Communications Manager Sophia Sinclair sat down with newbie youth pastors Selwyn Motu and Kopano Simanu at this year’s Youth Summit to chat about their communities, their churches, and what God has been teaching them in their first few months serving in pastoral roles.
Selwyn Motu made the big shift back to the neighbourhood where he grew up earlier this year, and says he’s felt God’s calling as he’s been welcomed into his new role as Youth Pastor at Tamaki Community Church: “there’s been a lot of change in our wider Glen Innes community recently—with developers coming in and moving out people who’ve been here their whole lives, this has left the community really fragmented, broken and in shift.
“There have also been a number of youth suicides in the community in the last 12 months, and this has been really hard on the young people and their families, particularly for families in our church who knew these young people. It breaks my heart and I know it breaks God’s heart.
“These unfortunate circumstances confirm for me the need for Jesus in this community and the reason I am called here to play my part to point the people towards Him, this is the right place, and I’m here at the right time—God’s timing. I came to faith, received salvation, and got baptized at City Impact Church. It’s a new environment at TCC and making the shift over in obedience—with lots of praying—I believe I am where God wants me.”
Selwyn says his first few months on the job have been about relationship, to meet the youth where they’re at and share his experience and testimony of coming to faith: “I am purely saved by the endless grace of God, in the past I’ve found myself at rock bottom and know what it’s like. The community’s hurting and there’s pain and a need for change, and uncertainty in some areas—but I know my Lord can turn things around for His children.”
“There’s a lot of love here at Tamaki Community Church. Our church has a really supportive older congregation. There’s a few elderly that are there every Sunday morning faithful to this mighty house of God, there’s no shortage of youth on our youth nights. At the moment we’re trying to encourage our young people to come along on a Sunday and be part of the family in that way also. Our church also has a strong Samoan core that are regular and are at home. For me, as a Samoan, that attracted me a lot—to know that there were a lot of aunties and uncles here.”
The highlight of the first few months has been forming relationships: “Meeting my kids, the team, the youth group kids are all at different points, they’re under construction, and I can see God at work in each of them. Like a house that’s under construction you can see the different points—breaking ground; putting up the frame; furnishing… there are a lot of youth in a variety of stages. I’m praying that God would help me love them to reach them as He wants me to.”
“Everyone has been nothing but welcoming to me, I have been quite spoilt in the way they’ve looked after me and welcomed me.”
What is Selwyn hoping and praying for his youth? “I’m asking God to show me what he wants me to do with this youth group and praying for his direction. I’m believing for a Holy Spirit revival, empowering everyone as they realise who they are in God, by the grace and work of Jesus.”
Personal testimony has also been important for Kopano Simanu, who is the youth pastor at LifeChurch in Manurewa: “I was brought up in the Church and my grandfather was the minister of our church. I thought I was a Christian, but I just never knew who this Jesus really was. I used to just attend and thought that going to church made you a Christian, but I went to a friend’s church and that’s where I got saved.
“So, when I look at the kids I work with my experience is always in my mind: just because you’re born into it doesn’t mean you’re saved, you’ve got to carry your own torch and know who Jesus is for yourself.”
Addressing wider youth culture has also been a key part of the role: “Comparison is a big thing. The youth are always looking for people to emulate and follow and comparing themselves. For the guys it’s someone like William Waiirua and for the girls the Kardashians—social media is a big thing. In my role I’m really trying to teach that you don’t have to look like or act like someone else to be worthy; we’re all wired different.
“Looking up to leaders is also a big cultural thing, and sometimes people think that because they’re not the pastor there is no way to serve. I just try to get them to realise that God works with us and creates us with different gifts and abilities. We are all like body parts that work together. Just because you’re not on the stage doesn’t make you less of a body part—what you have we need. Trying to show them that we all have something to offer and they can be who God is calling them to be.”
Mentoring from the wider pastoral team has been an important part of learning on the job. “My pastor is big on servant leadership, like Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, there’s a big culture of serving. It’s been helpful to see that modelled and to think about how to model that for the youth—to encourage them to do the jobs that are hard work, and no-one sees.”
Kopano’s hopes and prayers for his youth group are, “that they would realise they are called to be game-changers for God, to be the influencers in whatever community they’re part of. To empower our young people to realise they are not less of a Christian than someone preaching in the pulpit, and to know that God is calling people to be faithful Christians everywhere, in every job and vocation.
“My youth need Jesus. He is the one they need to look like. Wherever they are they need to look like Jesus.”