A theme comes to LIFE


Three years ago when a creative team landed on RENEW as the theme for LIFE 2013, we never imagined the impact the C&MA’s youth conference would have on the city of St. Louis—and beyond.

We had prayed over a brainstormed list of themes that we narrowed to four solid concepts. Eventually RENEW rose to the top of our creative soup, and we all agreed it was our best idea. Within a few months the theme became a logo with a tag line on postcards, posters, Web sites and in videos—but no one had kept notes from our session (“creatives” sometimes overlook details), and the original intent for the theme had been lost.

Later, as program director for LIFE 2013, I wanted RENEW to be more than a logo—I hoped it would offer direction for every aspect of the five-day student conference. And then it happened. As the planning teams shared their ideas about what to do at the event, renewal became the driving force behind main sessions, activities, seminars, teaching, giving projects and even our relationship with the host city, St. Louis, Missouri.

A New Way to Live

From the opening night, the conference focused on renewal. During his welcome message, John Stumbo, the newly elected U.S. C&MA president, shared how he had experienced new life after surrendering to the work of the Holy Spirit in 1976—the last time LIFE was held in St. Louis.

As LIFE 2013 continued, every morning began with renewing how we think about what it means to be a disciple, servant, child of God and missionary. Dramatic videos, teaching and music challenged old assumptions and hinted at new understandings. In the evenings our guest speakers—Skye Jethani, Ben Stewart and Nathan Edwardson (all Alliance pastors)—revealed a new way to live based on our identity in Christ.

A particularly poignant moment took place during Thursday night’s Communion service as 6,000 LIFE participants shared the Lord’s Supper “family style” in small groups. Worship leaders Dave Powers (morning sessions) and Jeremy Riddle (evening sessions) did more than teach new songs—they led worship so that students and leaders were free to commune with God in new ways. Artists, poets and musicians produced fresh experiences as they displayed God-given gifts.

Embracing the Vision

Before the conference, more than one local told us that such events leave a city feeling “depleted” and “used.” To counter this impression, one of our planning teams suggested a fund-raiser to invest in St. Louis’ public schools. Through our 5K Race to Renew (a LIFE conference first), approximately 1,500 runners raised $40,000 to restart an after-school program that had been cancelled for lack of funds. When John Windom, the city’s Community Education director, heard how much had been raised, he found investors to provide a matching grant for a total of $80,000.

We also used our extensive manpower at LIFE to serve several downtown communities. In partnership with Group Publishing and Simply Youth Ministry, the “little” idea of doing a LIFE service project swelled into the Big Day of Serving, mobilizing all 6,000 students and leaders to invade the city as humble servants ready to bring renewal to neglected neighborhoods, schools, parks and even cemeteries.

Michael Robinson, a local Alliance pastor, said the city was “buzzing” about these kids and their service. St. Louis newspapers and TV stations picked up the story. One local leader, upon seeing the work done in her community garden, said, “This is what true Christianity is about, and it brings tears of joy to my eyes to know that even though we live in such a cruel, dark world, God’s love shines and radiates in our youth.”

On the second to last night of the conference an offering was taken to raise $70,000 to bring renewal to an impoverished area of the Dominican Republic through the construction of two community centers. The students embraced the vision, exceeding the goal by giving a total of $78,016.84. Envision site coordinator Rick Romano was overwhelmed with this generosity and has created an opportunity for several short-term teams to come to the DR in summer 2014 to work on the very projects to which the students gave.

The God of Renewal

The last night of the conference reminded the students that our God is a missionary God and all His children are therefore a missionary people. LIFE 2013 ended with a commissioning of this giant missionary force to be agents of renewal in their own mission fields. One 14-year-old student, who had become a follower of Christ just a few weeks before the LIFE conference, took the commissioning to heart. After returning home, he shared with his mother the good news of Jesus Christ. God renewed her heart that night, and she is now exploring what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

For the 6,000+ people at LIFE 2013, the theme of RENEW became much more than a logo. It was God’s compelling call to personal, communal and global renewal. The response to this calling reveals a generation that is not the “future” of the Church but is the Church, being renewed and bringing renewal.

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