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Wednesday, July 25, 2007 

Thoughts On The LCMS Youth Gathering

This week in Orlando, FL, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod will be holding it’s 2007 National Youth Gathering.

In the interest of full disclosure, my congregation has elected to not participate in this year’s national LCMS youth gathering. We as a congregation have decided that attending the Higher Things yearly events are a better way for the kids to enjoy fellowship with others their own age in a setting that focuses on Christ and His gifts.

That difference between the LCMS and last year’s Higher Things event held in Colorado was best expressed by a student of mine who said “you know, the gathering (Higher Things) was really cool. But I like the big one (LCMS national gathering) better because the one in Colorado reminds me too much of church. The big one had rock bands that played contemporary music that I just don’t hear in church. We get enough of that kind of stuff on Sundays.”

Ain’t that cool? A teenager who can actually see the difference between what is clearly church and that which has to be explained or passed off as church. In an effort to attract more people and make the message seem more relevant, the national gathering has structured and presented itself so as to seem not like church. I know there are many who will disagree me on this point but I would say just look at what my student said. Saying we all love Jesus isn’t enough no matter how much we do. Saying will have always fallen short and are need a Savior who is nailed to a tree because we are so sinful should be the message. If the message can’t heard by a teenager, then why bother with the message at all? If the message resembles a self help we all love one another therapy session, we should just purchase TVs for the youth room and make ‘em watch Oprah for a week straight.

The point really hit home when I got around to reading my Jesus First newsletter which felt it necessary to defend the national gathering as something edifying. The defense is basically how uplifting and emotional the national event is. But what the defense lacks is a focus on Word and Sacrament as the focus. If Jesus First is for it…

I would encourage everyone to strongly consider attending the Higher Things conferences as well as looking at the self titled Higher Things quarterly magazine which is better written and more Christ focused than the synod’s official publications.

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If we're going to truly & properly equip our youth for the onslaught that they will face throughout their lives, then it's imperative that youth gatherings hew more closely to HT than to NYG.

Now, they might not *like* it all that much, 'cause they won't get to do "cool" stuff like yoga & bat beachballs around during "worship". But that's ok, because they'll get more of what they actually, you know, *need*.

Novel concept, that...

We're treating youth like they're stupid. But even that student of mine, not liking "church" stuff, could see the difference. When we shy away from the Gospel we end up with a glee club meeting and that's all.

Agreed.

I've never really seen the benefit that allegedly comes from "ghetto-izing" our congregations. We're supposed to be coming together in the Word, not splitting off into demographically-approved sub-groups.

I really think that one of the reasons that we have such a hue & cry about "The Youth!" is because we spend so much time sending the little darlings off into their own little ghetto throughout childhood. IOW, they have no idea about how (or why) to integrate into the rest of the congregation.

Its no wonder we have conflicts between the "old folks" and "the youth"!

Ah, but I guess that's what we deserve for buying into a Methodistic idea like "Sunday School", rather than a more Lutheran idea like open, welcoming, Pastor-led Bible studies for all ages & all comers...

i'm so glad someone finally knows what church looks like - god forbid youth engage critical thinking skills and find the gospel outside the context of hymns and homilies. if youth prefer being outside of their weekly church environment than choosing the right youth gathering is the least of your worries. good luck. kind of.

Steve, Way to hijack your youth's comment for your purpose. I like how you make it seem like what he said agreed with your need to raise youth up in the "tradition" of worship as you see fit.

I think what was really being said was, "hey, we can worship God with contemporary music? That's awesome! I don't get that each Sunday, so it's nice to go away and do that once in a while." But, then maybe I'm just a heretic who doesn't get it.

RevDrum, I’m assuming that you’re addressing me, I’m Frank not Steve.

I agree 100% with your second statement. “I think what was really being said was, "hey, we can worship God with contemporary music?” That is exactly what was being said! My youth wasn’t saying he wanted a liturgical church service, he was saying that he liked the national gathering precisely because it didn’t remind him of church. And that’s my main point. If the teenager can’t see anything that connects the gathering to church, why go. Does that mean we only go to “church” stuff? No! We go to water parks, laser tag, and beaches too. But going to an event where there is Word and Sacrament, it should at least be recognizable to those attending as something connected to church.

My youth compared the last event to a rock concert and was indeed really excited about it. But he couldn’t make any connection to church. And since I agree with your second statement I don’t see how I could be accused of hijacking anyone’s statement. At no time do I say that he agreed with me. In fact, I left it opened ended as he and I are still talking about what makes church, church.

No, I don’t think you are a heretic just because you listen to CCM.

My apologies for missing the name, Frank ... not sure where I got Steve ...

I guess without having been at the event in question, I can't speak to any connections that could be made to "church" but I have to admit, I've been to rock concerts that have been better experiences of Word and Sacrament than many "church" services I've attended in churches of all denominations across the country.

I guess my question would be (and I think you and I will disagree on the answer to this one) who is right? Is the church right, simply because we've done what we do for 500 years ... or is it acceptable to say, "I can experience God, Word and Sacrament, in a place that doesn't remind me of 'church'"?

RevDrum,

I’m sorry it’s taking me so long to respond but my computer isn’t allowing me acsess to my own site’s comments (and nearly all of my blogroll’s comment pages!).

Apology accepted! I just wanted to make sure you were addressing me, that’s all. You should see some of the stuff that I “type”. I always know what I want to say but getting it out in a manner that’s coherent is another matter entirely.

I think we get to experience God in two ways. First, we find God where He has promised us he will be, in Church where we are fed by Word and Sacrament. Second, we do find God outside Church where we experience His gifts through various vocations even if those gifts are being used by the unbeliever. All too often this is overlooked or ignored by those who think the only valid “churchly” vocation is one where the paycheck is actually from a church. Heck, if St. Paul can say good things about Nero’s position why can’t some see God’s being put to use in secretaries, plumbers, or metrologists ?

Getting back to my first point, I get more than a little nervous if I go to a rock concert and I have to have its connection to God explained to me. It is my belief that any worship service should always point to Christ and his gifts given to us by grace. If Christ is obscured then how is His Gospel proclaimed?

I have read what the 2 of you have been saying, and I think that some points are correct.

I have attended several local and now, 3 National gatherings. I do have to say that the kids that I have gone with to the National gatherings are *getting* the whole picture. I have talked to so many teens that have finally had their heart and lives touched at the NG. I have yet to find one teen that has had that *awe* feeling at a local gathering. I don't know if it is because of the age factor?
the NG participants are a little older than a lot of the local gatherings.
Has either of you gone to a national gathering and heard any of the speakers? Have you set in the audience with the teens and seen the looks on their faces?? Have you set there and seen their reactions??? I tell you what...
there is NOTHING more powerful than witnessing the teens all 25,000 or however many there are.... with tears coming down their faces, hugging strangers, and finally *GETTING it* (understanding God's Love).
I am NOT saying that some don't get the feeling at a local gathering, but it just doesn't have the same magnitude that National does. I pray that National gatherings never end.
We DO have students that attend the local gatherings and National when they can. Their census has been that national is AWESOME!

And getting to do the *cool* stuff... is A ok! After all... these kids are turning into adults... and HEY.. have you NOT seen adults wanting that youth feeling back?? and just a FYI... during mass events and bible studies... that by the way are AWESOME... the beach balls are not flying around the room... they are put on the floor until it is done. and YES.. there is word and sacrament and there is a cross... and we DO have mass SERVICE ... we have Pastors preaching... and for your student to not get that this was actually church things? HMMMMM... because our youth (at a evening focusing session that we had, made the comment that they couldn't believe how much like a church service it was... was your student there on Tuesday night when we had communion.. all 32,000 people? and yes... everyone is using their bible at bible studies... or are told to. HOPEFULLY... the students all did.. I know the ones around where I was sitting did. Do you realize that at National gatherings, all participants get a bible? I have not attended a local gathering where this has happened. I would say that before you completely judge a national gathering.. attend at least 1 and just sit back and watch what unfolds before your eyes! It is absolutely the BEST thing that can ever be seen. And guess what???
GOD CHOSE ALL OF US
we ARE his CHOSEN PEOPLE
A ROYAL NATION
A PEOPLE BELONGING TO GOD.
and he LOVES every single person.... whether they attend a national gathering or a local gathering.

Hi CB, first of all thanks a bunch for your lengthy comment. Usually a comment that long that takes issue with me ends with a pejorative “you suck!”, yours’ did not and I will certainly look forward to having a good discussion with ya.

First of all, which two of us are you saying have made correct points?

Yes I have attended national youth gatherings. When you write “attend at least 1 and just sit back and watch what unfolds before your eyes!” what do think that I should be seeing. This is a real question, if you read any of my posts you’ll know that I don’t do a bait and switch when engaging readers.

And yes our youth were there when 32,000 people had communion. In spite of this the one I originally quoted still saw nothing that resembled church as far as he could see. That could be just one youth but there are a slew of kids out there that think the same. This is more than I stylistic issue in my ever so humble opinion.

"the beach balls are not flying around the room... they are put on the floor until it is done" is that how your church prepares for a worship service? If not, why do it at the national gathering, because it's cool? What happens when those same kids go back to their congregations and aren't having fun anymore?

Our four adult children all attended at least one National Youth gathering and most of them went to more than one. They always came back telling of the wonderful experiences they had that they will never forget. There have been two gathering since any of mine have gone. This year as the youth at our church told in Bible Class about this years trip they sang a non-traditional song and threw the beachballs in the room. If it had its place at the gathering, I didn't feel like most people were comfortable about the beachballs being tossed around in the place we usually have Bible study. The youth stopped tossing them after a few minutes. I for one was happy to see that they picked up on the mood in the room.

You want to know what happens when our kids get back to there churches after the National Youth Gathering...THIS IS WHAT happens
http://www.morningsun.net/stories/090307/loc_196527863.shtml

and this is only one of HUNDREDS of examples, including the youth of my church. I had the PRIVILAGE to speak at the Gathering this year an I can tell you, God used my humble little one hour seminar each of three days to change lives and SAVE a life. And it had the same effect on my children when they attended. I thank God for the Gathering and the lives it touches. And I hope and pray you will all have enough confidence some day in what you are doing with Higher Things to stop trying to build yourselves up by trying to tear down NYG. It's so wrong.

Wow! This is interesting. Let me share my personal story with our youth. We attended ONE national youth gathering (Orlando, 2004). It was a small group (only 5 kids). The "awe" that they experienced at the gathering had nothing to do with Jesus. It is awesome to be at such a large venue with sooooo many other kids. It is awesome to be in Orlando! (Home of Disney! yeah!) It is awesome to hear catchy music played over very large speakers! Wow! They were awed. So, when we got back from the gathering and people asked them what they liked about the gathering, the comments ranged from: The drive was fun (16 hours in a van) but long. Disney was cool. Daytona Beach was great. Oh, and the music was cool. They had all kind of fun stuff to do. No mention of Jesus, no mention of Word/Sacrament (although they did take communion at the gathering). They all privatly reported to me that they were very uncomfortable with the way that they were worshiping at the gathering. They did not "get it" So...fast forward to 2006. Our church was in the process of calling a pastor and our youth group was contemplating attending the 2007 NYG (again in Florida). We were told by some friends that went to another Lutheran Church about a gathering called "Higher Things". We were told that it was more "Lutheran" than the NYG. The conference was going to be held in Minneapolis, MN in 2007. We were not sure if the kids would pick MN over FL, so we played the "Mall of America" card...we have lots of girls who love to shop! Okay, fast forward to the "post-higher-things-gathering". The youth had a potluck to report to the congregation about their conference. Here are some of the comments when asked what their favorite thing was: "The worship services!" The MUSIC! (which were hymns)..."who would have thought that attending services 4 times a day would be so much fun" Matins in the morning, vespers in the afternoon, Evening Prayer and Compline at bedtime...WOW! I am not just blowing smoke. The kids were given the choice next year of going to the NYG or to Higher Things. They all unanimously chose HT. They are not ashamed of their Lutheran Identity and they embody the theme of Higher Things which is "Dare to be Lutheran"

Bashful97, thanks a bunch for sharing your experience! I've heard similar stories from all over the country that echo yours.

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  • From The Haut South
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