NYWC #2: Time Machine

Six Years Ago

I stand in awe of everything around me. After a 14 hour drive with two super hyper ladies, we have arrived in Atlanta to partake in my first national youth workers convention. I have been invited by EJ, the christian education director at First Presbyterian in Murrysville. I am still wrapping up college (in fact, I'm skipping classes to be here), so obviously I know everything there is to know about youth ministry. This convention is totally for other people. We register the night before the convention, taking in all the sights and sounds around us. The convention center is beautiful, in spite of the huge walk you must embark upon to get from the door to where you want to be. The next morning we are up early, and we attend classes. I notice the people around me more than the subject matter at hand. I notice their unyielding love for teenagers, their desire to bring Christ into this world in a huge and unprecedented way. And I want to be part of it. I want that in my life. I want to serve God in that way. I'm walking to the big hall for the first general session with all these thoughts on my mind, wondering what kind of pastor I might become in the near future. And that's when they announce a preacher I had never heard of before...

Present Day:
It's weird to be back in Atlanta. After six years, I had almost completely forgotten everything about this place, but it has a familiarity to it that is unreal. It's like I never left. There's a nostalgia to the weekend, or at least thus far, where the past and the future are meeting in the present and having a party! Which is fitting, as the theme of the weekend is Time. Two times in my life are coming into focus in a big way, and I think they're going to direct me to something much bigger. And so, as we blog through what's been going on so far, I thought I'd take a look back at some memories from the first youth workers convention I ever attended, right in this very building. But more on that later.

This morning, we started our first session with Dr. Campolo. I've heard him speak a handful of times in my life, and while he tells the exact same jokes each and every one of those times, I will grab any chance I can to see him speak. Few people have the ability to take the things I believe and articulate them when I cannot in the way that Doc can.

The topic was Postmodernism, which of course you could work your way through in an hour, right? But actually, Doc took some time to run down through a list of people the church often looks at as enemies, and discussed how they went ahead and informed and prepared the church for the postmodern context we find ourselves in. Einstein, Freud, Darwin, Nietzsche, Marx. These people all had some pretty significant involvement in framing the world we found ourselves in.

I don't want to spend too much time rehashing Doc's lecture, because I'm afraid of being sued for copyright infringement (not really). Rather, I'd like to take a look at a bigger point that may have gone unnoticed in the lecture itself. These are people we often look at as destroyers of Christianity, we see them as our enemies. And yet, Doc was able to pull from them and their ideas thoughts that are not only backed up by scripture, they absolutely affirm it. Which leads me to ask us as the Church Universal, are we respecting our enemies enough to listen to what they're saying? When Jesus says love our enemies, we often think about the guys with the swords or the clubs or the guns, or the vast armies that are out to harm our physical safety. And we should love them, no doubt, but what about our philosophical and intellectual enemies? Are we giving them enough respect to hear what they have to say, or are we getting caught up in their big ideas (or worse, what someone else has told us are their big ideas) and dismissing them all together. Maybe the reason Jesus told us to love our enemies is because we have so much to learn from them...

A man wearing all black with thick plastic glasses steps up on the stage. Rob Bell...maybe that's the guy that Curt had the video for the other week. I don't know. He talks really fast. And he moves a bunch. But man is he good. Like really good. He's walking us through 1 Corinthians 3. All things are ours. We can take the truth everywhere we see it and affirm it to advance the Gospel. Insane! Is he suggesting that there are nuggets of truth in places like other religions? Could it be that the very people we can't stand to be around have something to offer us? Could it be that we're letting good, honest truth pass us by because we're too locked into knowing for certain what the truth is? And how is that we came to be so certain? What is it that a college student who's considering a career in youth ministry can be certain about? Where will I live? How will I feed myself on the meger salary that everyone is making fun of at this convention? How will I ever support a family? These are uncertain times indeed...

Andy Stanley
We moved on from lunch to the first "Big Room". YS is going through a lot of changes at the top right now, and until this moment the only way anyone would know it would be if they #1) read blogs like the dork that I am or #2) noticed that the term "general session" has been replaced by the word "big room". They will know more soon...

Can I say a word about the house band? I will say that I love what they're trying to do, and that I think it's bold of them to play for a group of youth workers the way that they are. And as brothers and sisters in Christ, I mean them no disrespect, but it all seems a little bit too showy for me. I really get nervous when worship seems more like a production than an honest attempt to speak to the Almighty through our song. Maybe I read the first session a bit too deeply, but it seemed super showy to me.

Andy Stanley was our speaker today, and he talked about being a leader in uncertain times. What happens when the plans that you have laid forward in ministry start to collapse? What if you come up with a terrible idea (I wouldn't know, obviously...)?

He spoke a great deal about not confusing vision with plans. Vision is permanent, dedicated, and unshakable. Usually, it's simple enough for people to get behind. "We are going to make computers that are easy to use" was the vision Apple set forth (according to Stanley). Maybe you have plans inside that vision that don't pan out, and you should feel the freedom to dismiss them quickly and quietly. But the vision is permanent.

Which got me thinking about the fact that I don't think we have a clear vision of why Veritas exists. This can be quite disconcerting when you're going on your third year in ministry. We have lots of plans, but when Andy asked us what we knew for certain that God has called us to in our ministry, I didn't have an immediate answer. Maybe the vision already exists, and we just haven't defined it yet, but I'd like to spend some more time on that this weekend. Where is God taking our ministry, and what's in store for us tomorrow?

Because while things are all good now, what happens if we fall into uncertain times?

We leave the convention center and go across the street to CNN (!) to have lunch. I'm having such a blast being here with EJ and Ro, learning who they are and becoming better friends. It's good to do these kinds of things with friends. I kind of wish that they guys who I've been doing ministry with could be here to see this. Matt. Ed. I bet we'd have a lot to talk about...

Coffee Count:
4 Cups from before, plus 1 cup of Starbucks peppermint mocha, and 1 HUGE cup of Dunkin Donuts from the CNN building. At least they've offered me that much in my life!

Total Cups of Coffee: 6




Colleen said...

I found your blog, on Twitter this morning, and couldn't stop reading :)! Thanks for posting your thoughts on NYWC Atlanta, this is my first time here as well, and I too am struggling with the worship!

I am praying the rest of your time here is amazing!