At a quick glance, Derek Harrison does not look much older than the young people he is charged with leading as the Youth Director at Tifton First United Methodist Church. But don’t let his youthful appearance fool you, for Derek brings a wealth of experience and energy to the task of introducing Tifton First youth to the Lord.
For the past two years the 2020 Georgia Southern University graduate has been working hard to “create as many experiences as possible for youth to meet Christ.”
A native of Statesboro, Derek began his collegiate experience pursuing an engineering degree at Mercer University. But after his second year on the Macon campus Derek assisted at a Christian Athletic Camp and the experience was profound.
“The change that I saw in the kids impacted me,” Derek recalled, adding that he knew a change was imminent. “I didn’t know what it would be, but I knew I would be serving in some capacity.”
He then made the decision to return home and enroll at Georgia Southern where he successfully earned a degree in Mathematics.
It was during his time back in Statesboro that Derek began to pursue a career in ministry.
At Georgia Southern Derek was the off-campus missions coordinator. Loaves and Fishes was the name of the mission that fed the homeless and did their laundry. He also served in leadership and on the greeting team at Statesboro First Methodist.
“I’ve always have had a heart for serving people,” said Derek.
Those roles led to summer positions at Camp Connect at Epworth By the Sea in St. Simons.
“This is the place that launched me into full-time ministry,” said Derek, who later assisted with the youth at Brooklet United Methodist Church. From there it was on a full-time job at Pittman Park Methodist in Statesboro.
Since joining the Tifton First staff two years ago, the goals have been clear for the 27-year-old.
“We want to create a stable program, build a program where I am not visible,” he said. “There is a tremendous opportunity, and we have great resources here.
“It’s not about numbers, it’s about utilizing what we have.”
“Derek has the gifts and graces,” said Tifton First Senior Pastor Chip Grantham. “Derek is the complete package. We are lucky that we got him.”
Derek meets with the Tifton First Youth throughout the week, gathering on Sundays and Wednesdays, as well as a weekly prayer breakfast most Thursday mornings. There are also numerous special events throughout the year. A group of 19 youth and adult volunteers recently returned from a three-day trip to Orlando’s Universal Studios where they celebrated and worshipped with thousands of other young people at Rock the Universe.
On tap is an ambitious project called “River of Life,” a program designed to get youth involved in community mission projects. Numerous youth groups from around the state are expected to join the Tifton First youth this summer as they assist local homeowners with a variety of projects.
“River of Life mobilizes the church to get into the community to be the hands and feet of Christ,” Derek said.
In addition to his duties at Tifton First, Derek is also a leader in the United Methodist Church Conference. He has created a Youth Director Retreat, which was named Called Conference, and he has since created a second retreat for youth directors called Collab Conference.
“There are folks who come across state lines to come to that retreat,” Grantham said.
While his days, and most weekends, are full, Derek takes great pleasure in witnessing the growth that is taking place with the youth.
“The best part of the job is getting to watch students who you have poured into, seeing the moment when they recognize it and they get it,” Derek said, “and watching their impact on others.”