Where are they now? - Matt Bartlett

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Matt grew up in Shellharbour and was originally encouraged by his youth minister to go to Youthworks College (back in 2004). At that stage, he was 19 years old and he wanted to be a firefighter but knew that he wouldn’t be accepted until he was older. So, he thought that he could do the “youth ministry thing” for a few years until he was old enough do what he really wanted.

While he was at College, he realised that God was calling him to long term youth ministry. “At fireside a couple of grads came to talk to us, Brendan Moar (now Youth Minister at St George North) and Mick Hyam (now Academic Dean of Youthworks College)… God used them to convince me of the value of youth ministry and of having people hang around for the long term. So, I jumped on board with them.”

College helped him to think with a theological foundation. “Doing theology with Deano (Graham Stanton, Dean and later Principal of the College) made my head hurt. I felt like like my brain had been taken out of my head, smashed on the ground and put back together in a different way.” This process helped him to then make sense of the message of the Bible. Later, Matt would extend his theological education by doing an advanced diploma and 3 more years of study at Moore College.

While he was at Youthworks College, Matt was a trainee youth minister at Shellharbour City Church. He spent 15 years there on the staff team. “I’m definitely an advocate for the long-term. When you are 20 years old, there is only so much of the bigger picture of the church that you can see, but when you are 35 you’ve got a more mature grasp of how the whole body works. You learn from what you go through, you don’t panic about the same things that you do when you are younger. You’ve seen God’s faithfulness.” Matt believes that he may have had some blind spots, “But there were also lots of brilliant things that could only have happened because I was there for so long.”

A big part of the reason that Matt stayed so long at his Church was his commitment to Shellharbour. “Who better to do this than someone who had grown up there and who has an actual native experience and investment into these people.” Over time, because Matt became the veteran in the area while other youth ministers came and went. “There were people around me asking me questions and listening to what I say.” Matt developed a sense of responsibility to the wider South Coast.

Because of his commitment to the region Matt had to be flexible and accepted part-time work. He currently only knows of two paid youth workers in the near-by Shoalhaven area, and neither of them are employed for youth ministry full time, as churches struggle to pay them more than 2 or 3 days a week. But Matt says “I’ve never let that stop me. I’ve thought ‘oh yeah that’s what God has given me, I’ll find something else and trust that God will get me through even if it’s the harder option.’” For several years Matt worked part-time in one church as a youth minister and part-time at a high school doing SRE. Matt says that “God has provided for me big time. People say don’t go into the ministry for the money. Why do we say that? I’m in ministry and I feel like I’ve got a lot, and full-time work is not what I’ve been given.”

Matt has not experienced burn out during his years as a Youth Minister, but he still regularly practises disciplines such as having a day off, taking holidays, making boundaries and prioritising his family (Matt’s wife Gemma and their three children – seven year old Georgia, five year old Tom and four month old Hugo). But more importantly, a truth that sustains him is his trust that God is in control. “I don’t need to hold it all together because he’s holding it together. I can go to sleep at night without worrying about everyone and about those unfinished tasks because at the end of the day, no matter how well I perform or how poorly I perform, God is still sovereign, and he is the one building his church.”

In 2019 Matt began a new role at Youthworks in the Ministry Support Team (MST), working as a youth ministry and SRE advisor in the Wollongong Region. Because of his commitment to the region, Matt says, “This is the only job I would accept to leave my youth ministry job at Shellharbour City.” He is hoping to inspire churches on the South Coast to invest in youth ministry. “The statistics alone tell us to invest in youth ministry. 78% of people become Christians before the age of 20, but that’s also the age group where we lose the most people. There is a huge impact that we can have at this age.”

Pray for Matt

  • Pray for Matt and his family as he navigates becoming a lay person again at Shellharbour City Church after being a staff member for the past 15 years.

  • Pray for Matt, that he will prioritise with wisdom and be an example by how he allocates time both personally and in ministry

  • Pray that God would use Matt to help and support the churches he partners with, especially in the Wollongong region

Hollie Thambyrajah