An enormous replica of JENGA blocks that sat on a stage at Crossgates United Methodist Christ in Brandon, Mississippi, helped drive home the theme,"Building Blocks" during a conference for youth ministry workers from across the Mississippi Annual Conference.
Roughly, 110 youth ministry leaders came together for Student Ministry Initiative (SMI) Leadership Development, an event led by Mike Howington, the youth and families coordinator for the Mississippi Conference.
"My favorite story as a child was of the three little pigs. I would cheer every time when my mother would read the story that the pigs' houses would hold up this time. It reminds me that for something to serve its purpose, it needs to be built correctly. The same is true in youth ministry. In order for the foundation of what we are building to hold up, they must be constructed with the right blocks," Howington explained.
The conference workshops focused on relationships, spiritual truth, systems and vision. Presenting the topics were Corey Truett of First UMC in Tupelo, Jeremy Knight of Main Street UMC in Hattiesburg, Wes Ingram from Parkway Heights in Hattiesburg and Russ Polsgrove of The Orchard UMC in Tupelo.
Polsgrove, who has been involved in youth ministry over a decade, shared his enthusiasm for being among his peers. He directed discussions around language and the importance of youth ministry identity formation.
"What are some scriptures you use on a regular basis to communicate to your teenagers? What you are about? For instance, in our youth ministry we use Colossians 2:7 -- so the name of our high school ministry is, C27 (C, two, seven)," said Polsgrove.
Raphael Maldonado, a youth leader at Wheeler UMC said he was impressed with all of the trainers.
"The people who have been brought to speak to us are very prepared and they are not just talking out of inflict, but out of experience and so, it has been a very refreshing experience."
Natalie Doyle said she attended SMI with hopes of getting tips on how to revitalize the youth ministry at her church, Jones Chapel and was returning home with lots of advice to connect with young people.
"Using social media to your advantage, texting them, writing them a letter, participating in their events, being at their high school games... just being there for them," she said.
Another conference attendee, Darryl Ford of Weems UMC in Picayune said the conference reminded him that parents have a big role in a successful youth ministry.
"If the parents can't trust you, and the youth can't trust the parents, then you are really messed up, and you're going to be ineffective. Once you lose that relationship with the youth, it is very hard to reestablish that," Ford stated.
In closing, the participants supported volunteers Lorraine Gilbert and Alex Blassingame, who played the life-sized JENGA game on the stage. With helpful cheering and advice from the audience, the pair did an amazing job keeping the blocks from falling. This same effort is what organizers say will create vital youth ministries throughout the Mississippi Conference.
Pictures from the SMI event that was held on November 7-8, 2014, can be viewed on the Mississippi Annual Conference flickr page
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