Brisbane Taiwanese Uniting Church youth mentor and Trinity College Queensland alumni, Jack Shao is encouraging the next generation of youth to undertake lay education. Ashley Thompson writes.
Immigrating with his family to Australia at 14, Jack Shao has been attending the Brisbane Taiwanese congregation for 25 years. A Brisbane Boys’ College old boy, he was baptised at 17 and has been serving the youth group in different capacities ever since.
“I think the most dramatic change I’ve seen in the Taiwanese congregation over the past 25 years has been the rise of the younger generation,” reflects Jack.
“Our Sunday attendance is nearly 200 and our youth group has 50–60 people. That’s just the youth—younger than university.”
While general youth attendance within the Uniting Church is on the decline, its multicultural ministry continues to thrive as the church’s commitment to inclusivity remains a priority.
“There is a really big diversity of culture just within our church,” explains Jack. “I’m passionate about seeing the rise of the youth group and want to use my experience to act as a bridge between them and the older group.”
Feeling the need to acquire “a good foundation of the Bible”, Jack undertook and has now completed the lay preaching course at Trinity College Queensland, the Queensland Synod’s primary theological training body.
“When I was preaching in youth group in my early 20s, a lot of the time I felt like I was teaching them in my own knowledge. So I felt like if I wanted to keep serving I needed to make sure I’m teaching them the right way,” says Jack.
“The part I like about the Uniting Church is that we accept a broad view of Christianity. Like when you study the Bible there are a lot of ways to interpret the same scriptures. They give me freedom and a broader view of the teachings.”
Trinity College Queensland’s new director of education for ministry, Dr Leigh Trevaskis believes theological education for youth should “equip them with tools for reading Scripture, a theological framework for tackling difficult questions, and impart models for communicating what they believe to other people”.
“We need to foster a culture where young people undertake this kind of education so that the church is better placed for engaging in gospel mission at the coal-face,” says Leigh.
Leigh plans for Trinity College Queensland to play an essential role in turning the tide of declining church attendance in the Uniting Church in Queensland.
Meanwhile, Jack’s advocacy for lay education has already resulted in fresh faces. “The course has helped me a lot so I have been encouraging our youth—now two of them are studying the lay preaching course this year.”