Lutheranism In, Lutherans Out: A Higher Things Youth Conference Reflection

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“At the risk of sounding quite insolently obvious, I shall say that if the Church is to make any impression on the modern mind she will have to preach Christ and the cross.”

– Dorothy Sayers[1]

The same could be said of making lasting impressions on the youth of the church, especially when it comes to contending for and delivering the Christian faith (Jude 3). The word Lutherans use for this is catechesis. Now, by catechesis we must mean a lifetime of receiving the Word of God, participating in the sacramental life of the church, and believing, teaching, and confessing – not leave the catechism, Scriptures, and hymnal behind once you’ve hit made your confirmation vows. At its best, Lutheran catechesis centers on Christ crucified throughout our entire lives.  Quite simply, this is what our youth need. More historic Lutheran teaching. More discussion and studies on current topics from a Christian worldview. More apologetics for the defense of their faith. More worship that points them to Christ and not themselves or the latest pop-Christian entertainment fads. In other words, our youth need what we all need: More 200 proof Lutheran doctrine and practice. More Word. More Sacraments. More Jesus.


It’s simple really. You put good Lutheran teaching, worship, and throw in some fun activities – and you get good Lutherans out. Good Lutheranism in, good Lutherans out. To be sure, some of our young men will be pastors and some of our young women will be deaconesses and they will all go on to serve in various vocations. But the youth are not the future of the church. They are the church, right now, already. From the moment they were baptized and marked with the cross and the water they were members of the body of Christ.

And this is why the youth board and pastors here at Redeemer have made going to Higher Things conferences in the summer (not to mention using their resources during the year) the highest priority for our youth. Higher Things youth organization provides the best in Lutheran teaching, worship, and fun for our youth and adults alike. Through conferences, daily devotions, online videos, Facebook, radio, and so much more, Higher Things is giving our youth a faith that they can grow into, not out of. And that’s what we spend our time doing here at Redeemer whether it’s in Sunday School, preschool, adult Bible studies or with our youth.  Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).

Over the past several decades protestant churches throughout the United States have been learning this the hard way. Studies have been done. Surveys conducted. Data has been re-studied and re-researched to the point of exasperating redundancy. Everyone agrees that youth and college students are leaving the church in large numbers. The problem, however, isn’t in the diagnosis, it’s in the treatment. The youth are leaving the church not because of too much Christian doctrine but too little. They are leaving not because of too much liturgy and good hymns, but too little. They are leaving not because the church is uncool but because it is too cool, too friendly with the world. If the church becomes too much like the world, why should our youth – or anyone for that matter – come to church? What’s the difference between going to the club on Saturday night and the rock band on Sunday morning? Honestly, not much and the club is probably more fun (and better music). If faith is a house, we’ve built them a house of straw and sticks. No wonder that when they get to the later years of high school or college that the big bad wolf of skepticism, atheism, and all sorts of other “isms” blows their house down. The church growth methods and trend setting ways of popular Christianity have been tried and found wanting and they have failed our youth. Too many youth are leaving the church not because they are overstuffed on good Christian substance, but because they are starving, or worse yet, the church has fed them a steady diet of sugar-fied Christianity which turns out to be a fantastic gateway drug to unbelief or, at the very least, an early exit out the back door.

No doubt you’ve heard the old cliché: You are what you eat. To an extent that’s true. The food and drink we put into our bodies affects our weight, cholesterol, metabolism, and so forth. The same is true for the Christian faith: you are what you worship and teach. The Christian teaching we receive, the spiritual food and drink we partake of, and the worship we are involved in all affects our spiritual diet and well being.

That’s why false teaching and self-centered worship are bad for your spiritual health; these things are also poisonous to our youth and it’s everywhere in our culture and sadly in our churches. Thankfully, there are good ingredients for our youth and families today. We don’t need to settle for the McJesus of fast food Christianity: Have it your way! Thank God for Higher Things and this year’s From Above conference, where we were reminded daily that we are God’s children, born from above in Baptism and fed by Christ’s Word and Supper.

This why the youth and adult chaperones spent four days in Tacoma, Washington at a youth conference this summer. Our youth are important members of the body of Christ. They need to be fed and nourished just like our other members, with the same wholesome word and sacraments we all need. At this year’s From Above conference that’s exactly what they received. The youth attended 14 worship services in 4 days, 4 plenary (meaning full) sessions and at least 7 breakout sessions on individual topics of their choosing. And here’s the best part of it all: they loved it. They ate it up. They wanted more and were actually disappointed we had to leave a little early to get to the airport.

At Higher Things From Above our youth – along with 450 other Lutheran youth – received exactly what they as Lutheran youth (and all of us alike) need: solid Lutheran worship; faithful teaching; and a whole lot of fun.
Teaching. Everyone knows this is an essential part of the Christian life. And it’s a key part of the conferences at Higher Things. The topics range anywhere from homosexuality to dating, marriage and family or from Christ in the movies to telling Old Testament stories using Legos. Each day the youth got to pick from several options at several times for these breakout sessions. It is a joy to see our youth hunger for and rejoice in good solid teaching. We don’t need to dumb it down for them. They’re not dumb kids. They are extremely intelligent. Take the time to explain complex words and ideas. They’ll appreciate it and thank you for it. Take them seriously. They have serious questions. And as Lutherans we have the best answers around. We have all the right tools and resources: the Scriptures, the Catechism, and the hymnal. Combine that with a thoroughly Lutheran apologetics and you’ve got a great recipe. Put good Lutheran teaching in and you get good Lutherans out.
 Worship. We used the hymnal for every service. Over 450 youth sang hymns that would make many lifelong Lutherans shake in their pews. They spent 4 days doing things all the so-called experts say they shouldn’t be doing. Guess what? Our youth love the liturgy. They love the treasures of the church in hymn and song that have been passed down for hundreds and even thousands of years. They love the gifts given to them in the liturgy: Christ’s Word, Christ’s body, Christ’s blood, Christ’s absolution. They even listened to the sermons and remembered those days later when we talked about it over dinner. You put good Lutheran worship in, and you get good Lutherans out, out singing in the parking lot, out singing in the car, out telling their friends about the riches of Christ’s gift in hymn and song at church and at youth.
Fun. What would a youth conference be without fun? We had plenty of it. From the moment (even if it was at 5 AM) we met at the airport to the moment we picked up Clifford the Big Red Suburban and arrived on campus at Pacific Lutheran University, we were all having fun, despite being tired! In fact the whole week was one exhaustingly joyous day after another. But it was that good kind of tired after a satisfying bike ride or workout. That’s a fitting way to describe Higher Things: a solid Lutheran workout. You are what you eat, worship, and teach. The fun extended from the city heights of Seattle’s Space Needle down to the simple things like making new friends and going to Baskin Robbins. Redeemer’s youth have fun wherever they go. That’s just who they are. They had fun. I had fun. And I’d go with them to a Higher Things conference any day.
Our youth are a joy and a delight. You really should try spending some time with them. I pray you find time to interact with them and find this out for yourselves. Of course, there is a great deal we can do to support them and train them up as they dare to be Lutheran. But one of the best things that Higher Things From Abovetaught me is that our Lutheran youth have just as much to teach us about daring to be Lutheran. Because when you put good Lutheran stuff in, you get good Lutherans out.





[1]Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? Letters to a Diminished Church. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004, p. 60.

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