Christian Conferences for Dummies

Would you deliberately put yourself in a situation where you'll battle an intense bout of judgmentalism that leaves you feeling spiritually sick? Don't get me wrong -- I like retreats and getaways planned by my local church with people I know, but large, glitzy gatherings of evangelicals featuring big name speakers are definitely not good for my soul. The celebraholism, the merchandising, the feeling of being an outsider in a club where people talk, dress, think, and buy alike ... I usually end up wanting either to burst into a Bollywood song and dance number as I exit the joint or don a white, blue-bordered sari and carry a hungry brown baby around the exhibit halls.

That's why I was so delighted with my most recent attempt at Christian conferencing -- attending Equip '06, Vision New England's daylong offering for adults working with children and youth. First of all, it was held in a public middle school, with the venue itself underlining the context of the people we're trying to bless. (The session on serving non-English-speakers was in the library, for example, where a nice selection of Spanish and Portuguese books for kids had been prominently displayed by the school librarian.)

Second, Chap Clark outlined the findings of his seven-month ethnographic study of mid-adolescence, summarized in Hurt: Inside The World of Today's Teenagers, a must-read for parents of teens. During his sessions, Clark elaborated on the premise of his book:
Adolescents have been cut off for far too long from the adults who have the power and experience to escort them into the greater society. Adolescents have been abandoned. They have, therefore, created their own world, a world that is designed to protect them from the destructive forces and wiles of the adult community.
"EVERY kid is desperate for one adult to sit on the curb with them," he said, re-igniting my desire to champion, cheerlead, and simply and unhurriedly BE with any teens who come my way (including my own two). This isn't easy to do, Clark reminded us, with people who mistrust you.

The reality of intimacy hunger was echoed by James Emery White, who told us that the forging of authentic relationships is a key to representing Jesus in this generation. And finally, during a practical session on how to care for young spouses of porn addicts, I heard frank, gritty discussion about sexual exploitation and suffering -- a conversation that should be taking place in every church in North America.

I've been to other conferences, though, where the workshops and plenaries were excellent but I still left feeling disenfranchised and cynical. So what made this conference different? Maybe it was because almost everybody there, speakers, attendees, and exhibitors alike, shared the same goal -- to obey the One who uninhibitedly welcomes kids of all shapes, hues, and abilities into his inner circle. He's the curb-sitting guy with the power to nurture an abandoned generation of teens and open a hard, judgmental heart, so that even someone like me can endure, and yes, even enjoy, a Christian conference.


Leslie said...

Hey--I like your new look, Mitali!

This conference sounds wonderful. I, too, find myself becoming so judgemental when everyone is looking/acting/dressing/
reading/praying the SAME. (And I am made to feel less of a Christian because I might not do it exactly the way they do...) I'm also thinking hard about the fact that our "adolescents have been abonadoned." My twelve-year-old son's life is slipping away from me...

Mitali Perkins said...

I know what you mean. That slipping away feeling is a terrible part of midlife as your parents and children age. But God keeps pace with them even when we can't, and like John the Baptist I suppose we must become lesser that He might become greater in their lives.