Thursday, January 25, 2007

Big Exo Day Part 3: Preparing for 2007

This is the third in a series of three posts about Big Exo Day. Part 1 was an outline of what happened at the Sydney Big Exo Day in 2006. Part 2 was some reflection on the 2006 event. This post will consider what you might do in preparation for taking a group to Big Exo Day 2007.

After my experience of Big Exo Day 2006, I am seriously considering taking my own youth group to Big Exo Day 2007 (September 1st). Obviously if you plan to take a group to Big Exo Day 2007 you’ll need to plan for all the usual things like advertising sufficiently early, transport, notifying parents, and budgeting to make sure you don’t loose money. However these are the three further things I plan to do in order to capitalise upon the Day’s strengths, and mitigate against the day’s weaknesses.
  • Check out the 2007 speaker.

  • Prime the kids before the day.

  • Plan for follow up after the day.

I’m always cautious about allowing youth group kids under my care to be taught by a speaker who I have not heard myself, or received a recommendation about from a person I trust. The speaker for 2007 Big Exo Day in Sydney is Reggie Dabbs. I have not researched who the speakers are in other cities. Reggie Dabbs is an American with many years experience speaking to high school students, and has previously spoken at Youth Alive events in Australia. Searching across the web I was only able to uncover two examples of Reggie’s speaking. The most illuminating was a talk from a youth camp in 2004 (the other example was a podcast from Promise Keepers). The context of the 2004 talk appears to be very similar to Big Exo Day, so is a likely indication of how Reggie will speak at Big Exo Day 2007. If so, Big Exo Day 2007 will probably have similar strengths and weaknesses to Big Exo Day 2006. Reggie is likely to give a talk that creates enthusiasm and interest for Christianity in teenagers. However his use of the bible may only be token, and his communication gospel propositions is likely to be superficial.

As well as considering the speaker, it’s important that you prime the kids before you go to Big Exo Day. That is, the expectations you give them about the day can either help or hinder. It is easy to give kids the expectation that Big Exo Day will simply be lots of fun and entertainment for them to consume. If you do, Big Exo Day may unfortunately foster a selfish and consumeristic attitude that youth groups must be continually fighting against. It is probably more helpful to give kids the expectation that Big Exo Day is an opportunity to love others who they hope to see join the kingdom of Christ. That is, before the event encourage your youth group kids to be excited when their non-Christian friends say yes to coming, and not only excited about the fun they themselves will have on the day. Likewise, with so many different things on a the same time during the daytime, it is easy for kids to be focused on maximising their own fun, and forgetting to care for each other, particularly kids who may feel new or out of place. It may be wise to give kids the expectation that they may have to choose little less fun themselves in order to care for others.

Finally, before you go to Big Exo Day 2007 you must have a follow up plan for those who want to make a commitment on the night, or express further interest in Christianity. The shape of the follow up plan will vary depending on your context. It may be introductory bible study groups, one-on-one meetings, or something else. The important thing is that you have a plan. Those who make a commitment on the day will need lots of care and nurture far beyond what it possible on the actual day.

You may or may not bring kids to Big Exo Day yourself. However, my hope and prayer is that by reflecting on Big Exo Day you may be better able consider how best to use large evangelistic events in our common goal of growing the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Google Searches that have lead here #1

Tim has made a couple of posts recently - I'm warming up ready for some youth vanguard action in February - and we have some new contributors joining us shortly. But in the last couple of weeks the following search terms were used to stumble upon this site:
  • national youth affairs conference
  • vanguard youth
  • emo youth today
  • label/australia registration
  • how youth become mature christians
  • tim young youth pastor vanguard
  • youth as vanguard
  • vanguard evangelism
  • newspaper articles with the word vanguard
  • older emo's
  • the real thingyouthworks
  • youth ministries connecting with god
If you have stumbled here via google - feel free to leave comments...
If you don't know anything about Jesus, check this out.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Big Exo Day Part 2: Reflections upon 2006

This is the second in a series of three posts about Big Exo Day. You will find a description of Big Exo Day 2006 in Part 1.

The relationship between Christians and the culture they live in has been a tricky problem for the past 2000 years. Christian groups, such as some monastic orders, have attempted to separate themselves completely from the surrounding world. On the other hand, Christian groups, such as some Protestant Liberals, have integrated so closely with surrounding culture that there is little apparent difference. H. R. Niebuhr did some work categorising the different ways Christians have related to culture. The cultural stance of Big Exo Day most closely fits Niebuhr’s type of ‘Christ Transforming Culture’. The ‘Christ Transforming Culture’ type is characterised by the belief that the cultural world, or youth culture in the case of Big Exo Day, has been created good by God. This belief is justified by the observation that God first created humanity as cultural beings. That is, before the fall Adam and Eve engaged in cultural activities such as relating with one another, using language, working in the garden, and naming the animals. However, the ‘Christ Transforming Culture’ type does not believe culture is perfect now. Similar to the way sin has infected the lives of individuals, so too sin has infected culture. Therefore, the remedy is not to retreat from culture all together, for that is not possible, because we are inherently cultural beings. Rather, the cultural expression of Christians will bear resemblance to the surrounding age, but be transformed by the Lordship of Christ in the lives of believers.

The desire to see contemporary youth culture transformed by the Lordship of Christ is what I saw at Big Exo Day. Thus the song lyrics, the general behaviour of the crowd, and the attitude of the performers had all been clearly transformed by the desire to live with Christ as Lord.

Whilst the type of 'Christ Transforming Culture' is a valid way to relate Christianity and youth culture, the validity of this approach for evangelism must be weighed. On the positive side, a Christ transformed culture is ideally positioned to communicate, rather than simply proclaim the gospel. That is, as Christians we are called not only to proclaim the gospel, but to communicate the gospel in a manner that can be understood by the hearers. For example, Paul and the apostles were not ashamed, and therefore proclaimed the gospel fearlessly. However, they proclaimed in such a way that they communicated with their hearers. That is, the manner of their proclamation varied from audience to audience, be they Jews, Greeks, Corinthians, or Athenians, in order to communicate effectively. Due to their clear communication, some of their hearers responded with mocking, whilst others wanted to hear more, and some became believers. By partially adopting youth culture, the 'Christ Transforming Culture' type provides the language and environment for effective communication.

The weakness of the 'Christ Transforming Culture' type is its propensity to down-play the severity of the transformation Christ desires to work upon culture. That is, there is potential for the distinctiveness of Christ to be lost. Furthermore, the evangelistic call to be a new creation in submission to Christ's Lordship may loose impact. When following Christ appears to have little practical difference from following one’s own desires, pagan youth are right to ask the question, 'Why should I?'

In my opinion Big Exo Day partially succumbed to the weakness of the 'Christ Transforming Culture' approach, and failed to exploit the primary strength. In the end, the day spoke the language of young people, but didn't speak the language of Christ enough. Thus, in my opinion, the day failed to communicate the gospel with clarity.

At this point you may think I’ve written Big Exo Day off, but that’s not the case. There is one significant saving factor for Big Exo Day. No single evangelistic event ever happens in isolation. Before and after Big Exo Day there was a massive web of youth groups, schools, and personal relationships all seeking to communicate the gospel of Christ in partnership with Big Exo Day. Whilst the actual day could have done significantly better communicating the gospel, I am convinced the day did not hamper the growth of the kingdom among young people. Rather, it is my opinion that as a result of Big Exo Day the attitude of many teenagers toward Christianity may have been changed from apathy toward a readiness to listen. That is, Big Exo Day has enhanced opportunities for evangelism among a multiplicity of youth groups, schools and personal relationships since the event. Thus, Big Exo Day can be a helpful element in the broader evangelistic strategy of a youth group.

The third and final post about Big Exo Day will share some thoughts on preparing to take a youth group to Big Exo Day 2007.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Update - National Youth Affairs Conference 2007

I mentioned this conference in a post late last year because I thought it would be great for a few evangelical youth ministers to go. Since then more information about the conference has been released, some of it good news and some of it bad news.

The good news is that there has been lots of interest. Over 250 abstracts have been submitted for presentation. As a result the conference has been extended from two days to three days.

The bad news is that it is insanely expensive. The conference costs $220 per day. Yes you read that right: $220 PER DAY. And that doesn't include any transport or accommodation. Unfortunately it's too expensive for me, so I won't be going myself.

So I want to ask you: what's a reasonable price for a convention?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Big Exo Day Part 1: What was 2006 like?

In August of 2006 I had the privilege of going to the Sydney Big Exo Day for the first time. Big Exo Day’s are large evangelistic events run by Youth Alive once a year in most capital cities. The sheer size of the Sydney event (15 000 people) means it warrants some attention. However, aside from the size, the approach to evangelism taken by those who organised Big Exo Day is worthy of analysis and reflection. This is the first of three posts over three weeks about Big Exo Day. The first is a description of the Sydney Big Exo Day in 2006. The second post will be some reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of Big Exo Day in 2006. The final post will be my thoughts about preparing to take a youth group to Big Exo Day 2007.

Big Exo Day has two parts, daytime from 10am-5pm, and evening from 6pm-9:30pm. The daytime was largely unstructured, whilst the evening kept a rather tight program. During the day the large event area was scattered with many different things to see that could be browsed and experienced at one’s own leisure. There were at least five different stages each featuring a different genre of music, from hip-hop, to acoustic, to metal. Also on display was freestyle bmx and motocross, wake boarding, skateboarding, and streetcars. On the more interactive level, there was open skating and basketball areas, make overs for girls, linked X-boxes, and a variety of carnival style rides and activities. With so much on, there was always something to do, watch, or get excited by.

The character of the evening was quite different from the day. Everyone gathered inside the arena focused on a single central stage. The evening opened with three bands doing short sets, interspersed with various announcements, video clips and advertisements. Then the worship band came on for several songs, enjoying far more crowd participation than any of the prior acts. Collective singing was followed by the keynote speaker, an evangelistic appeal and, a few songs to conclude.

The whole Big Exo Day was clearly highly culturally influenced. The structure of the daytime is obviously modelled on secular youth festivals such as The Big Day Out, or Homebake, with many different activities and bands on at the same time. Likewise, the evening had strong similarities to a secular rock concert, particularly in light, sound, and crowd behaviour. However, despite heavy cultural influence, the whole mood of the day was clearly different from an analogous secular event. The difference was particularly seen by the attitude of those on stage, but also by the attitude of the crowd. The catchphrase for the day was ‘life is excellent’, and was embodied by all the performers I saw. There was no spirit of anger, cynicism, apathy or melancholy that is embodied by some secular acts. Rather, there was a spirit of fun, excitement and joy. The crowd too, whilst energetic, was generally thoughtful and positively enthusiastic. Over the nine hours I was there I didn’t see any evidence of bullying, and everyone in the evening mosh-pit was careful to look after the smaller people in the crowd and make sure on one got hurt.

Whilst the event was clearly different from a secular gathering, I was surprised how little Christ was spoken about for what was labelled an evangelistic event. During the day I didn’t hear God or Jesus talked about at all by any performer. There were a few information stalls set up by mission organisations, but it was hard to tell that proclamation of the gospel was aim of the event. Gospel themes weren’t readily apparent until unmistakably Christian lyrics were projected on the screen when worship band came on in the evening. The talk itself more closely resembled a testimony than a classic gospel presentation. The speaker, Darrell Scott, is the father of Rachel, one of the girls killed in the Columbine High shootings in 1999. Darrell talked about his daughter Rachel, her character, and her faith. The logic of the presentation was along these lines:

  • 1. Rachel was a person with a kind and loving disposition, who cared for the outcast.

  • 2. We see in Rachel character traits that we would like to see in ourselves.

  • 3. Rachel’s character was somehow closely linked with her Christian faith.

  • 4. Therefore, come and take a closer look at the Christian faith.

Some propositional truths of the gospel such as Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, Lordship, and wrath, were mentioned during the talk, but they were not the focus of the presentation. From my perspective, the talk seemed to be highly effective at igniting in many of the teenagers the desire to investigate Christianity further. However, I think most of those who came forward during the appeal would need more time and explanation before they entered God’s kingdom.

For me, Big Exo Day 2006 was a blast. It was tons of fun, and distinctively Christian. However, proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ was not a strength of the day.

Further analysis of Big Exo Day 2006 will be in Part 2.