Overall thoughts on Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity
When the conference ended Thursday afternoon I headed to the National Mall to do some sightseeing, and debrief from the long week.
I was struck with the various conversations I had throughout the week; many of the comments were from different people were similar. Most people did not have a negative critique about the conference, but there was a general sense that it was lacking something they were hoping to find. I felt the same way. While there were many great speakers and a wonderful variety of topics, I was hoping for more.
I did take away some good nuggets. The opportunity to hear from many people in the field who have shaped the way I look at children’s ministry was a gift. Unlike other conference experience, I left feeling like I was not alone in the way I think about children and faith. I was among a wonderful group of people from around the country and world asking the similar questions and wrestling with similar themes. I came away with a lot of great quotes and one-liners. The major themes key guests presented on provided me with a good framework from which to wrestle with where to go from here.
The majority of the presentations that lasted from 18 minutes to 1.5 hours turned into inspirational speeches using statistics and research reports to help us all gain a similar understanding. This was not new information or new sentiments for many of us. If the conference was shaped around the understanding that most participants were already in that place, we could have moved the conversation to a deeper level. What I felt many people were wanting was a space to dialogue with one another about how to take the research, statistics, and philosophies to transform the way children and youth experience church of today. A “where do we go from here” opportunity. This came out it statements like “I was hoping for something more radical” and “We know all the statistics, but what do we do from here?”
That is much harder said than done. One struggle in ministry with young people right now is that we know the statistics about how they are leaving the church, we know overall negative sentiments towards Christians in the United States today, we know that church has become like the new country club which feeds into the culture, instead of a community of faith that challenges, impacts, and questions the culture. We know all these things, but we don’t know what to do about it.
This is reflected in the way the conference was put together. I was struck as I sat through the first worship service, and then the first day of presentations. The planning team was made up of incredibly creative people doing new great things in ministry, and yet the actually planning around worship and the structure of the conference lacked the same creativity. We talked all week about experiential worship and yet didn’t experience much. We talked about the importance of sharing story, and there was no formal space for the participants to share and hear other participant’s stories. The need for this was evident when the question time after the keynote presentations, turned into a sharing time. It was designed for us to gleam inspiration from these big names in the field, but people used it as a platform to share their stories, which indicated to me, a need for a space within the conference for that to happen. I found myself blessed to hear from the few who did take the microphone as an opportunity to tell the group something they did or experienced.
The very conference where we were talking about doing something new, was done in a very old way. If it had been shaped around the values that were being preached, it would have looked a lot different.
I walk away somewhat sad, thinking about what could have been. It could have been a place for us to live out among people who think the same way as us, the very things we all dream about. It could have been a place to practice and experiment in an encouraging environment.
And yet, I think this experience defines the struggle of where we are at in the church. We believe in a God that is bigger than the box we have put him in. We believe in a way of life that does not play into our individualism and consumerism. We believe that the church in the United States is broken. We believe that our young people deserve more. And yet here is a disconnect between what we believe and what we do. We are so socialized into the culture we live in, it is hard to turn our beliefs into our reality.
Ff those of us who have dedicated our careers and lives to young people in the church, who read books by Ivy Beckwith for the joy of it, who fly to DC for a conference like this, struggle on where to go from here, it is that much harder for the people sitting in the pews.
While I leave longing for what could have been in the four long days spent in DC with an incredible group of people, I leave with hope and excitement for what can be. While we aren’t there yet, God is working and I am excited to be a part of that work alongside a great fellowship of faithful people.