Networks Make You Bigger
Syracuse, New York is home to what I have to believe is one of the best youth worker networks in the country - and not only because we meet at a Chinese buffet.
Syracuse Area Youth Workers (SAYW) gave me a place to belong and grow when I first showed up nearly 11 years ago. As a youth pastor who didn’t take one single youth ministry class while in Bible school, I had MUCH to learn. Little did I know that SAYW would play such an integral part of my life as a minister. I’m very thankful.
I’ve been trying to think about what I should say about SAYW. I could list off the outreach and community-minded events we’ve done; some are repeated on an annual basis. I could write about the relationships that have been created and nurtured in the network. I could go on and on about the value this strong network has brought as a whole to the local youth ministry scene in Syracuse, or about the impact we’re trying to make on the high school campuses. One of the more tempting ideas was to just write about our recent leaders’ lunch at P.F. Chang’s in an attempt to relive the sea bass dish that I love so much.
But I think I’m going to try and be somewhat organized in this space and write about THREE WAYS that the local network has made me BIGGER.
1) The network has made my EYES BIGGER.
I’m from a charismatic pentecostal background. It’s all I know. Or knew. I grew up in an Arminian world and thought Calvin was simply a hyperactive boy with a pet tiger named Hobbes. I think you get the idea. My idea of the body of Christ, of the church, was limited. I would not have ever agreed that you had to believe exactly like me to be a Christian but I certainly had some biases, as we all do.
In this network I’ve grown to appreciate that what makes us different really brings us closer to the cross. We’ve worked hard to ensure that our distinctives actually push us toward common ground. The relationships I’ve formed have brought validity to and appreciation for our differences in theology and ecclesiology. I now see the body of Christ with bigger eyes; with a larger perspective. And I appreciate and love what I see.
But it’s more than that. It’s helped me to appreciate the different approaches to youth ministry and the unique programs and efforts each group has in place in order to love kids and help them respond to God’s love. It’s helped me to not write off certain trends or traditions with ease. I’ve come to see that what God is doing in advancing His kingdom is much bigger than what happens in my church stylistically or strategically speaking. I’ve grown to affirm people and their desire to please God and to not be so quick to identify people with their programs and judge them in the same way.
I would have never seen all this without the network. I’m sure of that.
2) The network has made my VOICE BIGGER.
This one is simple. There are things we are accomplishing for God in Syracuse that I would NEVER have been able to do alone. There are events I simply couldn’t pull off because of limited attendance. There are steps in the community that wouldn’t have the same impact without the diversity and strength of a network behind it. There is an influence in this area with the SAYW that supercedes anything I could have ever mustered up on my own.
I am able to “speak” into Syracuse and into the lives of students around Syracuse in ways I would never have been able to do without this network. There are guys who have had faith for things I simply couldn’t believe in. There are those who have energy for events when I am ready to take a nap. And there are guys who have the resources to make things happen that I would just give up on.
You want to change a city? You NEED to lean on each other and together you need to lean fully on God. And we’ve learned to do that in this network.
David Crowder sings, “I need a voice bigger than mine…”
amen and amen!
3) The network has made my HEART BIGGER.
I have more to love and more ways to be loved as a direct result of being in a network. I have more people to love. Some of my best friends in the world are the guys I’ve met and connected with through SAYW. These guys get my life and they get my struggles. They’ve been where I’m headed or where I’m at.
Our wives are friends, our families are friends, our students are friends, and (in some cases) our senior pastors are friends because of our friendships and respect and love for each other. I have a love for the other churches and other youth groups in Syracuse. I see these teens from other youth groups several times a year and God helps me to love them and to love watching them grow in their faith.
I think it’s possible that our capacity to love is hindered by our unwillingness to share life. You can’t spend one moment in the Gospels without realizing that Jesus shared His life recklessly yet intentionally, aggressively yet gently, and completely yet incompletely.
Incompletely? This is what I mean: John 17:18 "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world."
We’re taking up His mission of living in and loving a world of hurting people (even hurting youth workers!) And we need bigger hearts.
PS: The network has made my STOMACH BIGGER...Did i mention that we meet at a Chinese buffet?