Youth programs that don’t destroy faith

One of my very favorite non-Lutheran blogs is Internet Monk. If you don’t already check it out, I highly recommend it. And now’s as good a time as any — there’s an interview of Higher Things’ Rev. William Cwirla. It’s all about Higher Things conferences — who, what, when, where, why. Here’s a sample:

When evangelicals hear “youth conference”, they can’t comprehend that it’s not a menu of twenty-somethings with guitars and bands interspersed with youth speakers. How does HT possibly work by going the opposite direction?

Our basic philosophy toward youth work has also been reflected in some of the writings here on Internet Monk. While youth enjoy being entertained, they will lock on to the higher and deeper things if given the opportunity. This is what impressed me when I joined the organization at the Seattle 2004 conference. Youth will rise to whatever level you set the bar.

Our hymnal oriented, liturgical style of worship demands concentration and active participation. Our plenary and classroom sessions are lively and “entertaining,” yes, but they also go to some serious depth. Our conference theme this year was “Sola” – Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone. The class offerings ranged from discussions of “Twilight” and “The Shack” to apologetics, atheism, prayer, Scripture, archaeology, comparative religion, church history, abortion, dating, you name it. We try to offer stuff that addresses their issues and questions now, but also provides stuff they can grow into.

Another aspect to our conferences is that the youth experience the ordinary rhythms of the Christian life, albeit in a much more concentrated and intensified way. What they experience in worship and classroom at a conference is really no different than what they experience in their home congregations. Our speakers and teachers are all Lutheran pastors, youth workers, deaconesses. No superstars, no celebrity Christians, no big name youth speakers. One of the great problems with youth conferences in general is that they put on a show that cannot be duplicated at home. In a sense, conference have become the new tent revivals. Ours are much more of a gathering of youth groups doing what they do at home, only bigger and all together in one place.


Youth programs that don’t destroy faith — 13 Comments

  1. Canadians are more than welcome to come to Higher Things – and some do! Notice that Pastor Cwirla’s first conference was in Seattle. This year there was a conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I attended one in Minneapolis two years ago. Last year, our youth went to Pennsylvania.

    Because Highter Things does 2 or 3 conferences at different locations each year, many of these conferences are closer to most Canadians than they are to most Americans.

    Go for it!

  2. Molly, great post. I think one of the reasons this “emergent/church growth/contempo/nondenom” crud got in to the LCMS, is because we tend confirm & then forget. We can condemn & complain, but we generally offer no options either. Confessionals, who know their worth, should look to this type of thing as the gold standard. If we offer “true” encouragement, many will for go the “false” encouragement. Great post! Pray things are well with you & yours.

  3. Anonymous,

    Our BJS conference is as close as you will get to a Higher Things for adults. You can find posts on it on the BJS newsreel on the Regular Columns page. We will be announcing our next conference soon.


  4. From #4: “…I think one of the reasons this “emergent/church growth/contempo/nondenom” crud got in to the LCMS, is because we tend confirm & then forget…”

    Yes, indeed! I used to teach 7&8 grade SS classes and watched both kids AND *especially* their parents treat confirmation as a kind of “rite of passage” – once the classes were finished and confirmation Sunday came and went many of those children disappeared altogether. They’d done what they’d thought was necessary and then dropped the ball. Instead of seeing catechesis as only a starting place, a beginning as Luther intended it, for members of the Church it came to be viewed as just another ring to be grabbed on the merry-go-round of dizzying contemporary Western culture.

    I blame those kid’s parents for that attitude, influenced too much by our highly materialistic, use-and-discard, consumer-oriented society that places the church and worship into the same category as all of the toys, video games, and MTV programs that they allow to influence them and shorten their attention spans.

    If programs like Higher Things can make even a small dent in this behavior, more power to it and Cwirla; I’d sure love to see more of the same.

  5. Anonymous up at #2 —

    They do have Higher things for adults. It’s called Higher Things. I go every 2 years as the youth leader at our church. Since nothing is “dumbed down” for the youth, I learn something new (lots of things) every time we go. Granted, it isn’t the same as if the whole conference were geared towards adults. But if you have the opportunity to volunteer as a chaperone? Take it.

  6. Having come back from my fourth Higher Things Conference, I cannot say enough good things about Higher Things. Pr. Cwirla has said many of them. Most of all you remember the worship from Higher Things.
    The principle is simple. Our youth go to camps for sports, science, math, and music. At these camps they do what they are there for. At Higher Things, youth gather and participate in what they are there for: worship, study, and fun.
    I would add a couple of other positives about Higher Things:
    1) Since they are held on college campuses, the youth worship, eat, and go to plenary sessions with all the other youth. You get a great sense of unity for the week.
    2) The stewardship of resources is wonderful. HT charged $330 this year and that included conference, lodging, and meals. Next year’s Synodical youth gathering charges $275 and that is only for the conference. You have to stay in expensive hotels and find your own food.

    For a taste of how Lutheran youth can worship.

  7. Adults who can only spare a day, or who can’t keep up with a teenagers’ schedule for a whole conference, are welcome to visit Higher Things on a day pass.
    If you get a chance, do it!
    You will participate in two or three inspiring LSB services, hear excellent topics in the plenary and sectional formats, and have a good lunch with the group.
    Three of us enjoyed a day in San Antonio, and as an added treat talked with Pr. Will Weedon, one of the plenary speakers this year, over dinner.
    Wish there had been something like this long ago!

  8. George in Wheaton, thanks much. Remember the other part of the equation. Parents, you bet, but who teaches & keeps tabs on the parents? That would be their pastor & elders. Every church has (sprinkle, confirm, marry, and bury) members. More now then there used to be. Shepherds know their sheep, know them very well, and if they don’t, well…they tend lose a fraction of their flock. That is what a shepherd does, it’s in the job description. If we have to lay out responsibility, we should start at the top, with the divine office. Just for the record, never was me or my wife, wouldn’t have worked for us, me, LCMS school kid, her, a pastor “Rev. Alden type”. If we knocked off everyone off the roll after 18 months, and they knew it, think of what those numbers would look like, and what possibility exists. We want to reach the youth, that, starts from the top. Shepherds not CEO’s, ya want them back, give them a reason, the world always does.

  9. “Molly, great post. I think one of the reasons this “emergent/church growth/contempo/nondenom” crud got in to the LCMS, is because we tend confirm & then forget.”
    That’s one reason.
    Another is that we do kindergarten Sunday school instead of expecting the kids to learn something there. By third grade they are sick of kindergarten songs and the intention to leave as soon as they are cut loose by confirmation is already formed. But parents who think they’ve done their job if they drop the kid off at SS and confirmation and throw him/her a “graduation party” when they are confirmed are most at fault.
    And then there is NYG, run by adults who “can’t comprehend that it’s not a menu of twenty-somethings with guitars and bands interspersed with youth speakers” that should make up a Lutheran Youth Conference. Nuff said.

  10. Thank you for your information and nice comments. I have had the blessing of attending Higher Things twice myself, but have had other adults in my congregation ask if I knew of a HT for adults. I look forward to your conference postings.

  11. The rest of the blog is problematic, so don’t spend too much time there.

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