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: