Thoughts on the National Youth Workers Covention, two days in

Two days into the National Youth Workers Convention, Cincinnati and I am still alive and well. Here I am blogging as an old learning dog.

This is a convention packaged by Youth Specialties. It is repeated three times across the country. There are about two thousand participants here.

There are several things remarkable about the conference:

(i) It is decidedly, clearly and completely evangelical in tone and outlook. The clearest example of this has been the music – a competent but mostly boring loud band doing evangelical mantra / scriptural lyrics – and the altar call presentation by Tony Campolo on Friday night.

As with most liturgical and preaching matters the best way to take it in is let it wash over and whatever remains is of value.

The music was mostly tepid until this morning when a combination of 9 AM mellow and some reasonable lyrics from old hymns at least gave the evangelical push some roots in practice.

Campolo’s presentation on Friday night was an attempt to take something of Einstein’s notion of time and apply it to the possibility of a visionary ecstatic collapse of the past, present and future into the moment. He argues that in this moment Jesus is both bearing our burdens on the Cross, experiencing the pain of our sin in his body on the Cross and experiencing with us the New Creation that is humanity and creation restored - sort of substitutionary atonement seen through the eyes of temporal relativity. I thought it was really bad science, adequate substitutionary stuff and odd but very interesting storytelling. Campolo is totally modern, no post modern stuff, not a bit of information from post modernity. Very odd.

(ii) As far as I can observe there are no persons with disabilities at the conference – not even temporary disabilities. No people in wheelchairs, carts, on crutches, with arms in a sling, none without sigh or hearing impaired.
There are very few people of color here and very few persons of ethnic minorities.

The speakers have embraced modernity, but as far as I can tell none have embraced post-modern sensibilities or inventiveness. None of the analysis mentions or is built upon the efforts of post-modernist thinkers.

It made me realize that for this crowd, modernity is the front edge. The Post Modern has not yet happened. On the other hand someone in our group who has been at these meetings before said that "well, they used to talk about that, but they have moved on." They may have moved on, but they have not progressed beyond modernity.

(iii) On a much more positive side there are two thousand people here committed to youth ministry. It is wonderful to be with people who support young people in their faith and growth.

Today we had a wonderful talk by Donald Miller on narrative, personal and biblical, and narrative as the basis for mature faith. It was very well done.

In the afternoon, using a technique called “Open Space” some 1500 of us quickly were able a way to find topics of interest from within the group, split up into groups that covered all the topics in two one hour segments. It worked amazingly well.
It is always wonderful to be stretched mentally and spiritually.

I have to say I am not particularly impressed with American Protestant Evangelical theology and worship, but I am appreciative of the clarity of the message. Substitutionary atonement is not the only way to go and In my mine clearly not the best, but it is not bad to hear it articulated by people who believe it is the only way to understand the work of Christ.

More to my liking was the stretch in thinking of ministry with high school students in and around their schools as campus ministry and thinking about youth ministry with the rural poor. (These were the two discussion groups I attended in the Open Space work this afternoon.)

Tomorrow, worship at an Episcopal Church in the Morning, workshops in the afternoon and evening. I am thankful for the opportunity to be here.


  1. Your interest in youth ministry at this evangelical conference strikes a chord. My son John was really impacted on a Mexico home building mission trip this past summer, as part of his church:


    He was so impacted that he changed from entering as an engineering major at Purdue to pursuing Christian Ed/Youth Ministry at Wheaton College. He loves it at Wheaton and believes that's where God wants him.

    By the way, I'll be hearing the Anglican Bishop of Durham, at a 2 day conference exploring N.T. Wright's views, to be held at Wheaton this coming April. As a new Episcopalian, I'm still holding onto the valuable stuff from my 30 years in evanglical churches.

  2. textjunkie1/11/09 1:23 PM

    I know what I would mean if I said it, but could you say more about what you mean when you say it's all modern and no one is taking into account post-modern thinking or developments? Can you give an example?

  3. I might agree with much of what you say if I were at the conference.

    But I also wonder how you square you hesitancy to put atonement at or near the center when you seem to be a BCP following, eucharistic centered priest. And, in any case, it would be nice to hear from someone on your side of the aisle why atonement and sacrifice are so central in our liturgy but not as fundamentally operative in the theological discourse or piety, esp on the left.

    I have my suspicions--some commendable and others not--but it would be good to try your hand at this, Mark

    JOHN 2007

  4. John 2007:

    I know you directed your question to Fr. Harris, but allow me to jump in here perhaps before he does.

    As a recovering evangelical turned Episcopalian myself, I can assure you that the idea of atonement is very central to our theology as well as the liturgy. You seem to equate substitutional atonement with atonement, or imply that the other theories of atonement are somehow lesser or invalid. I would suggest that the onus is on you to explain why, if that is indeed your opinion. After all, Fr. Harris makes it very clear that he is put off by the evangelical focus on substitution as the only acceptable thory of atonement, rather than the concept of atonement itself. I share these concerns, as I find substitutionary atonement to be quite problematic, yet consider myself a real-deal atoned-for Christian.

    I'm sure Fr. Harris will gracefully address your concerns as well, but in the meantime, I wanted to clarify that as Episcopalians, we don't really buy into any one theory of what the atonement is or how it works. We do, however, believe in the atonement as part of the great mystery of faith.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.