Alongside all the current crises they are facing – mental health challenges, societal pressures, and an epidemic of faith deconstruction that is leading some to walk away from Jesus – Liz Bewley is convinced that the Holy Spirit is moving
When did your faith journey begin? I became a Christian when I was 13 through my parents, but I didn’t have a Christian community till I was 21. I connected with God through devotionals, walking the dog in the woods and talking to my mum over the washing up. Those early years were built without discipleship or community. The word Christian made me cringe, but I distinctly remember working through what it meant for me to live out my faith in day-to-day life. For me, it wasn’t about having all the answers, but about becoming someone who loves with confidence.
How did God begin to direct you as you started working? I started working at Sky News and at the same time started volunteering with youth at the church I was attending. Within three months God had given me a passion to support young people. However, he kept me at Sky News to learn all of the things I needed to about discipleship and standing up for my faith. In September 2002, he called me to abandon the career I had trained for to work in the church with young people. From a worldly perspective it was not a smart move, but God’s Spirit compelled me.
After working in church youth ministry for a number of years, I sensed God was calling me to join an organisation called Onelife. I was gutted as they didn’t have any jobs available, but I decided to approach Pete Wynter, the executive director at the time, who I knew a bit through attending conferences with the youth from my church. He had said to me about a year before: “If you ever think of moving on come and speak to me” – so I did! He asked me what I would bring to the role, and I babbled some stuff around discipleship and training. It turned out that the night before we met, Pete had felt so convicted that they needed someone else on the team he had written to the trustees with a job description – it was word for word what I’d said. Within a year, everything had changed. I began as director of training in 2014.
We need to create safe spaces for young people to unpack the hard cost of discipleship
What was it that made you want to get involved with Onelife? I first came across Onelife as a youth worker and instantly caught the vision – young people leading in every sphere of society, out of deep relationship with God – yes! But it was the culture that captivated me. I was greeted like royalty but treated like family. Youth ministry is draining, but at Onelife I was championed in the day-to-day things that go unseen and felt an incredible sense of honour and value in what I was doing.
You are now executive director at Onelife. What is it that keeps you invested in such a sacrificial role? It’s the invitation Jesus gives to young people to carry something of the kingdom of God into every space they find themselves in. The world (and the Church sometimes too) has defined leadership so badly that young people often discount themselves; they think they have to have everything sussed out first. The focus is so often on giftings and skills. This is misleading and disempowering.
We have to give young people the tools they need to build character, integrity and resilience, while working out what it means to lead with vulnerability and connection. If we do this, the future will have a new generation of leaders who humbly pursue God’s kingdom. Kingdom leadership can’t start with gifting and skills, it must start in the secret place, where deep, Spirit-filled character development takes place. It’s vital that we pursue this for young people, so that they have no doubt that their small, daily kingdom acts matter.
Imagine what would happen if we had leaders in politics, in education, in the music industry etc who pursued love and holiness; leaders who mirrored Jesus. Imagine such a day! If we equip one young person at a time, we will see a move of God’s kingdom.
I see young people counting the cost and committing to a pursuit of holiness like I’ve never seen before
What does it mean to be a leader? John C Maxwell said: “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts. It is about one life influencing another.” I live by that quote. The word influence has become a bit skewed – we associate it with insincere influencers on Instagram – but it’s really about having an effect from your core outward. Leadership is about how I respond to the relationships in my life; it’s about how I love the person in front of me. Pete Wynter says: “Leadership is about calling the best out of yourself and out of those around you.”
When we partner with Jesus we immediately carry something different into every room. He calls me to shape the spaces that I’m in out of my relationship with him. That’s leadership.
What are the most effective ways of supporting young Christians in their spiritual growth? It’s not easy to build a house that will withstand the storms. We need to create safe spaces for young people to unpack the hard cost of discipleship. Community is crucial. Pastor and author John Mark Comer talks about how the enemy loves to isolate, and it’s when we’re alone that we’re really vulnerable.
But the pandemic also highlighted for us that we need to give young people the tools – all the fundamental practices of Jesus – to follow him themselves (as well as in the context of community). When alone in their room, how do they continue to grow and feel anchored? It’s important that young people know that they can meet with the Holy Spirit in the midst of ordinary life, not just in an atmospheric room at a conference, but on a daily basis. We must place encounter with God back in their hands.
Where do you see God’s Spirit moving? I see a fresh hunger bubbling up. Alongside all the current crises young people are facing – mental health challenges, societal pressures, and an epidemic of faith deconstruction that is leading some to walk away from Jesus – the Holy Spirit is moving. I see young people counting the cost and committing to a pursuit of holiness like I’ve never seen before.
We need to pay attention to what’s happening in our culture, and ask ourselves what God might be doing in this moment. I love Mark Sayers’ teaching on this in his book A Non-Anxious Presence (Moody Publishers). He points out that it’s in moments like this that God rewrites the script over a generation and brings renewal. This cultural moment feels defined by crisis and uncertainty, but out of a daily choice to follow Jesus and let him define us we can lead with a secure hope that shapes our conversations, our choices and our leadership.
Find out more about Onelife at onelifeleaders.com/vision-and-values