This is just some reflections on my recent experience at a Christ In Youth (CIY) Conference in Savannah, Georgia. This is the big event of the year where thousands of high school teens from all around the country will converge at various locations around the U.S. The experience for the kids is quite enjoyable as they get to hear some music that is similar to what is being played on Christian Radio Stations and some other praise and worship songs that are currently popular at Christian Churches around the country. Each year the theme is the focus of the event for the week. This year the theme was called "ONES... Because we were never meant to be alone".
You can imagine that this theme is something that all teenagers can relate to. Look at this introduction to the conference in the Student Magazine:
"First up...you are going to have to purposely invest in yourself. We encourage you to pour yourself into worship and discussion opportunities. We were never meant to be alone. Learn to live in community this week- take time and invest in your friends and your youth group. (God has a way to take that investment and use it to impact your life.)"...
"Most importantly...listen for God. Maybe it's been a long time since you really felt close to God. Maybe you are not even sure what you are looking for this week. Whatever your current spiritual condition, enter into this week with a sense of expectation. Expect that God will move in your life. Expect that your friendships will deepen. Expect that your youth group will grow closer. Expect that God wants to speak to you. Endeavor to listen.
-- The CIY Conference Team"
I'm not sure if I follow what they are meaning with all that expectations of God. It sounds very "Charismatic" and this is just a sample as to the depths this conference went concerning the deep penetrating and mostly hidden hurts, frustrations, pains, troubles, and overall mess their life seemed to be in. If it didn't seem so before they came... the emotions of the conference brought those things that were hidden or suppressed to the surface. Each day had a specific focus.
Day 1: Identity - The kids decorated or designed actual masks that were to display how they tried to portray themselves to other people like their friends. At the evening worship time the kids were to go forward and throw these masks in a garbage can, as if they were throwing away this false image. "I had trouble throwing mine away because I wanted to be like Jesus, the apostles, and some great church leaders like Augustine and Luther... But, I did it anyways"
Day 2: Injured - This time the kids focused on the pains that have been caused by others
Day 3: Isolation - This is about barriers that kids put up around them as a reaction to the pain that they have endured.
The kids wrote their pains on plexi-glass windows that were about 4ft. wide by 8ft. tall.
Day 4: Influence - This is how they can make a change in their relationships with others and be an influence in improving or repairing those relationships and ultimately being an influence to hopefully establish a relationship between those around us and Christ.
There were also some elective classes being offered and I attended one for the adults called "Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture". It was lead by the leader (Johnny) of the worship band called "Foundation Red" who is also an employee of CIY and a director of the conferences. He presented some statistics of the influences on teens today and how much time they spend with some type of electronic media stimulation. A lot of the problems that teens are facing were among a lot of the discussions. The main question being asked is "What can we do to reach more teens in today's society with all this electronic media".
I very much appreciated this question because I love to hear the desire to evangelize.
However, the focus, like the theme of the conference, was too often on the symptoms of the problem. And thus the solutions being expressed around the room were geared towards treating the symptoms. I expressed my concern with just putting the band-aid on wounds instead of preventing the wounds in the first place. I said... "What if we were to go back to presenting the Gospel. It is the Gospel that points everyone to the "root" of the problem and that is Sin. Everything in the bible is about God's Holiness and what He has done to repair that relationship that has "Isolated" us from Him."
I'm not sure, but I don't think anyone thought going back to the Gospel was a good idea. But, it wasn't my idea, I got it from the Bible.
On Thursday evening, I was helping backstage after the band had finished the start of the evening worship and they were waiting to go back out on stage after the preaching was done.
I ended up talking to Johnny. I told him that I appreciated him, especially that there was more to him than being a band leader and playing a guitar, and that he really took it seriously about evangelizing kids and reaching them for Christ. We talked about the conference this week and he asked how the kids were doing with such heavy lessons everyday. I told him that it was indeed a very heavy emotional conference but the conferences tend to be that way anyways.
I told him that it was impacting the kids a lot to talk about these deep hurts and emotions.
But, I also told him that I may just be too devoted to the Gospel that it seems that it should be the main focus of reaching these kids above anything else that they do. I told him that from studying Church History, the people who did some of the greatest things for Christ and reaching the lost... weren't "trying" to "DO" anything. (i.e. Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon) They were just trying to be faithful to God and His word and more specifically, the Gospel.
I don't know if I hit any kind of nerve or anything with that but I sure felt like God was pushing me to say what I felt needed to be said and it was just a split second opportunity to be back stage to help with moving the large plexi-glass windows to behind the stage. I don't know if anything can come out of my conversation with this Brother in Christ, but maybe it was for me to grow, or maybe for me to encourage a dear brother, or who knows. But, I was truly blessed to have been able to speak a concern of mine that I have been holding for sometime and God just opened the door... and all I had to do was walk through.
This week was enjoyable and I thoroughly enjoyed sharing God's word with these teens. The music was enjoyable and I love the worship band experience, although I wouldn't be comfortable with this kind of "Worship Service" to honor and worship God back at the home church. I had some really wonderful theological conversations and discussions about the Church as whole with some of the pastors, youth coaches, and this CIY staff member.
Grace and Peace,