Now that Amy and I are home from the National Youth Workers Convention, I've begun the task of downloading and debriefing the general session speakers, the YS Explores speakers and the conversations that were shared throughout the weekend. A lot of information comes your way in a short amount of time, and sometimes, it takes a day or two to think through everything.
I went into the office this morning to a bunch of warm welcomes. Everybody wanted to know how the trip was. As I was talking, sharing some of the awesome things I experienced, I thought, I should just share the #NYWC15 Recap video.
So here it is, the NYWC 2015 Louisville Saturday/Sunday Recap Video. It's a glimpse at some of what makes NYWC one of my favorite places to be.
It really was a great weekend. And as is the case, there was much that challenged me. From being stretched by the topics of faith and science to the changing landscape of the churches cultures, to the general session speakers that reminded me love really is the greatest thing we could ever receive and give, there is much to think about. And with that, much to write about in the weeks and months to come
If you went to NYWC 2015, whether it was in San Diego or Louisville, what were some of your biggest take aways? Which topics or presentations caused you to think? What presenter or speaker forced you to stretch beyond what's comfortable?
I'd love to hear from you. Share your comments and thoughts below in the comment section. And thanks for taking the time to read and share!
Saturday at NYWC 2015 welcomed For King and Country in concert.
One simple word...
These guys were great. Wish it was a fun concert
It's late Thursday night. The Big Room festivities are over. The Exhibit Hall is closed. And all around the Kentucky International Convention Center, youth workers are hanging out, grabbing a late bite to eat, or for exhaustions sake, turning in for the night. So as day one of #NYWC15 comes to it's end, I wanted to share just a few thoughts before calling it a day myself.
As a member of the Main Stage Team, one of the responsibilities we share is the 'opening of the doors' at the general sessions known as Big Room. The scene goes like this. Retractable straps rope off an area preventing convention attendees from entering the Big Room space until 15 minute before the start of the session. At about 40 to 60 minutes before the session, youth workers begin congregating in little groups hoping for a chance to get a 'good seat' somewhere near the action. When our pre-session tasks are complete, the Main Stage Team makes our way to this area and chat with the youth workers standing in groups.
I love this time spent with the youth workers. It's truly amazing how much you can learn about a person or persons when you take just a few minutes to talk and ask a few questions. Usually the questions are pretty basic. What's your name? Where are you from? Is this your first time, second time, third time, or twenty-third time at NYWC?
Tonight I walked up to a couple, a bit older than me, and we started talking. They were the Anderson's. Husband and wife who have worked with students...for years. They have attended NYWC...for years. They even served on the volunteer team...for years. But they have been a way for a few years, and this was the year they were able to return.
We talked for quite a while; about the conference, about the chances that YS has experienced over the years, and the memories that have been made throughout the NYWC history. As we talked, I was struck by a particular question the Anderson's asked. The question basically asked, " Does it still feel like family?"
I thought for a second and then responded with two answers. The first was, Yes, NYWC is family. The youth workers who attend year after year create a certain familiarity that makes the convention seem like a great big family reunion. I'm never surprised when I bump into an old friend. One part of you hoped that you'd see them, while the other part somehow already knew they were there.
But there was more to the question of family then just a family reunion. You see, there's something more, something deeper that happens at NYWC then just seeing old friends. Many, many years ago, when Tic Long and Mike Yaconelli were still the dynamic duo, they created an atmosphere that really made you feel like you were part of the family. And it wasn't just Tic and Mike, it was the entire YS and NYWC staff. They just made you feel so special. Cared for. Loved. And appreciated. You knew that you were in a safe place. A place where you wouldn't be criticized or questioned. A place where it was okay to cry or laugh or or just be. Need a nap? Take one. Take two! Need to talk to someone? Someone was always ready to listen.
Then, the convention wasn't always about the speakers or give-a-ways, seminars or exhibit halls. The convention was a place you knew you'd be welcomed, with arms wide opened, because that's what family does. It's what Tic and Mike, and the rest of their staff did.
Tonight, as I paused to think about the question, I asked myself, "Does it still feel like family?" My second answer...ABSOLUTELY YES!!!
Much as change at Youth Specialties over the last couple of years. There are a lot of new faces. NYWC has changed a little bit, too. But at heart of YS and NYWC, the passion to love-on and care for youth workers still exists. It's that passion that first welcomed me to NYWC in 1999, when my wife and I attended our first convention on Cincinnati. And it's that same passion that has brought us back again this year.
I saw Tic tonight, behind the stage at the general session. I told him that I bummed into a great couple who once served as volunteers, and how we talked about family and how we always felt like we were part of a greater family. The funny thing...Tic knew exactly who they were. Why? Because we're family!
Faces may change. Names may change. Topics change. Venues, locations, and the number of conventions per year might change. But what hasn't changed is the heart.
You are part of this wonderful family. You're home. And, it's safe here. So be free to be you. Laugh. Cry. Take that nap. Heck, sleep all day if you want! Because we're going to love you just the same. It's what we do. It's what NYWC does!!
It's been such a great convention here in Louisville. I've been serving this week in the Big Room.
I wanted to share some pictures from backstage and around the main stage area.
As we get started with the activities and fun of the national Youth Workers Convention (NYWC), i want to make sure you know about some great place to visit! From answers to your questions to connecting with youth workers in your home area to collecting some great ideas, here are 3 places you will want to make sure you check out while you're here this weekend!
Visit The Hub
Find a Network Near You
The Idea Lab
So there you are, 3 places you will want to make sure you visit while you're here this week at NYWC! Be sure to check back right here as I share a few more places you won't want to miss.
It's here... The event that many of us have been waiting for all year long; the National Youth Workers Convention!
We rolled in to Louisville, KY, on Tuesday evening to meet up with the YS staff and Volunteer Team for the weekend long, National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC). This weekend the Convention will welcome over 2000 youth workers for three days of training, resourcing, worship, and an opportunity to be refreshed, renewed, and ready to reengage.
The NYWC is one of my most favorite events. It's a time that I have come to love for a number of reasons. (Check out this post I wrote a little while back, Why I Love NYWC.) Today was spent getting ready for the Conventions kick off on Thursday. It's now 11:00 p.m. and as I write this, I can honestly say, it's going to be a great weekend!
The theme this year is no secret. YS and NYWC have been working to engage youth workers for a couple of months now in pre-convention conversations all centered on the idea of what's BEYOND in youth ministry. The concept is to get youth workers talking about the ever-changing landscape of youth ministry, especially as we consider what's coming down the line in the years to come. The conversations will take us to places that, till now, haven't really been topics that have been tackled.
For example, science and faith. How do the two align? Do they align? And how does this conversation effect our students and the future of student ministry. While not trying to persuade anyone or force a doctrine, the hope is to simply start a conversation that leads to a better dialog between the two camps. I know as a youth pastor, questions about Creation, Genesis, Evolution, Adam and Eve, Dinosaurs, and the theories of a young earth vs. an old earth are some of the most asked questions I have had to deal with over the years. So I am very much interested in these conversations, and look forward to what NYWC is trying to do.
Aside from the opportunities to think outside the box of student ministry and into the places that go BEYOND what we are currently doing and thinking, many of your favorites are here! From speakers to exhibit hall, the Idea Lab to the book store, seminars to Big Room, Late Nights and of course, the YS Events booth, it's all here!
So whether you are on your way, getting ready to make your way here, or you're here all ready, please know, it's going to be a great weekend.
We're here, we're ready, and we can't wait to see you!
Things came together pretty quickly on Wednesday as we worked to get things set up for the convention. I tried to grab a few pics of the some of the fun to share with you here! Here is the construction of the Idea Lab.
There were a few more items added to the Idea Lab stage after this picture was taken. All finished, the Lab looks great!
Be sure to check out the Idea Lab this week, located in the Exhibit Hall!
I originally posted this article on a blog that I have since decided to shut down. It posted on June 11, 2015, and was well received. With the National Youth Workers Convention, in Louisville, KY, now less than 2 weeks away, and the blog no longer in operation, I wanted to repost it here for those who might have missed it the first time. I hope this provides some encouragement this morning. Enjoy.
I remember my very first NYWC, 1999, Cincinnati, OH. I had just accepted my first full-time call as a youth worker, and my first assignment at the church was attending the fall convention.
So my wife and I booked the hotel, registered with NYWC, and reserved a rental car. We left our 15 month old with some new friends from the church, and we, along with our 4 month old (yes we had 2 within 15 months of each other...) made our way to our first convention.
I remember as we drove having all sorts of emotions. As a young (only 24 at the time) youth worker, I was sooo excited to be working in a church. I couldn't wait to get started, pour into my new students, watching them grow in faith, and expereincing all that God has for them and us. We arrived at the hotel, checked in, and looked forward to the convention kick off which would take place the next day. Little did I know at the time, my life was about to be changed.
That first year opened my eyes to something way bigger then I ever thought. God had rocked my world. Quite honestly, and still today, when I am with my friends at NYWC, I feel like I am with family. It didn't take long for me to look around and see, here is where I belong. Not only did these people dress like me and talked like me, had a passion for students like me, and heart for God like me. And for the first time, I knew that what God had called me to do was right where I was! I was a youth pastor.
As I returned to NYWC in the many years that followed, there was always a warm sense of comfort and familiarity. It had become home. And this was my family. And it didn't matter what was different or how NYWC might have changed, NYWC was still NYWC.
In my later years, I started serving as a volunteer with the convention. I had accumilated almost 10 years of ministry expereince and was looking to do something different. Far from being an expert, yet wanting to give something back, being a volunteer gave me the opportunity to serve youth workers. I was able to take a back seat and watch as youth workers poured into convention centers, hungry for wisdom, broken from a difficult ministry, and desiring to be better at what they were called to do. Volunteering is grunt work. Setting up, tearing down, moving this, moving that, running here, running there, and I loved it. New friendships were formed as my YM family grew larger. And oh the conversations we would have. Thinking, talking, and dreaming youth ministry. It was stimulating and invigorating. I was alive!
Then there were those moments. Few, but they were there. Moments to love on another youth worker. Moments of listening to their stories, praying through tears for them. Moments to smile and say, "Welcome home." That's when I fully understood the purpose of NYWC.
You see, as much as we would like to believe it, the reality is, church work is hard. Youth ministry in particular is extremely difficult. And there are a great many that fall under the pressures and difficulties of ministry. Sometimes the fall is simply emotional and spiritual as they burn out due to being overworked and under appreciated. Other times, the fall comes with higher costs, as the brokeness of sin touches a little too close to the office. Ministry is hard. And we in ministry too often take the hits and we keep going, all while dying a little more inside with each attack.
For many, NYWC is a place of love, grace, mercy, and healing. It's a place with we can get away from the hurt and the pain, the gossips and back-stabbers, and we rest again in the arms of our Lord and Savior. NYWC exists not just to provide training and resources, or to sell you the latest book or newest programming package. If you look carefully at the heart of NYWC what you will find is a desire to simply love youth worker where they are for who they are. And that is why I love the National Youth Workers Convention. More than a convention, it's a hospital. And I don't ever want to miss out on an opportunity to be the smiling face that says, "You are safe here. You are loved here. You are at home here. Come in and find rest."
This fall, NYWC will host it's two conventions, San Diego CA from October 8-11, and Louisville, KY from November 19-22, 2015. I would like to invite you to come and join us one of these weekend conventions. Whether ministry is good, and you're loving life and the call... Or if ministry has been difficult, and you're wondering is it really worth it to keep going... I believe that God will less you and your time here. So come, reconnect through powerful, moving worship. Be renewed as the Spirit speaks the words of life back into your soul. And remember that you're not in this alone, you still of Jesus in your corner!
Me? I'm hoping and planning to return this fall as a volunteer, welcoming and loving youth workers just like you in Louisville, KY, in November! I sure hope to see YOU there!
There's still time to register...
This morning, my quiet time took me to 1 Timothy 6:11-21. I have been slowly working through Paul's first letter to the young pastor, Timothy, for the last couple of months. I've been reading the letter as though Paul, himself, was writing to me, encouraging and challenging me as a pastor. There has been much that Paul has said that has caused me to pause, think, and reflect. This morning was no different.
In the closing words of his letter, Paul, encourages Timothy to "fight the good fight of the faith." But it's in the words of verse 11 and 12, that I found myself coming back to, asking, What am I pursuing?
"11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:11-12 ESV)
In the earlier verses, Paul warns Timothy of discontentment and the dangers of chasing dreams of money and riches; and how destructive the love of money can be. And so he says in verse 11, 'But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.' Then he says, 'Pursue..."
It was this part of the verse that I found myself stopping to ask, am I pursuing these things?
Righteousness. Godliness. Faith. Love. Endurance. Gentleness.
Think about it for a second or two.
As youth workers, we get so busy in the day to day runnings of our ministries. To Do Lists, Phone Calls, Emails, Planning meeting, Study and Teaching Prep Times, and the regular Administrative stuff that we all have to do. It's a lot. And always at the back of our minds; our own spiritual healthy and growth.
So we schedule quiet times, sabbath rests, and opportunities to spend time in God's word. As of late, I have been evaluating my own usage of these practices asking, and I really doing this to grow as a Christ follower? Or am I simply 'being faithful' in the little things with hopes that God will 'be faithful' with the the 'bigger things?' This mornings reading brought me to the intersection of the question, am I truly pursuing the things of God; righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness?
It seems to me, that whether we are in full-time ministry or not, these would be the very things that we, men and women of God, should be chasing after. But are we?
Think about all the things that you are chasing...
- successful ministry,
- growing student attendance,
- recruiting, training and commissioning volunteers,
- spending time with students,
- building relationships,
- staying current with the latest social media app,
- reading the newest student ministry books,
- developing healthy parent ministries,
- making sure we stay within budget,
- and on and on the list goes... and yet the very thing we are called to pursue rarely, if ever crosses our minds.
So what are we to do? How do we chase after the qualities that Paul lists for the man or woman of God to possess?
I think it comes down to re-thinking why we're in ministry in the first place. We have been called by God to preach the good news of Christ's Gospel to the world, and to do it in love! Too often, we get caught up in the stuff of ministry, and we forget that ministry starts with us.
I don't have any solution or 3 step plan for learning how to chase after the things of God, except to say, that we have to want it. I know for me, if it is something that I want, then I usually work harder to get that which I want. With that comes the awareness that I'm not just doing something to cross it off a To Do List, but that I am doing what brings delight, for me and for God. A quiet time or a time of personal study isn't so we can say that we've done such things, but to truly grow us up in the nurture, faith, and grace of our Lord. Righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness are the byproducts of what God does in our lives as we chase after him. It's then for us, with the Lord's help, to live these qualities out in our marriages, and our families, our ministries, and lives.
To help remind me of what I am chasing after, I made a little wall poster on 11"x17" paper with these verses on it and taped it up in my office. I want to walk into my office every day, look at these verses, read them, and remember that with each day, I am pursuing something greater than just a successful student ministry. I am chasing after a God who loves me, who has called me to be and do something beyond myself, and to be a man of God who seeks righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
My hope is that these verse might help to encourage you in the same ways!
PS...Do you want the same reminder? You can download a .pdf copy of the wall poster which you can then print out and hang on your office wall. The download is free. I only ask that you do not remove the domain name at the bottom of the poster.
There's nothing like the holiday party. Games, food, fun, and a ton of students!
As we roll into the holiday season of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, we as youth workers will be pressed for creative and fun ideas that help students celebrate the holidays! This past week, we kicked off our holiday season with a Pumpkin Party!
Now I will say, I don't mind Halloween. The dressing up, the candy, the trick-or-treating, it's all just a lot of fun in my mind. But I do know that Halloween is one of those holidays that can come with a lot of controversy. So as a youth worker, I try to respect the many opinions on the holiday, and choose carefully what we do as a ministry.
For the last couple of years I have hosted a pumpkin themed party for students in both the high school and junior high ministries. This year, as this was my first year at our new and current church, I decided to host the pumpkin party with our middle school students.
So here the concept, host a safe, fun, alternative event without causing an issue or debate as to whether the student ministry should sponsor a Halloween event. Here enters the Pumpkin Party.
The pumpkin party is an evening of pumpkin themed games and activities, foods, and fun. Students are invited to dress up in a costume if they'd like. It's not required or mandated. We leave it up to the students. We do, however, state a few guidelines,
1. Nothing creepy, scary, or gross and,
2. Nothing in appropriate, sexy or sexual, or in poor taste.
For those who do choose to dress up in a costume, we hold a simple costume contest with prizes for the following three categories;
1. Best Overall Costume,
2. The Funniest Costume and,
3. The Most Creative-Out-of-the-Box-Homemade Costume.
Things get started with the students being randomly divided into teams. We try to make it as numerically even as possible. And by random, we mean lining them up and counting them off in some way.
Once the students are separated into teams, we take a few minutes for each team to come up with a team name and a team cheer. This only takes a few minutes. With team names and team cheers complete, we move into playing the games.
This year we played four games, with two of the four relating to the pumpkin theme. I had actually planned to play 6 games, but we ran out of time for 2 of the games.
We played one other game that I do not have a picture for. It was a Marshmallow Toss. Students, in relay format, would toss miniature marshmallows to a teammate seated on a chair with a cup. After two minutes, the team with the most miniature marshmallows in their team cup won. We actually had a tie with two teams so we quickly reset and held a one minute tie-breaker!
When it was all said and done, we all had a great time. We awarded the winners of our costume contest a family movie night (a plastic pumpkin that contained a DVD, popcorn and candy). We heard great feedback from both parents and students, even though we went 15 minutes over and didn't play two of the planned games.
I also wanted to let you know that we had a bunch of parents helping. Each team had a parent cheerleader, someone to help organize and corral the students. We also had some parents helping in the kitchen getting snacks ready and helping with clean up.
We were also gifted a ton of pumpkins that we used as decorations, take home gifts, games, and as give-aways for various church groups all week long.
So there you have it, a quick run down of our pumpkin party. Nothing fancy or over the top. Just simple, creative games, costumes, and a lot of fun.
If you have any questions or would like to know more about our Pumpkin Party, please feel free to comment below, or contact me via the contact page!
Jay Higham is a veteran youth worker of over 28 years; having worked with students in the local church and Christian camping settings. Jay is currently serving as the director of family ministry at a church, located in West Virginia. Jay has been married to Amy for over 23 years. Together, they are raising 5 kids, (4 boys and 1 girl). Jay is an aspiring author, blogger, speaker, vlogger, and social media junkie. He is passionate about student ministry, family ministry, and training youth workers to love and serve their students with passion and excellence.