Ryan Brown, nextgen pastor
New Life (Canby Foursquare Church)
To say that Ryan Brown, nextgen pastor at New Life (Canby Foursquare Church) in Canby, Ore., has a heart for young people would be an enormous understatement. His is a passion rooted in the soil of his own broken past, a past from which God rescued him and called him to rescue others. Now, at age 44, he lives for walking alongside youth, discipling them and helping them discover the wonder of their individual calling from God.
“My greatest joy has definitely been watching young people take hold of their call and do the work of the ministry,” says Ryan, who has served at New Life for 10 years. “When I see a student-leader serving, preaching, praying, worshiping or discipling others, that’s when I come alive—every time.”
Ryan hasn’t always felt so alive. For 15 years, from the ages of 12-27, he had a severe addiction to methamphetamines and other drugs, which destroyed his relationships and potentially his future. He ended up living in a homeless shelter in Spokane, Wash., for 2-1/2 years. But it was there that God reached him and turned his life around. Eventually, he was able to leave the shelter and get custody of his oldest son.
His son attended a youth group, and Ryan began to help out by playing guitar. One night, a young man asked him to pray with him about his struggle with drugs.
“As I prayed, God told me that I was to lead a generation to Him,” he told Foursquare.org. “That was my call. My passion really is to see the next generation walk into their calling with a selfless faith—passionate, surrendered, abandoned unto Christ.”
And so the focus of Ryan’s ministry is discipleship and mentorship of young people. But if you think that only takes place inside the church walls, think again.
One of the main annual outreaches of Ryan and his youth group is Camp Agape, which Ryan founded and which takes place each summer on the grounds of Foursquare’s Camp Crestview in Corbett, Ore. It’s not your typical church camp, however. The campers are primarily unchurched, at-risk pre-teens (ages 8-11) from low-income neighborhoods—and they attend for free. And it’s student leaders—not adult vocational clergy—who run the camp.
“All the outreaches and the camp [itself] are completely designed, planned and run by the young leaders,” explains Ryan, noting that throughout the year, the youth at New Life conduct block parties in low-income neighborhoods to minister to families and let young people know about the camp. “I simply act as a ministry coach, helping them accomplish what God is asking of them. They do the preaching, games, cabin leading and everything that is associated with camp. Having directed camps many years myself, I act as a resource for them and help them by pastoring their leadership.”
Additionally, the team prays for a 100 percent salvation rate each year, and Ryan says that prayer has been answered every time. At 2009’s camp, which took place Sept. 2-6, the church took 63 campers. There were 38 first-time commitments to Christ, and every one of the remaining youth either recommitted their lives or came to camp already knowing Christ.
And that’s where things have come full circle in Ryan’s life, because the idea that sparked Camp Agape sprang from the time he moved out of the homeless shelter and was raising his son as a single dad. The shelter had a free summer camp ministry for low-income kids that was run by local high schools and youth groups. His son was able to attend, and it was a key turning point in their lives.
Years later, when Ryan became a youth pastor, he took his youth group back to the shelter each year to help out at the camp. As a team, they did yard work and other preparations for the upcoming camping season. It was then the idea hit him—perhaps they could run a camp like this.
In it all, Ryan is very thankful for his family, who prayed for him and never gave up hope during what he calls his “darkest years.” His wife, Shelly, gets a lot of credit, too.
“Every day,” he confides, “she gives the gift of so quietly and patiently treating me like a hero, and encouraging me to keep laying down my life for the call.”
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles