#PYM14

I used that hash tag quite often a few weeks ago while in Chicago.

PROGRESSIVE-YOUTH-MINISTRY-300x226

The Progressive Youth Ministry 2014 conference was my destination and reason I fly across the ocean from France back to the good ole’ U.S of A.  This has been a conference many have dreamed about for years.  Prior to moving, I would attend a few youth ministry seminars and conference each year.  Some big and some small but each time I would discover a like-minded affinity group of “progressives”.  Often treated like the extra grandchildren at Thanksgiving, we would be relegated to the “kids table” of some small room or late night pub discussion.  But from these encounters and interactions, deep friendships were forged and a vision born.

PYM14 was organized by the JoPa group and came together under the leadership of Tony Jones and John Vest, and I could not have been happier.

http://pym.thejopagroup.com/

The question left undefined, by design, was “What does ‘progressive’ even mean?  Moreover, how does one describe a progressive youth ministry?  While I have yet to answer those questions, I did realize a few things.

First, “progressive” does not mean liberal.  I really despise those division terms of conservative and liberal anyway.  Progressive also does not mean “anti-evangelical”

I was surprised to learn that approximately half of the over 200 attendees came from some form of “evangelical” background.  True, the vast majority of those are no longer working in those type of contexts, but are also unwilling to completely disassociate from their heritage.  The is a general belief and hope that the “left” and “right” can find beautiful points of convergence and experience a holy embrace.  Yes, this kiss might look ugly and sloppy at times, but at least it implies some form of connectivity and relationality.  We will see what this future looks like, but I sensed a palpable energy of openness to include those radically different.

Progressives do have a few common characteristics (in general).  Most support the rights of women and the LGBT community while also welcoming and affirming them within the Church.  While active in social and political issues, most progressives remain from political alignment, recognizing the importance of official separation. I would probably be unfair to say there were few Republicans in attendance, so I will not say that 🙂

Most importantly, the commonality shared in this conference was threefold:

1) Love for God and desire to serve the Church

2)  Passion for teenagers and belief they can change the future of the Church and world.

3)  Uncanny and unafraid openness to believe that God is bigger than we and the Spirit of Christ is, in fact, active and engaged in our world and future (and not just in the past)

Many attendees have blogged about their experiences.  You can read some of those here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/ProgYouthMin/223427967852288/?notif_t=group_activity

The following is a well-worded excerpt from Tony Jones’s blog, one of the organizers and key leaders in the conversation.  His reflection and sentiment cannot be better articulated, so I will let him speak for himself, and all those who attended!

“The speakers were incredible. Jeff Chu and H. Adam Ackley, a transgender theology professor spoke out of their own experience of being queer in their youth, and each of them explained how they could have been better ministered to by their churches.

And we listened.

Other speakers addressed how women are portrayed in rap and hiphop music, what “death of god” theology could mean in a confirmation class, what kind of youth pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, and why process theology doesn’t suck. Otis Moss III preached us in, and Laura Truax preached us out. In other words, the content was amazing.

But something even more important happened last week at Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago.

What happened in that room was that we had a sense that something special is happening. There was an unmistakeable sense that we have an opportunity to claim a significant voice in the conversation about what youth ministry is in America, that we can fight back against moralistic therapeutic deism, and that we can start to articulate a view of God that is generous, life-affirming, and inclusive. We have a tribe — that’s a clear take-away from last week.

For myself, I knew from the opening session that I was among people whom I understood, and who understood me. Most of my own leadership skills were honed in youth ministry, so I appreciate the challenges that many of the folks in that room face. But I also knew that the energy in the room could only have been generated by youth workers. The laughter was a bit louder, the singing a bit bolder, and the tears a bit less restrained than we’d ever get at a different kind of pastor’s conference.”

People always ask me where I will “land” in ministry, and for now specifically youth ministry.  I certainly receive a warm “home” welcoming back from so many friends, both old and new.  The conference was fun and entertaining, especially the live podcast of Homebrewed Christianity with Tripp Fuller.

http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2014/04/13/youth-ministers-the-niebuhr-revival-pastormark-other-goodies-pym14/

This tribe speaks my language and speaks up for the issues closest to my heart. Yet one key admonishment during the week was for this small band of progressives not to become “tribal”.  Very easily that can happen.

I am glad to have feet in both camps of theological tradition and practical ministry.  I appreciate my evangelical heritage and foundation but also deeply appreciate the progressive soul and lived-out gospel.

My sincere hope is to continue to converse and communion with all youth workers from all denominations, traditions, backgrounds, races, and cultures.  For that is where the Body of Christ is most beautiful.

Thank you to #PYM14 for a much-needed voice and platform in the expanding world of youth ministry. 

Times are changing, and as the Spirit progresses forward ahead us, so must we. 

Hooked on Social Phonics

Last week I was able to attend a Social Phonics social media boot camp put on by JoPa Productions and hosted at Andover Newton Theological School.

Boot camp info

Here is a brief blurb about the training from their website:

“In our one-day Social Media Boot Camp, veteran pastors and social mediaistas, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones will guide you through the basics of the most popular social media services, including blogging, Facebook,Twitter and free broadcast media. You will learn how, in just three 30-minute periods each week, you can dramatically increase your communication to members of your church or people interested in your organization and, even more importantly, to those who have the potential to visit your church or business. Most importantly, we’ll help you determine your own social media philosophy, so that you’ll know exactly why you’re going online each week.

Imagine getting real-time feedback from your parishioners as you prepare your sermon, spreading the word about a church outreach program without buying a newspaper ad, or posting a YouTube welcome to new neighbors in your community. Imagine hearing what customers are saying about your business or organization.

All of this is possible, and it doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, we’ll make it fun!”

Tony Jones instructed and taught this group of pastors, leaders, congregants, and educators.

I highly recommend attending or hosting this training seminar as it applies to everyone ranging for technological novices to those considering themselves social media junkies.  Both basic and advanced ideas and training was presented in a way that clearly made sense and was applicable.

Topics and Tech covered included:

The rise of importance, relevance, and influence of social media.

How to increase your reach and message via social media platforms and devices.

Effectively communicating and connecting your congregation and audience.

Getting your name into the community with maximize exposure and minimum cost.

Twitter, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, U-stream, and Blogging

I consider myself fairly adept with technology. I have a growing blog, Google profile, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube account, etc and I was surprised at how much I still did not know.

Even in the past few weeks, Facebook and Google have added excellent features to help track web traffic and simply makes things more convenient, and none of those features I had previously known or used.

I also learned some great ideas to help improve my blog feeds and reader accessibility.

You can stay current (and even be ahead of the curve) by attending this boot camp.

The day was fun, affordable, learner-centered, and extremely interactive.

We are hoping to have JoPa come to the NY area and host a boot camp for our area.

Church denominations, all pastoral staff members, public and private educators, communicators, and anyone else looking to make an impact in today’s (and tomorrow’s) society must be up to date with technology and the use of social media, and the Social Phonics boot camp is a great way to get started.

SocialPhonics on Facebook

Follow SocialPhonics on Twitter

FirstThird recap

I was not sure what to expect heading out to Minneapolis for the First Third conference at Luther Seminary.

JoPa productions hosted this event and did an excellent job in the planning, organization, structure, and purpose.

For starters, this conference was numerically limited intentionally, in order to foster closer community and nurture more intimate discussions.

It was also based around a fairly specific idea/purpose of theological dialogue in youth ministry.

To say it was an academic gathering would be a bit misleading, but there was certainly more focus on theology and higher education than other conferences I have been to.

The attendees were invited and encouraged to participate in the life of the seminary and interact with those students which made for a richer experience.

There were opportunities to embrace the surrounding community of the Twin Cities.

There were plenty of varied learning style included dialogue, group discussion, Q &A sessions, lecture series, worship experience, dinner groups, film study, and ministry presentations.

One could participate as much or as little as he or she choose, but additionally could actively participate via live blogging and tweets and other social media avenues.

The cost was inexpensive and covered most of the meals.

The leadership was down to earth and very approachable and accessible.

Unlike other conferences (names will not be included) there was not even a hint of superiority or celebrity status.

I was able to connect with some bloggers and like-minded youth workers and really spend quality time developing friendships.

I was also able to reconnect with mentors and inspirations such as Mike King, Andy Root, Tony Jones and feel supported and encouraged as I head back to the northeast.

Here is what I hope.

I hope that more affinity gatherings like this develop, focussed around various interests.

JoPo productions is an excellent resource for hosting an event, although I am not sure if they are limited to the Twin Cities.

JoPa productions

I hope that similar regional mini-conferences will emerge across the country.  Something like this would be perfect for the good folk in the northeast.

I hope that the big national youth ministry conferences will focus less on name appeal and attractions and more on community.

I know some have experimented and now offer break out sessions, workshops and even “affinity” groups…and these are all good starts!

First Third  was an opportunity for like-minded youth workers to intentionally meet to learn, support, encourage, converse, network, etc…

I enjoyed simply meeting up with youth pastors and thinkers in unscripted, unguided, brutally honesty and risky conversations about faith, theology, life, and the interplay of those things with our youth ministry.

*Side thought as I sit here in Starbucks at the airport.

It would be great to have some form of national gathering of emerging youth workers to meet up for a few days to connect, read, reflect, converse, smoke a cigar or two, share meals, laugh, recreate, and help guide and shape the future of youth ministry.

We don’t need a conference, we simply need to get together.    We are attempting to have very small regional meeting times here in the metro NY area, but I would love to see one day it expand to difference regions and contexts as well.

I know what Jeremy Zach and I have been conversing on attempting this informal connection via the great World Wide Web, but perhaps one day it may lead to face to face encounters and a deepened sense of connectivity and support.

First Third was a great experience that I highly recommend attending if it is held again.

If not, talk with the fine people at JoPa productions about doing something where you are at and remember there is beauty and power and support in the intentionality of relationships.