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.
So Day 1 of the NYWC if complete… here are some thoughts.
I spent the late afternoon in a seminar with Jim Burns that talked about conneting with parents. This is something that I know is important – all the research shows that parents are still the single most important factor in the faith development of a person. But what was helpful was that Jim gave us a concrete list of things and ways to try and be more family friendly. It wasn’t a six week teaching program, it was an attitude. From newsletter to attending social events, to involving parents, etc. I left there with a good list of things to try depending on my own circumstances.
This evening’s keynote speaker was Tony Campolo. I’ve heard Tony speak now three or four times (one at GA in 2001, once or twice at Grove City, and now here). There are too many good quotes to list them all but here’s the one that really stood out to me:
“I am as conservative as the Word of God and as Liberal as the Love of God.” I’ll leave it there.
Tony, in his own unique way, was able to take the role of prophet and doing it well. Well does not mean making everyone happy – I am sure there were many who were unhappy. I noticed a particularly dull clapping when he said the following:
“It’s always better to get your eschatology from Jesus than from Tim LaHaye”
I was clapping quite loudly – but otheres weren’t as impressed. Anyway, I thought Tony did a fabulous job. Part of the reason I was so excited about coming this year was the general session speakers as so far Kenda Dean and Tony Campolo have not dissapointed.
I think the biggest difference for me this year as comapred to last is that this year I am done looking for models. Last year I came to the NYWC in a real state of transition and disarray because my own sense of call was unsure. I was pretty sure I wanted to do youth ministry once I finished seminary but I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t sure if this whole “emergent/emerging chuch” thing was something I could hang my hat on and get involved with or not. Now, a year later my sense of call to youth ministry is as strong as ever, and my belief that emergent/emerging/whatever you want to call it is a valuable conversation/movement within church today. It’s not the perfect fix, and I’m not sure I’d call it the next reformation, but there is good coming from it. Personally, it has changed how I do ministry in some important ways.
The other thing is that this year I am beyond myself. This was a tough process for me that begin at the end of my middler year of seminary and still continues – I do not need to listen to everyone and figure out if they’re right. I can sit, listen, and glean and take what I can. I’ve figured out that I can nuance every since person I ever listen to speak – but it’s a waste of my time. Don’t get me wrong – I still listen carefully to people and am still quite confident in my own theological views, but I’ve learned to put them second and to listen first. It’s not that theological differences don’t effect methodology, they absolutely do. But, you can learn from everyone – and I often learn more from those who I have sharp disagreements with. Last year I had a worse case of theological arrogance than I do this year (although compared to what I used to have, last year was a huge improvement). I’m not saying I’m Mr theological humility now – I probably wouldn’t be writing this paragraph if I was that humble.
The other difference this year is that I’m not a first-timer. The sheer mass of youth specialities, the options, the schedule, is daunting. There is so much you can do and so many people you can listen to that you get lost in the midst of it. This year there are great workshops I’m not going to – because I went to something like them last year or because I imagine I’d agree with what the speaker has to say. Today Dan Kimball did a seminar on “The Importance of Theology for Youth Ministry”. Sonds like my kind of session! Except that, I already know it’s important – so while I might find myself affirmed, I’m not like to learn a whole lot more. Tomorrow (or the day after) Tony Jones is doing “What is the Emerging Church and What Does it Mean for Me?” Again, I’m sure it’ll be a great seminar, but I’m not going to it. I would have never gone to “Partnering with Parents” last year – but I did this year and I am very glad I did.
I’ve also had a good time at the bookstore here. I went through two rounds of purchases today but am not promising I won’t have another trip or two. Probably the book I’m most looking forward to reading is Doug Pagitt’s “Preaching Re-Imagined”.
Okay, that’s enough for this post. Off to call my dear wife and then to bed.
So Ben Myers has posted a top 20 list of the books that have most influenced him… so I thought I’d come up with my list of top 20 most influential books. I am going to exclude the bible from the top 20, not because it hasn’t influenced me but rather because it’s in a whole different category
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics – IV/1-2 (These two books completely shattered my world during my first two years of seminary as they opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking theologically)
- Tony Jones, Postmodern Youth Ministry (The best book on Youth Ministry as it doesn’t offer a model, but rather things to think about as one does ministry)
- Andrew Purves and Charles Partee, Encountering God (I’ve only read it once but given that I took a total of 10 classes in seminary from the authors their thoughts have shaped how I think)
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/4 (While not as influential as IV/1-2 this volume on ethics helped me understand how ethics can be intensely situational yet rooted in the command of God. It also reinforced my belief that in ministry its more important to teach people how to think, rather than what to think)
- Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology (I took the man for six courses… need I say more?)
- John Franke and Stanley Grenz, Beyond Foundationalism (I read this book during my last year of seminary and I finally felt that I had found my place in the theological spectrum. This book also helped me understand how eschatology integrated into the day to day life of the church as the “orienting principle” for the church’s mission)
- John Franke, The Character of Theology (Similar to the book above, this prequel of sorts helped me get a grasp on how to think about the theological task in a postmodern world)
- Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God
- Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom
- Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (I didn’t discover Moltmann until late in my seminary career, but two of the professors who I learned the most from in seminary were shaped by him. While often at odds with Barth, I found him challenging and enjoyed the fact that he stretched me to think of categories in different ways)
- NT Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (I’m actually in the midst of reading this one, but while I was in seminary and dating Renee long distance I used to spend hours in my car driving back and forth. NT Wright has more free audio available online than anyone else I know so I used to listen to his lectures off of my iPod. Wright helped me get inside the bible the world of the bible and to better understand Jesus’ intensely political message without simply collapsing it into either left wing socialism or right wing moralism)
- Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (I read this book at the end of my time in college and while now I probably wouldn’t get much out of it, I remember really be challenged and yet refreshed by the concept of the discipline of living in grace)
- Doug Fields, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry (I’ve read this book twice – first while I was just out of college and again while I was in seminary. While Doug and I aren’t on the same page on everything, it’s given me a helpful way to think about ministry
- Athanasius, Against the Arians (I haven’t read the whole thing, but read significant parts for classes and papers. Really shaped my understand of the atonement as Christ’s whole life, not just his death)
- Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (I only read a short except from this book, but it’s a phrase that I’ve found so apt at describing the world that it’s become a hallmark in nearly every sermon I preach or lesson I teach)
- T.F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God (I feel bad putting Torrance down this low on the list because he should be higher, but alas. This book was my first serious attempt at working through the Doctrine of the Trinity)
- John Calvin, Institues of the Christian Religion (Ditto for Calvin, he shouldn’t be down this low. Once I left seminary I realized how much his understanding of the church and it’s sacraments had shaped my own)
- David Bosch, Transforming Mission (Read this book for Missiology and am still being challenged by it)
- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (This book should be required for every person planning to do ministry in at least the United States)
- Brian McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy (McLaren, like Wright, has shaped me more through his lectures that I’ve listened to than his writing, but I read this book in the midst of seminary and came to a greater understanding of how he thought
- Stanley Grez, A Primer on Postmodernism
- Alister McGrath, Scientific Theology
- Dan Kimball, Emerging Worship
- The Book of Confessions of the PC(USA) – Particularly The Barmen Declaration and The Confession of 1967
So there you have it. The numbering isn’t really right – Bosch and Newbigin would definitely be higher on the list. But, what this list proves is that I’m (1) A total dork (2) Shaped heavily by the Post-Conservative/Neo-Orthodox Reformed tradition