I go to conferences to win swag and enter drawings. I once won a Kindle; I'm holding out for an iPad. Most of the contents in a swag bag are mere promotional pieces. When I ran the Columbus Marathon last year, the bag included a shirt, a mint, and twenty applications for future races. My church gives out better swag to visitors.
And if you mention this blog the first time you visit Leesburg Grace Brethren Church, I'll throw in a free copy of Max Lucado's book, Mighty Tumbles in a Dusty Playground. Act immediately, and you'll get a Frisbee thrown in for free, too.
Conferences (and rallies and retreats) rarely yield any new ideas. The Internet has provided unlimited access to tools, trends, and resources in ministry. Ideas are a dime a dozen. For this reason, we like the shiny and shrink-wrapped items in the swag bag. We can take it home or hawk it on eBay.
My recent involvement in a leadership summit followed suit. I drooled over the prize table, covered with books and mugs and DVDs and apparel. I politely nodded at the information in the session. Unleashing God's Word was the theme, the premise being that God's word makes a difference in a teenager's life.
Nod. Yawn. When is the next drawing?
Then the speaker asked the leaders to evaluate their relationship with God, considering quality time in Scripture.
Sigh. Grunt. Is this a rhetorical question?
If my table was a microcosm of spiritual leaders in the country, it is no surprise that we are breeding a generation of "Moralistic Therapeutic Deists," to borrow a term from sociologist Christian Smith. Students will not rise above their teachers, Jesus warned (Matt. 10:24). The task of teaching/leading, James reminded us, is a heavy task (Jas. 3:1). We have a form of godliness (best practices, compelling vision, quality A/V, fun games, and relevant teachings), but we deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5).
It'll take more than swag and novel curriculum to connect the emerging generation to God. His word, neither shrink-wrapped or cutting-edge, is a powerful starting point.
"...we 'teach' young people baseball, but we 'expose' them to faith. We provide coaching and opportunities for youth to develop and improve their pitches and SAT scores, but we blithely assume that religious identity will happen by osmosis, emerging 'when youth are ready' (a confidence we generally lack when it comes to algebra)."
Source: Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean