Tomorrow I get on a bus with 55 teenagers and ten adults from my church. Twelve hours later, we'll join 25,000 teens in New Orleans for an event that occurs every three years in my church body: the National Youth Gathering.
Miles of walking ("Oops, that's Bourbon Street.")
Crowds of sweaty high school students.
Speakers, bands, and mass gatherings in the Superdome.
Why do this?
I'm inspired by youth leaders.
I admire the thousands of adults who love their church's youth. They take time off of work. They invest a year of preparation. The give up time at home or with family. All to impact the lives of teenagers. I'm humbled by their selflessness.
I need to see the church at its best.
There is too much division, arrogance, and pestilence in our church (and our country). In the five National Youth Gathering's I've attended, I've always said, "This is the church at it's best." United. Growing. Excited. The church is bigger than any one of us. We are encouraged by the tangible vision of the church as the body of Christ. We go back to our towns and cities knowing we are not alone.
I need to pastor well.
My youth usually see their pastor "up front." For a week, I go from "up front" to "beside." Twenty-four hours on a bus. Walking the streets. Eating fast food. Worshipping God in the Superdome. I get to listen to them. Know them. Serve them better.
I need to understand youth culture.
Youth culture changes so quickly. In my late 30's, it's easy to lose touch with youth trends, language, and worldview. This doesn't mean awkwardly attempting to be hip (I'm already awkward enough.) Nor does it mean affirming everything about pop culture. It does mean understanding where my youth live. Then I can serve them better.
I need to empower my teens to lead.
Our young people must know they are not the future of the church. They are the church NOW. If they don't learn to be active members of the body of Christ now, when will they? We must equip, empower, and release them. My time with teenagers at the Gathering says, "I value you. I'm investing in you. I trust you." When we return, I'll say, "Go, be the church."
I need to be humbled.
I get to watch the Holy Spirit work through this week-long experience. I get to see youth build one another up in Christ. I get to witness adult leaders care for and counsel our teens.
Often, pastors feel as if the church depends on them. 25,000 youth gathered around Jesus is humbling. It reminds me that it's not about me. This is Jesus' church. These are his people.
That's why I'm hanging with 25,000 teens in New Orleans for a week.