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Saved and Serving in Youth Ministry

Jen Gentry's Story

Saved and Serving in Youth Ministry
Youth Ministry leader, Jen Gentry (fourth from left) and her youth group girls. Photo by Rachael Jarms.

Being a teenager is hard, even in a loving and supportive family.

For Jennifer Gentry, it was even harder. Her parents divorced when she was very young. Her dad’s claim to faith was her only example of what “Christian" meant—and it wasn’t a good one.

She knew something was wrong in her life, but it took a friend’s persistence to show her the way to God.

Jen is now a staff member of Faith Bible Church’s youth ministry, leading the eighth-grade girls in discussion during small-group breakouts. Her path to this ministry started with an invitation to youth group just a few years ago.

Actually, there were countless invitations. Jen’s fellow wrestling manager at Mead High School asked her again and again to come with her to church and Wednesday night youth group. But Jen still associated church with her dad; she always found an excuse not to come.

“I would have said that I was a Christian because I believed in God. But I really didn’t want to come to church, I didn’t want to go to youth group and I didn’t want that tie to religion.”

Jen and new friends at youth camp in 2017.

Over time, the Lord stripped away all Jen’s excuses and her friend’s persistence paid off: She agreed to come to youth group and youth camp. She actually enjoyed the activities and meeting people, but at first she was hardened to the messages.

On the drive up to her third youth camp, her friends mentioned people “being saved,” and she asked what that meant. “They probably were so excited” to present the gospel, she recalls with a laugh. But Jen didn’t want to seem too curious and wasn’t about to ask any follow-up questions.

At camp, however, Jen found herself hungry for the teachings about the Lord’s Prayer, about God as Father and the daily need for Him. In the evening, her leader asked her cabin, “Does your earthly father represent what your Heavenly Father is like?”

Jen recalls, “All these girls are nodding because they have great godly fathers. I remember I started to cry because, one, I was so jealous of these girls who have fathers who are very active in their lives and great dads. Secondly, it just hit me that I have God as a Father, and He is perfect, and He loves me unconditionally, and He’ll never lie to me.”

That evening in bed, not really knowing what words to use, she cried out to God: “Lord, save me and don’t let me go.”

“These are really important things”

The next day, Jen’s pride broke down and questions poured out. She asked her leader, “You talk about the Father and the Son and Jesus and the Lord and the Savior. Who are these people? There are so many people!”

In the following weeks, her youth leaders met with her to answer her questions. They pointed to her testimony and changes in her life as evidence that her repentance and faith were genuine.

“I needed to hear that,” she says. As a 17-year-old without support for her faith at home, her youth leaders’ example and affirmation meant the world as Jen began following Jesus.

With one of her youth leaders, Laura Lewton, at a celebration after Jen's baptism on September 17, 2017.

They also demonstrated the importance of being discipled, even as Jen now burned to share her faith with others. When she graduated, she asked to come back to serve in youth ministry.

Youth leaders suggested that Jen serve in Place to Be with younger kids while she matured in her newfound faith. She was matched with the fifth-grade girls with the intention of staying with them as they got older. Over three years later, she’s still with the same girls.

“I think I grew a lot even as their leader in Place to Be, but so much more as their youth leader now. They’re older and they’re having those questions − ‘Is my faith my own?’ and ‘Do I actually want to be a Christian and want to live for Christ, or do I just not want to go to hell?’ They’re asking those really deep questions, and these are really important things.”

Deep questions from young hearts

On a recent youth group night, the preaching focused on Adam and Eve’s sin and its consequences for the whole world. Afterward, Jen gathered her eighth-graders to discuss what they’d heard. Talking it over helps them process and apply the Word.

They didn’t hesitate to express what concerned them. Am I really saved? Did Adam and Eve get saved? Would it have turned out differently if they had confessed instead of hiding from God?

Their questions could stump even longtime Christians. But when Jen doesn’t know the answers, she admits as much and gets back to them after doing some research. Or she’ll bring a topic up again if she thinks what she said was unclear. “I think that is pretty important, just to be honest and that they know that you’re not perfect either."

She’s happy to be part of bringing sound doctrine to kids, not focusing only on having fun or sugar-coating the difficult topics. Teenagers need solid teaching just as much as adults. “I’m really encouraged that the messages are so deep even for the youth group,” she says. “The Word is for everyone.”

Watching the girls give genuine thought to God’s Word, Jen is often amazed by their evident desire to know and follow Christ.

She’s also grateful for built-in accountability. “You can’t tell a younger girl, ’You need to read your Bible and pray every day’ if you’re not doing it. That’s not okay. That’s hypocrisy.”

Share the gospel, be a friend

Jen’s story recently came full circle when one of the girls was talking about an unbelieving friend. She was reluctant to invite the friend to church because she knew she’d say no.

“You should just text her,” Jen encouraged her. “If she says no, you were already expecting that. But if she says yes, that’s a great thing. If nobody had ever asked me to youth group I would not be sitting here today. God works in crazy ways.”

The friend said yes, for one.

As Jen meets with her group to study the Bible or encourage them one-on-one, she’s filled with love for them but entrusts their souls to a Father who loves them even more. “There’s nothing that I can do or say to save them. I just have to be faithful in sharing the gospel with them and being their friend.”

As a busy college student and professional photographer, Jen protects her time so that she can be an engaged leader and friend, praying for her girls’ hearts and whatever prayer requests they share with her. She prays for the Spirit to use her humble efforts for great things.

“You’re not anything special, but God is. Just be faithful in what He’s given you to do.” 

Jen with her students at Youth Camp Summer 2021.

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