are often reluctant to accept help. So let me, a still not-local, give you some ways that you could help the Gospel go out to young people in the regions.
Firstly, please pray for the country areas in our nation. Pray that the God of the harvest will send out workers for the harvest. Pray that God will equip churches financially and with Godly people so the Gospel can continue to go out among our future generations.
Secondly, encourage the young Christians in your sphere to consider moving to a country area to make a difference for The Gospel in regional Australia. One of the significant challenges we have in our Diocese is that almost all of our High School graduates leave to study at a university in a big city. The reality is that almost none of them come back home. If you have godly and capable young people in your ministry, we'd love you to give them the vision to come, or come back.
Thirdly, could you consider bringing a group of teenagers on a holiday trip to a small country town with faithful ministry? You might be the difference that will mean a small church could run a holiday kid's club for the first time. The church would get the benefit, and your young people will be exposed to a whole new world and have their eyes opened to God's blessings on them while gaining a Gospel vision for other places.
Fourthly, could your church partner with a rural church to help them employ a part-time youth minister? You could also help a rural church with the material resources so that they can take their part-time youth worker to a full-time workload. Working part-time, a youth minister is probably struggling to connect with their local high school in a meaningful way. Getting some help to move to full-time could help their town's ministry in ways you might not imagine.
Finally, you might be a youth minister in the city reading this. I hope this short article might have got you thinking about whether you could come and help what God is doing in the bush. Just like a box of Krispy Kremes being carried off a freshly arrived plane from the city, we'd love to have you join us!
Tim Stevens is Vicar of St James’ Guyra and the Youth Encourager for the Armidale Diocese.