July means it is YXL time at CEP. Each year we move from General Assembly right into YXL, our Christian leadership development conference for high school students. It seems that no matter how well-planned the conference is, those weeks between the Assembly and YXL cause those of us on the YXL leadership team to act as if we have turned into chickens with no heads. Then we arrive on Covenant College’s campus and YXL students start showing up in church vans, minivans and airplanes with enough luggage to be gone for 3 weeks and enough junk food to survive on a deserted island for even longer. It is at that moment that I step back, take a deep breath and realize that the months of prayer, marketing, strategizing and preparation have been worth it.
This year our theme was ‘Time is Now’ and our program was designed to help students wrestle with how God has purposed each moment of our lives. Our Theologian in Residence, RUF Campus Pastor John Craft, focused on World View and Apologetics during our Institute of Theology seminars each day. We followed each of those seminars with practicums designed to allow students to put into immediate practice what they had just learned. Our main speakers, Pastor Raymond Causey and Pastor David Stephenson, gave strong messages challenging students to not allow Satan to redirect or steal the time which God has purposed for them, and that the ultimate answer for the futility of life is found in the Gospel.
While each day provides plenty of excitement with activities like whitewater rafting, hiking Lookout Mountain, doing ministry projects, and spelunking, I am certain that the majority of YXL attendees would point to our worship and prayer times as highlights of the week. This year, our worship leader, Andrew Russell, brought new life to many of the standard youth ministry songs and introduced us to new worship music from around the globe. I am almost certain that for one or two brief moments I witnessed PCA youth dancing in worship to an African Swahili praise song, but before long we settled back into safer, standing and almost swaying songs like “In Christ Alone”. Each night we have an extended prayer time to close our worship service and as with every other YXL I have been part of, I find those times to be some of the most spiritually encouraging moments of my entire year. I believe if the adults in the churches that send students to YXL could see their youth wrestling in prayer with deep issues then the attitude that youth ministry is a “cokes and jokes” ministry would fade away.
We end our last evening together by giving students an opportunity to share about their week. This year was the first year that I can remember where the majority of students who stood to talk used the opportunity to exhort other students to faithful living and to spur one another on to love and good deeds. I was blown away with some of the wisdom I heard coming from students that night and as a hardened, sometimes cynical long-time youth pastor I do not get blown away often.
I ask people to pray during the months leading up to YXL that God would blow the doors off of all of our hopes and expectations for the week. I never know how God will choose to answer those prayers but I am always humbled when He does. This year wasn’t about the big break-through moment where God knocks us down with a spiritual awakening but it was about God answering our prayers in multiple ways, in random moments all throughout each day. And that was exactly what those of us who attended YXL this year needed…God giving us tangible moments during each day where His faithfulness and love for us was evidenced. When I asked one young man from South Georgia where he thought he had seen God at work during the day, he said that he had an overwhelming moment when he saw a redbird on his way back to the dorm and realized as important as that bird was to God, he was even more loved and important. Sounds a little sappy now, but for a teenager who struggles with feeling important and loved by his peers that was a significant realization.
As I drove down Lookout Mountain at the end of the week, I had two thoughts concerning YXL. The first was how I couldn’t wait to sleep in my own bed and the second was I couldn’t wait to see what God had in store for YXL 2012.
You can keep updated about all the plans for YXL 2012 on the CEP website.