One of the aspects of our ministry that may actually be our specialty is nurturing environments of transformation. Our staff is passionate about intentionally creating environments of time, space, hospitality, community, learning, prayer and worship. We believe these environments help students and youth workers discover, grow and encounter God in profound ways.
All this summer, at Youthfront camps and our mission site in Mexico, we have immersed more than five thousand young people in an environment of learning about God’s mission for the world and in deep and meaningful times of prayer. We have set aside significant amounts of time and space to sit at the feet of Jesus Christ and learn what it means to become a disciple.
My favorite time is the prayer times of Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer and Compline (a prayer time at the completion of the day before bedtime). These prayer times are simple, yet profound and transforming. My favorite learning environment is the Tabernacle Experience for high school students at Youthfront Camp South.
We also set aside a significant amount of time called Sacred Space for students to engage in solitude and prayer. When students are in an environment where they listen, pray and meditate on scripture – they often encounter God in profound ways. Obviously, we are well aware that there is no place where God’s Presence is absent and this truth is what we want young people to discover. However, in our day and culture, when no place is Holy for young people you have to create the time and space for them to begin the discovery that the whole world is full of the Presence and Grandeur of God. We believe that the Holy Spirit has allowed us to create environments “where prayer has been valid.”
The world’s preeminent New Testament Scholar N. T. Wright addressing a group of ministers said, “I have become increasingly conscious of the sense of place as one significant element in prayer, as in T. S. Eliot’s phrase, ‘where prayer has been valid’ – not that prayer cannot be valid anywhere, but that a habit of prayer in a particular place can tap into existing memories of earlier local devotion and generate its own in turn.”
Wright recently wrote in his best selling book Surprised by Hope, “The New Testament never imagines that when the new heavens and new earth arrive, God will say, in effect, ‘Well, that first creation wasn’t so good after all, was it? Aren’t you glad we’ve got rid of all that space, time and matter?’ What happens when we think of space, time, and matter as being renewed, not abandoned, within the life of the church? The renewal and reclaiming of space has recently involved, among other things, a fresh grasp of the Celtic tradition of ‘thin places,’ places where the curtain between heaven and earth seems almost transparent. This is in fact just one aspect of a much wider theology of place, which has been under serious threat in the West since the Enlightenment. Jesus does indeed declare that God calls all people everywhere to worship him in spirit and truth rather than limiting worship to this or that holy mountain. But this doesn’t undercut a proper theology of God’s reclaiming of the whole world, which is anticipated in the claiming of space for worship and prayer.” Surprised by Hope, Page 259
We believe that the environments that Youthfront has had the privilege and stewardship to create and nurture is not some new fangled fad, nor is it a retreat from the world. Instead, these environments are a beginning, a place, and a God-given space that illustrates and demonstrates the reality that someday soon the whole world will be recognizably filled with the visible Glory of God.
What do you think? Would youth ministry and the spiritual formation of youth be more transformational if we put more emphasis on creating environments where students can discover the truth of Scripture and listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit instead of the ways we have been doing youth ministry over the last fifty years?