Thursday, May 22, 2014

Faith Forward: A New Kind of (Youth and Children's) Ministry Conference

I still won't line dance and certainly will not buy a pair of cowboy boots before I leave, but Faith Forward 2014 (formerly Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity) in Nashville won me over once again.

The past four days serve as yet another reminder that God is resurrecting a new way of doing children and youth ministry within and beyond the walls of the church. A fresh movement of the Spirit has captured the prophetic imaginations, theological consciences, and creative edges of faith-formed innovators tired of consumer-driven programs and reductionist models of ministry.

Faith Forward 2014 was a chance for those serving within a broad scope of Christian traditions to share in raw, unfiltered, unrefined, and authentic community that hinged on Christocentric theology, story, and rhythm. More than any other conference I have been to in my 12-years of youth ministry, Faith Forward created sacred space to foster new friendships with fellow conspirators across the country and around the globe.

As I sit in my aisle seat on my fligh back home, I wrestle with how to capture all that transpired this past week. I wrestle with how to put into words the richness of conversations, breadth of questions, and openness of community.

A blog post really cannot do justice to what it's like to listen to such brilliant and clever, thoughful and generous contributors to the Christian Way while nestled in city whose own rhythm of life reflects the same. A blogger really cannot capture what it's like to develop new friendships with practitioners of the faith as we ride a bus to the a Farmer's Market for a bite to eat.

It's difficult to illustrate the encouragement and grace birthed from a back-and-forth dialogue with Jennifer Knapp. We wondered together if aspiring pastors like me will put our "money where our mouth is" in support of the gay community once we have "run out of real estate" as our states legalize same-sex marriage.

We can no longer hide behind the law when our gay youth grow up (or their gay parents and partners) and ask us to officiate their weddings.

That's a blog post in and of itself...

I doubt I can ever do justice to how accessible and playful all the speakers, collaborators, attendees, and bar tenders were as we found whatever space we could to talk faith, theology, culture, or debated the best locations for BBQ or beer.

I vote Pucketts Grocery Restaraunt.

Then there was the late-night run across the Cumberland River, a bike ride on rentals up and down Broadway, and the capstone "youth group conference" party at the Wildhorse Saloon (I made sure to spellcheck the name of this place).

In a sense, this gathering mirrored what our ministries should look like when we return home: intentional incarnations of faith-formed community whose theology, story, and rhythm hinge on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Thank you, Faith Forward, for once again renewing my passion for youth ministry, love for theological reflection, and conviction that we are all God's beloved.

Let's keep the conversation going. I look forward to 2015...maybe in Philly?


A few noteworthy sound bites:

We live within the structures of Egypt. Yet we are not training to children and youth to be drones within the empire of old and oppressive theological systems and institutions. ---Brian McLaren

We both idealize and devalue children at the same time. How doe we reclaim children's gifts, invite them into meaningful tasks, and celebrate their agency as God's movers and shakers in both family and congregation. ---Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore

Theological turn in youth ministry does not mean to get kids reading more theology, but to begin to look at children and youth theologically. ---Andrew Root

Has youth ministry simply become the church's latest technology for reach youth and thereby increasing revenue? ---Andrew Root

We have narrowly defined our goals in youth ministry and so have failed to adapt and change, starving ourselves and our children. ---Melvin Bray

The Word of God is the church's melody, ritual the church's rhythm, and justice as sacred timbre. They are the mediums for the bacterial growth of Christian life. ---Archbishop Andre Durocher

The church is in the streets, looking for those who live there. The church building can't hold Jesus hostage inside. ---Romal Tunes

What emerging Christians are looking for is a story not only a doctrine,. We need not only look for the Timothy's to tell and share this story, but also the mothers and grandmothers of the Christian faith. ---Phyllis Tickle

Related Posts from 2012

Thursday, May 8, 2014

We Need You Now More Than Ever: Annual Letter to Confirmation Youth

Dear Confirmation Class of 2014,

Buckle up. That's right, you are not ending, rather beginning the wild ride of following Jesus as a member of the church. Sure, you may be finished with your regular small group meetings, related worksheets, and shared statements of faith, but the adventure has just started. I know you are used to cultural ceremonies that graduate students from programs and send you off into new places, with new people, and only hope you will stop by for the occasional visit. Graduation, in this sense, is more like a farewell.

But please hear us when we say, Confirmation is different. Confirmation is more than a program completed. Confirmation is not graduation. Confirmation is commencement.

On this day we recognize your profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord over your whole life, your commitment to live into the mission of God made known in Jesus Christ, and your promise to trust the whims of God's Spirit as you follow Jesus. Today you declare to all of us gathered your firm decision to exercise your gifts, talents, and resources within this faith community for the sake of the world God loves.

Confirmation Sunday as sacred commencement is also a reminder that all of us rally around and behind you, full assurance your faith journey is never, not even for one second, pursued alone. You have a whole family of people who covenant to travel alongside you, pick you up when you stumble and fall, grant you space when your doubts are more real than any answers, listen to you when you wonder if God may be leading you and us into unique expressions of the gospel, and challenge you to put into practice all you have declared to be true on this day.

Confirmation propels each of you into a fresh awakenening and renewed understanding of what it means to be called a disciple of Jesus and member within the beloved Body of Christ.

We actually believe and expect to see you around here more frequently than ever before. Actually, we pray we not only see you, but also and especially hear from you.

What I am trying to say is this: we need you after confirmation Sunday.

Like an artist loves their weathered mural distorted over time, God still calls creation beloved and is in the process of a dramatic restoration of all things through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet, while God has called the church to be at the forefront of this redemptive project, we frequently are more reflective of the very brokenness and divisiveness God has called us to mend and heal. Generations have come and gone and we sometimes wonder if the church is drawing closer or farther away from God's promised future of wholeness and newness.

It's easy for us to watch the news and demonize the hatred of NBA owners and rail on political leaders abuse of religion, but what about us. We need you, all of you, who yearn for a different world and a radically new kind of faith community that no longer views individuals first by their race, class, orientation, or gender, but primarily through the very imago Dei all of us, even the worst of us, was made in at the very beginning. We need you to highlight the beauty within each person and the creative possibilities all of us have to illumine the kingdom of God in the here and now.

We need you to remind us that when we are baptized into faith and confirm our membership within Christ's body, we join hands with a movement not linked to any single nation, political ideology, social agenda, cultural dream, or pledge made to a banner or flag. We need you to underscore our citizenship within God's kingdom already here and yet-to-come.

We need you to remind us of this truth, as we are so easily led astray. We need your voice; we need your art; we need your ethic; we need your conscience; we need your intellect; we need your biblical interpretation; we need your faith language; we need your prophetic imagination; we need your passion for rest and refuge; we need your awareness of local and global injustices; we need your concern for education; we need your passion for the liberation of all those held captive in violent homes or trafficking circles; we need your love for the poor and hungry; we need your zeal for children; we need your protest; we need your theology; we need whatever you can bring to the table.

We need you at the table with us.

You also will discover you need all of us, too.

When you are not sure what you have to offer, let us help you uncover what good news looks like in your neighborhood, city, school, or some distant country God calls you to take up residence. Invite us to dream alongside you as you consider how to exercise your Christian witness and vocation through your athletics or unique career and profession when that day comes. Hear us when we unveil your ability to lead adults in the present work and governing body of the church, refusing to shove you to some sort of phantom future. Trust us when we share with you how we see the Spirit at work in your life. Listen to us and our faith experience, confident we can learn from one another and wisdom is to be gained from previous generations. Learn from us and all we have done well and the many ways we have fallen short of what it means to be the church in and for the world.

I was asked the other day, "what is one thing the church should offer to the modern world?"

My response- unity.

That means adults and youth, too. If we can learn to play, laugh, dream, pray, worship, serve, listen, learn, advocate, risk, innovate, and imagine together, even in the presence of deep differences, our witness to the reconciliation of God's world through Jesus Christ will no longer seem so fake and empty.

If we can model, across generations, the divine paradox of unity amidst diversity, there's no telling what the Spirit can and will do across other lines of marginalization and exclusion.

But we need you.

You need us.

We need each other beyond confirmation Sunday.

So congratulations, but don't celebrate too long. We have only just begun.

Let the real adventures commence.

Grace and Peace,



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Confirmation Questions: