Whenever we give talks and lead conferences for youth we often approach it with programs centered around talks and framed by our own expectations. The danger lies in two things with this approach that must be re-evaluated in order to keep our talk, event or conference Christo-centric.
First, we all may think that discipleship lies in talking. Speech making is not the essence of living the Christian life. Listening to God in loving contemplation ought to be the center, not listening to me. There are two remedies for this from my perspective. For the speaker, all of our talks have to be drenched in prayer: from the topic, the placement, the outline, rough drafts and the final product to its opening and closing, as well as peppering the talk itself with the always-anointed words of Scripture. For the audience, especially teens, all of our talks have to lead them to better prayer, whether that is within the talk, as a challenge during the talk, or as meditative food-for-thought later on.
Second, our expectations might not be the same as the teens' or the Lord's. What if our programs aren't what God has in store? If the teens have totally different expectations, then we will perpetually miss the mark. We cannot force either God or the teens into our pre-made box, no matter how elegant it is! We need to be constantly open to altering, even radically so, our talks, our style, or our intentions so that we maximally open to what God is doing in their hearts. After all, we do not want to be the ones standing in the way of God's loving work.
Ministry is about discernment; more so than talking, singing or ice breakers. Where is Jesus going? Where is he standing right now? Is it that he is in one place and we are ignoring him because he hasn't agreed to come to our place? Are we saying to him, "Listen Lord, your servant is speaking!" instead of the Biblical: "Speak Lord, your servant is listening."
Without this Christo-centric attitude towards ministry, we will create these institutions and then demand the Spirit show up and validate our work. And it is just that, our work, and not God's, though we will often pretend to ourselves that since we are doing it for God, he has to be on board with everything we are doing. That is simply not reality. God, on the other hand, would rather you discern where the Spirit is, follow him there, and then create the institution. That way it ensures the holy dynamism that organic growth requires.
My continual experience lately is with leadership who are committed to discerning the movements of the Holy Spirit in regards their events and their audience. This is crucial for the new evangelization. We need to be constantly updating, changing, slowing down or stopping altogether if that is the movement of what God is doing.
One of my favorite moments with the Kansas City Youth Conference team this week was our efforts to discern just how or even if we should do an invitation to follow Christ for those who have never made such a commitment. It was Judy McDonald's keynote that tilled the soul, adoration that sowed the seed, and I was able, because we were 30 minutes ahead of schedule (At a youth event?Unheard of!), to lead an in-depth, sacramental approach to giving one's life to Christ for these 600 teens gathered at the Crown Center Exhibition Hall. It was awesome! Before I got home, the fruits of conversion- real conversion- were already being made event as teens, once estranged from Christ and/or their youth groups, beginning Facebooking me stories of apologies, repentance, prayer and renewed joy. And all of it was because the leadership people for KCYC were not afraid to stop and look around for Jesus and, having found him, never let go.