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

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