People Profile – Andy Turnbull – Youth Pastor

Me and my brother

Born in the county of Shropshire, I grew up a little bit further north of Cranleigh, in a little village called Wem, which is a tiny little place in the countryside. I absolutely loved it and have fond memories of my childhood there – it’s a great place! I have quite a big family, being one of five. I have one sister and three brothers. I’m second on the list, born in 1982.

I went to the village school where there were 60 in the whole school, ranging from reception right the way up to year 6, so our school was quite small in comparison to schools nowadays. I went onto secondary school in the town near where I lived. I wasn’t a massive fan of school and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. I’m not hugely academic, more practical in my abilities and love sport.

During my secondary school days I often hung out with the boys and got caught up in things that looking back, weren’t necessarily great to be involved in. I was a bit of a tearaway. Also being one of five, one of my brothers and I were like ‘best mates’ as we grew up and would often get into mischief together. In school holidays we would head out for the day, into the woods and the fields and take all kinds of things with us. We would delve into farmer’s sheds and go on adventures, building dens and bases. I can remember setting off fireworks in various places and getting into all sorts of things together. On one particular occasion I remember my brother and I going to ‘investigate’ a derelict house, he climbed through an old window to get in, as he landed on the other side the whole window frame fell in whilst I just opened the door and walked in! We enjoyed investigating the cellar (with candles so that not only did we have light but we knew there was enough oxygen), finding wine that looked like it had been there for quite a long time! Looking back on the things we did, they must have caused my parents grief.

Me at my junior shool class in Wem

Saying that though, my parents were great. My mum was at home throughout my school days. Before she had children, she’d been a schoolteacher and gave up work to have a family. She felt strongly about being at home as we grew up. My dad had periods of time when he didn’t work due to ill health and unemployment. On reflection now I wonder how they survived raising five kids and coping with the sort of mischief we got into. I look back and am incredibly grateful for my parents, even though there were some tough times along the way.

I became a Christian when I was 6 and my faith that began in childhood has really influenced my whole life. I went to Sunday School, children’s clubs and youth group which were brilliant. I always remember looking forward to youth group on a Friday. I had some really good, Christian friends but in my teenage years I struggled with being a Christian and fitting in, being accepted by my non-christian mates. I kept trying to be cool to be accepted by everyone around me. For me that was a real battle through my teenage years. The outcome was I was quite happy to go to youth group on a Friday, church on a Sunday and then the rest of the week I would put Christianity to one side, trying to fit in with my mates at school. This attitude didn’t match up with what I was learning on a Sunday and what the bible was teaching me.

Thankfully my youth leaders at church were really good role models. One of them was incredibly patient and would pick up the pieces every time, even though I frequently repeated the same mistakes. He just wouldn’t give up. He kept on keeping on and bringing me back to bible truths and just gave me time which was so important. He helped me talk about the difficulties I was experiencing and struggling with in terms of how they conflicted with a Christian’s perspective. He helped me understand the bible teaches that life with Christ is so much better. He was very good at demonstrating the love of God and how God accepts me for who I am. I didn’t have to prove who I was to Him and understanding that was massive. I never felt judged but helped by showing me a better story in Jesus.

My sister and I walking together on a family holiday

I got through my years at secondary school despite it not massively agreeing with me and went onto college where I took a sports science course. I was very sporty and particularly loved football, tennis and hockey. I realised that although I enjoyed playing sport, I also liked the coaching side of things so I got involved with that while at college. Having reached the end of the course I asked myself is there a career in this? I was about 18 or 19 at this point and found myself wondering whether to go to university or not, do I make a career out of sports development/sports coaching or is there something else? I looked at university but deep down knew it probably wasn’t for me because I’m not particularly academic. One of my brothers had gone to university and I had other friends who’d gone away to university too. They qualified with degrees but never got a job in the area they’d studied. All these questions were going through my mind as I tried to anticipate what to do with my life.

I’d gone through some rocky years and God had graciously brought me back in line with the life of a Christian and living for him. I guess to sum it up I was asking God the question, ‘What do you want me to do?’ which seemed a huge question at 18. I’d been involved in youth & children’s ministry at church and in various other places which I thrived on. Again, it was with the input of my youth leaders and Christian friends, as well as having had opportunities to get involved in youth and children’s ministry, which enabled me to ask that question, which is a fairly scary question to ask. Through some sermons the minister was preaching at the time, I felt prompted to keep asking until eventually I decided against university and went to train with a Christian organisation in Switzerland for 3 months in the summer of 2003, looking at children’s and youth ministry.

In September 2003, aged 21, I returned to face more big questions – What now? What next? Do I pursue youth and children’s ministry? I talked with my minister and the church offered me an opportunity to get more involved in youth leadership, but basically his advice was go and get yourself a secular job first and live in the real world. Get some life experience, get a job and that kind of thing. As I’d kept my hand in with sports coaching and had some good friends in sports development, I ended up going into sports development as a career. I worked for the local authority working to rebuild a local sports club, sports facility and developed that. I got involved going into local schools, doing coaching. I set up sports coaching programs, holiday programs, which I absolutely loved, it was great.

A successful day fishing at the beach

However, the job I was doing came to an end because the funding ran out and I was faced with the question – what now? I started to look for jobs in sports management and a bit broader than that, in leisure management. I’d never been to university, I was still living at home in the town I grew up in, in the church I grew up in.

Everyone around me knew me and the misdemeanours I’d got up to in my life. They’d known me since I was a kid and in a sense I wore my heart on my sleeve. I felt the need to leave and have my ‘uni years’ away from home. So when I was applying for jobs I decided I’d go anywhere. After several applications I ended up in Reading in leisure management, managing leisure facilities for the local authority.

A large part of my role was managing swimming pools, which then led me down the path of lifeguard training. I quite liked the teaching and training route. So I trained as a life guard instructor. I would train lifeguards, assess them and make sure they were fit for the role which I absolutely loved. It was very varied and a large part of it was first aid training so after a little while I qualified as a first aid trainer.

My Dad showing off his footballing skills on holiday

Despite my career in the sports and leisure industry I always thought God would call me into youth and children’s ministry at some point. In 2008/9 I started praying ‘Am I heading towards a place where I’m going to move into children’s and youth ministry?’

At this time the church I was involved with were considering employing someone to look after the youth and children’s ministry. Through prayer, conversations with the church, with friends and people that I’d grown up with, people who’d been influential in my life as a Christian, they all felt it was right to explore this possibility. The church leadership and I went through about six months dialogue, praying and talking before the church offered me the post. I moved from leisure management into youth and children’s ministry in 2010. It was very much a step of faith. I could have gone on in leisure management. I was very much at the point in my career where I could have gone higher up into area management but I chose not to because God was very definitely calling me into youth and children’s ministry. This involved teaching the bible to children and young people in all kinds of ways including Holiday Bible Clubs, School Assemblies, Friday night youth groups and much more. I remember the fun we used to get up to in Holiday Bible clubs with various challenges – one leader even ended up going to her dentist appointment dressed as a clown!

As I say it was very much a step of faith. When I was first asked by the church to take up the role, I declined to start with but for the next few weeks that decision, just didn’t sit comfortably. I was very restless. I wasn’t married, I had no responsibility, no house or mortgage. What was stopping me? Finally I reached the point where I said ‘OK God, let’s go!’ and it was almost like a light switch moving me from one place to another and I had such peace about the decision. I didn’t know exactly how it was going to work out but it was clear to me that it was the right direction and God had called me to it and God was leading me. If that was the case, He would provide for me, He would be all that I needed.

Beach Missions were always full of fun and enjoyment

The post was part time to start with so the first aid and life guard training I’d been doing, came in very useful to make up the rest of my working week. Part of the agreement of working for the church was that for the first two years I would take up further training. I’d done a lot of practical training in youth ministry and some theology training, but I felt I needed to be better equipped theologically. So I began a theology course and it was on that course that I met my now wife, Jo. She was doing the same course. Throughout the whole 2 years I couldn’t pluck up the courage to ask her out, I literally left it to the last day of the course to ask her out on a date and realised it was ‘now or never’. We went out for coffee and the rest, as they say, is history!

Right from the outset Jo was happy about me being in Christian ministry. She’d come from a Christian background so we were in the same place. She was involved in women’s ministry in a church where she was living, so we were both involved in church life and ministry. I have to say she is amazing! She was incredibly supportive then as she is now of me in my youth and children’s ministry in particular. After a couple of years, we were married, while was still in Reading. Then a year and a half later we had our first daughter Lucy, which was great! And once we moved to Cranleigh we had Ellie.

In 2015 I’d been working at the church in Reading for a number of years. We had developed the children’s ministry which had grown and the children grew up into the youth ministry that had also grown. We were seeing young people grow in their faith, able to share it with their non-Christian friends. We’d seen a number of young people come to faith and some had been baptized before going onto university. It was going well and it was very exciting. In many respects there was no reason to leave. We were very comfortable. People knew us. Jo had settled well having got married and moved into where I was in ministry.

An all girls football team that I coached

Then there was another ‘light switch’ moment as we began to ask a good but dangerous question of God, ‘Is it now time for us to consider moving on?’ And things changed!

As I say things in the church at Reading were going really well. There was no real reason to leave. I wasn’t desperate to leave, I really felt at home. I would have said, and would do so now, that Reading was my home as opposed to where I’d grown up because I’d really established myself and God had blessed me with a great church family and the benefits of being part of that church family. It was also where we started married life together and had our first child so there was an awful lot that had happened in my life there. However, Jo and I agreed just to ask God the question, ‘Is it time for us to move on? If it is, it is and if it isn’t it isn’t’. There wasn’t anything particularly on the horizon until the job advert in Cranleigh came up for a youth and children’s pastor. I flicked through the advert at first but put it to one side. Then a little while later Jo saw it and said, ‘This is for you, you need to apply’.

We just took little steps. We asked the question of God and He gently started opening doors that I needed to push. We’d said all along that if it wasn’t right then we wouldn’t move, if God closed the door then that would be fine. But later on in the summer of 2015 we visited Cranleigh. We’d never even heard of Cranleigh before but we came and looked, had conversations with the church and over a period of three or four months, God made it clear that He was calling us to Cranleigh.

Working with schools and young peoples holiday programmes

There were a variety of things that were all lining up. Things we were reading in our quiet times in the bible at the time, conversations we had with our friends and family. One of the things that attracted me to the role here was that it was a pastoral role rather than a worker role. I’m passionate about youth and children’s ministry. I believe we should have pastors involved in this ministry, not just youth workers. I think it’s important to have a spiritual over sight and concern for children and young people and their families. They need more than just all the fun stuff which is great, but we actually need to teach them, nurture them and equip them and their parents as well. Having become a parent myself with two young girls, I’ve understood the reality of what it means to parent, both the joys and the difficulties. I appreciate the impact parents have on their children and understand how God has created the family unit to work. Having experienced things in my own family life, it leads me to ask how do I parent my kids and equip and encourage others to parent theirs? The Bible is where we find the answers to these big questions, In it God shows us how he designed us and created us to live, including in the family.

Back in Reading, I not only worked in the church but also did first aid training and absolutely loved it. Alongside that, through my first aid training, I got involved with Community First Responders which is a voluntary group that supports the ambulance service in responding to real life emergencies, the 999 calls, heart attacks and all kinds of other medical emergencies. Again I absolutely loved it and found it a helpful way of engaging with people outside of church and meeting people I would never have come across otherwise. In a bizarre way it kind of helped me switch off from work and relax and I valued the opportunities it gave to engage with people. I was meeting people in their hour of need. I went to a whole range of medical emergencies, and from babies to 99-year-olds, so a lot of different situations. For example, one Friday night I was called to a 6-month-old baby who had some serious medical problems and was struggling to live. I knew the ambulance was on its way but I was the first one to arrive. I was presented with this little one who was really struggling to live and parents who were beside themselves as they watched what was happening. Being thrust into that situation, I just remember it so distinctly because it was quite traumatic and I just basically said to God ‘Please let the paramedics turn up quickly because I’m limited in what I can do and this child needs help and needs paramedics quick.’

For me as a first responder, part of the adrenaline rush, was not knowing what I was going to come across. I once went to a guy on a golf course, who had suffered a heart attack. He’d swung a golf club and just dropped down. Once again, I was the first person on the scene. I was treating him with defibrillators, CPR all that kind of stuff when the helicopter landed right nearby and they all jump out and come rushing over and then the ambulance arrived. From the initial call for help you suddenly become involved and have to spring into life. There’s an amount of adrenaline rushing through your body but the aim is obviously to help people in their hour of need. It was very varied and I absolutely loved it.

Another time I was called to a house and arrived to find a 13-year-old boy who had just come home from school to find his dad had collapsed upstairs and passed away. There was nothing to be done and I was thrust into the whole emotion of a tragic situation. How could I help? While I was limited in terms of my faith, I was obviously responding on behalf of the ambulance service, I was able to sympathise and listen and in a very practical way, demonstrate the love of Jesus.

I used to say when people asked what I did as a job or in my spare time, ‘Well actually I’m involved in the business of saving lives. In my paid job as a youth and children’s minister I point young people and children to Jesus that they might understand his grace, to be saved from their sin and its consequences to the glorious eternal life and hope that he gives and brings, having life in all its fullness. Then in my spare time I’m involved in physically helping to save people’s lives through medical intervention’.

I think COVID has thrown up the whole question of where do we find hope, our certainty and security because we’ve seen things change all the time over the past 12 months. We make plans for one thing and all of a sudden, we’re back in a Lockdown and we can’t do this or that. Suddenly we can’t see our mates or our family and things are outside our control. One of the things we all love is to be in control of our lives and what happens when. COVID has certainly raised the question of who is in control, which is huge, it’s a big question. I would say is in the light of those things it is possible to know someone who is in control. I completely believe that God is in control. I don’t always understand why things happen but I do believe that God is in control and He understands everything. So even when I feel baffled by what’s been happening this year, I can trust in a God who is in control and that gives me real hope and peace.

My little family, me, Jo, Lucy and Ellie at a family wedding

By trusting in Jesus and what he did for me on the cross, I have a relationship with him and that’s life changing because I am no longer in control, he is. I can also know he amazing promises which I can recall when life is rubbish and confusing, I know He will never leave me or forsake me. I know that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Whatever that means, whatever tomorrow brings I know that He’s never going to change, that He is my rock and my fortress and those truths, those promises give me a spring in my step and enable me to live life to the full. That doesn’t mean to say that I don’t feel down and have very human feelings, I do, but I’m not controlled by them.

I love what I do, I know God’s called me to it and I have a passion that really springs from my faith, what Jesus has done for me and I want to share that with other people. I want to share my faith by not only talking about it, explaining it to people, kids and teenagers but actually through what I do as well. God has been incredibly gracious to me, saving me, equipping me and gifting me to serve him, he alone deserves all the praise glory. My inspiration is Jesus and what he’s done for me.

For more information, contact Andy Turnbull
Office: 01483 671693
Mobile: 07984 679407

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