Sunday, October 5, 2014

The National Youth Workers Convention: My Top 10 Memories

The Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention is going on this weekend in Sacramento, and even after 8 years away I still miss those events. I attended 18 of the conventions (NYWC) between 1982 and 2006. The full list of conventions I attended is as follows:  Dallas (1982, 2001); Atlanta (1987, 2000, 2004);  Chicago (1988); Orlando (1989);  Nashville (1995, 2002);  Anaheim (1996); Philadelphia (1985, 1997); Denver (1998); Cincinnati (1999); Phoenix (2003); Sacramento (2005); 
Pittsburgh (2005); and Charlotte (2006). Today I want to remember some of the people, speakers, seminars and events that made those conventions such life-changers for me. Today I take a look back at 10 of the best moments. Two of my very best memories- Mike Yaconelli's early morning bible study and the Exhibit Hall (featuring every youth ministry resource you can imagine, from finger blasters to bibles)- happened every year and are not included on this list. 
  1. Dallas, 1982Convention #1 has to go at the top of the list. I was amazed at everything, but among my favorite memories are hearing Tony Campolo speak for the first time; meeting Mike Yaconelli for the first time; Jim Burns and his incredible Advanced Youth Ministry seminar; the Wittenburg Door Banquet with radical speaker Dick Gregory; and of course, my amazing souvenir belt buckle (pictured).
  2. Atlanta, 2004-  Tic Long offered me the opportunity to lead my very own NYWC Seminar, which was a dream of mine. I had finally achieved the status I always desired- that of Minor Christian CelebrityVery minor. My seminar was called Pagan Eye For the Christian Guy and focused on taking our ministries out of the church and into the community. It was well attended and well received. A true highlight of my professional career.
  3. Phoenix, 2003- I signed up for a two day intensive seminar (called Critical Concerns Courses in those days) led by Yac and Fil Anderson, who had been my Young Life leader during my first couple of years of high school. It was a spiritual growth workshop, where we spent 8 hours focused on the scripture found in John 12:1-8 where Mary pours perfume on Jesus' feet. We literally soaked in the scripture, building our own clay jars and making our own perfume. It was amazing. The fact that Yac would be killed in a car wreck less than a month later made it all the more significant to me...
  4. Philadelphia, 1997- All of us who had served 20 years or more in student ministry were called to the stage and presented with a framed copy of the great Geoff Moore & the Distance song, Only A Fool- while Geoff and the boys sang it to us. The framed copy (pictured) still hangs on a wall in my home.
  5. Atlanta, 1987-  The Country Quakers (myself, Terry Venable and Ray Luther) sang Blue Pick-Up Truck at the Wittenburg Door Banquet and rocked the house! Also that same year Wayne Rice did a great Sinatra impression while singing I Did It His Way...  Classic.
  6. 1982-2006-  The "group singing" in the general sessions was always just incredible. Over the years I was fortunate enough to share in worship with Yohann Anderson, James Ward, Bob Stromberg, Chris Tomlin, 721, Starfield and of course, *David Crowder Band. I can't even begin to explain how these amazing artists impacted my life and my ministry, or how many of their songs I took home to my groups. I used to say that the Angels would have a hard time matching the sound of 1000 youth workers singing "Where justice rolls down like a mighty water" or "There is no one like you..."
  7. Dallas, 2001Late Night Live on the final night of the convention was always good, but in 2001 it was simply awesome! Lost And Found came out to warm up the crowd, doing cover songs and claiming not to be themselves. When asked who they were, they responded with crazy names like Czars of ClaySecond Day or abcTalk. Comedian Brad Stine joined in with his "Put a helmet on!" bit, which killed. Lost And Found then came out for real and played my request, Used To Be. And finally CPR closed with their brilliant improv act. Best. Night. Ever! And I was on the front row...
  8. Philadelphia, 1997- During general sessions YS used to have a set of bleachers on the main stage that they called The Peanut Gallery. The seats were first come, first served, and in those days me & The Banana Splits were always first because we volunteered to do set-ups before the sessions. We usually avoided the Peanut Gallery (preferring the front row) but for some reason we sat in the bleachers for a session featuring Third DayMac Powell (complete with blond hair!) came over and sat with us during one of the songs, as did Mark Lee. I may be wrong, but I think Campolo spoke at that session too. A great memory!
  9. Anaheim, 1996- We got on an elevator at the hotel with some weird looking British dudes we had never seen before. A few hours later we were worshipping with them. We had just encountered Deliriou5- and that is something you never forget. I had never experienced worship quite like that. I still get chills every time I hear Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?
  10. Nashville, 1995- It should come as no surprise that music was the thing at my first Nashville NYWCMichael W. Smith showed up unannounced and played some songs from the then-unreleased I'll Lead You Home album. PRF performed with help from members of Jars of ClayAudio Adrenaline played without lead singer Mark Stuart, who had laryngitis. One of their roadies sang lead on Big House. And I met Geoff Moore for the first time over dinner at the hotel. It was all awesome!
  11. BONUS:  Chicago, 1988- Can't leave this year off the list. It was the year I roomed with Terry Venable and got the "You're dead meat!" call from his wife Leigh Anne at 5 AM because their sick child had kept her up all night. It also featured the only speaker I ever walked out on in 18 conventions- Rev. Charles Stanley. But that is a story for another day... 
I could go on, but I'll stop there. The NYWC has a special place in my heart, and I hope this has been an amazing weekend for everyone in Sacramento. I know that the leadership and the tone of the conventions have changed a great deal since 2006, but one thing will never change- the best part was always the time spent with the other participants just talking shop. These were other people who actually understood what it was like to live life as a youth pastor. My prayer is that all youth workers will feel the love and support in their lives that the NYWC always gave me. And that there's still room on the schedule to get into a little trouble...  :)

Because of Jesus,

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