The BLAZE Conference at Montreat: “Young People ARE The Church”

Last week, I had the privilege of teaching at The Blaze Conference for Youth Leaders at Montreat. What a treat! If you’re looking for an opportunity to meet and learn with some amazing, dedicated, welcoming folks…this is it! I was taken with the genuine hospitality and eagerness to learn I observed in all of the conference staff and attendees. In addition, I was astounded at the intensity of attention~ during lectures, worship and workshops, folks were focused and interactive…cell phones were turned off and laptops and IPads were conspicuously absent. I couldn’t help but think, “The kids who are served by these folks are incredibly lucky to have such a passion and focus for learning.”

The keynote speaker, Michelle Thomas-Bush, provided not only excellent information and insight, but modeled sound teaching strategies as well. Many times, people think of a keynote address as a formal lecture. Michelle blazed a new keynote trail by involving her audience in every aspect of the two sessions. Audience members watched a movie clip, took a quiz, worked in groups, sorted and categorized topics, and observed role-plays. By teaching this way, Michelle modeled how to engage kids and keep their attention. She might not know it, but all of these strategies are essential when working with students who have issues like ADHD, anxiety and other hidden disabilities. Plus…her style made the sessions riveting!

A few takeaways from Michelle’s lectures:

  • Kids today communicate much differently than their leaders did when in middle and high school; as leaders, we need to understand and learn how to communicate with them
  • With social media and texting taking a huge role in youth culture, it is critical to have communication and safety policies in place. This not only protects the students, but the adult staff and volunteers as well.
  • Students identify their parents, teachers and youth leaders as role models BEFORE their sports heroes or pop icons. This is great news! Young people also indicate that they want role models who have overcome adversity and who have achieved goals. Michelle pointed out that it’s important to share our struggles and how we’ve managed them…kids want us to invest time and attention in them. AND…they’re watching us! They want role models they can emulate.
  • Youth ministry is about more than signing kids up for retreats and lock-ins; it’s about connecting with kids and developing relationships.
  • When college students reflect on their middle and high school youth group experiences, they say that they wish they’d had more time for in-depth discussions and service opportunities.
  • Students need guidance and boundaries. Youth leaders and parents who use an authoritative approach help students to learn how to develop their own standards and boundaries as they gain independence.
  • Finally, Michelle emphasized that we need to shift our thinking about youth. “Young people are not the future of the church…Young people ARE the church.”

Michelle told the group on the final day that as the Church, we share! To that end, she has created a free online resource so that you can use and enjoy the resources she created for this conference! Her lectures will also be posted the Montreat website soon; I will post the link when they’re available.

Thanks, Michelle, for the information and inspiration!

Happy Monday, everyone!

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