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

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YouthWorks takes over YS

As many of you already knew, there had been a strange brew mixing over the past month or so with Youth Specialties.  I recently wrote about the “letting go” of long-time YS president Mark Oestreicher and I, like many of you, assumed more changes would be shortly arriving.    The release of YS Marko

A few days ago, I was attending NYWC 2009 (The National Youth Workers Convention) in Atlanta.  The president of Zondervan Moe Girkins, who made the decision to fire Marko, was brought up on stage to clear up the air,,, so to speak.  Silence pervaded the gathering.  Pins could even hear themselves drop.

Moe really didn’t answer why that particular decision was made, but she did share about Zondervan’s relationship with YS and its vision for the future.  I appreciated the boldness and courage that it took for her to stand in a room of 3,000 youth workers (many of them still pissed off) and explain herself.  I give her much credit.

Then the ball dropped that YS would in fact be purchased by a non-profit organization called YouthWorks. They invited their president Paul Bertelson to come on stage and share briefly their history and vision for this new partnership.

The audience again was stunned, partly due the fact that the convention had just begun and also that very few people have heard of Paul Bertelson.  Here is a brief overview of YouthWorks:

YouthWorks

When YouthWorks was founded in 1994 as a youth missions organization, our dream was to be a broader resource for the church—to “Help the Church Be the Church.”

Over the past 16 years, the YouthWorks ministry has become a family of ministries serving children, youth, college students and mult-generational groups.

The addition of Youth Specialties to the YouthWorks family of ministries is a wonderful complement to our long-term ministry vision and mission. We are excited about this new stage in the ministry life of YouthWorks and Youth Specialties! —Paul Bertelson           President & Founder, YouthWorks

Now, within a few hours, I had contacted a few friends who are well connected in youth ministry and they assured me that this is probably a good thing….Certainly finanicially and very possibly for spiritual/ministry/growth implications as well.

I have also included 2 brief tweets on the subject.

Andrew Root (@rootandrew) wrote:

“The YouthWorks thing is good news to me. That cheer you hear is from Luther Sem as MN becomes more the center of the future of the church.”

Tony Jones (@jonestony) wrote:  (I will also link his blog article about the news at the end of the post…very good insights)

“Having helped found YouthWorks, I think they’ll do a great job with Youth Specialties.”

For what its worth, here is my $.02 (that would be two cents in case you didn’t follow)

I love YS.  I started reading YS material over 10 years ago and have been attending the NYWC conventions since 2003.  They have revolutionized the way I think and do youth ministry.  From its beginning, YS tried to do 3 things:

Ideas. Publishing. Events.

It’s hard to do all those things well and maintain enough financial stability to keep yourself afloat.

If YS tanks it, then we all loose out, right?

A few years back (maybe 4-5) Zondervan came in to buy/parter with YS for its publishing.   This has certainly helped YS to market its authors, resources,  books and curriculums to a far greater audience.

Now, YouthWorks comes in and takes over the Events.   I assume this will include the NYWC and One-day training.  Perhaps they will expand events or go in the opposite direction.

Either way, this leaves YS to do what it first did and does well.  Create and Innovate Ideas for youth workers.

It also now gives a youth ministry/mission organization a chance to step in and help rethink the purpose of events.

Personally, I have been thinking about these events for a few years and wondering if some changes and updates were needed.  Not sure what, but I sensed that something needed changing.

I have heard over the years that the cost was too much and distance too far, too much emphasis placed on youth min “celebs”, too much “for profit” marketing, too taxing for YS staff and trainers, etc…

I hope YouthWorks will consider these factors in its decisions and really actively listen to the needs and concerns of everyday youth workers and volunteers.

Already, a major shift has happened.  It looks like rather than holding 3 conventions a year (which has to cost a great deal of money), they will hold one next fall in Nashville.  So, there will truly be A National Youth Workers Convention.

Here are a few other suggestions I would like to propose (hey, you never know who may be reading)

Either do the once a year large Convention or hold smaller regional ones that youth pastors could bring their teams to.

I would love to see a similar but smaller version come up to the Northeast.  Maybe you don’t rent out the massive convention center in the biggest city, but you book all rooms and halls at a decent size hotel.  Keep the cost low and no flying necessary.  Youth for Christ holds its annual Excel conference in upstate NY by Albany and does a great job (although we don’t go anymore), but it would be great to have mid-sized 500+ conference for youth leaders.  YS used to get big name bands to come in for worship and shows and have already made the switch to local bands.  Rather then bringing in 6 nationally known speakers, you could bring in 1 “celebrity” and supplement them with local speakers/pastors/trainers/authors who actually understand the dynamics and complexities of your particular culture and context.

Secondly, and maybe what will happen, would be to offer affinity gatherings.

For instance, one year you want to connect, network, and learn about spiritual formation in youth ministry.  Everyone interested in that area (affinity) heads down to Kansas City and YS partners with Mike King and Chris Folmsbee (Youthfront and Barefoot) and the local youth ministries down there for a few days.

Andrew Root is already doing something similar at Luther Seminary this March.  The First Third conference is basically an academic affinity gathering looking into the theology of youth ministry.  People like Andrew Root, Tony Jones, and Kendra Dean will be there to help lead the dialog.

Perhaps an innovation/creativity gathering with the fine folks of North Point Community Church down in the Atlanta area.

Postmodern Youth Ministry connected with colleges or seminaries and youth groups either in the Northeast or Pacific Northwest.

Some could appeal to mega church youth ministries, while others may be perfect for average to small size groups.

As I often say, youth ministry here in the Northeast is vastly different from other places and it might be the same for you.

Therefore some form of regional and/or affinity gatherings may be the future of youth ministry, especially if you could do them in cost-effective ways (churches,hotels, colleges, local bands, speakers, etc…)

2 things are happening that are both necessitating and facilitating these changes:

1) Our economic situation is causing us to rethink and question if spending $1,000 for one person to attend a conference is a good thing and if paying $5,000 for a speaker or band is good stewardship.

2) We are part of a beautiful move of God and things are changing.  Change can be difficult but is often necessary to give birth to something new and wonderful.

After this major announcement I overheard someone at the conference say “Well, this is end of Youth Specialties.  Yaconelli is rolling in his grave right now.”

I’m not so sure.  I think this might be the beginning of something great, especially if YouthWorks makes efforts to to keep the innovation and prophetic voice of YS going.

From the press release  “Overall, Youth Specialties is a wonderful complement to the YouthWorks ministry. But, just as important, we hold dear the stewardship of the Youth Specialties legacy that is being passed on to us.”

Tony Jones\’ thoughts on acquisition

YS press release