Young people explore discipleship and equip themselves for leadership at THRIVE.
Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area
“There’s that kid in every youth group,” says Bridget Nelson, “who wants to go deeper.” Bridget is helping to provide that deeper place in the form of THRIVE Youth Academy.
The United Methodist Church has Four Areas of Ministry Focus, one of which is “Developing Principled Christian Leaders”: The church needs leaders rooted in Christ, who have a vision for changing the world. Today’s young people have fearless hearts, vibrant ideas and a passion for ministry. Their talents should be nurtured to shape the church’s path into the future.
Clearly THRIVE is structured to provide such nurturing. Bridget remarks, “Early on in my youth ministry experience we had a young man in Birmingham go to an overnight retreat sponsored by the Lutheran Church. He came back saying, ‘I think I have a call to ministry!’ And I thought, ‘I am happy for him but why did he have to go to a Lutheran event to find that out?’”
“THRIVE, to me, means a safe place to learn and lead alongside other teenagers with the same passion and love for God.” ~Risa Berlanga, Plymouth First UMC
When she began in her role as the Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Detroit Conference in 2014 Bridget got the chance to act on that question. The first THRIVE Leadership Academy took place at Lake Louise Camp in 2015 with 14 youth in attendance. Last year’s event involved 18 young people interacting with five adults.
“It’s not your regular summer camp,” Bridget explains. “Students are chosen to attend. We ask pastors to nominate one or two youth in their congregation who show depth and maturity in their faith and who are ready for the next thing.”
Youth from any United Methodist congregation in Michigan and concluding 9th, 10th, and 11th grades are eligible for nomination. The nomination form may be found here. Nominations are being accepted through May 1st for the Academy that will be held July 16-20, 2017.
The pastor’s nomination is the first step and then Bridget communicates with the youth directly. It is the young person who actually applies to be part of the experience. “I want that youth to know what he or she is signing up for,” Bridget remarks. “I ask, ‘What does it mean to you to be a follower of Christ and what does it mean to you to learn more about that?’ Then the individual can get excited or say whoa. I want no one arriving under false pretenses.”
“THRIVE was a chance to get away from the stress of everyday life and relax in nature with God.” ~Dexter Raines, Redford Aldersgate UMC
Bridget reports that all pastors’ nominations have been followed through and every youth nominated has said yes to be part of THRIVE. They can expect two things to happen: 1) to explore what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and 2) to understand that they are not along through meeting others who have values similar to their own.
The goal is not the discernment of a call to ministry, although that may happen. Bridget describes THRIVE as, “a safe, welcoming place to study the Bible and engage with others who are real and genuine.”
At one time the Michigan Area sponsored a program organized by the Conference Councils of Youth Ministry called, “Youth Assembly.” When Bridget began her conference responsibilities, she was aware that Youth Assembly’s aim at leadership development could be reborn in THRIVE.
Nelson says that the academy’s tagline—To know and be known—derives from a contemporary Christian song by Casting Crowns, “Thrive.”
Just to know You and To make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide.
We were made to Thrive!
“To know you is discipleship and to make you known is leadership,” Bridget notes. More than a saying on the back of the t-shirt, and a theme song for the event, the song’s lyrics have also provided structure for the activities at the academy. “It’s such a great song, we are going to wear it out!” she laughs.
“THRIVE is place where youth from around Michigan can get together to grow and learn from each other to be better leaders for ourselves and those around us.” ~Ciere Turner, Detroit: Conant Avenue UMC,
The five days together at Lake Louise includes big group teaching with small group interaction. There’s also a creative project—a creed, a mandala—worked on during free time and presented to the entire group at the close. “The kids begin wide-eyed the first night. ‘What am I going to do?’ By the next day they are asking, ‘When do we get more time to work on our project??’” Bridget reports.
There have been guest presenters each year: Rev. Carl Gladstone sharing Methodist 101, Alex Plum on United Methodist Social Principles, and this year welcomes Rev. Cora Glass talking about next steps in faith after high school.
The THRIVE experience becomes the start of broader networking. “Leadership is more than youth group,” Nelson offers. “We want kids to claim leadership in their local congregation and Annual Conference, too. Mostly THRIVE participants learn they are a child of God and a beloved part of a larger community.” Bridget points out that THRIVE can be especially helpful for youth in smaller churches where there is no youth group. “Have two kids in your church? Send them! Help them feel connection.”
“Going to THRIVE was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. It helped me grow in my faith in God and helped me want to be a better leader.” ~Alexis Selensky, Redford Aldersgate UMC
The United Methodist Church in the 21st century asserts that adults are not the only disciples, or as Bridget Nelson puts it, “You don’t have to wait until you are grown-up to be a leader!”
And what is at the root of faithful leadership? “Genuine friendships,” Nelson says. “One of the greatest things the church can offer kids is people they can trust.”