NTE, SWEATCON, NEXTGEN – these are the names of a few conferences that run each year which is specifically and strategically designed to help train young women and men to handle and teach God’s Word.
While, these conferences are marked by a variety of really helpful keynote sermons (usually a combination of Old and New Testament expositions) and workshops (on key topics like leadership, character, and handling group dynamics), I think what makes these conferences stand out above many others is its unique ‘training groups’ (or what is sometimes known as ‘strand groups’).
For full disclosure, I’ve only been to NextGen, so my comments are limited to my experience of and exposure to it over the past 6-7 years. But usually, 4 strands are offered each year, and there is both an intentional and logical progression to the way that they are offered. This is what it looks like:
- Strand 1 – Basic Exegesis (from the New Testament)
- Strand 2 – Biblical Theology
- Strand 3 – Systematic Theology
- Strand 4 – Preaching
I’ve completed strands 1-3 (I would have done strand 4 but it wasn’t offered back then!), and I found each of them to be a unique experience. However, one of the questions that I’ve been asked over the past few years is: Elliot, which strand are you leading this year? And my answer have always been: Strand 1. The question of ‘why’ usually follows soon after, and here is why.
From what I’ve seen, there are usually two groups of people who come along to Strand 1 of NextGen. They are 1) super eager young leaders who just want to get their hands dirty in church ministry and 2) young men and women who have no idea why they’re there, and they were probably encouraged to go by their leaders who want to see them trained or parents who want to take a week off parenting (I joke). And these two groups of people are the reason I keep returning to Strand 1, because I love being a means through which to provide direction to the passionate and passion to the directionless.
Direction to the Passionate
I love these super eager young leaders because they remind me of myself back when I was younger. Passionate, a little naive, full of energy, and with little understanding or wisdom with regards to what leading a youth ministry would look like. As such, my hope and desire in becoming involved in leading Strand 1 is so that I can help to provide some biblically-grounded and practically-oriented guidance, direction, and care to these young people who want to get out there and change the world. To these people I say ‘do it!’, ‘but here are a few tips on how to do it without burning out’.
Passion to the Directionless
I also love the young women and men who don’t know why they’re there, because here is a unique 5-day opportunity to give them a God-glorifying, life-satisfying, and world-changing vision that is church (and specifically, youth) ministry! God has massive redemptive plans for the church, and I want to show them that we should count it as a privilege to be part of this unique and magnificent calling. To these people I say ‘get excited! Because there will come a time when we will no longer have the opportunity to call on people to repent and trust in Jesus, and there will come a time when Christian discipleship as we know it will no longer exist!’
What makes my joy complete is when members of these two camps return the following year to continue their training in strand 2. It excites me to hear about how they’ve been serving over the past 12 months, and it helps me direct my prayers more specifically in eager expectation that God will continue to do great things in and through their lives.
So will I keep leading strand 1 in 2019? Most likely for the reasons I’ve listed above. But if I’m convinced that becoming involved in other groups will enable me to be much more effective than where I am right now then I would be more than willing to do so. There is just something so satisfying and incredible about helping to shape and form the next generation of leaders, so if you’re a pastor or theological student, then let me encourage you to consider becoming involved in a conference like this.