By Pastor Chris Hull
Vitamins and supplements are helpful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s good to boost your immune system with some vitamin C, increase your happiness with good old vitamin D. But if you don’t eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep, all the vitamins in the world won’t help you. Vitamins are not healthy eating themselves, but rather they support a healthy lifestyle. Higher Things conferences are just this. They are not a replacement for a regular diet of Word and Sacrament at your local LCMS congregation but rather are a supplement. Higher Things conferences do not replace regular study of the Word of God and the Book of Concord, but rather they support you in your continual learning of what God says to His Church. Higher Things in San Antonio, Texas, was a fantastic supplement for myself and the youth of Zion Lutheran Church in Tomball, Texas.
First, the greatest supplement was the worship life. Four services a day, bookended by two Divine Services. The youth and I, along with our associate pastor and three other adult leaders, received the gifts of hearing the full Law and the pure Gospel preached by faithful LCMS pastors. We sang faithful hymnody, heard the Word of God read from Genesis to Revelation, and prayed the prayers of the Church catholic. We sang Matins, Vespers, Evening Prayer, and Compline every day. We received the Lord’s Supper and heard absolution from the pastor’s mouth as from Jesus Himself. The Worship life was a great supplement for all who are regularly attending the Divine Service at their congregation. We received Christ and Him crucified for our salvation at every single service and office. The Worship life was the highlight of the conference and was like a vitamin B12 shot for the conscience.
Second, was the plenary lectures based on the theme, “Here I Stand.” These lectures, four hours in time, took all who were there through the theology and life of Dr. Martin Luther of blessed and holy memory. Everyone learned the theology of not just Luther, but of the Lutheran Confessions as well. This is vital because the Church holds to the Scriptures (our guiding principle) and the Confessions (our guided principle), and these are the judge for all teaching and preaching. Pastor Goodman was fantastic in leading the assembly through the early years of Luther and the end of Luther’s life. He did this by calling all to see that our whole life is based not on our works, our merit, or our emotions, but rather it is founded on the grace of our Heavenly Father as revealed to us in the mercy of Christ Jesus our Lord. All the plenaries were overflowing with the grace of God, not in an abstract way, but concretely as they come to us in the means of grace: the Word and the Sacraments. The plenary lectures were fantastic, but more importantly they were faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. In doing this, they were a great support of regular study of the Word.
Third, the breakaways were helpful. Everyone could choose different breakaways to go to and learn from various pastors and laity on topics ranging from Evolution to Absolution. What was helpful about these breakaways was that it introduced the attendees to different pastors and laity who teach the faith of the Scriptures and the Confessions. The only issue with some of the breakaways is that you are only given an hour to speak, and if the topic is a heavy one, sometimes you can’t get through all the material. This can cause confusion for some of the youth, but if a pastor attends the breakaways with their youth like I and my associate did, you can clarify any confusion created. Again, this is why Higher Things is a supplement, rather than a replacement for a regular diet on the Word. I benefited from the breakaways, as did our youth. I myself taught a breakaway and can attest to the reality that there is more time needed in addition to what is provided for the breakaways. If you are a pastor, I would highly recommend going to the breakaways with your youth, rather than letting them scatter, in order that you can have a fruitful dialogue with them about what they hear.
Fourth, was the time I got to spend with the youth from our church. I got to eat with them, worship with them, instruct them, play games at night with them, judge a talent show, participate in a chant off with them, and overall get to know them better throughout the week. Could I do this at my own church? Yes, but not completely.
The Higher Things conference is a time that is set aside to encourage the youth in their knowledge of their Lord Jesus who loves them, died for them, rose for them, and now forgives them in the means of grace. I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience at Higher Things this past week because it gave me an opportunity to see the youth at Zion engage in the hearing of the Gospel, grow in their knowledge of the Word, and cultivate relationships with other youth around the nation who desire the same thing.
Should you take your youth to Higher Things? Yes. Why? Because it is a great supplement to the good diet they are getting in regular reception of the Word and the Sacraments. It is more than just fun times with other kids. It is a great opportunity to grow and learn that your pastor is just like every other pastor that is faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions in both doctrine and practice. It solidifies the foundation that the pastor and parents lay for their youth. Higher Things conferences, at least the one I attended with Zion’s youth, was a fruitful time in which we enjoyed receiving the gifts of the cross and consoling each other throughout the week in the gift of the Gospel. I would highly recommend every church to attend these conferences and enjoy the fun—and faithful!—times you will have with your youth.
Pastor Hull serves as Senior Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Tomball, TX and was plenary speaker at the San Antonio conference.