At Cultivate this year, we are exploring the ideas of human flourishing and innovation in ministry. We will do this through the unpacking of a real life case study. We have numerous academic and on the ground innovators speaking, however, you won’t hear any of them do their normal packaged talk. They will respond to these unique real-life case studies which contain stories that might sound a lot like what you are experiencing in your own youth ministries.
Our second main sessions focuses on moving from consumption and success to human flourishing. We have two speakers responding to this case study. The first is Rev. Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean, an accomplished professor, author, and speaker, and Rev. Matt Overton, a youth minister and expert innovator.
Read the case study in advance to Cultivate so you can start processing how you can help youth in your ministry move from consumption and success to human flourishing. We hope you’ll join us at Cultivate as we explore what it means to help young people flourish and engage in thoughtful conversation with other youth ministers together.
American culture largely teaches us that consumption and achievement will yield happiness and fulfillment in life. While the consumption of things and people sometimes yields fun or momentary happiness, only rarely does consumption lead to a flourishing life. We are made to flourish but find ourselves grasping for visions of life that are momentary and incomplete — focused on fun, entertainment, or mere consumption. How can we move young people towards a life of fulfillment in the midst of our consumer and achievement-driven culture? What does the “good life” look like through the lens of the Gospel in areas of wealth and in areas of poverty?
Case Study #2:
Mid-Winter Mission is a tradition at City Church that provides an opportunity for youth to serve others for an extended weekend. It’s a popular out-of-town event, partially because of the service component, but also because of the decidedly warmer climate than the city in January. This year was Jeremiah’s second year participating, and Pastor Tony was excited that Jeremiah got to go again because Jeremiah was unsure his parents were going to let him miss SAT prep classes. Jeremiah experiences a lot of pressure to maintain high grades and to prepare for college. He is a junior in high school, attends a magnet school with high academic standards, and feels compelled to keep up with his sister’s academic achievements. (She was salutatorian at the same school two years ago, and she now attends a prestigious college on scholarship.)
During Mid-Winter Mission, Tony was excited to see Jeremiah get a chance to put away the books and really open up. Jeremiah got to work with kids on the trip, and everyone who was there immediately saw his gifts with children and the joy that he experienced working with them. But when Tony sat with him on the ride home and asked whether he had ever thought about working with children — being a teacher, or something — Jeremiah quickly responded:
“No, it is not in the plan. I want to do something where I make a lot of money. I want to live in a nice house, drive a BMW, have a great family, and travel the world.”
“That’s an interesting plan,” said Tony surprised at the almost rote response. “That’s your plan?”
“Well, I mean, it’s the plan,” Jeremiah said. “I mean, I’m not sure there’s any other good plan. My parents have this blueprint for my life that I’m supposed to live into: Make good grades, participate in the right activities, do well on the SAT, go to a great school, marry the right person, get the right job. And I have to admit that sometimes I’m already tired with that — and I haven’t even gotten started.”
“Why do you feel like you have to live a life that tires you out rather than bringing you joy? Why not work with children if that would be a source of joy for you?” inquired Tony.
“Because what if that means I’m poor? And if I was a teacher, would my parents consider me successful if I did that? And how would that setup my own kids for success if I fail to give them the lifestyle and experiences needed to get into good schools? Sure, sometimes I wonder if the plan of my parents is all there is to life. But I think: maybe if I can make enough money to retire early, then I can be happy and I can volunteer somewhere on the side.”
“I know a lot of people who have all that Stuff who aren’t happy,” Tony responded. “The people I know are always buying the latest thing — new phone, a new car, a bigger house. On the outside, they look successful but I don’t think they are happy. Or, their happiness is tied to brief instances and experiences. They always have to consume or do more to try and fill a hole that seems to be inside them.”
Jeremiah looked reflective, “I know people like that too, but I’m going to be different.”
“How?” Tony asked.
“Because I’ll … I won’t … I can be happy with what I have,” Jeremiah said. “I just can learn to be happy.”
“I hope that is true, but I believe there is a deeper meaning and design for your life. I believe you will experience the kind of joy you did this week if you seek to be who God created you to be and do what God created you to do. I believe you will flourish in ways you can’t imagine. I don’t think following a preconceived plan for financial and social success is all there is. I think you can live the adventure of a lifetime, content and full of joy knowing you are doing exactly what God created you to do.”
Although the conversation was a good one, Tony came away from it overwhelmed with the challenge and difficulty of helping Jeremiah see a different world view. “How can I help Jeremiah and all our youth come to see the purpose of life differently? The Good News of Jesus Christ leads us to a life that looks very different than the ‘good life’ that America is selling our teens,” he says over coffee with you one morning. “As youth workers, how can you help youth like Jeremiah see and claim a life lived out of overflowing joy rather than the demands of consumerism, the American Dream, or the other visions of the Good Life that pervade American culture?
There is still time to register for Cultivate 2020, January 22-24 in Nashville, TN! Limited space available, register today!
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The Center for Youth Ministry Training joins the millions of people around the country and the world crying out for justice. We are praying for the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, for all impacted by racial injustice, and for all who are experiencing anger, fear, sorrow, and pain from these horrific incidents. We are concerned about how these killings and the deep divisions of our country are impacting all young people.