“How is a young person in Tirau most likely going to be reached for the Lord? By somebody they know in Tirau being bold and sharing Jesus with them. How will somebody in Te Awamutu be reached? Through a friend sharing the Gospel.
“The Lord gives us all spheres of influence in our lives – a major way we are going to effect culture change for Jesus. I absolutely love the fact the Gospel message is for us as Christians as well. Every time I hear it, I’m absolutely impacted – it inspires and excites me. I reflect on the fact that, “…wow, this is the truth of what Christ has done for me, I need to tell people about it! I’m also reminded of the urgency with which other people need to know the Lord.”
That’s the heart with which Word of Life New Zealand field coordinator Dave Gow and his team approach each day – with a God-given vision to see every young person in Aotearoa impacted by the Gospel through their friends.
Utilising various tools, or events, each year which typically reach thousands of young people – including ORIGIN, CONVERGE and gatherings simply called Youth Nights – Word of Life initiatives are designed to partner with local churches to evangelise and disciple youth – then equip those young people to share Jesus with their friends and those around them.
“In 2 Timothy, 4:5, Paul tells us to “…do the work of an evangelist…” Dave, (30), says. “We’re all called to that work, to reach people for Christ. Why? Simply because we represent Jesus.”
Dave sat down with Jeremy Smith to discuss the ministry of Word of Life – based in Hamilton – and a desire to cultivate Gospel-advancing youth ministries up and down New Zealand.
It’s great to meet you Dave! First off, tell me how you came to know Jesus? Did you grow up in a Christian home?
Sure, yes. I grew up on a farm in Gore, in Southland in a family which loves the Lord. My mum was a Sunday School teacher. That meant I learnt lots about who Jesus was. I don’t ever remember not believing that what I was learning was true and that Jesus was who He said He was. However, that knowledge alone didn’t initially make a whole lot of impact on how I was living life at that stage. When I left school I started work on a sheep and beef station. That was when I really felt my faith being tested. I started asking, “…what does it mean to practically live out a genuine, authentic faith then?”
Through that season, I was part of a youth group, but I felt that in a lot of ways it was simply a place you went to have fun, without there necessarily being a sense of intentionality behind it.
A couple of my friends in that group though, did tell me they were going on a mission trip to Samoa and asked if I was keen to go. It was during the middle of winter and because I was working on the farm I thought, “…yeah, I’ll happily get out of this!” While I initially probably signed up for all the wrong reasons, God absolutely transformed my life while I was there.
I had no idea about the organisation I was going with – it turned out to be a Word of Life Youth Reachout trip. As is often the way with the Lord, as much as I thought we were going on a missions trip to serve those in Samoa, it’s so true that God was absolutely going to use that experience to minister to me.
Was that when your walk with Jesus became personal do you think?
Absolutely – my faith became my faith. Looking back, I’d been almost viewing my faith as an entry ticket into Heaven. In Samoa, I discovered the powerful reality that Jesus rose again for me – He is alive now and I can have a relationship with Him now. My eternal life doesn’t start once I’m in Heaven, it starts now. Realising the reality that God’s Word is for me today and speaks into my life was utterly transformational. I began having daily quiet times with God, relationally with Him, and He ministered to me through that.
When I got home from Samoa after three weeks, I sat down with my parents and said, “I’m sorry, but I won’t be taking over the family farm. I feel called to ministry”. I had no idea how they’d react, but they were incredibly supportive. Six months later – in 2010 – I moved up to Hamilton to do an internship with Word of Life, alongside some study at Pathways College.
That’s so cool! Before we chat about Word of Life, I’d love to know a little bit about your family…
My wife Ainsley and I married in 2014 – in 2015 we attended Word of Life Bible Institute in New York. We have three boys – Elijah, (4), Isaiah, (3), and Ezekiel (1). You know what that means! At one stage, we had three boys under three! Madness! But such good madness. Ainsley was our Word of Life accounts administrator for two years and she’s now a full time mum.
What does quality family time look like for you guys then?
We love projects! For me, it’s refreshing working on our property. Although, maybe our problem is that we love projects, but we don’t necessarily love the maintenance involved with those projects! Ainsley really enjoys gardening – I think we’ve got something like 100 house plants! Other than that, we like to go camping, and – when I can – I really enjoy hunting.
We’ve got a little bit of land and about 40 ewes – so I still get my dose of farming-related activities. We love it and we’re blessed. I recently had a really proud dad moment when I asked Elijah, “…what do you want to do when you grow up?” He excitedly replied, “hunting!” I asked Isaiah the same thing. He said, “chase sheep!”.
For those reading this who may not know, how did the ministry of Word of Life begin?
It began in the United States with Jack Wyrtzen’s vision that it’s the responsibility of every generation to reach their generation for Christ. Essentially, Jack and four or five of his friends were challenged in the area of sharing the Gospel with others. They’d been meeting together at a Bible study, so they decided to do a five-week Gospel presentation in their community. Each person prepared a message and ran one of those weeks. As each one went by, more and more people flocked to hear the Gospel. They began to run a wide range of evangelistic initiatives. One day, a youth leader challenged Jack about training and equipping others. Word of Life Fellowship began in 1940 and, in the subsequent 75 years, has added camps, conference centres, Bible institutes, and church youth ministries in over 70 countries.
Word of Life New Zealand began in 1984, starting with Bible clubs before expanding to run a camp property Bible college in Nelson. Internationally there are regions and Word of Life New Zealand is part of the Indo-Pacific region – the largest area in terms of population, scope and many other factors.
So many voices compete for a young person’s attention in the culture we live in today. I know this is part of the heart behind Word of Life too, so how can we be effective in cutting through that ‘noise’, sharing the Gospel with others and pointing people to abundant life in Christ?
That’s such a great question. There’s a couple of elements to answering that. Word of Life is a parachurch ministry – we are non-denominational and we work alongside churches to foster the calling of evangelism. I think it’s worth saying that if we aren’t sensitive to the Lord’s leading and guiding regarding how we reach people, we could potentially add to that noise. Our vision is to see every young person in New Zealand impacted by the Gospel through a friend. Truthfully, for that God-given vision to be fulfilled simply ‘shouting’ our vision and adding to the ‘noise’ is never going to work.
The key is relationship – reaching individuals with the Gospel, then empowering them to share it with others themselves. Who are the ones who will actually reach young people today with the message of Jesus? Young people. We are simply here to equip youth leaders and empower youth. Take schools for example. What will cut through the ‘noise’ we’ve talked about in that environment is the realisation for a young person that “…this is one of my best friends who is sharing with me about the truth of Jesus – someone who knows me and loves me”. Of course, it’s also really important that we share our faith with others and evangelise in other ways – but if we’re actually going to see each young person in New Zealand impacted, one of the major ways that will happen is relationally.
That’s an interesting point. Trust, building relationships and rapport are also all tools we should use in whatever sphere God has placed us in, as we look to reach those around us and bring Jesus into their situation, right?
Absolutely. Another key thing for all of us is to understand the role we play in being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world we live in. In Scripture, I love Paul’s example in Acts 17 when he’s in Athens. Before he shares the Gospel, he’s clearly doing reconnaissance, “…for as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship…” – Acts 17:23 (NIV). In doing so, he’s asking, “…what culture and context do I find myself in here?” He discovers they’re very spiritual people – they have altars to various ‘gods’, and even one to the ‘unknown god’. Essentially, he comes into the culture, understands where he finds himself and preaches the Gospel in a beautiful way, pointing them to Jesus.
In that I see a wonderful technique I’ve been taught over the years through Dare2Share – ‘Ask, Admire, Admit’. Ask questions to understand where others are coming from and what they believe about God. Admire what you can about what they believe. And then admit that the reason you’re a Christian is that you’re in need of a Saviour. It’s as though Paul says, “I can see you have faith. I admire that. You’re searching for something – here is who you are looking for. His name is Jesus”.
For young people today, an important question is, “…how do we equip them to speak into this space?” There’s lots of aspects of the culture we live in that we don’t have to agree with or accept, but our heart and our approach is key to our effectiveness in sharing the Gospel. If we come from a position of attack, or disagreement, that’s not going to help you share the Gospel with your friend, or anyone really – it’ll build walls, not bridges.
Great point! Sometimes as Christians we get discouraged as we look to share our faith though. What would you say to people to encourage them to firstly lay aside the things holding them back and secondly to boldly share the Gospel with others?
I think there are several factors. According to Dare2Share research, factors like the fear of man, and not knowing what to say when we get a chance to share, often contribute to a possible sense of reluctance. What I’d say is that a degree of fear is always going to be there – in a lot of ways, that’s actually a good thing. It causes us to rely on God. When we understand that we don’t approach sharing the Gospel fearlessly, nor do we approach sharing the Gospel in our own strength, we begin to rely on God and realise that each time we step out the Lord will equip us.
For those of us who perhaps wonder how to effectively share the Gospel when we get a chance, a fantastic resource I’d suggest is Dare2Share’s GOSPEL acrostic – God Our Sins Paying Everyone Life. It’s a clear way for us to know and understand our faith and what we actually need to communicate to others. (Great point Dave! Check out page 83).
On that note, in a Word of Life sense, there’s a few different tools you utilise as you look to share the Gospel and equip others to do so. Tell me about them…
Sure. We facilitate several initiatives for youth leaders and high school-aged young people called ORIGIN, CONVERGE and Youth Night. Within the overarching vision we’ve talked about, each of those play an important role. The purpose of ORIGIN is exposure. If we’re wanting to effect culture change across the nation, then exposure is important in the sense that it gives us potential opportunities to come alongside and support more youth ministries. In a typical calendar year, we do four ORIGIN events – two in the North Island – in Hamilton and Auckland – and two in the South Island, in Christchurch and Dunedin.
We call it “an exciting free-for-all night of fun”. There’s over 50 different activities people can take part in. We have a cafe, a gaming truck, wrestling type activities, mystery related activities and quizzes. Activity wise, the goal is to win as much ‘dosh’ as possible – money which they spend at an auction to try to win some prizes. While we do make it a lot of fun, the overarching mission is that we want it to be a space into which young people can invite others along to hear the Gospel. The Summit is the part of the evening when everyone comes together and we share the message of the Gospel using lots of different platforms – drama, spoken word and media.
By the point in the evening when someone gets up to share a message, the audience is presented with the question, “…you have heard the Gospel… what’s your response?” Ultimately, our desire is to challenge every young person in the room that they are making a choice whether they realise it or not – to either trust God, or to not trust Him.
CONVERGE is about partnering with youth groups in an area and bringing them together for a joint night. Activity-wise, we fit whatever we can into a church’s space and say, “…we’re here to serve you”. At its heart is a relational tool – whether we have journeyed with a youth group for a long time, or whether they’ve just heard about us – whether they are a large group, or a smaller one, we want to serve them and build relationship and stir up conversations to assist them in equipping their young people and increasing expectations about reaching their community for Christ.
Often going hand in hand with CONVERGE and Youth nights is what we call advanced training – sitting down with their leaders a few weeks out from those nights and helping to equip them in the lead up, and for after the fact. The gold is in the culture change which happens in the youth ministry after those gatherings.
You’ve mentioned your involvement with Word of Life dates back to 2010. What’s it like to reflect on your ministry journey in your current role as Word of Life New Zealand’s field coordinator?
Well, in my time with Word of Life I’ve done a little bit of everything under the sun. I started out in events back when we were running sports tournaments. Then I moved into a role centered around facilitating discipleship – a passion of mine. Then, I started to take on more leadership.
Over the course of 2019, we established a management team as then field coordinator Tom McIvor prepared to take a six-month sabbatical. It was also because staff numbers had grown a lot too. When I first got involved in 2010, there were three staff and two interns. We’re now a team of 20.
The role of field coordinator is certainly a mix of being exciting, challenging and daunting. To be honest, it was one that I initially never really sought, or wanted. When I looked at the way Tom led I thought, “I can’t be that person.” But, when Tom went on sabbatical, we began asking questions about how we would effectively lead the team while he was away. In and through that time – while I’ve always had a heart for our team – God began to speak to me and work in my life, and in the lives of those in our team. He stirred in us a deeper heart for how we can serve those around us. I became even more passionate about the work we do and excited to serve the team in this way. When Tom was ultimately appointed to a role with Word of Life International, I was officially appointed to the field coordinator role here in New Zealand in spring 2020.
I’ve always seen myself as working best in an almost second-in-charge supportive type of role really. But, the Lord equips us for what He calls us to – and I trust that God has me in this role for this time. While in one sense there is, at times, a lot more involved in leading a ministry than I’d imagined, it’s also an amazing God-given honour to serve our team in my role. I may not be the ‘up the front’ guy, but I am 100 percent behind our team, empowering, supporting and encouraging – spurring us on to be all that God has called us to be.
You’ve spoken of how impactful your time in Samoa was for you. Is that experience still something which you reflect back on as formative in how you look to now impact other young people for Christ?
Exactly. When I initially felt called to ministry – although I didn’t really know the extent of what it would look like – Word of Life seemed like a no brainer, simply because of how God used that time in Samoa to impact me. I thought, “Well, I want to be able to learn from that and serve others.”
As I said, one of my clear passions is discipleship and discipleship training – the Lord has been leading me on a journey of discovering how the Gospel is absolutely key in that process.
Everything we do as a team is around advancing the Gospel – discipleship happens through that. Whatever form that takes – events, leadership training or other tools – we’re continually asking, “…how are we equipping the local church to reach, evangelise and disciple people in a way which means the young people at that church get excited about reaching their friends?”
In that light, it must really impact you when you hear from youth communities – and young people themselves – about how the work of Word For Life has pointed them to Jesus?
For sure. Often the most powerful stories are the ones we may not always hear about. For example, at this year’s Hamilton ORIGIN we had nearly 500 youth leaders and students. And it’s the flow on stories from different youth communities that really move me. One story I heard was of young people being challenged by their leaders to invite friends. Then, on the final day before ORIGIN, those young people had the courage to invite some friends. Their friends came along and the following week their friends were at youth group. Now, all of a sudden, because of the courage of these young people who invited friends, those friends are now on a journey in a youth community where they get to hear the Gospel, week in and week out. That is culture change, beginning in the youth ministry. Our events like ORIGIN are cool – and they incredibly achieve an aspiration to an extent – but ultimately it’s also achieving that deeper purpose.
Covid has undoubtedly had an effect on your ability to facilitate things like ORIGIN and CONVERGE – As you look to 2022 and beyond, are you excited about where God might be leading the team?
Yes! Things have certainly looked a little different – but in a way we’re grateful that we’ve had an opportunity to look ahead and plan. The reality is, things are going to look quite different going forward too. In part because of Covid, but also as we look to follow the Lord’s leading in the environment we find ourselves in, we will not hold ORIGIN this year. We absolutely see its value in us achieving our vision, but the situation over the last two years has meant that while organising them takes a lot of time, we’re often then not guaranteed to be able to run them effectively.
Our heart is to serve and minister to churches – with ORIGIN not running, we’ll be able to devote a full 12 months of the year to that aspect of our work.
We’ll likely look to establish a new type of event, the focus of which will be us coming alongside youth groups and equipping them to run their own evangelistic events for their community – through which they can also equip their young people to be the ones to serve. It’s very early, initial stages on that front – but that’s the kind of thing we’re very excited about when we look ahead with a desire to empower youth communities to take ownership and effect change in their spheres of influence.
Awesome! Lastly, any final encouragement for our readers?
Know the Gospel and the impact it can have on your life. Remember the Dare2Share Gospel acrostic I mentioned? God Our Sins Paying Everyone Life? Well, I used to be a ‘G-O-S-P-E’ type person and stop there. Then I discovered ‘L’, life. Life in Christ starts now and stretches into eternity. I would love for readers to remind themselves of the importance of the Gospel message in their lives so that not only does their own thankfulness to the Lord for what He’s done for them increase, but that they’d then be inspired to ask, “…if I believe this to be true, I need to do something about it.”
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About the author
Jeremy Smith is editor of, and one of the writers for, Authentic Magazine.
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