Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Onward: A Youth Ministry Movement

Last weekend I did two things for the first time: I visited California and I went to a conference for youth workers (specifically, Youth Specialties' National Youth Worker Convention or #nywc for short). It was a totally new and different experience, but one that I treasured, soaked up and hope to grow from.

I learned some different things over the course of the weekend, and came to some realizations, the biggest being my desire to advocate for youth and a ministry that seeks to love teens to Christ. Sadly, teens are one of the most marginalized groups in the church, often times with under-funded and under-staffed ministries. Teens are a group most people in the church would rather see but not touch.

But while there is often a huge void in youth ministry, that cannot discount the few who have made it their mission to serve this important group. Over the weekend, I spent a lot of time around youth ministry leaders. They're sort of like missionaries in that they're an interesting bunch of not-totally-normal people. They like music and concerts, ridiculous games, free things, Instagram, beards, comedy, loudness, anything hipster, and of course, teens. The convention sort of felt like hanging out with a huge youth group, sans the responsibility of looking after any kids.

This was our weekend, a time for encouragement, rest, education and fun. There were lots of great speakers, from Harvey Carey and Bob Goff to Rachel Held Evans, Pete Wilson and Mark Yaconelli. We were led in song by The Digital Age, Rend Collective, Bellarive, Audrey Assad and Urban Rescue. We laughed along with the Skit Guys and soaked up the spoken art of Amena Brown and Propaganda. We had our pick of a number of great smaller sessions, attending "Secret Survivors: Helping Students Reveal and Heal from Their Hidden Pain," "Marriage and Youth Ministry," "You Can be a Lifesaver: Helping Suicidal Youth" and "Positive Discipline: Working with Rude, Obnoxious and Apathetic Teens." We also visited a lot of booths in the exhibit hall, talking with Gamechurch (a group hoping to reach gamers with the Gospel), Project61 (a youth organization with a really great rep we enjoyed talking to), International Justice Mission (an organization I personally appreciate and supported with my first Sevenly purchase), and Operation Christmas Child (one of our favorites).

As great as the conference was, the theme of the event--Onward--kept us looking ahead. It's great to think over all the wonderful things that a weekend in San Diego offered, but that isn't really the end goal. The goal is to gather up the necessary things--encouragement, tools, knowledge, comradery--and press on. Because youth ministry, or any ministry, isn't a stagnant pond that we float around in. It's a journey, one in which we are always laboring for something more, something better. We are striving to offer the best of ourselves to a mission, a calling, we have discovered and cannot ignore.

I want to end with some of my favorite quotes from the weekend, little snippets of moments that made me stop and think, that encouraged me, or challenged me to look beyond myself.

"God's plan supersedes anything you thought you'd be."

"It is when we reach the limits of our own strength that we find the depths of God's."

"Give God the ability to use every single piece of your story."

"Be picky about what you say."

"Teens are co-creators in the divine work of the church."

"Youth ministry helps the church focus on the way of Jesus, which goes beyond tradition, rules and dogma."

"If we shut down the part of ourselves that can hurt, we shut down the part that hurts for others."

"Your marriage is more important than your ministry." 

"Don't make people jump through hoops to be part of the church."

"Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to an all-knowing God."

"Don't doubt in the darkness what God told you in the light."

"We think there's nothing we can do... We fail to see that ordinary people can make a lifesaving difference in the lives of kids."

"This generation is too important for us to goof off and make happiness the goal."

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