Mark introduces me as NTS professor but also presenter and board member with Youthfront.. One of the students leans forward and asks: “so what does Youthfront ‘do’?” I had to pause.
The pause occurred because it is really hard to summarize what Youthfront “does” when it comes to youth ministry. Obviously the ministry provides quality spiritual experiences through its camp ministry. Members in Youthfront often work behind the scenes providing sound resources for youth ministry through several publishing agencies.
There is no doubt the organization shapes a number of youth pastors’ understanding of spiritual formation through their Sanctuary program at the NYWC. Yet Youthfront also provides nourishment for the mind and nourishment on the ground for the sake of others, alongside the food for the soul through spiritual formation.
When it comes to the mind I guess you could include my work at the NYWC on Neuroscience and Youth Ministry. This presentation was part of Youthfront’s Theology and Youth Ministry initiative to provide quality presentations and panels in youth ministry with a definite theological bent. I have enjoyed working with key leaders in youth ministry: Steve Argue, Chap Clark, Fred Eddie, Jim Hampton, Amy Jacober, Sharon Ketchum, Mike Langford, Terry Linhart, Brandon McKoy, Mark Oestriecher, Kara Powell, Andy Root, and Andrew Zirschky, all discussing and interacting around key theological themes associated with youth ministry. I am amazed how Mike King (and Laura Larsen) can get us into a room to talk with each other.
To be sure, NYWC provides a wide array of basic Youth educational resources that serve a number of needs for youth ministry. During Mark Hayse debrief with the MNU students, it was clear they had engaged in several very practical sessions concerning youth ministry. Yet the students admitted that several workshops resembled their own class conversation in Mark’s class as well (not a surprise, Mark is one of the best youth ministry profs I know). Once, as a youth pastor, you push beyond the introductory workshops and seminars, where do you go?
I think it is fair to say that the Youth and Theology sessions push those boundaries a bit more than standard introductions to the basics of youth ministry. These “conversations” reflect Youthfront’s desire to “push” the theological boundaries of youth ministry so that youth pastors get a sense of future research as well as practical application.
As much as Youthfront provides nourishment “on the mind,” they are equally dedicated to placing food “on the ground” and in the hands of needy people. Black Friday at Youthfront became “Pack Friday” as the organization’s missional effort, known as Something To Eat, gathered over 200 people to produce food packets for desperate, dislocated, families in the Philippines.
Mike King, board chair Cheryl Reinhardt, and other Youthfront staff and board members gathered with people of all ages to both help people in need and embody an alternative narrative to the consumerism of Black Friday purchasing. I love this ministry because, while sponsored by an organization dedicated to youth ministry, the effort proves truly intergenerational.
JoAnn and I joined for a short time helping board member Mike Whilhot’s family finish out their allotment (thanks Mike). The work that day proved emblematic of Youthfront’s partnership with local and global communities. Kurt Rietema’s ministry with the Franklin Center in the heart of the Argentine community is one example of a missionally minded youth ministry organization.
Since I connected with Mike King and the Youthfront organization seven years ago I have seen a community undergoing change. Just this past week the organization closed the doors to its building, a former television station, surrendering its keys for demolition. The sale of the property may seem like the end of an era of youth rallies and Christian television, but the changes to the ministry happened long before the building’s sale.
Now Youthfront ministers to the “heart and soul” of youth ministry through camp ministry & spiritual formation, but it also energizes the mind and grounds the ministry through theological reflection and compassionate practice.
but I am glad I can say it now.