At a time when it often seems a frustrating struggle to find and encourage youth leadership at a local church level, the South England Conference (SEC) Youth Leadership Conference (YLC) stimulated more than 90 leaders toward innovative development. In the case of the January 24-26, 2020, event in East Grinstead, London, “epic,” “refreshing,” and “just what we needed” were some of the phrases youth leaders used to describe the initiative.
Under the theme Rebuilding the Walls, leaders from across the SEC focused on creating dialogue around the realities of youth ministry (YM), including the dying out of youth leadership in local churches, while challenging the status quo with Spirit-led innovation.
YLC successfully met the objectives for attendees to realize the need for change and innovation; to create an intimate platform to discuss best YM practices with leading experts; and to ensure relevant specialist training and resources producing real solutions and new leaders.
Attending YLC as specially invited keynote speakers were Naomi Burgess, development and leadership coach for Team Great Britain; Laurent Grosvenor, senior pastor of the Alpha Adventist church in the United States; Fabian Thorpe, business director and entrepreneur; Jennie Hall, Senior Youth Leader Award assistant; and Tihomir Lazić, Trans-European Division (TED) public campus ministries director. British Union Conference (BUC) youth ministries director Dejan Stojković and local pastors also attended.
Workshops throughout the weekend included the introduction of the specialist youth training “Senior Youth Leadership Award,” organized by the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference youth ministries department. They also raised topics of discussion such as values and conflict resolution, Adventist youth and strategic planning, youth leadership and the Holy Spirit, and young people and innovation.
“Each presentation was thought-provoking as well as relevant, which allowed young people and leaders to adapt the information to their respective areas, churches, and individual lives,” organizers said. “Youth leaders in attendance took opportunities to network and share their leadership challenges and success stories.”
In one of the interactive sessions titled “The Youth Leaders Challenge,” participants were invited to split into four groups, each of which was tasked to come up with a youth project from a business perspective with budgets of £100 (approx. US$127), £1,000 (approx. US$1,275), and £1,000,000 (approx. US$1,275,000). The ideas and creativity resulting were remarkable. One such idea was to set up an allotment and health store run by young entrepreneurs that would be growing and selling organic and healthy food products.
One of the major problems the leaders highlighted during the group activity was that youth leaders and other key stakeholders in youth ministry are not sufficiently aware of the dynamics and processes from higher leadership levels, leading to marginalization and exclusion. There is, therefore, a need for leaders from division, union, and conference levels to be more conscious of this and try to work more closely together, many said.
Cathy Boldeau, who represented ADRA and Urban Ministries, promoted up-and-coming community projects. SEC youth director Anthony Fuller, on the other hand, said he felt encouraged that dozens of youth leaders had committed to the Senior Youth Leadership Award specialist program. Fuller closed the conference stressing the SEC plans for the ministry.
“[Our goal] is to collaborate more with youth leaders and the youth in local churches, as we commit to improving the quality and professionalization of youth work,” he said.