Monday, November 13, 2006

NCC Youth Worker Summit, Opening Evening

I'm joining you this evening from a convention hall at Walt Disney World's Coronado Springs Resort, where I am participating in the National Council of Churches' Youth Worker Summit. I won't be able to blog the event as thoroughly as I'd hoped; at Disney, Internet access is very expensive one must be careful about how and when one gets online.

Ashlee, Meyer, Kate, and I arrived yesterday afternoon (it's nice to bring the entire family on a work trip) and got settled. Disney is an excellent vacation destination if a family is traveling with small children, who inevitably triple the amount of luggage one must check and carry on the airplane. (By the way, I'll try to get some video of Meyer talking about airports and airplanes. You'll enjoy it.) When you stay at Disney, families can check their bags at their home airports and not have to worry about them again until they get to their hotel room. Our carry-on luggage was still cumbersome (we had to bring a car seat on the plane), but I can't imagine how we would have gotten 130 pounds of luggage from the baggage claim to the shuttle to the hotel room without losing a kid.

Anyway, tired from a full day of travel, my mood soured during last night's opening worship, when I realized that much of the music for the Summit would be contemporary praise-and-worship fare, complete with guitar, 5-string bass, drums, synth, and sax. While the hired musicians are all very skilled, give me a pipe organ any day.

I'm not sure why I don't care for praise band music. Whenever I find myself immersed in it at an event such as this, I try to come up with a theological or intellectual reason for my distate for integrating rock music and church services. I find myself making generalizations such as "white people don't know how to clap on the off-beat" or "praise choruses are theologically shallow," but I know I shouldn't. Most likely, I don't like praise bands because, as a songwriter and seven-year veteran of an indepedent rock band, I am a rock 'n' roll snob. I have high standards for guitar tone, vocal style, drum fills, bass lines, use of keyboards, and stage presence. Most praise bands fail to meet my standards, in part because they play worship services and the guitar tone and drumming technique I prefer doesn't go over well in most worship settings.

I also may balk at praise bands because I prefer quiet, restful, contemplative forms of worship. I have two children under the age of three and a short attention span; I have trouble settling down and surrendering myself to God amid upbeat, up-tempo music.

Enough about the music. The keynote speaker for the Summit is youth ministry superstar Mark Yaconelli (pictured) of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project at San Francisco Theological Seminary and son of Youth Specialties founder Mike Yaconelli. (I was honored and a bit starstruck when Mark chose to sit next to me during the opening reception.) While Mark is a gifted orator, his speaking ability has been outshined by the content and substance of his talks. Everytime he appears to be heading for a theological or homiletical cliché, he goes around the tired metaphor or rote talking point and takes the listener somewhere new—somewhere challenging and engaging and all the other participle modifiers I use when I don't know how else to describe something.

Mark's emphasis has been on being good receivers, allowing oneself to graciously accept the blessings, compassion, and hospitality of God and others instead of focusing so exclusively on what one can give. He cited what youth minister Michael Hyrunik calls the "Holy Trinity of False Identity," the three pillars of an attitude that neglects one's identity as a child of God and member of a community but that is very common in our culture: 1) "I am what I do"; 2) "I am how much I do"; 3. "I am how well I do it."

My first workshop, "Walk With Me: The Adult Role in Youth Ministry," explored "accompaniment," defined in this context as "a mutually transforming relationship between an adult and a younger person who is helped to make the passage through adolescence into spiritual maturity." It was a good workshop (and will help me both as a curriculum editor and as a Sunday school teacher), but it would have been better had it been spread out over three or four sessions.

More to come . . . .


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