Influence

 the shape of leadership

A Heart for Youth

A conversation with Gary Garcia

Matt Hufman on December 9, 2019

When Gary Garcia took over as lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship (Assemblies of God) in Fountain Valley, California, he made it clear he wasn’t leaving the youth behind.

“I said, ‘I’m going to lead our church; I’m not going to just lead adults,’” says Garcia, who has served in the lead role for about two years now. “If I’m preaching on Sunday, I’m preaching to everyone.”

He makes sure his illustrations, even in the main service, resonate with youth.

Garcia continues to have a calling to youth, so he’s still the youth pastor as well as the lead pastor. He also continues to serve as a leader in the youth department of the SoCal Network of the Assemblies of God. He spends several weeks a year at youth camp.

Garcia grew up attending Cornerstone and became the youth pastor as a young man. Having served more than 20 years in youth ministry, he sees an urgent need to provide youth a foundation in the Word of God — a mission he continues to pursue through training leaders and discipling students.

“It’s more than devotionals,” Garcia says. “We’re really in the Word. I love worship, but I feel like we’ve raised a generation who is so worship driven that they’re not on a foundation.”

“We see this cross-generational ministry that wasn’t planned but just happened.”
— Gary Garcia

Biblical engagement is critical for today’s students, he says, particularly with all the distractions and the ease with which they can find temptation on their digital devices. In busy Southern California, there is plenty vying for the attention of young people — and social media adds even more voices to the mix.

“A lot of times, people are going to the loudest voice in the room,” Garcia says. “We’ve got to be the clearest voice in the room, and we’ve got to be the most level voice in the room.”

Cornerstone started a churchwide small group discipleship ministry that walks people through the Bible, and the results have been positive. Not only are congregants gaining biblical training, they’re also building relationships with other believers. Young people, particularly those without Christian parents, are receiving mentoring naturally.

“We see this cross-generational ministry that wasn’t planned but just happened,” Garcia says. “It has totally changed the dynamic of our church.”

Garcia’s encouragement to other youth pastors, especially those struggling, is that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. He doesn’t want them to miss out on what God has for them as they minister to youth.

“I know there are people who aren’t going to last 20 years in youth ministry, or God’s going to call them somewhere else, but don’t use youth ministry as a steppingstone,” Garcia says. “Don’t miss this generation.”

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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