by Pr. David Oberdieck
Something is terribly wrong. Teenagers from across the LC-MS have been attending Higher Things youth conferences. They worship three times a day, listen to weighty teaching in plenary sessions, participate in a variety of substantive sectionals, and they like it!
Higher Things is an organization run by dedicated LC-MS pastors and lay people who challenge teens to “Dare to Be Lutheran.” Being Lutheran means nothing less than enjoying the abundant grace of God in Jesus Christ. Higher Things Conference Executive, Pr. George Borghardt, put it this way, “It’s all about Christ.”
Higher Things put on three outstanding conferences for LC-MS teenagers as July 2011 rolled around. They gathered on college campuses in Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Bloomington, Illinois. If your church hasn’t yet participated, start planning for next year. Say “no” to fluff, and say “yes” to Higher Things!
What makes Higher Things unique? “First of all it is campus based…parents send their kids to science camp, music camp, all kinds of camps. We are essentially ‘Lutheran camp’,” said Pr. William Cwirla, President of Higher Things.
“The kids spend four days on a college campus all together. This is different from going to a hotel… where everyone is scattered and then gathered. Here they’re staying in dorms. They’re all together. They eat at a common place, the cafeteria… A lot of friendships are made as a result,” He said. “Basically it’s a four day intensive emersion in Lutheranism.”
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of fun to be had by the teens (adult leaders have fun too!). The conference at the Illinois State University in Bloomington featured rock climbing, scavenger hunts, sports, karaoke contests, movies, swimming, a talent show, and more.
These conferences are as weighty and meaningful as they are fun. Consider that worship is an important part of the gatherings. Higher Things will not have colored lights, a disco ball, fog machines, and a rock band leading worship. What they do in worship reflects what the average Lutheran congregation does week to week as they use the hymnal. It supports the local congregation rather than undercutting it.
The Illinois gathering had 1,200 participants from 29 states and four Canadian provinces. What is it like to hear all those young people worshipping the Lord? “It floats my boat,” Pr William Weedon commented. He was the Chaplain for the Illinois conference.
“They’re belting it out. They’re loving it. I’ve heard several people who have never had the opportunity to experience evening prayer before and that’s their favorite service,” he said. “I wish all the people that think ‘to really engage young people you have to put on a show’ could just come in and experience what this is like where it’s no show. We’re just doing the church’s worship the church’s way.”
Sandra Ostapowich, Conference and Retreat Coordinator, shared the experience of her youth group. One of their favorite parts was the Matins service. “Kids aren’t supposed to like what we’re doing,” said Ostapowich, “but they do.” Take Courtney for instance. She is a teenager from Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Perrysburg, Ohio. She really liked the sectionals and the Magnificat from the Vespers service.
The sectional topics are another important part of the conferences. They are at the same time theological and practical as they apply Lutheran theology to contemporary issues. Note some of the titles this year: “Consumed by Addictions,” “Dating, Relationships, and THAT,” “The Fatal Flaws of Darwinism,” “Talking to Your Non-Lutheran Friends about Jesus.”
What kind of effort does it take to put on conferences like these? “We have one full-time staff member in the organization and that’s the conference coordinator,” said Borghardt, “It takes at least a year and a half of planning to put on a slew of conferences.” The work is largely done by volunteers.
This is one reason the conferences are comparatively inexpensive. Early registration costs were from $300 to $330. That includes room, food, fun, and the conference itself. That is hard to beat.
Next year’s conferences are as follows: 26 – 29 June at Wake Forrest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; 3 – 6 July at Northwest Missouri State, Maryville, Missouri; 10-13 July at Concordia University Irvine, Irvine, California; 17-20 July at Brock University, St Catherines, Ontario.
Rev. David Oberdieck is pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lebanon, MO. Coram Deo – Illinois was his fourth Higher Things Conference. This article originally appeared in Christian News.