NEW ORLEANS – The eighth annual “Extravaganza” of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was held from Jan. 22-25. Sponsored by the ELCA Youth Ministry Network, which is an organization committed to strengthening and empowering youth ministry leaders, the event offered training and continuing education for youth ministry professionals to about 550 participants.
The conference offered some 40 workshops mainly dealing with youth issues such as youth and family ministry, developing youth leaders, depression and suicide among youth, and so on. In effort to improve the mission of youth and family ministry continuing education courses were offered through “Intensive Care,” as a means of Christian outreach.
The Rev. Hal C. Weldin, director, Distributive Learning at Youth Leadership, a youth ministry training organization based in Minneapolis, presented "Breathe," by reflecting on Genesis 2:7, how God breathed life into humanity.
"This was a really powerful event," said Todd Buegler, president of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network and youth minister at Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Maple Grove, Minn. "Workshop topics were very relevant, so it was a good educational experience. We've heard nothing but praise for the keynote speakers," he said, calling the event "a home run."
"Now more than ever before it takes vision, a real ability to 'see' youth, to get youth ministry done well," said keynote speaker the Rev. Efrem Smith, pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis, and a member of the CORE Seminar Training Team of Youth Specialties.
"God sees young people differently than we do," Smith continued, saying that God sees what youth can become, whereas youth workers sometimes do not see beyond the personas youth adopt to defend themselves or to "fit in."
"Could it be that lives can be transformed if we look at young people with the eyes of God?" Smith asked. "I'm trying to get my eyes to be like God's. That begins with an understanding of how God sees me."
Another keynoter, the Rev. Martin Brokenleg, an Episcopal priest and professor of Native American studies at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D., and dean of the Black Hills Seminars on youth at risk, said that in American society there is a general disregard for kids. "An average mom engages her child in meaningful conversation only three minutes a day," he said, "and for an average dad, it's 49 seconds."
"The most universal human need is to belong, and adolescents feel that need the most," said Brokenleg. "And that's the point: to connect. Nothing creates more strength than belonging."
In addition, a new structure for the function of the board was adopted during the conference and Mike Yaconelli, author and founder of Youth Specialties, was honored posthumously with the Tom Hunstad Award for Distinguished Achievement in Youth Ministry. Mike Yaconelli died in October 2003 at age 61.The Hunstad award is presented in memory of the first president of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network.