Whirlwind of a week

The past 7 days have been a bit of whirlwind for me.

Last weekend, I spoke at a high school winter retreat in Massachusetts on “The Main Event:  Finding yourself in God’s Story”.

We had a fun and fascinating time journeying through the Story of God in light of God’s redemptive and restorative plan of history. The four “teaching times” in sessions looked at four particular “event” in the lives of God followers that set them apart towards partnering with God in his mission.

Abraham. Moses.  Jesus.  Paul.

This was a fun weekend interacting, teaching, and hanging out with students and creating space for them to share their stories and also creating environments for them to experience, encounter, and embrace the divine presence of the Trinity.

On Wednesday I flew down to Texas to meet up with youth pastor Neil Christopher Neil on Twitter in Fort Worth.  Neil has pioneered and organized a youth ministry conference called Evo for progressive type youth workers from all different walks of life and church backgrounds.

EvoYouth

We had 3 great days of interaction, dialog, exploring, seeking, and dreaming together.  I spoke on Thursday night about the importance of Authenticity: The importance of ministering out of who you truly are.  This idea sparked nurturing and caring conversations among the attendees.  I made some wonderful friends and truly felt loved and supported in my identity and calling as both a youth worker and follower of Christ.

Friday evening I drove from Dallas to Oklahoma City to participate in a youth conference called Vintage 2011.  A good friend and brilliant young theologian/thinker/networker Zac Workun  Zac on Twitter was a major catalyst for this event and bringing me down. This was a unique collaboration of 10 youth ministries from the northern section of OKC, all coming together in a spirit of humility and partnership, rather than competition (which seems to occur down in the south often).

The theme for the weekend was Reconciliation, with a primary focus on the story of the Prodigal.  That evening I spoke to about 350 middle school and high school students to kick things off.  The following morning I had the privilege of speaking at their youth worker brunch and we had around 75 volunteer youth workers in attendance.  My hope was to affirm, encourage, and support the importance of volunteers in youth ministry and to see themselves as truly relational and “incarnational”.  Our topic and conversation revolved around changing role of the youth worker from influence to place-sharing.  Later that evening, 150 parents showed up for a similar dinner and presentation/Q &A with me about the necessity of parental involvement, exemplary faith, congregational involvement and integration, and reaffirming their role as spiritual guides to their children.

The evening concluded with large combined worship service of students, parents, and youth workers and I spoke about God’s heart for redemption, restoration, and reconciliation and our responsibilities to take the initiative towards that dream.

Sunday morning I was honored to be able to preach at local church, First Baptist of Bethany, on the Power of Reconciliation, using the narrative of the story of Jacob and his sons as primary example.

Busy week.  I am eager to return home to my family (both at home and church)

I spoke and taught more in a span of 7 days than every before and while it was exhausting, it was fun to participate in God’s activity in different contexts.  Each was vastly different, and I hope to reflect and write further on each opportunity in the next week.  In many ways, my experience has been an eye opener pertaining to the cultural and religious differences between the Northeast and the South.

This has been my first opportunity  to sit down and process for a few minutes before heading back home to NY tomorrow.

Wonderful hospitality, generosity, and friendship has been offered to me in these past 7-10 days, for which I am eternally grateful.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in the vision and organization of these gatherings and those of you who participated.

And thank you to the ones who offered and extended an invitation to me to come and be involved.  I hope in some way that the ideas presented and conversations were helpful.

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NYWC 2010…afterthoughts from Nashvegas

*A view of Broadway highlighting the gems of Nashville: “Jack’s” BBQ, Legends Corner, and The Stage

As habit, and a way of justifying procrastination, I chose not to blog about the National Youth Workers Convention until after it concluded.
it gives me time to process, reflect, and decompress
Also, i am prone to make calls too early.  Over the years I have learned you cannot always judge a book by its cover (or the first few days of a conference)

Thus….one day after I returned from NYWC 2010 in Nashville, here are some thoughts…

1) The convention seemed to be smaller than years in the past.  This is my 9th year attending. This year seemed to lack something, but it could just be me. I would imagine for 1st timers, it was great.

I agree with Mike King that compared to last year, with all the confusion and uncertainity surrounding everything, this year seemed back on track.

Mike King- \”Back from Nashville\”

2) There were no free give-aways on the seats in the general sessions which I usually like but also end up weighing down my bag and suitcases in the end.

*I attribute both of these changes to the decline in the economy

3) There was an emphasis and focus on soul care (prayer, sacred space, and pastoral counseling)

These are extremely important and perhaps the best aspect for me this time around.

I will admit that I missed the Labyrinth Experience and also Jeff Johnson and Vesper services.

4) The exhibit hall was packed, every ministry and organization trying to get ahead and sell more curriculum or mission trips. Friend and blogger Paul Sheneman mentions in his blog;  “It is called an exhibit hall and not an exhibition hall.  The later can get you into some serious trouble:)  Enough said.

The balance of my thoughts will focus on #5 and #6

5)

What I noticed the most was the de-emphasis of progressive ideology, theologically based seminars, and topics/speakers who could rattle the cages…or at least offer different perspectives.

Youth Specialties encouraged us to attend seminars that we may not agree with, yet offered a low amount of topics, themes, or speakers towards that end.  I suppose Tony Campolo’s views of social justice may be uncomfortable to some, but he has been advocating for that for almost a decade.  Ted Haggard generated much stir, but that was more due to his unintended remarks about Muslims than anything else.

Some former speakers and presenters were glaringly absent, some had minimized roles,  and others were actually in attendance but not asked to speak or teach ( i think it will write a separate post on this later)

6)

I remember writing about the Zondervan and Youth Works transition last year and was privileged to speak with Paul Bertleson and John Potts  of Youth Works (both very gracious and great men) and shared personal concerns and hope for the new regime and things to come.

One of my observations has been over the past few years I notice the same youth ministry “veterans” leading a majority of the seminars.
I respect their life-long commitment to student ministry.  I really do.

However, they are a product of their time and their culture. and in my opinion their time has passed.

Most no longer work directly with students, and many have not lead a church-based youth ministry for over 20 years. I wonder how they empathize with the daily struggles of youth works and today’s culture of teenagers. How are they working within the current framework of postmodernity, budget cuts, suicidal teens, and debates about inclusiveness, tolerance, and affirmation.

Statistical research and cultural analysis only tells one story.
The daily working with and for adolescence is a whole other ball game

But I do believe these veterans have a purpose and roll.  My stated hope was and is for youth ministry veterans to come alongside younger and emerging youth workers to mentor them personally and spiritually, not so much professionally.  I would love to have a ministry veteran of 30 years coach me in life, faith, marriage.  They have been through struggles and the ups and downs of life and youth ministry.  I just don’t soak in their expertise now as it relates to working with kids in my context.  I love their experience but honestly question their relevance, and trust me countless of youth workers feel the same way (but they just might not get in trouble for writing about it)

Having shared my views last year….what did we find this year…..even more 50+ youth workers on prominent display.  I do realize there is a growing trend of older youth workers and seeing this bunch serves as inspiration and examples, but what about all the younger youth workers?

Y.S and Youth Works….there is no need to eliminate or ostracize that segment, but please be intentional about creating time, space, and platforms for the next generation. They need a voice and need support.

The conversations I had apart from the convention with men and women who fully understand my situation and what we all are going through was far more helpful, supportive, and inspiring than most “how to” seminars.

I realize I am a product of my own experiences, growth, and maturation, yet also know from the hundreds of conversations I am having there is a ground swell of support away from the past traditionalism of youth ministry and towards a theologically driven dialogue and progressive youth ministry.

More and more small conference such as First Third, Evo Youth, and  Princeton Forum will be popping up and more youth workers will begin to opt for those smaller, but more intentional, focused and relevant gatherings.

I noticed plenty of  affinity gatherings at NYWC covering every single facet of youth workers, except emergent/progressive/theological ones.  Interesting.

There was even something for small town rural part-time workers living in Nebraska, (or something like that) but none targeted for emerging leaders.

*There were a few select seminars that I will mention in a later post that I recommended and was glad to see offered, but they represented a striking minority.

These larger all-in-one conferences can remain relevant to broader audiances by offering more types of seminars, gatherings, and intention ways to connect and network.

Secondly, regional and strategic seminars and affinity gatherings would fill a big void and serve a great purpose for localize and contextual teaching/training, support, networking and relevant cultural conversations.

(I will also write more about that later and address it to the Chosen Frozen here in the Northeast)

In recap, one year later from the “merge”,  I don’t see much in the way of progression, safety perhaps, but not the progressive, forward thinking vision I have been used to with Y.S

And quite honestly, I am wondering if the departure of Marko is the reason, or if  Youthworks is intentionally moving in a different direction.  (and that’s okay if you are, just kind of let us know….)

YS has always been known to push the envelope, provide a platform for those who have none, and taken chances in hopes of leading the church towards relevance, progression, and a new future

While I agree that they are back on track, it seems to me they are on slow train backwards.  I sincerely hope I am wrong.

This blog is not meant to criticize, though I realize that some may be offended (I offer my apology in advance to you)

I love YS and the guys at Youthworks.  I mean that with all sincerity. I am a big fan.  I am hoping for the best but also realize the longings of so many youth workers.  I want to see this marriage stay together.

I enjoyed the conference and still would recommend it to most.

I liked the Soul care, networking and connections made.  The best conversations on theology, youth ministry were organic and took place over dinner, and during our own “late night” options (thanks again to Sparkhouse)

But with trepidation, I wonder how long before the remnant of emerging youth workers disengage or dissociated themselves from YS  and the NYWC.

I remain committed to YS but sincerely hope to see progression ahead.

Recap:

For what it’s worth (perhaps not much) here is what I would like to see next year, and I know that I also speak for hundreds of youth workers:

1) Emergent/postmodern track (call it something else if those terms are scary)

2) Academic/Theological track

3) Seminar or affinity gathering for the Northeast

4) Feature more women in seminars and main sessions, not just talking about sex or working with middle school girls

5) Offer contextual mini-conferences in strategic geographic regions

And hey, if the powers to be from Youthworks and YS would like to chat…I’m all ears because I believe in you guys and the potential