An old illustration has been passed down for many years in which a grandfather is attempting to teach his young grandson the value of unity and working together. He begins by giving the boy a single stick and tells him to break it which he does easily. The lesson comes when the wise grandfather ties several sticks together, hands them to his grandson, and then tells him to break the bundle. He fails to do so and thus the lesson is learned about the strength there is in numbers and working together. Scripture, too, has been trying to teach us this lesson for centuries. Passages like Eccl. 4:9-12 ends the teaching about the values of working together by stating that “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Youth ministry by its very nature tends to be both independent and in-the-moment in its daily operations. However, the real needs of both participant and leader are not too different from any other ministry context. For the most part youth ministry is comfortable living in seclusion without a lot of attachments and accountability until it gets into that same kind of position as the driver who is lost but refuses to ask for directions. This same scenario happens at all levels from local church youth ministry to district youth ministry and right on up to denominational youth ministry. To break the cycle there is a need for an individual or a group of individuals to begin questioning and challenging the existing youth ministry culture.
For some time people throughout Ontario had been coming together to ask the tough questions about the state of youth ministry in the region. While one area, Youth Convention, was flourishing other areas like young adult ministry and leadership development was floundering or non-existent. Then in November 2007 a letter went out from the Burlington office of the CRCNA to each relevant classis requesting a “summit” on youth ministry. The call was answered in January 2008 and a gathering of approximately thirty people gathered representing each classis as well as other interested ministry partners. The day was capably facilitated by Rev. Bruce Adema, Director of Canadian Ministries for the CRCNA, and successfully embraced by all who attended. At the end of the day the Spirit of God led this group, not only to a consensus, but to action with a tentative structure and a proposed first meeting date. The new Ontario Youth Ministry Team was off and running.
As that founding group came together to discuss and brainstorm there were only two critical questions. First, what are the needs of youth ministry in this region? And second, what structure would best meet those needs? The conclusions adopted included the development of an Ontario Youth Ministry Team that would oversee the operation of the All-Ontario Youth Convention, the development of an annual young adult conference, the creation of an updated leadership data base and network, and the development of leadership training opportunities. The structure of the OYMT would see each of the seven participating classes designate two representatives to work on this new youth ministry body with meetings occurring bi-annually. The seven classes that make up the OYMT include Eastern Canada, Quinte, Toronto, Hamilton, Huron, Niagara, and Chatham.
God’s superintendence was again evident in the very first meeting of the new Ontario Youth Ministry Team. This new ministry body met on May 24, 2008 at the Rehoboth Christian Reformed Church in Bowmanville, ON and finalized all of the elements needed to make the team functional. In this meeting a constitution was adopted, an executive was elected, and three sub-committees were formed; one for youth convention, one for the young adult conference, and one for leadership networking and development. Since that day the OYMT has met and continues to meet each spring and fall. OYMT has gone through the process of introducing its ministry and being adopted as a ministry body within each participating classis.
The highlight of the youth ministry year for the OYMT is the annual All-Ontario Youth Convention which is held during the long weekend in May at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON. Each year several hundred raucous high school aged teens come together for a time of inspirational praise and worship, challenging messages, small group interaction, and a whole lot of fun and fellowship. You can get plugged in to this awesome event by clicking on www.allontario.com.
The newest event in the OYMT calendar is the Ontario Young Adult Conference whose goal is to bring young adults from across this region together for a weekend of spiritual “Recharge” and fellowship. This segment of the ministry has not been without its growing pains from experiencing the high of the first conference in 2008 to the low of having to postpone the 2009 conference due to insufficient response. Faith and hope abound as the second Recharge Young Adult Conference is being planned for the weekend of August 13-15/10 in Waterloo. Young adults desiring to connect with and even volunteer to help build this great event should log on to www.oyac.ca.
One of the greatest highlights of OYMT’s ministry to date began with a phone call inquiry in November 2009 from our partners in youth ministry, Youth Unlimited. The inquiry was about the possibility of the OYMT partnering with Youth Unlimited to host a youth leader retreat in Ontario. Again, God’s sovereignty in this ministry was evident because the date that was set for this event was January 2010. For those of us short on math skills that meant two months to put this together for a team that was still trying to develop a semblance of a youth leader data base. As we so often say, “With God as our Helper” the OYMT jumped on the opportunity and committed to making it happen.
Through a flurry of e-mails, a few conference calls, and finally a series of electronic promotions and registrations over the next couple of months the first Ontario Youth Workers Retreat happened on the weekend of January 15-17/10 at Ontario Pioneer Camp near Huntsville, ON. A note of praise and thanks was raised as God led approximately 70 people to attend and participate in this first “soulcare” weekend for youth leaders. With plenty of snow on the ground and with great facilities and event venues it was a great, fun-filled weekend. The “spiritual” environment proved to be equally fantastic as God led us to some key personnel to facilitate the event. The speaker and spiritual guide for this soulcare weekend was Tracey-Ann VanBrenk who was used in a powerful way to return us to some much-need spiritual roots and practices which challenged everyone in their individual faith journeys. A wonderful and very capable worship team, Encounter from the Richmond Hill CRC, led us into our various spiritual journeys and connected the music and the message so well that weekend. The closing event of the weekend was a deeply meaningful communion service that was shared by all. Good food, good facilities, good weather, and most of all, good friends combined to make it a weekend to remember and to grow on. This may very well become an annual OYMT event for youth leaders. A team of leaders from Calvin CRC in Ottawa shared their impressions of the impact this event had on them in an internet blog which can be viewed at www.ronhosmar.blogspot.com.
The passage in Ecclesiastes begins by stating, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work”. Over the first two years the OYMT have had some ups and downs and maybe at times have wondered if we are affecting any kind of return. But as we look at what can happen in events like the retreat the OYMT believes that heaven is the limit on what can be accomplished in youth ministry in our region when we work together. God IS our Helper, ministry gifts and talents abound, and the will and desire to see our young people grow in faith is there. It’s not hard to see that this “cord of three strands” will not easily or quickly be broken! Youth leaders, young adults, church leaders or those who are simply interested in connecting with the Ontario Youth Ministry Team can connect through our web site at www.oymt.ca.