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Updated 2/9/2012: As noted below, the All Ontario Youth Convention will again take place on the Victoria Day weekend at Waterloo’s Wilfrid Laurier University. This year a special “Pastors’ Forum” will be offered during the convention, on Saturday, May 19. Pastors may come to the plenary worship in the morning (featuring Shane Claiborne, author of Jesus For President and The Irresistible Revolution). Following that Syd Hielema and I will facilitate sessions where pastors can share and learn about best practices for pastoring the youth in their congregations, and have their questions asked and answered in a supportive setting. Cost is only $30 (!), and includes lunch. To register for the Forum, click on this link and complete the information requested: I hope that many of you can come. 

A few years ago I came across a cartoon that struck me as unfortunately true. In the first few panels, a pastor was engaged in various dimensions of ministry: consoling a grieving family, talking to a judge about one of his parishioners who had been arrested, encouraging a man who just got laid off. Then, in the last frame, a angry parishioner confronts the pastor in his study and says “You ministers don’t know what it’s like out there in the real world!”

Most of the time, ministry is a calling that brings joy and satisfaction. That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s not easy to represent God and his Church to people whose lives are falling apart, people who want hope and comfort but have no patience for trite words or pat answers. But when through the pastor they do find the gospel strength to carry on, you know that there is no higher calling and no better privilege.

It’s not easy to write and deliver a sermon that speaks to the heart of every member of the congregation; there are such diverse needs, challenges, victories, defeats, doubts and certainties. But when you look over that pulpit and see faces turned toward you, and see in their eyes that they “get it,” they understand what you’re saying, and know that it’s true… then ministry is joy.

Of course, we know that it’s not all a bed of roses. We wander sometimes in the spiritual desert. Petty squabbles, unfair criticism, lack of growth sap our enthusiasm for ministry and burn us out.

As Director of Canadian Ministries, I come across and participate in many positive events and see much that lifts me up. But, like with any job or any calling, there are things that drag me down and make me wonder at times if it’s all worth it. That’s why I particularly value the things that are so good that they get me through the occasional valley and the odd dark night of the soul.

One event that gives me hope more than any other is the annual All-Ontario Youth Convention. Held on the Victoria Day weekend, it brings hundreds of Christian Reformed youth together to worship the Lord and grow in their faith (okay, lots of the guys also go there to meet girls and vice versa). I am inspired by the dozens of youth leaders who are transparently committed to the Lord their God and tremendously dedicated to these young people.

The All-Ontario Youth Convention in 2012 will be spectacular. Since attendance has gone up steadily for years, I anticipate another new record. One thousand participants is possible! Also, the speakers are especially intriguing. Shane Claiborn, author of “Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals” and “The Irresistible Revolution” will be the main speaker. With him will be Christian author and sociologist Tony Campolo, who has become a leader of the “Red Letter Christian” movement.

Pastors know that the youth are vitally important and significant members of the congregations they serve. They are exquisitely aware that the forces of secularism draw many of our youth away from the church, and many never return. They grieve the losses, and pray for the youth - that those who are gone return and find community and renewed faith, and that those still with us grow increasingly strong in faith and enthusiasm for the Lord.

Taking all this into account, I and the facilitators of the All Ontario Youth Convention are planning to add a concurrent “Pastors’ Forum.” At the Forum – which I wouldn’t miss for anything – pastors will talk together about blessing the youth in the congregations we serve. We’ll share ideas. We’ll talk about best practices to emulate and pot holes to avoid. And, we’ll participate in many of the Convention activities – including joining in the worship and hearing the messages of Shane and Tony.

If pastors want to come, and church councils give them the space to go, who will preach in the churches on May 20, 2012? I hope that this isn’t an insurmountable obstacle, but an opportunity for congregations. Guest preachers? An unusual service that instead of a sermon has members sharing their faith stories and testimonies? A song service/hymn festival? Or even (gasp!) a reading service?

There will be more information coming out soon. I really hope and pray that this event blesses many of our pastors as much as it blesses me every year. But of course: why wouldn’t it? Youth worshipping the Lord, challenging speakers, fellowship and encouragement in the calling to be effective pastors to the youth of the congregations! It’ll be a high point that helps us see further and go the distance of being the people of God together.  

So I hope to see you at the AOYC, but even if you can’t make it let’s start the conversation here . . . How has your congregation been blessed by its young people? What seems to be working and what's not?


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