Mike Saldivar remembers the student who struggled with spiritual questions and personal issues while being part of the youth group he led.
She joined her friends for Momentum, the annual youth conference that is sponsored by CE National. “All week she said, ‘I’m not ready, not ready,’” Saldivar remembers her resistance to giving her life to the Lord. Then the last night of the conference, something changed. She made a confession of faith in Jesus Christ.
“God moved in her life,” recalls Saldivar, who recently assumed the role of pastor at the Grace Brethren Church in Pataskala, Ohio, after serving more than a decade as a youth pastor in northern California. “Her life didn’t automatically go easy, but we’re encouraged that she’s making steps.”
Tim Park, youth pastor at the Grace Brethren Church in Ripon, Calif. (Glen Shirk, pastor) points to several students who made life changing commitments at Momentum. In one case, it was a dramatic change, in another, more subtle. But each started on the path to full-time ministry because of the Momentum experience.
Those are just several of many lives that have been changed at the Momentum conference, which will kick off the 2013 edition next week on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind. It begins Tuesday, July 16 with dinner, followed by the evening session. Keith Minier, pastor of Grace Fellowship, a Grace Brethren church in Pickerington, Ohio, and Jeff Myers, president of Summit Ministries, will be the opening speakers. Jeremy Byng, worship and NextGen pastor at Grace Community Church, a Grace Brethren church in Goshen, Ind. (Jim Brown, pastor) will lead worship on Tuesday evening.
The event continues through Sunday morning, July 21.
“Our speakers, as far as I’m concerned, are some of the most impactful speakers that you can find,” emphasizes Ed Lewis, executive director for CE National. This year’s line-up also includes Francis Chan, Clayton King, Sean McDowell, Afshin Ziafat, and others. Grace Brethren pastors who will take the stage, in addition to Minier, include Jim Brown (Goshen, Ind.), and Jeff Bogue (Akron, Ohio). Steve Fee returns to lead worship on Friday and Saturday after a three-year absence.
“The main sessions zero in on the young person’s heart and will follow the theme that we have for that week,” Lewis explains. This year’s theme is I Am Second, following the example of John 3:30: “He must increase; I must decrease.”
Momentum has partnered with I am Second, a movement designed to inspire people from all walks of life to live for God and for others.
“We will emphasize that life is not about the student, but life is all about Jesus and serving Him in the lives of other people” says Lewis.
“Another very unique aspect of our youth conference is that it is not merely a time for being challenged spiritually; it is also for the students to learn how to do ministry,” Lewis continues. In addition to the service opportunities that are available during the week, on Saturday everyone at the conference leaves campus for service projects in the community.
Lewis explains, “We train [students] about how to start conversations, how to be approachable, how to be warm, how to be gracious, how to use God talk.”
“It’s like you have a youth conference and a missions conference combined,” Lewis adds.
“I’ve worked with teenagers since I was about 19, almost 20 years,” says Park, who has served at the Ripon church for five years. “I have yet to go to any other youth conference that has the impact that Momentum has,” he adds, stressing he likes the practical applications to what the students learn from the platform.
Momentum also stresses the importance of a young person assuming leadership. “We really have a strong emphasis each year on not only following Jesus, but we always have a Christian career invitation and follow-up for students who feel like God is calling them to go into ministry,” notes Lewis.
Often the leadership skills become visible as the students build relationships with each other.
“It gives them an opportunity to be with just their peers,” says Adam Johnson, youth pastor at the Grace Brethren Church in Martinsburg, Pa. In addition to time in ministry and in the dorms, youth groups gather each evening to review the day. “They’re able to form relationships with one another, and usually some of your leaders rise to the top that week.”
“I’ve seen [Momentum] be sort of a catalyst to [students] realizing who they are, even though they haven’t seen it before, and who they can be,” adds Johnson. “I’ve seen a lot of them come home and be the leader consistently throughout the school year that I saw them be for a week.”
Lewis believes the conference has potential to be used effectively by local churches to build leadership and commitment in the lives of young people. “There are almost no conferences that anybody can attend that are so strongly committed to the local church, that give you a missions experience with the conference,” he says.
“That’s what our dream is—that it’s used of God to be something that turns young people to follow Christ, and helps the youth ministry to really be strong,” Lewis concludes. – Andrea Skrownski and MariJean Sanders contributed to this story.