Beginning Monday, June 10th we will have the joy and privilege of having Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean as our Conference Teacher. She is renowned for her insight in ministry to youth and young adults. Significantly those insights translate beyond ministry to young persons. They are profound in their implications for what it means to be a Christian and to recovering the essence of the Wesleyan movement of faithful discipleship to the Lord. Her book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, is exceptional. Dr. Dean will be speaking to the Conference on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. These addresses are open to all. Visitors to Conference are asked to sit in the balcony. If you are not a delegate to the Central Texas Conference, please receive this blog as an invitation to come and hear Dr. Dean offer us lessons for discipleship. In March of 2012 Dr. Dean wrote an article for Leading Ideas (The Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s online magazine) entitled “Characteristics for a Healthy Youth Ministry.” She shared (in part) the following: “Congregations that succeed in nurturing the faith of young people tend to demonstrate certain key characteristics. What are the top characteristics of a healthy youth ministry? 11. Safe space. 10. A culture of creativity. Young people need practice in multiple “faith languages” — words and actions, art and prayer. 9. A culture of theological awareness. 8. Integration into a congregation’s worship, mission, and discipleship formation at every level. Teenagers need people to reflect back to them who they are. This “mirroring” is basic to the process of identity formation. Only in the church do young people begin to see themselves through the eyes of people who try to see them as God sees them: beloved, blessed, called. 7. An authentic, fun, and passionate community of belonging. 6. A team of adult youth leaders actively growing in faith. You can’t lead where you don’t go. Adult youth leaders need to model spiritual investment in themselves, in one another, and in the world because youth need examples of faithful, supportive, Christian community. 5. A congregation where people actively seek and talk about God. The 2003 Exemplary Youth Ministry Study convinced me that congregations where young people reliably develop mature faith “talk about God as the subject of sentences.” Talking about God indicates that people in a church are actively seeking God and believe God makes a difference. And, they talk to God as well as about God. God is alive and present and in their midst. God is doing things through them. 4. A congregation where people are visibly invested in youth. 3. A senior pastor who is crazy about young people. If a congregation supports youth ministry, it will be clear because the senior pastor or head of staff talks about young people (positively) in public, includes them in leadership, embraces the faith development of parents, knows youth and their leaders by name, and makes himself or herself available to young people for spiritual conversations. The senior pastor is youth ministry’s head cheerleader. 2. Parents who model faith and know that this matters to their kids. Parents are the most important youth ministers. The National Study of Youth and Religion found that having parents who are religiously active is the most important variable contributing to a teenager’s faith identity and his or her ability to sustain that faith identity between high school and emerging adulthood. And if young people don’t have religiously active parents, then churches need to be places where kids can find adults who will “adopt” them spiritually. 1. A commitment to Jesus Christ. Since Christians understand God as Triune through Jesus — whose life, death, and resurrection reveals not only who God is and who we are in relationship to God, but that God continues to act in our lives and in the world around us — doing youth ministry without Jesus is like doing dinner without food: you can come to the table, but there’s nothing to eat. So why bother?” There is more and, as I indicated above, I have edited the article quoted. Hopefully this whets your appetite. We have a rare opportunity to have a world class scholar and deeply faithful Christian leader teach us. I hope to see you at Arborlawn UMC on June 10th and 11th!