Wesley launched his hands into the air. Had I been standing a few inches closer, he might have caught my jaw in an uppercut. For the price of praise, a bloody lip was a widow's mite. This was Momentum Youth Conference, and Wesley was ecstatic.
So were the other 1900 kids as we sang. And I still can't decide if that is glorious or a shame.
The first day I attended conference, Aaron Keyes and his Atlanta-based band led us in worship. Typically, I join the words 'worship' and 'leadership' tentatively. (Across the country worship leading undoubtedly rises above the tasks of preparation and presentation. Smiles and segues move listless congregants along. Once in a while people are encouraged to rise, bow, clap, or pray silently. But my suspicion is that most worship leaders do little more than advance singers to the next slide, who have learned well from their pastors to 'stick to the script.')
Aaron Keyes was not a typical worship leader. Behind the heavenly teeth and devilish hair, he showcased a passion for the Psalms, sensitivity to the Spirit, surplus of joy, and excess of humility. He challenged us to pray for God's 'manifest presence,' distinguishing this concept from omnipresence. He uttered a few Hebrew gutturals. He spoke theologically rich names for God from the Old Testament.
Youth bounced and shouted. Adults clapped and spun around. Led.
The problem is that Aaron Keyes does not lead worship at my church. Or yours. And the speakers at conference do not speak at my church. (Or yours). One of the keynote speakers, Greg Speck, likened the euphoria of the big event to Thanksgiving diner. Feasting every day (or Sunday) is unsustainable. The collision of crowds, celebrity speakers, rock stars, and pubescent spirituality is unsustainable.
And the problem is that these kids will return to churches that struggle to excite, energize, and relate to the younger generation. At my church. Or yours. The music will remain dated to placate the generations. The sermons will remain theoretical to appease the theologians. The relationships will remain surface to sustain comfort. In a word, weekly church gatherings are irrelevant.
Worship, Aaron Keyes would likely tell me, is service to God in body, heart, and mind (Romans 12:1-2). The spiritual act of service we call our youth to must be both sustainable and relevant.
If Sunday morning's gathering, in the post-conference, real life context proved anything, it was that youth who attended Momentum may have eaten too much turkey. Body, heart, and mind appeared lethargic.
Then again, maybe the local church portioned out stale bread. Somewhere there has been a disservice.