Sometimes you find the best wisdom in surprising places.
I just spent the weekend in Chicago at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. This annual conference is designed to encourage and equip more than 3000 youth workers for the daunting and beautiful work of student ministry. There were general sessions with worship, comedy, well-known speakers and concerts. There were tons of workshops with titles like, "Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture" and "Taking it to the Next Level: Advanced Junior High Ministry" (Enter your own joke here). And of course there was a small planet of exhibits filled with books and resources to address everything a youth pastor could ever need, with the exception of a chiropractor.
I enjoyed it all. It was a nice hotel (Hyatt). I ate well (on the church's dime). And my room had a 40" flat screen with NCAA games playing all weekend. It was worth every penny.
However, I must confess that it wasn't the conference itself that provided me with the majority of encouragement and wisdom. It was my traveling companions.
There were six of us from Frederick, all youth guys from the churches involved in Epicenter. We are good friends and have spent a lot of time praying and working together over the past five years. We all have our distinct personalities, represented by our nicknames for the weekend (Grandpa, Pa, Sista, Cuz, Bro and Crazy Uncle Dan). We all have our unique ministry contexts. But we all share the same devotion to the insanity that we call "working with kids." And like soldiers bonded by war, we share common experiences and a like-mindedness that we cannot find among "civilians."
That's why I learned so much at this conference. I learned more while we were crashed on the giant bean bags the conference was selling, asking each other questions about how we structure our student leadership teams, recruit volunteers, or relate to our senior pastors, than I did while the "experts" were speaking from the stage. That's why I laughed more sitting around the table after midnight swapping stories of "worst parent encounters," "mission trip disasters," and "worst thing we ever did to a kid" than I did at the paid comedians. Youth ministry is a strange animal, staffed by even stranger ones. Finding camaraderie and true brotherhood is all too rare, and we are blessed to have discovered it here at home.
So to make this blog seem spiritual, I thought of a few verses that might apply. How about Amos 4:10: "I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps." That's accurate, especially after the Chicago-style pizza. Or maybe Proverbs 12:8: "A man is praised according to his wisdom, but men with warped minds are despised." No comment. I actually like these guys and I think they like me. So how about Proverbs 15:22: "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed." Yes, that works. Our impromptu conversations, questions, stories and jokes are what filled my head with great ideas, my body with a second wind, and my heart with the realization that I am in the company of fools. And I love them.
(For the film version of this blog, check out...)