DCLA '09- Pre-Nassau trip – Post 3

Prior to this year’s mission trip, we attended Youth Specialties’ DCLA.  It was fantastic and one of the best events any high schooler could ever attend.  I encourage you to consider attending DCLA 2012 (?) and book a mission trip with Next Step Ministries for the week after. This was my third time here in DC and having gone as a student and twice as a youth pastor, I honestly think this was the best one yet.

In fact, it’s been pretty interesting for me tracing back some of the history of DCLA.  As a high school student, I remember thinking at DC’94 that this blows camp away! (Don’t worry campers, i still went to Berea that summer).  Back in those days, DCLA  was produced by Youth for Christ and would have big themes like, “Live to Tel”.  For you Millennials that was a Geoff Moore and the Distance song and if anyone knows who he is, you are either laughing or cursing because it took you this long to repress that song and now i just brought it back.  Yeah you can thank jaded X’ers like us for purging out some of these bands.  Unfortunately we were not completely successful ;-).  DCLA was billed as an evangelism conference but for some reason they loaded up a tons  and tons of music that seemed to say, “We’re trying to be like Creation but with air-conditioning.”

Certainly I’m a much bigger fan of the event these days.  It represents a lot of the thought that has gone into student ministry within the last 15 years or so.  It used to be that if we made Jesus cool enough, then kids simply wouldn’t be able to help themselves and just fall in love with the sacrificed lamb of God and inevitably they would pick up a blood-stained cross and follow.  This is how we came to have things like Awesome Radical Truth Time, Spectacular Savior Series, Wild and Zany Witnessing Tricks! Then, add on some CCM and students could think positively about life all day while singing “Shine” while wearing WWJD bracelets (for the record, I proudly never wore one.  Unfortunately, I do know all the words to Smitty’s teary classics like “Friends” and “Pray for Me”).

While I cannot honestly say that DCLA is cheese-free (sorry Lost & Found), at least it’s focused on its mission.  I do not claim to know the behind the scenes decisions, nor do I know specifics and I would only guess the names but from where I sit, it seems that after YS took over, the event underwent quite the paradigm shift.  This year’s theme was “Be, Love, Serve, Repeat”.  Perfect for our group.  There were no bigger than CCM-life bands but it was cool that Family Force 5, Hawk Nelson, KJ-52 were there.  All of us had a good time, we laughed, we were entertained and at times overloaded by it all but what I loved is that the focus on loving Christ and others was central. If you didn’t see it, you were daydreaming about Toby Mac and Mac Powell flying down from the rafters.

Here’s a run down of what I/we liked:

– They told the entire Scripture narrative in 3.5 days in the Big Room.

–  The Speakers were fantastic choices:

Francis Chan – is truly a good man, a great communicator, and seems to be a great example of the faith.  We enjoyed his seminar and appreciated his time in the Big Room.

Shane Claiborne – we were debating whether to change our youth  group name to the Shane Fan Club but another group already did  that.  They grew out their hair, had dreds, made their own clothes  and ran their cell phones off of solar power.  We were willing to do  that and  convert the church music room into a homeless shelter but  we lost  our momentum over the lifelong celibacy vow.  In  seriousness,  judging from the low attendance at Shane’s seminars,  he’s not the superstar to this age group as he is to X’ers and older  Millennials but by Monday, everyone knew who he was.  (Ours did of course, because  Claiborne worshippers like Evan and I made last year’s mission team read Irresistible Revolution).  Seriously, I liked that YS didn’t ask Shane to “tone it down”.  He spoke about war, Iraq, peace, love, and sacrifice in his usual Tennessee meets Kensington way. Some were offended and I wanted to tell them this wasn’t Battle Cry (link does not go to their homepage ;-).

Mandee Radford – was a favorite among our female students especially.  She’s the anti-Joyce Meyer/Beth Moore because she’s cool and normal.  I was grateful that YS asked her to speak.  One of the biggest challenges in our youth ministries is the lack of female voices and examples.  Mandee was fantastic and some of our guys liked her too ;-)

– Optional Seminars – There were two sets of optional seminars a day.  “Optional” to us meant you get to pick one that you wanted to go to, then during the other time slot, you were required to attend that we told you to. It wasn’t as bad as I made it sound, we saw a documentary and a movie together.

Invisible Children’s new documentary “Go”.  Like all of them, it was really good and served as an excellent way to get students and their schools involved. We signed up to screen it so maybe we’ll show it at our church.

A new movie called, “To Save a Life” – Umm, not sure how to describe this one.  it was good that we saw it together because it produced great discussions and I compliment the project.  Although it’s one of the best Christian movies I’ve ever seen (and I’m including Thief In the Night ;-), it tackles a bit too much and lacks some artistic style.  I did like that they cursed in it a few times; that actually added credibility to me and to some of our students.  I also liked that Kirk Cameron was no where to be found.

– Kendall Payne – I’m pretty sure she’s not signed to a label but a true indie artist.  I admit I almost missed the boat on Kendall.  She had released some kind of anti skinny model looking girls song that encouraged girls to appreciate themselves for who they were and to pursue a healthy sense of identity but she probably didn’t hear how it sounded with a bunch of 14 year old girls singing it in the church van (a moment from a few years ago that resulted in Bose, noise-cancelling headphones to all youth leaders).  The rest of her work is brilliant (like Scratch and I personally like the Grown album.)  I usually don’t like to talk about the cover songs of talented artists but she did two that are worth mentioning.  One was “What if God Was One of Us?” which was pretty controversial back recorded by Joan Osborne back in 1995.  It seemed to me that too many of us Christians perceived it as an attack on God’s deity but instead, it said and asked a lot more.  She also did a cover of U2’s “One”.  It was smooth and slow and I hope one day a youtube clip of it appears.  As a fan of U2 (Sept 26 at Giants Stadium can’t come fast enough!), this song is so overdone, but Kendall did a fantastic job.

– Skit Guys! – They’re classic, we love them every time.  We’d follow them into Mormonism if they asked us to.

– Labs – Our students loved them!  They are broken up into student led small groups of 8 and divided into rooms that hold a couple hundred each.  There’s an adult speaker, 4 student-speakers, multi-media and then small group time.  Everything lasts about 5-10 minutes each and that cycle keeps repeating itself.  It’s an incredible use of time that intends on teaching a room full of young minds in an optional learning environment.

– No alter call.  I’m not kidding, I liked that there wasn’t one.  They are not helpful and countless youth pastors have been saying this for years.  It worked for Charles Finney, it doesn’t work anymore.  Instead, there was an incredible time of singing on Sunday night, prayer and worship where we were asked to sit, reflect and ask the Spirit to move in us.  Our students connected with this, even those who weren’t appreciating Starfield’s leading earlier.  It’s out of these times that conversations flow a bit more naturally.

There was a lot more (like the painter Scott Erickson.  He’s featured on YS Video Podcast from last month.  Many of ours loved his work and his seminar.  Marquis Laughlin, the dude with the super deep voice and instead of doing movie previews, he’s reciting Scripture in a beautiful way) but I should end this.  You can watch a quick summary from another YS Video Podcast here (thanks Adam).

Wished that:

– … the focus on our worship wasn’t on Starfield’s lead singer so much.  With access to multiple camera angles, a million different types of backgrounds, a million more that motion backgrounds and the idea of flat worship, Tim’s face was on the big screen way too much and it got distracting.  I know that is not Tim’s, Starfield’s or YS’s intention but it seemed considerably more than at NYW Conferences.  This isn’t a criticism of Starfield, I like them but just the way we did worship seemed too focused on them. I didn’t mention this until one of our students brought it up.  It led to a great conversation regarding worship.

– Fred Lynch would have rapped for us … just once.

– Would have liked to see Tic more.  We love you brother.