Developing LCC’s National Youth Gathering theme

By Michael Gillingham

We’ve done some different things with the planning of this Gathering and I’ll be interested to see how things come together. When we were planning the theme, we gathered the Committee and the presenters who’d be helping us with the event. We decided to try to build these ideas and images together with the presenters, trusting that God might inspire them to flesh out our basic thoughts in some unique and creative ways.

We started by thinking and talking about specific teenagers we know. As we listed things about them (age, gender, family composition, interests, struggles, etc) we began sensing anew the massive challenge of trying to share God’s love and Word with such a diverse group of people.

We looked for themes that might speak to the youth and leaders at the event. We came up with several ideas and angles. I shared with the group that The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod National Youth Gathering had chosen the theme We Believe. I also shared with the group my work on songs for Concordia Publishing House’s VBS this upcoming summer and how they’d gone for the theme Believe and Belong. While we didn’t want to steal anybody’s ideas, we appreciated both thematic ideas. As we unpacked our thoughts about the young people we were hoping to serve, we noted a common need that so many young people have to belong. We wanted to focus on how we belong in God’s family, in the church, in our families and among our friends. We wanted to say clearly to the youth “You belong to God!”

We also wanted to talk about faith in Christ and what it means to believe. Many youth are surrounded by confusing spiritual messages. We felt it would be important to point the youth to a specific expression of the Biblical and historic Christian faith. We saw both the belonging and the believing as gifts that God presents to us in His mercy and grace.

We saw huge connections for talking about Baptism and Holy Communion as means of God helping us to belong and believe. We also saw huge connections for talking about God’s Word and its power in our lives as God’s people.

We also want to remind the kids that they belong in the Church. God has called the Church into being to be His people and share His love and mercy with all people. We want the kids to think about belonging to their own congregation as well as the larger Church (LCC and also the larger Christian church around the world and throughout time).

On a related note, I shared some insights from conversations I’d had with Pastor Matt Ziprick (Bethel, Sherwood Park, Alta.) on the relationship between believing and belonging. We noted that we’ve seen many people at Bethel who come first to our church looking for a place to belong. It’s later that God, working through His Word and Spirit, gives them the faith to believe. Sometimes for some people, including our youth, a sense of belonging is an important step in the journey to believing.

The reverse is also true. I’ve seen so often those who truly believe but feel little or no sense of connection to their local congregation, youth group or church body. We believe that both believing and belonging are important.

In our logo, we’ve tried to note that the relationship between “believing” and “belonging” can go both ways… belong and believe + believe and belong. During the Gathering, we’ll be making it clear that ultimately belief in Jesus Christ as Saviour is the only way to experience the gifts of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life even as we talk about belonging to God, our families and the church.

Since this initial thematic development, the presenters have continued to meet and flesh out the sessions. I sat in on these sessions on the Gathering Committee’s behalf and it’s been really neat to see how they have developed the themes. I’m looking forward to seeing how well it works to have our presenters speaking in different ways to common themes and ideas as they complement each other.

Michael Gillingham is chairman of the National Youth Gathering Planning Committee and serves as director of Youth Ministry at Bethel Lutheran Church in Sherwood Park, Alberta.

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One Response

  1. […] The Gathering will develop the theme in plenary sessions, worship, music, breakout workshops, and by giving the youth and their leaders the opportunity to make an impact on the Edmonton community through serving events. As the theme develops, speakers address the reality of belief, doubt and feeling isolated, along with the joy that comes from being part of a Christian community. (Read more about the theme development HERE.) […]

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