Thrive in change. Defy the trend.

From the Mountaintop to the Valley

by | Feb 19, 2010 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

After spending the weekend thinking about youth and young adult ministry, you’d think I would have wanted a break. But, I sat in worship last Sunday with CYYAM (Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries) members at Dover Congregational UCC in Westlake, Ohio and the wheels didn’t stop turning during the scripture and sermon.

“Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus* took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake,* they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,* one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen;* listen to him!’ 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” (Luke 9: 28-36, NRSV)

In this story, Jesus’ disciples have this amazing, life-altering experience, and then choose to say nothing when they get down from the mountain. I’d imagine that the valley looked a lot different to the disciples. They had no idea what to do with their new vision.

Immediately, my mind leapt to youth ministry. So many times, well-intentioned adults provide young people with amazing mountaintop experiences – retreats, national events, mission trips and week-long camps. Young people come down from these “highs” and often have no where to go with that energy.

I thought about how often the church forms youth ministry around such mountaintop experiences. Young people and a few adult leaders go off to one of these events. Young people come back, filled with a spiritual fire that inspires them to see new possibilities for ministry in the church. But those ministry efforts falter when they try to implement it. Worse yet, they go back and face opposition from the very people who they thought would support them.

When this happens, adults in the church risk teaching young people that faith only happens on the mountaintop, not in the everyday realities of life. Or adults communicate that the church wants young people “over there” rather than be an integral part of the life of the church.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with going to the mountaintop. We all need to get away and recharge our spiritual batteries and see things from a different perspective. But, we also need to be equipped to live our faith AFTER these life-altering experiences in the valley, which HASN’T been altered.

We shouldn’t be surprised when young people come back from the mountaintop altered and want to do something differently. So, please embrace these new ideas, even if you don’t know exactly what they mean or how they might work. The disciples sure didn’t understand after seeing the transfigured Jesus.


  1. Sarah Smiles

    Nicole, you are so right, this is something always bothered me, because even as an adukt clergy I found myself coming back from some experiences that were awesome, but then I felt I had no where to go with them. There has to be totally integrated and inclusive ministry. It takes more consistent work and planning but it is most impoirtant. So glad you are with the Iowa Conference. Christine

  2. Rev. Nicole Havelka

    I'm glad my thoughts resonated with you. This integration is something that is very difficult to do and is made even more difficult when inertia sets in.


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