Reflecting on my First Time at the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers (2003!) #NYWC

The Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention took place this past weekend Nashville, will conclude today and this is the second year in many that I have missed it. YS has been a very important place/organization/community for me over the years and here’s why.

Flashback to 2003. I was in my first church burning out. Having been in the ministry for three years then and for a number of reasons that I won’t mention here, I really felt the need to be among other youth workers, hear from Mike Yaconelli and many other speakers that I did not know at the time. 2003 was the year I read New Kind of Christian, Postmodern Youth Ministry,and Dangerous Wonder. (I do want to be careful here and mention it’s not the simple reading of books that is so life-impacting; it’s more the prayerful search for something, not finding it, then finding it. And it is the direction, not so much the answer and it’s not only contained in books, music, art, friendships, it’s everywhere because God is sovereign over all. Just wanted to clarify ;-))

That year, YS gave free registrations to those who had brought their youth groups to DC/LA and as one who did not have an adequate youth ministry budget nor was given the blessing of those in authority over me to attend, (A real quote, “Not only will I not give you the time to go, but I know you won’t like it”). I used my vacation time, Priceline, headed to Charlotte and met up with my friends Joel and Todd. What I didn’t expect was just how much I would like it.

I could list the existential moments like driving down with Switchfoot’s Beautiful Letdown. Hearing Jon Foreman yell, “Are you who you want to be? This is your life …”, hearing the David Crowder Band lead, “You Are My Joy”, and attending an evening “brotherly discussion” and thinking, “Thank God for Tony Jones“. (Duffy Robbins was the other speaker in the discussion and I thank God for him too; I’ve been among the many who have profited from both men. It’s just that people like Tony were not only speaking my language but creating the language that I was trying to verbalize). Then on Monday as it was all ending I ran into Mike Yaconelli after he had finished speaking at the final session (which is still a bit eery because he would be killed in a car accident two days later). I know how this all sounds, cheesy with the Switchfoot reference, emotional with the Crowder sing-along, and fanboyish with the homage to TJ and Yac but it’s what it is.

I was also fortunate enough to take advantage of the free career counseling that YS offered through veteran youth pastors. I’ll spare you from that too but I still consider it to be among the most affirming, life-altering words of advice anyone has ever given me. The entire event was much-needed and all I know is that I drove north with a bit of my mojo back (yep, we were quoting Austin Power’s then).

This weekend I have been thinking and praying for those in attendance in Nashville, especially for the first-time attendees and for those who desperately need to be refreshed (and this may include the speakers/teachers themselves). From the Twitter feeds and blog posts, it sounded great and my hope is that many are getting back into the cars and boarding planes different than when they walked up to the registration tables just days ago.

It also seems fitting to express my gratitude for Youth Specialties and the incredible people who work there. They have been through so much these last few years and from what I can see through the words of people like Tic Long and the web presence of Adam McLane, God is very much at work there.


  1. It’s so nice to hear when a conference brings freedom, steps forward, and clarity. Thanks for sharing your own journey. When we’re burning out we really need to interact with fellow Christians who can help us take positive steps forward.

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