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


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)


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.


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


Hazardous words from Haggard..reflections from National Youth Workers Convention

This is certainly an unintended post, but I feel the need to share some thoughts in response to the reactions flooding the internet from the aftermath of Ted Haggard’s comments today at the National Youth Workers Convention in Nashville, TN

Let me begin by stating that I fully support, respect, and appreciate Youth Specialties (as an organization) and their decision to have Ted and Gayle speak at the conventions this year.

Additionally, I have followed the Haggard story over the past few years, and truly believe it to be one of the more inspirational stories of restoration we have.  I applaud his courage in coming clean, making amends, and attempting to put his life back to together.  I am especially amazed and touched by the strength of his wife Gayle for staying with Ted through this difficult journey. Her story of love and grace is remarkable and needs to be heard

They have an important message to share to Christianity, and unfortunately in my opinion that message was lost by Ted’s insensitive and thoughtless comments.  If you are unaware of what happened, I would recommend that you find a recording of the message from today.  For sake of brevity and clarity, he made anti-Muslim jokes and comments, especially in regards to angry Muslims flying planes into buildings.  This unfortunately occurred during his talk when 2 fighter jets were heard soaring directly overhead of our stadium as part of the Tennessee Titans kick-off celebration a few miles down the road.

The comments were not planned and I hope were not malicious, but certainly depicted a lack of genuine sensitivity and maturity towards the Muslim people.  If you were in the stadium, it was clear that everyone took noticed and were a bit taken aback.  For some, they might have the ability to shrug sayings like that off as “careless” or “harmless”, but I was deeply offended.  I have tried all day to take similar approaches to many in attendance, but fail to be able to do so.

In light of the already tense relationship between America and the Middle East, and Christianity and Islam, such comments cannot simply be overlooked.  I have this same view and approach whether a friend or student would make such a statement or whether from a nationally recognized Christian leader speaking from a national platform.  You may disagree with me, but I cannot see how comments about “blowing up buildings” (in any context) and planes being flown by “angry” Muslims has any place.

I realize that part of my views stem from the fact that I live in New York and references to 9/11 (which were made) bring back strong emotions.  In New York we are also dealing with the Ground Zero mosque controversy and so hatred, prejudice, and divisiveness plague the media daily.

In a message about grace, forgiveness, and second chances, his comments certainly appear to fly in the face of his intentions.  He preaches (and I hope truly believes) in solidarity with the outcasts of society, using lingo such as “we” as opposed to an “us vs them” mentality that he confessed was part of his worldview until he felt the effects of being on the outside.  I wonder if his grace extends beyond the walls of the culturally “immoral” and those who also have fallen from grace and implies to “the other”, wherever they can be found.

I hope the chains of hostility and seclusion also include the foreigner, those of different religions and ethnicities, and those we may not fully understand.  I am reminded the words of Jesus in Matthew 5 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

In Ted Haggard’s situation, his “enemies” could certainly be those in the Church who have ostracized him, but they may also be those people outside of his religion he does not understand, agree with, or fear.

I believe in Ted Haggar’s story and really am pulling for him, but I just do not think flippant comments like what I, and over 3,000 people heard today can be ignored.

Some in attendance thought the cord should have been plugged immediately by Youth Specialities, and they have written such.  I believe that Tic Long, who was hosting the conversation did a noteworthy job of maintaining composure and grace.  He was put in an unfortunate and impossible possible.  Hindsight is always 20-20 and I honestly do not know what I would have done if in his position.

I am glad the interview continued because the message of the Haggard’s needed to be heard, but as I stated early, I hope it was able to get through despite the dense fog of his culturally insensitive remarks.

As Christians, we do not want to be accused of, or known, by our insensitivity but rather by our love. Am I wrong in this assumption?

Comments made today were not made in love, but rather from fear and ignorance. Luke 6:45 states, ” For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  I have said very hurtful things in private and public, revealing my own lack of judgment and compassion, and shame and regret carry with me for those moments.

To be fair, we all make mistakes and I will absolutely be the first to offer grace, since I realize how much in need of grace I am.

I hope that Ted realizes the magnitude and gravity of the words he said, both to Christians in the audience and to any Muslims who, in all likelihood will hear about what was said in Nashville.

Because I care deeply for Youth Specialties and for the Haggards, my hope is for an apology.  I personally feel it would be the right and smart thing to do.

*In fact, I am just now returning from the evening session where Tic Long publicly apologized to the audience for not reacting quickly.  Though I believe the situation was in no way his fault, it was refreshing for him to explain his thoughts and ask for forgiveness for perhaps a momentary lapse of discernment.

I still do hold that the guilty party, the one Ted Haggard, should issue a similar contrite confession for his own sake and since he remains a public figure and spokesperson for Christianity.  However, an apology forced is no genuine apology offered, and therefore my true hope is that Ted understand how his words (however intended) can be heard by others and lead to very negative consequences and images that we as Christians are trying hard to piece back together.

National Youth Worker’s Convention….a reflection


I just came back from Pittsburgh, PA where I attended Youth Specialties National Youth Worker’s Convention.

This was my 5th year in a row and I wouldn’t miss one for the world.(mostly because I am curious to see what kind of funky new hair style Marko will be wearing)

I met up with some old friends, colleagues,and mentors in youth ministry and made a bunch of new friends.

As always, an emphasis on ministering to hurting teens was evident as well as rethinking traditional ways and philosophies of youth ministry.  There seemed to be an added emphasis on emergent theology and conversation, with the presence of Doug Paggit, Tony Jones, and Mark Scandette.  Additionally, they added something called “Sanctuary” to provide another avenue and place participate in soul care.

Most things remain the same:  good seminars, big name speakers, worship bands mixed with a heavy dose of entertainment and opportunities for quietness of mind, soul, and spirit.

Plenty of laughs, conversations, and meals are always the norm.

I noticed one thing that has changed over the years…me.

Each year I come with different thoughts, questions, needs, dreams, and fears. I have participated in the Labyrinth and Prayer Chapel each year and find that those opportunities are the best gage I have each year to see where I am at personally and spiritually from year to year.

It amazes me to vividly remember my prayer requests, fears, and burdens that I gave to God last year in the Labyrinth, and how he provided for me.

I can still remember my prayers on the Wailing Wall at the Prayer Station and moments of vision and inspiration from the Reflection station from last year.

I thank God for the NYWC, not only for the great training and resources, but for an opportunity each year to remember, reflect, pray, and celebrate what God is doing in and through my life and ministry. Each year I am reminded how far God has taken me and also how far I still have to go. The journey is long and sometimes the path difficult, but praise be to the Lord for his constant presence in the process.

Changes for NYWC in 09?

Regarding YS conventions, I continue to meet youth workers by the dozens who are struggling to do ministry in the “chosen frozen” of the Northeast. Metro NYC and New England to be exact. As you can notice from the recent Presidential election, there North East is very similar in its ideologies, philosophies, worldviews, and perception of religion..especially “Born Again Christians”

Often, they fellow youth workers share similar frustrations with these type of conventions in that there is no voice from from the Northeast. The ministry and societal realities in the rest of the country are MUCH different than the Northeast (even southern NJ and Philly are different).

The concept of Christian clubs at public high schools is foreign, See you at the Pole is not a highly favored, attended, or welcomed event, and the idea of a “youth pastor” hanging around the locals schools and parks seems kind of creepy and scandalous to many.

So I propose that YS offer a forum for discussion or a seminar about the difficulties, struggles, and hopes of youth ministry in the North East and what it could mean for the future of youth ministry across the board.

What works in other parts of the country simply does not work here.
Also, for the vast majority of youth workers in the North East, they will never have a big budget, big youth room, and hundreds of students and volunteers. We do not have a culture of Christianity or youth ministry and I do not see that changing anytime in the near future.
That is just the way it is..and it does not have to be frowned upon or looked at with discouragement anymore. Perhaps God is doing something new in the North East that will help transition youth ministry into the coming postmodern culture.

Usually the trend in the past (if they have previously attempted something like this) is to find someone from the biggest youth program in the are and label them the “expert”.

Speakers like that (even if from the Northeast) still leave me thinking “But that is not like my church at all”, or thinking that the bigger the program and church the better. (which i happen to disagree with at some levels) Often, the end result once again is that we end up leaving more frustrated and discouraged with our own context and situation than before.

My other though about possible additions/changes to the National Youth Workers Convention for 2009 is to somehow putting flesh on the bones of “emerging” theology and thinking in the realm of youth ministry in a traditional church.

For most of us who find solidarity with much of the this emergent type of thinking and ministry, going out to start a new church is not an option or desire. Yet, many of the speakers have done that or are simply authors, and no longer in the “trenches” of denominational church youth programs.

Over my six years attending, I have seldom met a seminar speak who is also engaged (as I am in) in the thick of youth ministry.  Many times, they oversee large number of volunteers who actually do the youth ministry, or again they might be youth ministry authors or professors.

When was the last time you saw a convention speaker also sit in with his or her staff for the rest of the seminars or browse through the resources in the exhibit hall looking for new ideas.

Personally, an elitism seems to permeate many of these conventions, and therefore it makes it hard for me to really find commonality with many of the speakers. A lack of commonality often can lead away from inspiration and hope and towards isolation, envy, and discouragement. I know that is not Youth Specialities intentions.

I do appreciate the number of speakers who have take time to meet with me, dialog about ministry and family, and offer their friendship to me (and not just their business card and discount on their book!)

So..I propose YS finds your everyday normal youth pastor to lead some seminars for the vast majority of these attendees who are and always will be serving at some small local church.

Additionally, some seminar entitled “finding ways to transition from traditional youth ministry to emerging ministry without having to leave your church!” could be attractive and inspiring, especially if delivered from somone who is still in the process of trying to figure out what that looks like in his or her context (not an “expert”).