Phil, the compensated celebrity spokesperson for the ELCA Youth Ministry Network, invited me to spend a long weekend in St. Louis. I, along with 650, said yes. (Phil’s the one in the middle and here’s the invite if you want to see Phil in action –
Honestly, it wasn’t convenient. (There were several things going on at work and at home which I had to miss.) But I missed it last year and I needed to go. Why?
First, as many will say (including Tara Ulrich and Organic Youth Ministry) the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Gathering is more than a learning event, it is a network. And while this network is always there – virtually accessible with local and regional opportunities to gather – there’s something powerful about being in a space where the virtual network is physically real.
I’ve been teaching children, youth, young adult and family ministry at Luther Seminary for the past 9 years … and the funny thing about students is…well, they graduate. So one of the coolest things I get to do at this gathering is hear how life and ministry is going today…on the “other side” of graduation. While in St. Louis I had dozens of conversations with Luther alumni, now working in some area of ministry in the first third of life. I heard their joys, and felt their struggles. I listened. We laughed. We worshipped together, and we dreamed about what it means to move the church forward into this new age. These conversations were rich, not only because we reconnected, but because we were now partners in ministry – colleagues and friends.
But that’s not all. For the past several years I have worked with a team of leaders on a church-wide initiative on equipping youth ministry leaders. When we started it was a new concept, never tried before. People were confused and unsure how it would go, but they went with it. Now, three years later, people are coming up to me and sharing really cool stories about how they are using the work of this initiative to empower leaders – adults and youth – in ministry and in integrating their faith into their daily life. The smiles, many accompanied with hugs, tell me their confusion has turned to hope. I love the church. But I also know the church has to rethink it’s frames and approaches to ministry if it is going to faithfully live out its calling. While in St. Louis, I had a glimpse of the change taking place in the church.
And there’s one other thing. Our church, the church I have been part of all my life, is shifting it’s leadership model. Oh, don’t get me wrong…we don’t have it all figured out but we are on our way. And I got glimpses of a new future, a future were leaders are humble, servant leaders with a mission and vision. There is a desire for faith to be alive among God’s people and God’s people to be active in God’s world. For two days after the big gathering, I had conversation with some of these leaders. They, like me, had other places they could have been and other things they could have been doing. But they came together in St Louis to think beyond their stream of work and vision about a new day, a day where our church initiatives are more connected and collaborative. Why? because fostering faith among those in the first third of life – babies, children, youth and young adults – matters!
So today, I’m tired and having a hard time reentering the world I left behind. It’s so easy to get back to the daily tasks…and I will…but I want to reengage in light of what I just experienced. How might my daily work, my ordinary work, keep these ideas alive? How might my decisions, big and small, be part of our larger church’s exploration of what it means to be church in 2014 and beyond? These are just some of the questions which distract and challenge me today.
For those of you who were in St. Louis – thanks for your work. You matter, your work matters and your presence in the ELCA Youth Ministry Network matters. Help me, help us, help each other and the church live our calling. And to those who were not there but are in some way part of this larger network of God’s people seeking to faithfully live their faith everyday…stay connected, both virtually and physically, because it helps fuel the journey.