I remember my very first NYWC, 1999, Cincinnati, OH. I had just accepted my first full-time call as a youth worker, and my first assignment at the church was attending the fall convention.
So my wife and I booked the hotel, registered with NYWC, and reserved a rental car. We left our 15 month old with some new friends from the church, and we, along with our 4 month old (yes we had 2 within 15 months of each other...) made our way to our first convention.
I remember as we drove having all sorts of emotions. As a young (only 24 at the time) youth worker, I was sooo excited to be working in a church. I couldn't wait to get started, pour into my new students, watching them grow in faith, and expereincing all that God has for them and us. We arrived at the hotel, checked in, and looked forward to the convention kick off which would take place the next day. Little did I know at the time, my life was about to be changed.
That first year opened my eyes to something way bigger then I ever thought. God had rocked my world. Quite honestly, and still today, when I am with my friends at NYWC, I feel like I am with family. It didn't take long for me to look around and see, here is where I belong. Not only did these people dress like me and talked like me, had a passion for students like me, and heart for God like me. And for the first time, I knew that what God had called me to do was right where I was! I was a youth pastor.
As I returned to NYWC in the many years that followed, there was always a warm sense of comfort and familiarity. It had become home. And this was my family. And it didn't matter what was different or how NYWC might have changed, NYWC was still NYWC.
In my later years, I started serving as a volunteer with the convention. I had accumilated almost 10 years of ministry expereince and was looking to do something different. Far from being an expert, yet wanting to give something back, being a volunteer gave me the opportunity to serve youth workers. I was able to take a back seat and watch as youth workers poured into convention centers, hungry for wisdom, broken from a difficult ministry, and desiring to be better at what they were called to do. Volunteering is grunt work. Setting up, tearing down, moving this, moving that, running here, running there, and I loved it. New friendships were formed as my YM family grew larger. And oh the conversations we would have. Thinking, talking, and dreaming youth ministry. It was stimulating and invigorating. I was alive!
Then there were those moments. Few, but they were there. Moments to love on another youth worker. Moments of listening to their stories, praying through tears for them. Moments to smile and say, "Welcome home." That's when I fully understood the purpose of NYWC.
You see, as much as we would like to believe it, the reality is, church work is hard. Youth ministry in particular is extremely difficult. And there are a great many that fall under the pressures and difficulties of ministry. Sometimes the fall is simply emotional and spiritual as they burn out due to being overworked and under appreciated. Other times, the fall comes with higher costs, as the brokeness of sin touches a little too close to the office. Ministry is hard. And we in ministry too often take the hits and we keep going, all while dying a little more inside with each attack.
For many, NYWC is a place of love, grace, mercy, and healing. It's a place with we can get away from the hurt and the pain, the gossips and back-stabbers, and we rest again in the arms of our Lord and Savior. NYWC exists not just to provide training and resources, or to sell you the latest book or newest programming package. If you look carefully at the heart of NYWC what you will find is a desire to simply love youth worker where they are for who they are. And that is why I love the National Youth Workers Convention. More than a convention, it's a hospital. And I don't ever want to miss out on an opportunity to be the smiling face that says, "You are safe here. You are loved here. You are at home here. Come in and find rest."
This fall, NYWC will host it's two conventions, San Diego CA from October 8-11, and Louisville, KY from November 19-22, 2015. I would like to invite you to come and join us one of these weekend conventions. Whether ministry is good, and you're loving life and the call... Or if ministry has been difficult, and you're wondering is it really worth it to keep going... I believe that God will less you and your time here. So come, reconnect through powerful, moving worship. Be renewed as the Spirit speaks the words of life back into your soul. And remember that you're not in this alone, you still of Jesus in your corner!
Me? I'm hoping and planning to return this fall as a volunteer, welcoming and loving youth workers just like you in Louisville, KY, in November! I sure hope to see YOU there!