From Atheist to Youth Pastor: A Conversation with David Gilbert

Our diocese has many fascinating people serving in leadership positions. Some of them are our youth ministers. Here is an opportunity to get to know one of our longer serving youth ministers.

How did you end up in South Carolina?

I was born and raised in Kirkwood, MO and am married with two beautiful daughters (Rayna 16 and Chloe 14). I met my wife Jordan in 1999, when she graduated from Clemson and took her first job in St. Louis. We met two weeks after she arrived, and I proposed a week later. We were married about six months later. She brought Christ into my life.

We moved to Charleston in 2003 when I took a job teaching at Porter-Gaud. I was teaching by day and volunteering at St. Philip’s with their youth group on the weekends. I volunteered for three years and then was called by St. Philip’s to be their next Youth Minister.

How did you come to faith?

I grew up in a non-Christian home and never went to church. I was a wild child to say the least! As an atheist I hated Christianity and Christians, then moved into agnosticism late in high school, then into Native American spirituality. I travelled following the Grateful Dead and started to see what the Native people called the Great Spirit at work in all things. Their belief in a creator touched my heart. So, when I met Jordan and her family and they shared the Gospel with me, the one Creator God concept was basically already in my heart. It all came together when we flew to Charleston for Christmas 1999. I was enthralled by the love and grace they showed me. They invited me to a Christmas Eve service at St. Philip’s. I went trying to win my future in-law’s favor. God had other plans. I realized the severity of my sin and beauty of Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. I accepted Him as Lord and Savior that night!

How have you sensed God’s calling on your life and what led you into ministry?

I was in church in St. Louis when the pastor preached on using your talents to build up the Body of Christ. He said, “maybe you have a gift of working with kids, then you should contact our youth pastor.” I knew he was talking to me! I was in school studying elementary education and so I started volunteering with the middle school youth group at our church in St. Louis. I loved it! After wrapping up my student teaching, we moved to Charleston and I started at Porter Gaud School.

I was praying about full time youth ministry deeply for about two years and felt like maybe it was not God’s timing for me or maybe He was calling me to the priesthood. I sensed that I wouldn’t be a priest. I praise God for all the priests out there! So anyway, I went to get a haircut at Great Clips (I used to have hair). I had just been praying about becoming a youth pastor and I was starting to look for jobs. I sat down in the chair and the sweet woman looked me up and down and kept looking in the mirror at me and then she said, “God just told me that you are going to become a pastor!” I almost started crying! I told her I had just been praying about that before I walked in. We had a great conversation! A year later I got the job at St. Philip’s.

What do you want parents to know about your vision for youth ministry?

Good question. I want parents to know that their kids are a part of a giant family and that they are never alone! We seek to show students what it means to follow Christ in love, and we will not hold anything back. We preach the truth, we stand for life, and we believe in the Holy Word of God! Their kids will get an authentic dose of spiritual reality at our youth group!

What are three things you are passionate about and why?

Other than Jesus…I love spending time with my family and getting into crazy adventures! That brings me so much joy! I love playing and coaching volleyball because I was born an athlete and sports have always played a huge part in my life. So, to get to teach sports and share the Gospel is a win-win in my book! I also love going off-roading and getting stuck in my Jeep Wrangler!

What does youth group at St. Philip’s look like under your leadership?

What do you most want to impress on students? It looks like a family! I want them to know that they are never alone. We say this at every youth group, “God is love! Christ’s peace passes understanding. That means you can’t understand it. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and you are more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus our Lord! Amen!”

If there is one thing you would want church leaders to know about student ministry, what would that be?

Student ministry is a lifeline and a solid rock for this generation to be rescued by Jesus. It provides a means to teach them how to stand upon His firm foundation in this ever-changing and chaotic world. This generation more than others is so bombarded by lies and constant change.

How is being part of the diocese valuable to you?

The diocese helps me by reminding me I am not alone. I have brothers and sisters in the youth ministry trenches battling and dealing with the same issues. Our monthly Fusion gatherings of youth ministers are a grace to my soul. We study God’s word, we pray, we laugh, we cry, we share a meal together and we are united in Christ.

By David Wright, Coordinator for Student Ministries, The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina