i got home from the 2nd annual middle school ministry campference sunday evening at about midnight. there’s something very, very special about this event. i mean, when i was leading youth specialties, i would certainly come home from the nywc on something of a buzz. but i think that had to do with the magnitude of the thing, the force of nature it was. but the campference isn’t that, certainly. instead, i think it’s the intimacy of this event that sets it apart.
certainly, if you put 100 youth workers of any stripe at a camp setting for a weekend, a special vibe could (and most likely would) surface. but i think there’s the added dimension that middle school youth workers often feel a bit isolated. i mean, we’re youth workers, and are peers with high school pastors and the vast majority of youth workers who lead both middle school and high school ministries. but sensing a specific calling to young teens is, well, sort of weird. of course, i mean that in a good way. i mean that in a great way.
a friend emailed and asked me about the weekend. as i was thinking about what made it so amazing, i was reflecting on the potentially counter-intuitive fact that meal times were the best parts of the weekend! that’s sorta different, huh? but it was at meals that we all sat as peers — speakers, rookies, veterans, event partners — and talked about each others’ lives and ministries. with that connectedness, our main sessions (we called them “tribal gatherings”) were less about whoever was speaking or any other element of the stage program than about a shared experience with people we cared about, people with whom we enjoyed a unique and rare heart connection.
free time was just a chance to get away. example #1: a bunch of attendees (and speakers, since the speakers are in the mix the entire time) went skeet shooting on saturday afternoon. it was one of the free time options spring hill camp offered us. but it wasn’t just a few people doing something for the activity; it became a shared experience of cheering each other on and chatting about other things. it was a synergy that had very little to do with shooting guns at clay pigeons (the new cover photo on The Youth Cartel’s facebook page captures a bit of the feel of that time). example #2: saturday evening, we ended our formal program at about 8:45. people naturally split into about three groups: about 16 people started a poker tournament; in the same room, clusters of people stood or sat and talked; and, about 40 people carpooled into the nearby town of seymour, indiana (home of john cougar mellencamp! which is why some smarty was hashtagging his tweets with #mellencampference) to watch the world series at a buffalo wild wings. of course, youth workers at any event might gravitate that way; but this was a “let’s do this together” experience, with 30 around one table and another 10 around another table — whether they came to the event together or not.
there was also a stunningly beautiful thread through the speakers at the tribal gatherings — 7 talks (including 4 soapbox rants of only 7 minutes each). really, it seemed like we had planned a theme around honesty, hope, fear, and the interplay of praise and criticism. we didn’t plan it; but i think the spirit did.
this is a decidedly unslick event. when the slides didn’t show up in the right order, we all just laughed. when i shouted from the back of the room that there was a video that seemed to be skipped, no one thought “wow, this is an unorganized event!” that said, the stuff on the stage was awesome, hilarious, deep, thoughtful, provocative, insightful, and encouraging.
yeah. i sure do like this tribe. a few more pics: