A Soldier, a Youth Minister, and a Kayak

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

I already knew I liked Jeremy Wilson. But after spending an hour with him, it became clear that God has prepared this strong man to lead our youth ministry. I believe you’ll agree after learning some of the insights he shared during a recent interview for IMPACT blog.

Jeremy grew up on Sand Mountain in the town of Section, AL. During his high school years, he became a sports writer for a newspaper in Fort Payne and was heavily involved in a youth group at Nazareth Baptist Church in Rainsville. Jeremy now realizes, however, he was not a true believer until later in his life. Like so many others, he had a lot of knowledge about God but did not have a real relationship with God.

After serving in the military as an Army medic, Jeremy attended Northeast Alabama Community College where some young guys involved in Baptist campus ministry invited him to their weekly lunch meetings. In a kind and sincere way, those guys asked him to attend a revival which just happened to be at Nazareth Baptist where Jeremy attended years before. There, for the first time, a familiar verse spoke to his heart. God used Jeremiah 29:11 to get his attention. That night Jeremy surrendered his life to Christ and became a true, born-again follower of Jesus.

When asked who influenced him the most during his teenage years, he recalls a basketball coach named Johnny Greene. This man taught Jeremy a lot about being a man, about being respectful of people and material things, about work ethic, and about living with integrity. Out of all that, Jeremy learned the value of living a life of transparency which includes readily owning responsibility for sometimes falling short of perfection. What a valuable trait for a student leader to have and to model!

Jeremy loves to talk about what Hartselle means to him and to his family, especially after living in a different community before coming here. Jeremy and his wife, Crystal, along with their three children, quickly felt at home in Hartselle where he says that the people are so friendly and hospitable. Whenever he can find the time, Jeremy and his family love spending time outdoors, especially hiking, canoeing, or kayaking.

Below are some specific questions that I asked Jeremy followed by his response.

What are some ways that adults can help students reach their spiritual potential?

Priorities. There is so much competition for our time and commitment. Most of those competing activities are not bad at all. Still, we all need to demonstrate to students that worshiping and serving God deserves to be the first priority in life.

Acceptance. Students in our youth group are the church of today even though they are often referred to as the church of tomorrow. Each one who is a born-again, baptized believer is an essential part of the church today with the potential to contribute to the good of the Body.

Adaptability. We must be open to changing how we reach people with the Gospel. God and His Word never change, of course. But methods of evangelism and discipleship are ever-evolving. Decades-old strategies can’t be productive today because people’s worldviews, circumstances, and challenges are not the same as they were then.

How well do you understand major challenges faced by students these days?

Most of us likely jumped toward issues we hear a lot about such as drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, bullying, and sexual orientation. No doubt, those are all major issues nagging at the youth of today. Most likely, they already know what adults are going to say about those factors.

We need to plunge deeper into areas that probably seem superficial to adults. Events like doing poorly on a test or losing a boyfriend or girlfriend or not being selected as a cheerleader may seem frivolous to adults. We need to remember the effects such events had on us at that age and intentionally learn to express empathy in those situations.

What do an Army medic and a youth pastor have in common?

You might think that an Army medic and a youth minister are exact opposites, but my story is a great example of how God has a purpose for every experience of our lives.

As a medic in the midst of battle, my job was to identify and meet needs of fellow soldiers. During my time in the Army, I had a medic bag and a rifle to help in whatever situation I found myself. When my fellow soldiers and I worked together and everybody performed their job, lives were saved that would have been lost.

My job as a minister to students is to identify and meet the needs of others. Now, I’m equipped with the Word of God and prayer. When team members (the church) work together in unison, souls are saved and Christians young and old experience God and His blessing that otherwise would be missed.  

How can we support our students?

Start a conversation and get to know one or two students. Build relationships and walk alongside them as we all move toward the goal of being imitators of Christ.

Want to know a secret way to make Jeremy’s face morph into a massive smile? Show up with a blueberry or pecan cobbler. Or, if you’re musically gifted, show up at his house with a guitar and join one of his jamming sessions. First Baptist Hartselle is a better place because of Jeremy Wilson and the influence he is having on not just the youth but all members of our church. May God continue to bless him and use him.