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.
This is the tenth and last post..
On Monday morning I went to a seminar on Taize. For those of who don’t know Taize is an ecumenical monastic community in France that has gotten a lot of press in recent years. It attracts tons and tons of young people every year. The seminar was well done and very interesting. I do think the key challenge when it comes to learning from Taize is trying to import it into youth ministry.
Okay, summary comments.
Talk about a sterotype – At a lot of events I feel very much like an abnormality. This Thursday I’ll be joining Pittsburgh Presbytery where according to my calculation I’ll be the younger minister member of the Presbytery. However, at the NYWC I feel like the stereotype, well, because I am. The joke goes that everyone at NYWC is a white male 20 something with short hair, straight out of school, and has a goatee. Okay, so no goatee but other than that I fit the stereotype perfectly.
Talk about a show – On Saturday night at the Late Night Theology Discussion I met and talked with Natalie who was invited to attend the NYWC after she posted about why she stopped going to youth group. I asked Natalie what she though of things and she said something to the effort of, “I’m really enjoying it, but when I see all the lights and stuff I get a little weirded out. Think of how much they could have done with all the money they spend on all that.” (Again, that’s not a direct quote but it’s the general direction). I think Natalie has a point – the NYWC is a good show. The lights, multiple screens, massive control area, etc. all make the General Sessions what they are. However, in defense of Youth Specialities – I’ve learned that all that stuff isn’t just show. Given the size of the conventions you’ve got to be able to broadcast to a lot of people – so screens that let more people see the person closer up are really import for the overall quality and effectiveness of someone’s presentation. A quality sound system is also a must in order to have an effectice presentation. And all that lighting? Improper light, especially when combined with a room with poor lighting (as convention centers have) and a TV camera would make the images on the screens horrible. Once you’ve gotten to this point you might as well go all the way and add in the extra frills, because they probably don’t cost that much more anyway. So while I see what Natalie is saying, I think the reality of the settings dictate a lot of the technology needs as far as lighting, sound, and video.
Talk about a who’s who of Youth Ministry – In all the conferences I’ve come across there is none that compare to NYWC as far as the plethora and quality of speakers.
Talk about post-denominational – As I talked about in an earlier post, the NYWC attracts a ton of people from a ton of different backgrounds and generally things seem to stay pretty civil. The Late Night Theology Discussion can sometimes get a tad heated as a diversity of perspectives come together, but other than that it stays pretty calm. It is cool to see all these people from different perspectives come together for something like this however.
Talk about giveaways – Well, not so much. Compared to last year I came home with a lot less free stuff than I did last year. We got quite a few free books and things last year and that was definitely not the case this year. I’m not sure of the reason really – but it was a change. One nice benefit this year was now that Youth Specialties is owned by Zondervan there were more products in the bookstore that were discounted (including Zondervan bibles at 20% off)
The one thing that was really impressive this year was that there was not a single general session speaker who I didn’t think did a fantastic job and every seminar I picked was really really good. Last year I was more hit or miss, but this year I came away from every seminar with something really valuable.
As a “two-timer” @ the NYWC I highly recommend it to anyone in youth ministry, whether you’re staff or volunteer, in-charger or just a leader.
Okay, I think that finishes my blogging about the NYWC… next year it’s either Atlanta or St. Louis!
So Marko’s section on middle school teaching techniques was awesome – I really picked up a lot and I can start using it immediately. I have to say that I have not been dissapointed by a single section or general session speaker this year – they’ve all been excellent. The one funny part from Marko’s seminar was when I got cold water spit all over me (all part of a skit – it was good fun)
This evening Marko gave the talk for the last general session and in my opinion hit a home run. I’ve noticed that I don’t tend to mind convicting talks and this one was definitely of that sort – he dealt with humility. Now, if you’ve read my posts from the past couple days you know that this is something I’ve struggled with and probably because I’ve struggled with it and I am more willing to take convicting words.
The line of the night was when Marko was addressing the concept of being “obedient to others” as an aspect of exercising humility. He immediately spoke specifically to the women in the group and said that for them this has meant that they are to stay in their place and deny any sort of a call to ministry. He then said, emphatically, “That is not the voice of God”. I clapped my heart out – but the clapping was sporadic. However, I give Marko props for saying what he believed with conviction and honesty.
His other great line was “Someday I want to go to National Pastor’s Convention and see a seminar entitled Learning to be humble like your youth pastor”
I’ll share some of my closing comments in the next few days as to what I’ve learned but for now – I’m off to bed.
YS isn’t quite over, but it is beginning to wind down and by this time tomorrow we’ll be in the van on our way home, so I figured I’d start some of my summary reflections now.
In the past year I’ve attended a few events that are what I call post-denominational in nature (Generous Orthodoxy ’05, NYWC ‘05, A Conversation about the Emerging Church, The Heart of the Missional Church, and NYWC ’06). As Tic Long said at the start of last year’s NYWC “It’s not that our denominations don’t matter but they’re not important”, and that’s true. And I remember last year just being awe struck by the civility, mutuality, and good nature of the people at those events. There was a marked difference from the PC(USA) General Assemblies I’ve attended. From Anabaptists and Mennonites to Roman Catholics, everyone seemed to get along with one another. In my idealism I was like, “Yes – this is the future of the church – a post-denominational era”.
Well, I still firmly believe we’re headed in a post-denominational era, but I realized something very important this weekend. Events like the NYWC or Generous Orthodoxy can function like they do because nothing has to be decided. If you took votes and held debates on a whole host of issues here at the NYWC you’d have a ton of diversity in the responses and it would turn very ugly very fast. Whether it be issues surrounding the role of women in the church, LGBT people in leadership, governing structure, preparation for ministry, etc. there is a tremendous diversity here and if Youth Specialties ever became a denominational-like organization (which they won’t – thank goodness) we would soon have 20 or 30 Youth Specialties like organizations divided along the same lines as our current denominational differences. Now, don’t ask me why it took my till now to realize this and have my idealism shattered, but it did.
Okay, I’m off to Mark O’s presentation on teaching techniques for middle school!
Wow, eight blog posts since I’ve gotten here. That’s impressive even for me.
This morning I went to a seminar on discernment, and it was really good. I felt bad for the leader, she was recovering from a pretty wicked cold but she still did a good job. It wasn’t so much a “how-to” seminar on discernment, as the leader noted, discernment is a very individual thing since we all hear God differently. But what she did do was lead us through some principles of discernment. To make it short, I now feel better equipped to talk to my youth about discernment and what they should consider as they do it.
To me there is no more important “spiritual practice” for us to teach our youth (or to practice ourselves). If we want our students to become Christ-followers we must teach them how to listen to an unseen rabbi who can lead them. I know no other way of teaching our students to become followers than teaching them to discern.
While in my life I think I’ve done an okay job with discernment on the big stuff (switching into ministry, accepting a call from seminary) the seminar did show me that on the more “day to day” stuff I need to practice discernment. My personality lends itself to be a planner so my plans are usually laid out (at least in my head) well in advance. She also made an incredible comment:
“We usually practice discernment when it comes to big stuff, because that’s stuff that is beyond our control.” Dang…
The general session speaker was Phil Vischer (founder of Big Idea who created Veggie Tales). He told his story of the rise and fall of Big Idea and it was tremendous convicting. I have a whole bunch of quotes, but this one stands out:
“If I’ve surrendered my life to the Lordship of Christ I have no business worrying about where I want to be in five years”
Dang, that’s good.
Well, I am hogging up time at the YS Store digital center so I am going to close there. I’ve got a lot of thoughts to share about YS but I’ll share those later.
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 after going non-stop pretty much since the conference started I am taking a break – an afternoon off.
This morning I got up really early (okay, not that early, 7 am) and went to hear Tony Jones talk about the most recent research into adolescence. I’ve heard Tony do stuff on postmodernism, the emerging church, and his late night theology discussion. I’ve always enjoyed his seminars but thought this one this morning was the most helpful. Very interesting research into how the changes in adolesence (starting earlier, ending later) and how these changes effect youth ministry.
This morning’s general session featured Phillip Yancey who was solid in his presentation on prayer and the New Testament. He didn’t speak as long as some of the other speakers but he was still real solid. I didn’t take a whole lot of notes but it was still really good.
This evening I plan on attending the general session and then the late night theology discussion – which is always interesting.