Youth Ministry Workers Wrap Up 1st NYWC of 2009

Hundreds of diverse youth ministry workers, from the traditional to the trendy and the newbies to the veterans, wrapped up four days of training, empowering and challenging Monday at the National Youth Workers Convention in Los Angeles.

From last Friday to this past Monday, Youth Specialties, which serves more than 100,000 youth workers worldwide each year, hosted its first of three youth workers conventions for the year, drawing over 1,500 to renew their spirits, connect with other fellow youth workers, hear sought-after speakers, find resources to jumpstart the new school year, and receive training on some of the basics of youth ministry.

"At NYWC, we want [attendees] to find a place to be affirmed, refreshed, equipped and connected; to know that [they] have an amazing calling; to hear the words of inspiration and encouragement that can seem all too infrequent; to be prepared for the seasons of ministry ahead and the challenges and opportunities they bring; and to know that [they] are not alone in any of it," organizers of the annual conventions say.

Among this weekend's speakers were Francis Chan, teaching pastor at Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif.; best-selling author Donald Miller; Reggie Joiner, founder and CEO of The reThink Group, Inc.; Perry Noble, senior pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C.; and Shane Hipps, lead pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz.

In addition to the main sessions, called "Big Rooms," NYWC in LA featured in-depth training labs that focused on hot topics in youth ministry, such as "Helping Hurting Kids" and "Creating and Cultivating a Leadership Culture."

Also featured were 50 other labs on topics including theology, "soul care," media & tech, and new frontiers.

This year, unlike 2008, hot button issues were limited to the labs and left out of the main sessions.

Last year's conference had drawn some notable controversy over the injection of the homosexuality issue in one of the main sessions.

Youth Specialties president Mark Oestreicher insisted that the organization was not trying to push any kind of agenda but realized that the convention was creating more contention that unity.

In response, Youth Specialties shifted their approach this year from presenting a "variety show" during the event's main sessions to focusing on what all attendees have in common.

This year's featured speakers will "address the heart and soul of youth ministry rather than hot button issues," Oestreicher said.

In last main session on Monday, Francis Chan shared about his struggles in ministry and encouraged others not to wallow in Satan's attacks or the sufferings they will endure.

"When we wallow, we stop rescuing people from eternal agony," he said.

In a session Saturday, Donald Miller shared about the Bible, noting how God had chose narrative rather than a "how-to" book to communicate His truth and to "set a moral compass in your brain."

"Have you ever been muddled in your thinking a little bit and you go see a movie and you leave the theater and you feel clear-headed afterward?" the best-selling author asked. "Or you see some movie about a family drama and it makes you think 'You know, I just need to be a better dad' or 'I need to be a better mom?'"

"Narrative has this crazy ability," Miller added.

Chan and Miller are expected to be among the main session speakers at the remaining two NYWC events, which will be held in Cincinnati (Oct. 21-Nov. 2) and Atlanta (Nov. 19-23).

Music artists performing at this year's NYWC events include David Crowder Band, Shane & Shane, and the Daraja Choir.

Combined, Youth Specialties' annual conventions draw over 10,000 youth workers from the United States and around the world each year.