If you follow me on twitter, I’m well aware that your finger probably hovers over the ‘unfollow’ button a few times around this time of year. That’s because I’m usually found bleating on about the Youthwork Summit, the British youth ministry event that I help to organise. And for all the profound justifications I could give you about why the summit is different, special and important, you and I both know that it’s just another in a long line of Christian events. Not that this is a bad thing- I’d hope the majority of christian event organisers work very hard to make their one distinctive, exciting and worthwhile- but we’re one of many, and we forget that at the expense of any semblance of humility.
Having said that however, it’s my sincere belief that what we’re doing really matters. Because of course, youth ministry really matters. I have the huge privilege of standing on the YWS stage each year as host, and I get to look youth workers in the eye (lighting permitting) and see how much they care; how desperate they are to see Gods kingdom come in their communities and the lives of their young people. They come to the event really hoping to hear from God; to get new ideas and inspiration; to meet people they can work in partnership with and learn from.
And I think… I think we delivered that for most people this year. I hope that over the course of a long and relentless day, everyone who came along heard something – maybe a few things – that impacted their thinking about youth ministry. Whether that was a speaker telling a story of success or struggle, a contributor unpacking a never-heard-before scientific theory, or a moment in the worship times or the prayer chapel where God quietly whispered something in their ear.
From talking to delegates and perusing the feedback survey, it seems like everyone had a different highlight, which is of course the beauty of an event with so many diverse speakers sharing in such bite-sized instalments. Here then are a few of my personal favourite moments from yws13, which was incidentally my favourite of the four we’ve done so far.
> I’m writing this in a mobile black spot, so google spell-checking is not an option. Forgive me then if I make a horrific job of spelling Camila Batmangelidjh’s name. But here was the UK’s best-known youth worker, and certainly not a person of confirmed public faith, encouraging the church for the invaluable role it plays in the lives of young people. Her talk on how neglect damages child brain development, but love can restore, was inspiring (youth work is about filling in the dark spaces – wow), but her affirmation of the church and of faith was unexpected and hugely welcome.
> Yep, I cried on stage. I’m not prone to public displays of emotion, but Dave Sharples testimony of 20 years working in deprived parts of Liverpool was overwhelming. And what you probably couldn’t see from where you were sitting was the tenderness between Dave and his ‘adopted’ son- Dave has brought redemption and restoration into the life of a broken young person – it was just beautiful. And then that young person prayed for us, and I was just in bits.
> Finally, a more general highlight was the high percentage of risks-that-paid-off. After 2012 we were quite tough on ourselves- we felt like we’d maybe played it a bit safe and allowed the Summit to become a slick Christian conference. So this year, we pretty much took risks throughout. Harry and Conrad performing slam poetry theological introductions, an entire session run by young people, ending a conference with a 45 minute sit-down conversation… There were more risks in there than even I’d care to admit- and for many people those were exactly the moments that made the day. There’s a principle in there somewhere.
As I say, I loved every minute of the event this year; every speaker and contributor added something different. I haven’t even mentioned the fringe stage, the bands, the church fete, Jon Egan’s poignant flying visit, and of course, THAT ‘seance’ moment.
All the videos will be up shortly at www.youthworksummit.com, and from September you’ll be able to join the 300 people who are already booked for yws14 – in Manchester on 17th May.
Until then, I’d love to know what you liked, and didn’t like so much, from this year’s event. And if you didn’t go, and you’re getting fed up with my constant stream of tweets, don’t worry- I get much better from this point on. You might want to unfollow me around next March though…