By Ben Kerns
SAN RAFAEL, CA (July 20, 2015) — Ben Kerns is pastor of youth and children at Marin Covenant Church in San Rafael, California. This slightly edited article first appeared on his blog, Average Youth Ministry.
Last week I traveled clear across the country to the University of Tennessee for the Covenant’s triennial youth ministry gathering, called CHIC. The acronym is not important, but the event is one of the most important ones I do in my student ministry.
This conference has all the ingredients that are important for a successful and amazing youth conference: There are solid morning seminars that help students put feet to their faith. Then there are the over-the-top activities for every type of kid; including sporting tournaments, bracelet making, spray painting walls, white water rafting, hiking, choir, etc. And to top it off, a world class evening line up. This year our students were able to hear from Ben Stuart, Lecrae, Eugene Cho, Judy Peterson, Louie Giglio, and listen to some great artist as well, such as, Propaganda, Social Club, Rend Collective, Lecrae, and For King and Country.
The truth is that there are many youth conferences all over the country, and many of them are done with the same level of excellence, balance, and depth as CHIC. But CHIC is not like every other youth conference out there. There is another reason why this conference is so important that my entire yearly calendar submits to it.
That reason is that this conference is family!
When you think about family and family reunions, they are strange things. They are not necessarily the people you would choose as friends, and the actual events are not events that you would fly across the country for. But for some strange reason, because they are family you will book dates years in advance, set aside time and money to connect with your people, the people who share the same story and similar roots. And unlike many family reunions, ours is pretty amazing!
For at least once in their high school career students get to see the larger church, the church that is their church family, leaning into the hugeness of our collective calling to expand the Kingdom of God. In our local context with our uniform experience we often shrink our view of God and the work that He calls us into. At CHIC we get to see what happens when an entire denomination runs after evangelism, discipleship, compassion, mercy and justice. Now my little part of the puzzle joins the other parts and a beautiful mosaic forms and Kingdom work gets done!
We need diverse perspectives and voices to gain a fuller picture of what God has for us.
Left to my own devices I would sit in my office, write in my journal, listen to Steven Curtis Chapman, and try to keep my students away from gossip and porn. I like my little part of the world with the problems I understand and to worship in the way that I have found connects with me. I have found that it takes hard work try new things. This is why nobody ever does. This is why my favorite restaurant is my favorite one and I never go anywhere else.
However, the body of Christ is so much more rich than my one little shade of color I represent. If I want to dive into all that God has for me, for my students, and for this entire world, then I need to be exposed to the wide diversity of cultures, ethnicities, worship styles, passions, and actions that are out there.
I need them to inform me and my limited perspective on things. My students need them so they don’t only hear from me, but are exposed to all that God is doing, so that they too will see their story in God’s story.
Without a doubt, CHIC leans into this diversity with all of who they are. And while some years may have leaned too much or not enough, this year was amazing at how people from just about every ethnic, socio-economic and age background were represented and highlighted.
If we are going to be the body of Christ, be family, then we need to care for our entire family. We can’t have my favorite meal every meal. How much more rich is our experience when everyone shares their favorite foods, even more so when this is done on a spiritual level.
We are contributors, not consumers
Even though experiencing diversity is reason enough to make CHIC an import event, what makes the culture of CHIC so unique is that as youth workers, we are not simply consumers, but contributors. At every other conference I have taken students to, I pay my money and let the program people do their thing. They always do a good thing, and students are met by God. But something is fundamentally different when I am expected to not just participate, but to contribute.
In order for CHIC to happen, it is our friends and colleagues who work hard to pull it off. We don’t just drop our money and take what we want. We know and love the people who are serving us and our ministries to make it happen. More than what just happens at the “programmed” portion of the event, the assumption is that youth workers are part of this family and we are called upon to bring our best to the table, to connect, share stories, share responsibility for care and discipleship of our students, and to live life together.
This is not just another camp high
It can get so tiring going from camp to camp, conference to conference attempting to experience the ultimate camp high. And just like an addict who searches endlessly for that initial high, the cost is often greater than they realize. CHIC’s emotional high points are not simply a camp high. It is the momentary peek behind the curtain where we truly experience what the Kingdom of God is like and could be. But instead of leaving that moment, we realize that we actually belong to each other. In order for our students to have experienced this camp high they had to actually do some hard work too. They were asked to listen to speakers and music that is not like them. They had to wrestle through issues that are uncomfortable, and were asked to give some of their time and resources away to accomplish some of our larger goals as a denomination.
Yes, they experienced an emotional high. But it was not simply an experience we bought as consumers, it was an emotional high that happens when we contribute, when we do some hard work, when we see God move in ways larger than in just me and my youth group.
As we live into this reality, we get to help our kids experience being part of this family. Yes, the huge family reunions are amazing! But as we all go back to our local contexts we continually point our students back to getting after the business of our Heavenly Father, the Head of our household, the work that he is doing in our local context.
We have the additional encouragement that everything is not dependent solely on me or my students. But when we all do our part, the Kingdom truly is expanded. Because we are family, we actually will hear the stories and celebrate with our sisters and brothers as we connect virtually, at our mini reunions that happen regionally and nationally.
My students and myself need to force ourselves out of our comfort zone and experience the larger body of Christ so that we don’t settle for a boring, tiny faith that seems to only be active in our tiny little church, with our few students, with our silly little problems. This is our context and we must be faithful. But we must also care for the entire family, because they are not simply people we tolerate, or “serve,” but they are people who belong to me, and I to them.
May we all mature our view of faith and the church and help our students and ourselves get out of our comfort zones, love the diversity of the church, actually contribute to the larger body of Christ so that the world will see how God loves and cares for all peoples, from all cultures, from all socio-economic situations, for all time!
“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member BELONGS to all the others” Romans 12:4-5.