The Extravaganza

Jen Bradbury
Feb 09 · 5 min read

I’ll admit it… Reluctantly.

When it comes to youth ministry, I’ve gotten a bit arrogant.

So last weekend, when I got to the “Extravaganza,” a conference put on by the ELCA’s Youth Ministry Network, and recognized very few names in the program, I thought that I would get little out of the conference. As a workshop presenter, I thought sure that I would give more than I got.

And while I sincerely hope that God used my workshop in people’s lives, as it turns out, I also got a lot out of the Extravaganza.

In particular, I was blown away by one of the main stage speakers, Father Gregory Boyle. Father Greg spoke about his ministry, “Homeboy Industries,” which gives jobs to LA gangbangers. As Father Greg spoke, he shared stories of the “soul finding its worth”. His message was both inspirational and challenging to me as I reflected on the weight and responsibility that God has given me in helping teens to find their worth; To discover their identity in Christ.

Besides Father Greg’s message, there were also several other things that I really valued about Extravaganza including

- It’s smallness and simplicity. Too often in youth ministry, we measure our success by how big we are. Yet, I appreciated the smallness of Extravaganza; Of the hospitality that you can have when you’re small; And of the opportunities for reflective and experiential worship.

- The heart that I continue to see within the ELCA to do social justice.

- Their willingness to engage in difficult conversations that have no easy answers. For example, Saturday afternoon, we had a lunch to discuss multiculturalism in the church in response to an initiative begun a couple years ago. Having served in a multi-ethnic church, I was so pleased to see someone intentionally engaging others in this conversation. Conversations like these are a great starting point. My hope and prayer is that they will not also be the end point.

- The number of “old” people who were present. Though I’ve long believed that you’re never too old to do youth ministry (in fact, it’s even something that I talked about at my workshop on Saturday morning), this is a value that I’ve too seldom seen in practice. At 29, I’m now one of the “older” people in the room at most of the conferences I attend. With eight years experience, I’m also usually considered a youth ministry veteran. Not so at this conference, where those in the 40+ crowd far outnumbered those in their 20s and where ministry newbies were recognized as being anyone with less than 10 years of experience. It was truly inspiring to rub shoulders with people who could measure their time in youth ministry in decades rather than in years.

Having oscillated between mainline denominations and evangelical ones, I can tell you that there are many things that I appreciate about both worlds. Yet, one of my criticisms of mainline denominations is their unwillingness to learn from and appreciate what the evangelical world brings to Christianity and specifically to youth ministry. Yet, ironically, because of my own arrogance, I nearly missed out on what the Lutheran world brings to Christianity & specifically to youth ministry.

The Lutherans aren’t perfect and they don’t have it all figured out, but then again, neither do I.

Having realized that, I’d say this weekend at Extravaganza didn’t so much recharge me as humble me.

And for that, I’m thankful.