Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity: A Review

I’ve spent the past week in Washington DC at the “Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity” conference. It’s been awhile since I’ve been at a Continuing Ed event and it was a great chance to get to connect with some friends (old and new), do some networking and hear from some great folks. I thought I’d just share some highlights and then offer a few comments.

Best Presenter: Patricia Lyons
While I struggled at first to keep up with her pace and excitement as she shared about her conversion to Harry Potter, her presentation was definitely a highlight of the conference. She was a presenter who made a relevant presentation about how to read the language of our culture to communicate good news to children and youth today. Add to that the fact that she was hilarious and wearing a Harry Potter robe and had a wand…a great presentation.

Best Workshop: Michael Novelli and Rebekah Lowe – The Art of Bible Storying
Michael and Rebekah offered a wonderful interactive and participatory workshop after the conference officially ended. It was based on Michael’s work on bible storying (his book is “Shaped By the Story“). I think this was a great way to end the conference, where we actually learned about a new way of doing youth ministry (which I think is what many were hoping for at the conference). If you’re not familiar with Michael’s work, be sure and check out Echo. And Rebekah has done some amazing work translating his work specifically for children’s ministry.

Best Interactions: Those Over Meals
I loved seeing some old friends and meeting new ones over meals this week. Isn’t that where some of the best conversations happen at conferences? John Vest and I shared a great dinner at Matchbox the first night, and although I chipped my front tooth on a fork, it was great to talk about ministry and the middle east. I met some other new friends, as well as finally made some face-to-face connections with Twitter/Facebook friends, so it was a great chance to converse, collaborate and commiserate with colleagues.

Best Awkward Interaction: Twitter lady
The most awkward interaction I had came when a young woman (not much older than me) came over to me after one of the sessions was finished. Shane Claiborne and some others had just spoken, and instead of presenting anything that sounded remotely like “a new kind of Christianity”, Shane shared the same stories he’s always shared if you’ve heard him speak anytime in the past 5+ years. Other presentations weren’t that great and the snark level on Twitter was increasing. This young woman came up to me and said, “Your tweets are causing me to not enjoy this conference.” I said, “I’m sorry.” She said, “I get the feeling that you think you could do this conference better…which maybe you can…but you didn’t. So.” I said, “Thanks for letting me know.” And she said, “Thanks for listening. Christian to Christian.” Awkward. I wanted to say “Don’t read my tweets” or “You know – this is kind of part of what happens at events like this nowadays, there is often a sidebar conversation happening.” But…I decided to just thank her for her comments.

Reflecting on the Conference

As with any conference, there are always things that you like, things that speak to where you’re at, things that you’ve heard before and things that you’re just not interested in. That was the case with me and this conference. However, I think there were many of us who weren’t quite sure that the overall theme and vibe of the conference matched up with what we were hoping for.

Brian McLaren was one of the big initial supporters of this conference, and because the conference was named after one of his new books, I think that many of us thought that the themes in his book, and the general “emerging church” vibe might be more prevalent at this event. Below is how he has been introducing the conference ever since the website went up.

Again, no conference is going to meet everyone where they are. I heard many people say they were walking away having learned a ton of new things and were taking a lot home with them. And that’s great. But with the crowd that I was hanging around, the folks who have been involved in the Emergent/emerging church/church emerging conversation for quite awhile, I think we were all hoping/thinking that this conversation was going to be more geared toward emergent/emerging church thought, theology and practices, and what that would look like for children and youth ministry.

During Brian McLaren’s talk the first night, he mentioned that we’ve been doing these emerging church events geared toward theology, worship, church plants and ministry with adults for a long time, but now we were going to be able to have a chance to talk about these issues related to children’s and youth ministry.

I think that’s a worthy goal and something that’s needed. I’m just not sure this conference actually accomplished that goal. Some of it probably had to do with the way the conference was structured. I think a lot of it had to do with the folks they brought in as speakers. I also found that it was humorous that McLaren mentioned in the video above that one of the problems is the stock curriculum that we all have and use that doesn’t address the cultural changes that are taking place – but many of the sponsors and exhibitors at the conference were those who provide that type of curriculum.

At any rate – I do want to thank Dave Csinos and all those who helped to put this conference together. I think it was a wonderful opportunity to get together with people, and I am leaving with some new ideas about how to do children’s ministry (which is what I was hoping for). I just think that if they do another conference, or if other folks put on events addressing this issue, that we really do strive to not just repackage the old, but that we truly seek out what a new kind of Christianity looks like in children’s and youth ministry.

Some other folks have written about the conference below:


  1. Mary Hawes says

    Interesting reflections, Adam. I think that we from the UK were also hoping for thinking that focussed on emerging church, because much of what we heard as ‘new’ from some of the presenters has been happening for many years in the UK. (Not that we’re perfect – we’re not – we have much to learn.) Having said that, I loved being part of a conference which brought together so many diverse groups, and I am left with much food for thought that will need careful digesting.
    BUT what next? Perhaps we need to try to hold a similar themed conference here in the UK to pursue our thoughts in a contextually relevant way.
    (PS – LOVE your gracious response to that condemnatory (in Christian love – yeah!!) comment)

  2. dave says

    **Shane Claiborne and some others had just spoken, and instead of presenting anything that sounded remotely like “a new kind of Christianity”, Shane shared the same stories he’s always shared if you’ve heard him speak anytime in the past 5+ years. **

    LOL – this made me laugh more than the Twitter Lady made me laugh.

  3. Noell says

    I agree that a lot of things weren’t *new* and it also felt like a lot of the presenters came in with a similar attitude to those attending, i.e. “I’m excited to see what this new kind of Christianity with children and youth can be” seemed to be a refrain I heard in more than one talk.

    I agree with Mary about the ecumenical diversity of the group–being a presby-baptist, I really appreciate a merging of a variety of communities and voices. I walked away (rode the train away) thinking that the most positive thing about this conference is that it happened, pulled people together that are looking for something different, and now has many people thinking, how can we better address this in the future?

    It also made me think about how great it is to exchange our ideas because sometimes we think we are doing something fairly normative in our settings, and then we talk about them and people say, wait, what’s that, tell me more! I’d love to go to another conference on this topic (with less being talked at and more interaction).

    I’d also love a resource list of folks willing to have an idea exchange and share what they are doing that is different from the same ole same ole. (Is that what twitter is for or is that what blogs are for?) Once I figured out how to access the twitter feed on my phone (I know I need boot camp) I appreciated the commentary, so I’d say twitter lady’s issue is more about her than you.

    Dave said they’ll be seeking our feedback soon, and I certainly hope everyone offers ideas that can help make future gatherings on this topic a place for inspiration and birthing new and relevant ways of doing ministry in this world where we find ourselves (you know, rather than the church of the Don Drapers of the 1950s and 60s)

  4. says

    Thanks for your perspectives. I was hoping for a greater understanding of how Christian formation, children and youth can become part of the ’emergent’ conversation. I, too, was looking for new insights from some great speakers that I have not heard in person, but read many of their books. After awhile it seems that presenters were trying to sell their book or program. But I did gain lots of new contacts. I’ll be sharing them on another site I administrate – Building Faith I hope to have more ’emergent’ type thoughts / resources to share here in the weeks to come. From a fellow tweeter at the conference – @rowsofsharonp

    Sharon Ely Pearson

  5. Dena says

    I hear your frustration, but here are some thoughts to ponder. Just because you have heard all(?) of this before, doesn’t mean everyone else has. And, I suspect, since you have never heard of some of the speakers you probably had not heard it all. Some of the older content was probably what brought the emergent church about. Wouldn’t it help the Kingdom if more people heard what you already knew?
    As far as the choice of presenters, I also noticed that there was a wide variety of viewpoints presented, some contradictory to others. Yet we spoke of asking questions and being open to other points of view as well as hearing others to clarify our own. A call was put out asking for presenters and workshop leaders. I am sure that these were the ones that responded. Did you?
    And then there was the curriculum aspect: the ones represented were the more progressive of what I’ve seen. Anyway, wouldn’t it be a good thing if publishers heard what we are crying out for?
    Last, but not least, the twitter lady. I applaud her for having the courage to voice what many were feeling. I found two types of tweets happening: those that repeated or expounded on what was happening and those which were the technical equivalent to passing notes in the back of the class. The later were distracting and, at times, disturbing. I admit, I am new to the Twitter world, but if that is what it is all about, maybe I’m not so interested after all.
    This conference was just the beginning of something that could be very exciting. Dave confessed that he had never done anything like this before. As such I think he and his team did a commendable job. Yes, improvements could be made and I imagine they will be next time around.

  6. Dave Paisley says

    Interesting that you don’t own your own comments in what you wrote here. You say “the snark level on twitter was increasing” but you don’t take any of the credit or blame for that even though or is obvious you were a significant part of that. It’s a lot like Nixon saying “mistakes were made”. Be snarky if you want but at least own it when somebody calls you on it. And telling someone not to read your twitter feed is irrelevant if they’re following hash tags. You can’t selectively not read snarky comments.

    The overall impression I got from this write up is that you’re one of the cool kids for whom everything is so passé, so last week instead of helping bring others along. Maybe that’s a whole different conference.

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