Youth Workers Are Still My People

Above you can watch Jeff Chu deliver one of the two talks at last week’s Progressive Youth Ministry conference to receive a standing ovation. The other was given the next morning by H. Adam Ackley, a transgender theology professor who was dismissed from Azusa Pacific University last year. Each of them spoke out of their own experience of being queer in their youth, and each of them explained how they could have been better ministered to by their churches.

And we listened.

Other speakers addressed how women are portrayed in rap and hiphop music, what “death of god” theology could mean in a confirmation class, what kind of youth pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, and why process theology doesn’t suck. Otis Moss III preached us in, and Laura Truax preached us out. In other words, the content was amazing.

But something even more important happened last week at Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago.

What happened in that room was that we had a sense that something special is happening. There was an unmistakeable sense that we have an opportunity to claim a significant voice in the conversation about what youth ministry is in America, that we can fight back against moralistic therapeutic deism, and that we can start to articulate a view of God that is generous, life-affirming, and inclusive. We have a tribe — that’s a clear take-away from last week.

For myself, I knew from the opening session that I was among people whom I understood, and who understood me. Most of my own leadership skills were honed in youth ministry, so I appreciate the challenges that many of the folks in that room face. But I also knew that the energy in the room could only have been generated by youth workers. The laughter was a bit louder, the singing a bit bolder, and the tears a bit less restrained than we’d ever get at a different kind of pastor’s conference.

We’re going to do it again, same week next year. I hope you’ll join us. I know that as I approach my 46th birthday next week, I’m going to keep hanging out with youth workers as long as they’ll have me.

Now, scroll back up to the top and watch that video. You couldn’t spend 25 minutes in any better way today.


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