Justin Wood, the new youth minister for Jasper's First Baptist Church, said he wants to make youth realize God and others are more important than themselves. Wood, 31, who was approved last …
Justin Wood, the new youth minister for Jasper's First Baptist Church, said he wants to make youth realize God and others are more important than themselves.
Wood, 31, who was approved last month to take the position, has been pleased about the transition.
"It's been great. Everyone at the church and everyone in the community has been more helpful than I know how to work with," said Wood, who is single.
Born on Oct. 24, 1986, in Houston, Texas, he counts himself a "proud Texan," even though he lived there about three years. "I grew up in Oxford, Alabama," graduating from Oxford High School in 2005. He would graduate from the University of Alabama in December 2009 with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications and film. He spent a great deal of time working on the campus radio station, WVUA.
"I wanted to do sports journalism, and that led to radio. I worked in radio for about 10 years" in Tuscaloosa, he said, including his years at WVUA. "I wanted to be the next Paul Finebaum or I wanted to move to Los Angeles and pursue things out there." In Tuscaloosa he was heard over the air on stations such as 95.3 The Bear and Tide 92.9.
He grew up in church, noting the strong influence of his mother. "She is a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, and she wanted that for us, but we just went to church," he said, noting that he had thought he had come to Christ a couple of times. "I stepped out not because of faith but because everyone else was doing it," he said. He referred to Galations 1:10 as asking if one is trying to win the approval of men or of God, "because if I am still trying to please men, I can't become a servant of Christ."
He finally made a true commitment after college, on Oct. 4, 2011. Wood had been attending First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa since college after meeting people who went there. He became extremely active in that church.
"You would automatically assume I was a follower of Christ. I was lost as you could be," he said. "One day, God just opened my eyes and revealed the sin in my life and how separated I was from Him. I remember being on my knees in tears, just knowing something was wrong.
"I went to my college pastor, who I had known for three years or so, and told him, 'I've been living a lie.' We went through the steps of salvation, things I had heard for years and years and years, and for the first time it was real."
Shortly afterward he felt a call to ministry, noting God has a sense of humor.
"I used to hate teenagers, before I was a Christian. My brother was six years younger than me, and he would bring his friends over. I though, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm too cool for this,'" he said.
Wood said even before he was a Christian he would deal with youth at First Baptist and realize in church basketball games they were not bad after all, as God started humbling him to make him realize he was not better than they were.
Once he became a true Christian, "I totally did a 180 and students were the primary focus. I got involved with our student ministry at First Baptist in Tuscaloosa," doing video work and teaching Sunday school, eventually leading him to intern work so that he could continue working in radio.
Eventually, a Jasper native, Jody Gambrell, became the student pastor at that church in 2014. "He was super helpful to me, and I learned a lot from him," Wood said. "They wanted me to refer to myself as associate student pastor," as he was so effective at that work as an intern. "I was basically doing the work ... I still had radio I was working at, but God had made it very clear radio was not going to be my first function."
Although he wanted to live in Tuscaloosa "forever," God called him to New Orleans to go to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where God changed him again. "I can't believe I never wanted to leave," he said, saying the past two years there has been a great experience.
At Jasper, he noted he had 48 youth on a recent Wednesday night, with about 30 on Sunday morning. A total of 71 attended a half-night Friday fellowship recently.
He said he wants to "rebrand" the youth program and grow that ministry. "It's going to be a long process.I think we're going to do a lot of good things because God will be at the center of this," he said. "They are great, fun kids. I'm still getting to know kids. But that, to me, is when I am most comfortable, when I am around students, and that is totally a God thing."
Wood said he is setting up a number of accountability rules. For one thing, while he loves social media, he will only deal with students there on the church's social media page. Others will have the password and they can always check that page.
"When students turn 18 and they leave the ministry - not 18, and still are a senior; 18 and leave the ministry — we can interact on social media. That is just extra protection thing for them, for me and the church," he said.
As for goals, he said he wants to serve the community, the nation and the world, pointing to Acts 1:8: "(Y)ou will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” He likened Jerusalem to Walker County, in that when people see the youth, they will see Jesus Christ and know they are serving the community.
He said he wants to reach people for Christ and serve people in the state, nation and North America, which is like Judea and Samaria, by way of trips. The ends of the earth he likened to international missions, to reach people there who don't know about Jesus.
"We want to make disciples of our students, and then we want our students to make other disciples," through formats like small groups, he said. "We're going to do the fun fellowship type things, but if you are doing them just to do things, then they are just events. We want our fellowship and fun things to have a purpose. We want to draw people to the church and most importantly we want to draw them to Jesus Christ."
He also wants to make sure students know it is God's ministry and then "our" ministry, working together. "I want to work together with students and parents," he said, with the ultimate goals is that "they will own their faith, that they won't depend on someone else's faith," which sometimes leads to students walking away from the church when they move to college. By then, he wants to make sure their relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in their lives.
The biggest ministry need with youth he sees is what is termed "moralistic therapeutic deism," a self-centered, detached viewpoint that the goal of life is to feel good about oneself and be a good, moral person, without much involvement from God. Wood described it as being "you are your own God, in a way" to focus on feeling good.
"Quite frankly, that is just garbage," he said. "Our challenge today is students want to make everything about themselves." He said he will be setting up house rules for the ministry, one being, "I am second," with Jesus first and service to others coming first.
Youth services start at 6 p.m. on Wednesday and 9 a.m. for Sunday school, both in the newly renovated youth center. Wood can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the church at 205-221-6444. The website for the ministry is www.jfbcstudentministry.org.