Jessi Ramsey is a friend and fellow youth worker. Jessi graduated from Lee's Summit High School and now coaches the Club121 on the campus of her Alma mater and was asked to speak at Lee's Summit's Baccalaureate Service. That's cool... Go Jessi.
So there we were (the Roundtable) in Coffee Girls involved in an intense discussion about where we are as a youth ministry and how we feel about changes we have made in programs, are we on the right track, etc. when Rachel walks in.Rachel is a young lady that has been involved in YouthFront.She has just finished college and has spent a year working among the homeless people in Amsterdam.Rachel saw us and came over to say hello.We asked her to sit down and share her experiences and feelings about YouthFront and what she sees now.We asked her to be honest and speak from the heart.Rachel started sharing her history with YouthFront, what YouthFront means to her and what she thinks about where we were and where we are going.Five minutes into her story and I am crying like a baby, in fact our whole leadership team was very moved.Rachel answered our questions and entered into our discussions for forty-five minutes.About ten minutes in to Rachel’s story Ray said, “Rachel, did Mike ask you to ‘coincidentally drop by the Coffee Girls?’”Mostly we listened to Rachel and received encouragement, affirmation and insight.Rachel came at a “God appointed time.”This was a moment.Before Rachel left I asked her to put a few of her thoughts into an e-mail.Here is what she wrote.
"The thing that attracted me to YouthFront was camp.At camp I noticed that there may be something more to all this Christian stuff.At YouthFront Camp Christianity seemed to be about more than the rules and fancy clothes.People with different styles and different tastes, from different backgrounds were all accepted.The staff at YouthFront created a desire in me to search for something more in my relationship with Jesus.I became more and more involved with YouthFront, working as Teen Staff for years, going on mission trips, helping out at Impact, getting Club121 started at my high school and basically doing anything else that came along.I met people who truly loved God and wanted to seek and serve God.
After high school I went to college near Chicago and didn't really hear much of YouthFront until the summer after graduation.I met up with Nick Pickrell the night his band played a show in Chicago.He told me he was considering leaving the band and working for YouthFront.I remember being blown away by the new things that YouthFront was focusing on.Because I had matured significantly in my walk with Jesus I was so encouraged about the new emphasis of YouthFront to focus on Scripture, the radical way of Jesus, and prayer. It sounded a bit…quieter and deeper than the YouthFront I knew. In a society with so many distractions, noises and voices telling you what to do, what to buy or who to be, the change seemed so necessary.Now that I have gotten back involved I see that YouthFront has made a move away from youth ministry that gives youth a packaged glossy deal with all the answers, towards youth ministry that calls for and relies on prayer with contemplation and meditation, and really wrestles with issues of faith and justice and what God's love and salvation and redemption through Christ means in all of that, both individually and as a community.
Now that I am in my twenties I have discovered that beauty is something that impacts me deeply.I have really fallen in love with and grown to appreciate the richness of the liturgy.I feel like American Christian culture is lost in its individualism trying to be so palatable and easily digestible that there is little to no sense of community, at least in terms of our responsibility to be held accountable as a culture, as community, as the Church.Being a believer and a part of the Church isn't about palatability; it’s about radically loving Jesus Christ, a task which is never easy, and certainly not without questions and tensions. With the shift towards the more meditative, contemplative youth ministry at YouthFront, it seemed to me that YouthFront is wrestling with these things and helping kids wrestle with issues of faith and life.
Being apart of the Altar was a great way to experience that first hand. To see camp as it is now compared to how it was when I was a camper and on teen staff is so interesting. The focus now is on really wrestling with what it means to love Christ and serve others, not just in our own surroundings but around the world, and wrestling with justice, and our responsibility in that.The Altar was a time of amazing worship and powerful speakers who challenged us to step out of our comfort zones.Time and space is created to meditate, contemplate and connect with God.Loving others and seeking justice is something we must wrestle with if we want to take the Gospel seriously.I am so excited about what is happening at YouthFront."
The YouthFront leadership team is called the Roundtable.Several days ago we had an all day Roundtable retreat to think about where YouthFront is today and where we are going.We were sitting in discussing our mission and core focus in the context of Jim Collin’s book Good to Great and the Social Sector.It would be so easy to pick a program or strategy to be our “main thing.”In the For Profit world the Hedgehog Principle is often more simple to identify than it is in the social sector, Non-Profit or ministry organization.The problem with picking a “Primary Program” as your main thing, the thing that makes you distinct – that makes a great organization – is that the program cannot sustain itself over a long time and you have to start over again, reinvent yourself.At the same time identifying a value or concept as the “Main Thing” is so much more difficult to communicate and explain.Therein lies the dilemma.Will an organization do the hard work to stay with something that will sustain over a long period of time even though it is the more difficult path?What makes it even more challenging is when your commitment to the core focus is misaligned because it is not “simplistic” enough or is “not the way we have always done it.”Defenders of the old way have their success stories but they are usually something out of the distant past.The real question is what is God doing today?
Our Roundtable concluded that what makes YouthFront unique is YouthFront’s engagement in thoughtful, passionate and spiritual conversation about the genuine Christian formation of youth and our courage to adapt and contextualize the Good News of Jesus.This is what most effectively enables us to fulfill our mission to bring youth into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.Programs will come and go and that is a really good and healthy thing but our passion to engage in the ongoing development of meaningful and fruitful youth ministry – evangelism and discipleship – and our love for Jesus is at the heart of who we are.
OK, my introduction to the really cool thing that happened at Coffee Girls went much longer that I had planned so the really cool thing that happened at Coffee Girls will come in the next post… to be continued.
I am reading The DaVinci Code. I have ignored it up to now probably because of my required theological reading load at seminary. In anticipation of the movie coming out I am reading it so that I can speak intelligently about it in public conversations. As a fictional novel this book is fascinating and hard to put down. As a historical commentary on church history and the life of Jesus it is so laughable that I am embarrassed for every Christian, especially pastor who has reacted to it so negatively. For those who are doing special series like Exposing the DaVinci Code Myth or Debunking the Lies of Dan Brown and his DaVinci Code how about doing a series called I'm Sorry that I have not taught the basics of orthodoxy and church history because I have been too busy teaching politics so it is no wonder you are bothered by something silly like the DaVinci Code. OK, I know that is too long for a media savvy sermon series, but even if the title was shorter it wouldn't happen. Why? Because the sensationalism works. It enables unhealthy people to expose this evil plan to end Christianity and save the day. In the end it incites non-thinking Christians to go on a Crusade over the next several months to scorn anyone who happens to mention that they read the book or went to the movie. Seriously, we (the church) need to take this opportunity to teach about the early church and the theological development of our faith. There is nothing that defends better against the counterfeit than a knowledge of the genuine. Remember this is a fictional novel, it is found in the fiction section of your book store. Sure there are kooky people out there with an agenda like Henry Lincoln who wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail. But you've got to hand it to Dan Brown to turn some of those ideas into this highly successful mystery novel. I think Dan Brown has handed us an excellent opportunity to engage in positive conversations with people about church history, Jesus and theology. OK, enough of this rambling rant...
Today the weather wonderfully cooperated for our Sixth Annual Klint Andrew's Memorial Golf Tournament to benefit YouthFront. Klint was involved in our ministry and was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 17. This was a great event headed up by Ronnie Metsker. The Andrew's Family are amazing people. Here are some pictures.
The presenter was Crystal Kirgiss. I think she is probably the best presenter we have had, other than Mike Yaconelli, and we have been doing this for a lot of years. Crystal has worked with teenagers for more than 20 years. She writes a monthly column for YouthWalk magazine and is the author of What's Up With Boys?, Creative Bible Lessons: Prophets, the co-author of Guys, Girls, Sex Has a Pricetag, and other books. She lives in Lafayette, Indiana with her husband and three teenage sons. She teaches at Purdue University where she is also a graduate student.
The Youth Ministry Executive Council is made up of youth ministry leaders representing denominations and youth ministry organizations with national ministries. There were forty of us who gathered at the Bolger Center outside of Washington DC.
This years experience was a huge improvement over last year. Last year was so negative. I posted about it here and here. This year there seemed to be a huge shift to a sense of hope that adolescents are ready and willing to put their whole selves into following Jesus and want to make a difference in the world. I heard several themes that centered on the importance of exposing kids to Scripture and teaching them how to really pray instead of indoctrinating them with our cultural lists of do's and don'ts.
I hope this represents a continuing trend in youth ministry overall.