Taking a fast train to “Thrive” ville

From October 21 to November 3 over 100 students converge upon Luxembourg City for the annual AICEME Youth Conference.  Members from our ACP lycée group will be taking the famous high-speed TGV train to be amongst the scores of teenagers also traveling by plane or train for this weekend getaway in the tiny country of Luxembourg.

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Our host is All Nations Church and they will be celebrating their 10th anniversary the weekend of our arrival.  http://www.allnationschurch.lu/en/ 

Each year, the Association of Churches in Europe and the Middle East (AICEME) hosts a number of gatherings and conferences including the Pastors and Spouse conference, Youth Pastors conference and also this Youth Conference.

You can visit the website to learn more  http://www.aiceme.net

AICEME is an association of Christian congregations, bearing witness to the Gospel and serving Jesus Christ among English-speaking people throughout Europe and the Middle East.  AICEME member churches are diverse in style, tradition, denominational affiliation, and membership.  Many of the churches were started by English-speaking Christians from North America. Today, the association includes believers from 6 continents who are business people, expatriates, diplomats, refugees, missionaries, and students.

What brings everyone together is the English language and  love for Christ.

There are approximately twenty-eight member churches in this association and each church has middle school and high school students involved.  While some churches are not yet able to hire a youth pastor or have an official “youth group”, AICEME creates an opportunity once a year for all churches to send students to an international conference where they can make new friends, be inspired in their faith and equipped as a follower of Jesus.

What I have discovered is that these Third-Culture students find commonality and solidarity with one another and instantly forge friendships.  Why?  Party due to the fact that they are all accustomed to transitions and having to open up to new students on a regular basis.  Many of these churches are full of transient families and, like my church here in Paris, have learned to become a welcoming community for all, even if only traveling through for six months.

Another reason why students love this conference is that they understand each other.  Many are from multi-cultural families, speak multiple languages, have dual citizenship, feel 100% comfortable at an airport by age twelve,  and struggle to answer the often posed question “Where are you from?”

So, once a year we gather from across Europe to support and encourage one another.  This year the 2013 AICEME Youth Conference is themed THRIVE  Real faith: Real life

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Youth pastors from various churches will lead the main sessions and seminars and we have city-wide treasure hunt and Serve the City opportunity to focus our time on having fun together, exploring this new city and serving those in need.

I am honored to be part of a church that supports this association and believes in the importance of our students learning, worshipping, serving, and living alongside each other as we embrace our unity in diversity as followers of Christ.

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“Open Paris, in a word”~ thoughts from Marko

*taken from the blog http://whyismarko.com/2013/open-paris-in-a-word/

This last weekend, Adam and i were in paris for The Youth Cartel‘s event called Open Paris. these “Open” events have been adam’s birth-baby, shaped by this short manifesto of vision. but each Open event is completely unique, since there’s a high level of ownership given away to the local organizing team.

i’ll admit something here: while i thought the vision of doing one of these in paris was fun, i was a tad skeptical that it would actually work.

but i was wrong. 100%.

50 youth workers from 7 or 8 countries came. by most event planning metrics, that’s not a win. for this event, it was totally a win. the event had a relational dynamic as a result. we learned from each other; but we also hung out together. like: i have new youth worker friends now who live in germany and holland and england and france.

so, Open Paris in 5 words: LOCATION WAS HARD TO BEAT

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Open Paris in 4 words: OUR HOST WAS AMAZING

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Open Paris in 3 words: FELLOWSHIP TRUMPS PROGRAM

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Open Paris in 2 words: CURIOSITY WINS

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Open Paris in 1 word: LIMINAL*

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* a thin place, often used to describe a spiritual thin place. in this case, a place where the kingdom of god and the world of humans overlapped.

Open Paris…in review

Open Paris

This past weekend, 50 youth workers from across the E.U., U.K. and the U.S converged upon Paris for the inaugural Open Paris.

We were tremendously blessed with a stacked lineup of diverse speakers and seminars including Mark Oestreicher, Andrew Marin, Chris Kidd, Chris Curtis, Gemma Dunning, Markus Eichler, Tabea Weiler, Tim Eldred among others.

Tim Eldred

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For the full range of the schedule, seminars and vision for Open Paris you can check out the website here:http://paris.openym.org

Hosting was fun and I really enjoyed playing tour guide in the city of Paris and The American Church in Paris.

More importantly, I loved connecting up with such a wide array of youth workers from 6-7 different countries. Each person shared his or her unique story, context, struggles, successes, hopes and dreams for God’s work in the lives of their students.

Some of the highlights for me included a very delicious traditional French dinner served for all guests on Friday evening followed by a sacred time of worship in the church’s catacombs.

(photos courtesy of Tim Eldred and Andrew Marin)

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Open Paris was highly interactive, participatory, inclusive and relational.

In my opinion that is the way forward for youth worker gatherings.

Though some well-known speakers were on site, Open Paris was NOT about creating a dichotomy between the “professionals” and the ordinary youth workers.  We were all together all the time, and this is unique among these type of conferences.

Open Paris was about taking some bold risks and opening up honest conversations about real issues facing youth workers today including ministering to the ever-increasing LGBT community, embracing ecumenicalism as a way forward,  and inter-faith dialogue in pluralistic contexts.

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I applaud the vision of The Youth Cartel (Adam and Marko) for desiring to create this kind of atmosphere and am excited to see what the future holds for other Open events and also for the connectivity and friendship of youth workers across Europe.

We have much to learn from each other and I hope to see more of these gatherings in the near future!

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Hosting “Open Paris”

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In just over one month youth workers from across Europe and North American will be traveling to France for Open Paris.  This event is sponsored by The Youth Cartel and my church, The American Church in Paris, will play the host. www.acparis.org

I am really excited about this opportunity to get a variety of voices from a multitude of backgrounds, traditions, cultures..and countries gathering together to learn and embrace our experiences.

I appreciate the vision of The Youth Cartel’s “Open” manifesto   http://paris.openym.org/the-open-manifesto/

Here’s a blurb from their own words…..

“We think something is wrong with that. Deep in our souls we know the solutions to the problems we face today are already out there, waiting to be discovered.

Open is just that. Open. The Youth Cartel sets the table, plays host, and invites anyone and  everyone who has an idea to the table for a day where we all have equal value for our ideas. Whether you are a big dog with 20,000 people writing down your every word, a college student with some crazy ideas, or somewhere in between, the table is open–we will give you your shot and equal time to share your idea.”

On a personal note, I have known Adam and Marko for over a decade now and our journey which began at YS conventions will now finds us within a stone’s throw of the Eiffel Tower sipping wine and discussing the latest theological and cultural trends impacting youth ministry.

The U.S used to have a market on all things “youth ministry” but the global community has much to say especially relating to shifting worldviews in secular societies.

Yes, our American counterparts (which I still include myself in) know how to budget and build bigger and “better” youth ministry programs at church.  European youth workers are navigating the often treacherous waters between secular and sacred within society. Ours are often the students who can speak 3-4 different languages, have fully stamped passports by the age of 12, feel more comfortable in airports than soccer fields, and are positioned to be the global leaders of tomorrow.  This is why learning how to minister to teenagers in a European context is crucial and a good lesson for all youth workers.

And Paris…well, to many it is still the heart of Europe and center of culture, fashion, cuisine and philosophy.  It is often said that what trends in Paris finds its way to NYC and then the world.  This is certainly true when it comes to fashion and probably the culinary world.

But ask any student of philosophical innovation, especially in the era of postmodernity, and the birthplace of these ideas….France!  This cultural phenomenon that scares the multitudes in America came from the minds of French thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and the like.  These brilliant minds arguably redefined thought, literature, culture…and religion… and similar minds are being educated currently in the same schools our students attend.

That being said, Paris is just one of many cultural centers in Europe which hold great influence on the rest of the global community.

I hope that Open Paris will just be the beginning of an European movement in youth ministry that brings together divergent views in a united passion of seeing God’s kingdom redefined in radical ways among today’s teens.

If you can, please come and join us or stay tuned to this blog for Open Paris updates, live feeds, and reflections as we celebrate new ideas in youth ministry and dream together what youth work can..and will be!

For more information about our location, speakers, seminars and to register please visit the Open Paris site:   http://paris.openym.org/

Whirlwind of a week

The past 7 days have been a bit of whirlwind for me.

Last weekend, I spoke at a high school winter retreat in Massachusetts on “The Main Event:  Finding yourself in God’s Story”.

We had a fun and fascinating time journeying through the Story of God in light of God’s redemptive and restorative plan of history. The four “teaching times” in sessions looked at four particular “event” in the lives of God followers that set them apart towards partnering with God in his mission.

Abraham. Moses.  Jesus.  Paul.

This was a fun weekend interacting, teaching, and hanging out with students and creating space for them to share their stories and also creating environments for them to experience, encounter, and embrace the divine presence of the Trinity.

On Wednesday I flew down to Texas to meet up with youth pastor Neil Christopher Neil on Twitter in Fort Worth.  Neil has pioneered and organized a youth ministry conference called Evo for progressive type youth workers from all different walks of life and church backgrounds.

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We had 3 great days of interaction, dialog, exploring, seeking, and dreaming together.  I spoke on Thursday night about the importance of Authenticity: The importance of ministering out of who you truly are.  This idea sparked nurturing and caring conversations among the attendees.  I made some wonderful friends and truly felt loved and supported in my identity and calling as both a youth worker and follower of Christ.

Friday evening I drove from Dallas to Oklahoma City to participate in a youth conference called Vintage 2011.  A good friend and brilliant young theologian/thinker/networker Zac Workun  Zac on Twitter was a major catalyst for this event and bringing me down. This was a unique collaboration of 10 youth ministries from the northern section of OKC, all coming together in a spirit of humility and partnership, rather than competition (which seems to occur down in the south often).

The theme for the weekend was Reconciliation, with a primary focus on the story of the Prodigal.  That evening I spoke to about 350 middle school and high school students to kick things off.  The following morning I had the privilege of speaking at their youth worker brunch and we had around 75 volunteer youth workers in attendance.  My hope was to affirm, encourage, and support the importance of volunteers in youth ministry and to see themselves as truly relational and “incarnational”.  Our topic and conversation revolved around changing role of the youth worker from influence to place-sharing.  Later that evening, 150 parents showed up for a similar dinner and presentation/Q &A with me about the necessity of parental involvement, exemplary faith, congregational involvement and integration, and reaffirming their role as spiritual guides to their children.

The evening concluded with large combined worship service of students, parents, and youth workers and I spoke about God’s heart for redemption, restoration, and reconciliation and our responsibilities to take the initiative towards that dream.

Sunday morning I was honored to be able to preach at local church, First Baptist of Bethany, on the Power of Reconciliation, using the narrative of the story of Jacob and his sons as primary example.

Busy week.  I am eager to return home to my family (both at home and church)

I spoke and taught more in a span of 7 days than every before and while it was exhausting, it was fun to participate in God’s activity in different contexts.  Each was vastly different, and I hope to reflect and write further on each opportunity in the next week.  In many ways, my experience has been an eye opener pertaining to the cultural and religious differences between the Northeast and the South.

This has been my first opportunity  to sit down and process for a few minutes before heading back home to NY tomorrow.

Wonderful hospitality, generosity, and friendship has been offered to me in these past 7-10 days, for which I am eternally grateful.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in the vision and organization of these gatherings and those of you who participated.

And thank you to the ones who offered and extended an invitation to me to come and be involved.  I hope in some way that the ideas presented and conversations were helpful.

Getting Clear with our students

Over the next few months I will be switching gears and diving into theological conversations with our high school students.  One may argue that everything we do is in fact theological, but over the next 8 weeks I will be systematically working through core doctrines of the Christian faith.

We will be using the book Clear by Chris Folmsbee.  Here is a list of the topics:

  • God
  • Jesus
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Humanity
  • Sin
  • Salvation
  • The Church
  • Heaven

I see myself much more as a practical theologian, however I still do appreciate systematic theology.  I was raised with that kind of thinking and approach to faith and do believe it has its place in our faith formation.  Over the next few weeks I will attempt to chronicle how my view of these “foundations” has changed or become clearer (or more confusing)

This whole year on Sundays we have been journeying through practical theological questions with our students.  Here is just a sampling of them:

How can a loving God allow such evil in the world?

Can it be proven that God exists?

Does God still create stuff today?

Why should I pray when God doesn’t answer all my prayers?

Do I have to believe Jesus performed miracles in order to be a Christian?

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

Why is there so much hate, violence, and intolerance done in the name of Christianity?

Can we find truth in other religions?

Is war ever justified?

How should Christians react to bullying?

Can we still love and include those we disagree with?

What does it look like to be a loving and inclusive community in our society?

At first glance I am sure you can tell how different those questions are from the ideas presented in Clear.

I believe that a combination of the two can be a very healthy approach in the spiritual formation of today’s adolescents.

What I appreciate about Chris’ book is that rather than attempting to present concrete answers and definitions, he offers ideas and suggestions and allows freedom for students to express their own thoughts in creative ways.  Structured within the book are intentional moments of reflection.  Here are two examples under the “Immerse”  and “Pray” sections of chapter 1: God

“Take a moment to quiet your place.  If it helps, close your eyes and take two or three deep breaths.  After you feel you’ve established a quiet place, take a few minutes to write in the space provided as many truths about God as you can bring to mind from this interaction.”

“Draw a picture that illustrates how you see God using his attributes around you each day.  After listing the attributes, take a moment to pray using very few words.”

“As you move through your day, find a place where you can sit and view as much of the sky as possible.  You won’t be able to view the entire sky without moving your eyes, so each time your eyes move, repeat this simple phrase” ‘God, you are amazing!  Nothing can contain you, for you are spatially limitless.’

As a youth pastor, I am thrilled to see such a resource out there for students, and as a help for my own teaching.  I am excited to see how this series sparks conversations and transformation with our teens.

This book is an excellent tool to help equip students in spiritual formation for the mission of God.

I intend to write a few more times updating our progress and how my students are interacting, tracking, and engaging with the themes. It will also be interesting to see how and what I teach this time around differs from when I did a similar series almost 8 years ago.

You can now subsribe via RSS feed

Finally, after two years I have updated this site and expanded…a bit.

You can now get email reminders sent directly to your account or subscribe via an RSS feed or Google Reader.

Content wise, I plan to begin some new series, continue with youth ministry and theology book reviews, and get a few guest bloggers to write as well.

Would love to hear from you any suggestions, ideas, topics, or themes impacting your journey in youth ministry.

Thanks for keeping posted.

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