Thrown into the middle of the early month craziness was a retreat with just our group to Camp Crestfield. It was our senior high group and I was really thankful – it was the type of group that because I really had to wing things (Doug’s announcement came earlier that same week). What I learned and haven noticed in the past, is when you don’t have any prep time and you’re forced to wing things, God will bless it and work through it ways more powerful that you ever expected. If you have the prep time and you choose not to use it, and then wing it God usually won’t bless that in the same way. Anyway, this retreat was luckily the first case, and God really did give me some super inspiration at just the right time. We talked about “Questions of Faith” and the theme for the weekend was “Doubts, Fears, and Questions are part of Faith”. What I’ve learned is that for kids who have grown up in the church there needs to be a period of “doubt”. Marko dealt with this topic a little while back and I guess I have come to prefer the word “transition” because this transition between childhood faith to adulthood faith is a transition period that is sometimes marked by what people would call doubt. I know my transition really occurred when I was seventeen, and it was doubt I guess, but when I found myself praying prayers like “God, I know you don’t exist, you can’t possibly exist” while I was praying I through the doubt and questions.
Anyway, the vast majority of the sr high students I work with can be described as “church kids”, despite varying levels of involvement. So, the goal of this retreat was to give them the space to ask the tough questions and recognize that they weren’t losing their faith – it was growing right along with them.
The retreat turned out to be a huge blessing to me, as for the first time ever I felt as though when I came back from a retreat I too had had a chance to refresh and reload. One of the reasons for this was what I did with the schedule. Breakfast @ Crestfield is at 8 am, which is early for both me and the group. So… after breakfast they had til 10am to do whatever they wanted – this also gave me time to do some last minute prep and relax. By the time 10 o’clock rolled around, everyone was a lot more awake and ready to go.
What was cool was that a lot of what I talked about was stuff I had learned about while I was at the National Youth Workers Convention. My first talk was one I had adjusted from our Jr. High retreat that dealt with how God speaks, through “shear silence” as Elijah found out. That led into a bible study of 1 Samuel 3, based on what Kenda Dean talked about at the NYWC, where I talked about the relationship between younger and older members of the community of faith, and how younger ones hear different things, but need their elder members of the community to help them discern whether they’re hearing God or if they’re hearing themselves. My second talk was centerd around John the Baptist sending messengers to Jesus to ask “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” this had two purposes (1) Validate the role of honest questioning within faith (2) Talk about the way to deal with these questions and doubts – to bring them to God. In the evening we did a variety of stations and a guided meditation for about 2 hours in the evening. All in all, despite the rush in the week leading up to it, I thought things went quite well.
I’m actually writing this blog post in the midst of the evening general session. I’ve been busy today with various things.
After my afternoon off I went over to an open forum discussion I saw advertised. A professor from Asbury is working with YS to study what makes for good relationships between a youth pastor and a senior pastor, and since I think my senior pastor is a pretty swell guy I thought I’d go and share a little bit about what makes our relationship good. So I did, and it basically comes down to a few things. (1) I know I’m respected. Pastor Doug respects what I do – he doesn’t think of youth ministry as “mini-ministry” but genuinely respects what I do in my work with youth. (2) I respect him. At least once a week I am thankful for the fact that I don’t have Pastor Doug’s job. He has to deal with a whole different set of things than I do. To be fair, I’m pretty sure that when it comes to things like Jr. High Lock-ins Pastor Doug is pretty glad that that’s my territory, not his. (3) We communicate. At least once or twice a week Pastor Doug and I sit down and “touch base”. We talk about what’s going on with the youth ministry, the greater church, etc. Pastor Doug doesn’t do things behind my back and spring them on me and I try my best not to do that to him. (4) Support – as far as I’m concerned, Pastor Doug and I try our best to be loyal to one another.
I think beyond that I did some a good amount of research when I started thinking about taking the job I have. I talked to the interim associate, a former member, the former pastor, the presbytery pastor, the former youth pastor, as well as other people in the Presbytery. I remember Jim Mead (Pastor to the Presbytery) telling me that when I looked for associate positions the most important thing was to make sure it would be a fit between the senior pastor and myself. So, I took that to heart and it turned out to be good advice – I made that a priority in my search. I as much told one search committee that I wasn’t there person almost entirely because I knew it wouldn’t be a fit between myself and the senior pastor. I wonder if a lot of youth workers really have the chance/take the chance to really get to know the senior pastor and figure out if it’ll be a good fit between them and the senior pastor.
Anyway, after that I met up with a group of PC(USA) people and went out to dinner, and that was a really good time. It was fun to get together with people who (1) Are part of my world in youth ministry (2) Are part of my world in the PC(USA). What was depressing was to hear some stories from other seminaries and CPMs from frustrated and somewhat dejected Presbyterian students. But, I want to be positive so I’m going to stop there. But other than that – it was a fantastic time
Tonight, as I write this, I’m listening to a younger African American version of Andrew Purves. It’s really funny. Chris Hill is a youth worker in Texas and he started his message with John 1 and talked about John the Baptist. I knew where he was going when he started – incredibly solid stuff. The only reason I’m writing during it is that I feel like I’ve heard this, granted it was from a somewhat older Scotsman. Hill’s basic thing is this – we as youth workers are, like John the Baptist, to bear witness to the true light. While he was reading John 1 Chris repeated “he was not the light, he was not the light, he was not the light…” Even as someone who heard Dr. Purves talk about this for three years and remind us that our ministry was not redemptive it’s still incredibly hard to get that into my head and heart. In Chris’ words, “I am not the light”. Absolutely fantastic stuff – I’m definitely going to be getting this recording because it. “I am not the light, but I can point you to a light that can change your life forever”
Tonight’s Late Night Theology Discussion with Tony Jones was interesting as always, but also very moving. One woman in the group raised to us an issue about a little girl in her church who is battling cancer and how that relates to intercessory prayer. The discussion took on a much more gracious tone than last year and it felt more worthwhile because we were thinking theologically about an actual situation. We ended our time by laying on hands and praying – very cool. As someone said (and I honestly forget who) “True theology leads to prayer”
Afterward I had a nice discussion with Kenda Dean from Princeton about PhD studies, but that’s another post for a another time.
So the NYWC is off and running – this morning I attended a well-done seminary in Middle School Small Groups which gave me a lot to think about. The seminars that I tend to get the most out of are not those that say “here’s how we do it” but rather those that stimulate me to think – and this one did. The leader was the Jr. High Pastor @ Willow Creek so he’s approaching things from a much larger church context than I but it was still really well done.
This after Kenda Dean (of the other PTS) spoke and wow – I was impressed. I knew Kenda would be good, but I didn’t expect her to be that good. The one thing that Kenda was able to hit upon that I realized that I knew but couldn’t put words to or explain (hence, it was only by intution) was the role of the “pastor” not as mediator but as the one who points to where God is at work in the lives of our young people. Kenda made a very compelling and scriptually supported argument that God speaks to our young people on frequencies that perhaps we adults, even those of us who are younger, can’t hear. (She pointed to the mosquito ringtone as an object lesson – google it, it’s a ringtone that adults can’t hear but youth can and pointed to the story of Samuel and Eli for scriptual support)
I know that I’ve sat at our bible study on Monday night and thought to myslef “aw dang, wish I had thought of that” on a number of occassions. It’s not just that they have good points (which isn’t a surprise) but they read different things in the text that aren’t even on my radar screen. But, I remember a few occassions where someone I was working with knew something but couldn’t understand it and all I had to do was say “Well, maybe it’s God” or “Well, do you think God is trying to tell you something?”. The task of ministry, says my mentor Andrew Purves, is to bear witness to what Christ is already doing in the lives of our people. It’s a humbling realization but one that takes a tremendous weight off of those of us in ministry.
Needless to say, when the times come for me to do my PhD (… a long way in the future – I promise) I know who I want to study with.