Sunday morning at WOW always brings hundreds of bleary-eyed middle school and high schoolers back to the Expo Center floor for one more worship experience before heading home. This year, Bishop Bob Farr was intent on waking this group up and calling them to something greater.
Farr took the stage in his clergy robe, saying, “Friends, this is the church I grew up in.” He compared that church to the church of today. If we don’t start to do something new, Farr says, we’re going to have less and less youth in the church.
“Quit waiting on people like me to figure something out for you because we’re probably not going to figure it out,” Farr says, removing his clergy robe to reveal his WOW shirt. “So what do I need you to do? Do something new!”
The “you” Farr referred to was the youth groups and leaders gathered in Springfield on January 20 and 21 for WOW 2018, a newly reimagined weekend of worship. With an extensive history, the significance of the letters WOW is somewhat of an urban legend, but this year the Next Generation Ministries staff took Bishop Farr’s charge and did something new.
“We need to expect more out of our youth and give them the opportunity to show us they can focus in and grow deeper,” says Jeff Baker, the Director of Next Generation Ministries. “WOW is not just a fun time, but what we do at WOW can also be fun.”
The idea of offering growth opportunities evolved into a weekend filled with TED talk style presentations. A TED talk is a 15 minute presentation on a topic or idea.
The Next Generation Ministries staff knew that they wanted the WOW presentations to deliver encouraging and inspiring messages, so they turned to see what those concepts look like in scripture. They landed on 2 Thessalonians 2:17, “May he encourage your hearts and give you strength in every good thing you do or say.”
Youth and adults alike walked away from the weekend encouraged. Delaney Frabel, a high school senior from Waynesville and a Youth Leadership Team member, says she was encouraged by the positive feedback she received for her TED talk-style presentation. Getting up on stage required courage and took her outside her comfort zone, so she felt encouraged by the response.
Frabel saw her youth group be encouraged as well, specifically by Pastor Tina Harris’s Saturday night worship sermon.
Harris reminded the crowd that in the theme verse, Paul prays for the church to be encouraged because they’re going to need to be courageous for what’s to come. As an example of God tapping the next generation and instilling them with courage, Harris cited Joshua, who was appointed to follow in the footsteps of Moses. He had to be courageous.
“Sometimes it takes courage to forgive a friend who has betrayed your or forgive a parent who has abandoned you. Following Jesus, those are the kinds of places you’re going to go. Following Jesus, that’s the kind of good work you’re encouraged to do.” “It was a chance for kids to open their hearts and be touched by God.”
Harris finished her time on stage by inviting the students and leaders to pray for courage in their lives and to lay down their burdens at the throne of Christ.
“You could just feel the Holy Spirit moving and touching each one of them,” Frabel says. “It was a chance for kids to open their hearts and be touched by God.”
Frabel wasn’t the only student encouraged by the stories shared and testimonies delivered on stage.
Mable Lewis, a high school junior from Columbia and a Youth Leadership Team member, really liked how she wasn’t just encouraged by the messages delivered onstage but that each message included ways to encourage others.
“It wasn’t just listening,” Lewis says. “There was something to take away back to everyday life.”
Lewis herself delivered encouragement from the WOW 2018 stage. Sharing her story of overcoming anxiety and panic attacks to live out her call to mission, Lewis encouraged the crowd that nothing can stop them from living out God’s purpose for their life.
Aside from Lewis and Harris, 10 other speakers took the stage. The line-up featured a great diversity in all aspects - age, stage of life, vocational background; there were seasoned preachers and first-time speakers. Baker says the team wanted to give a wide range of perspectives so that everyone could walk away with something.
“I wanted to be intentional about who could be accessible,” Baker says. “We wanted to feature real people who have a real journey.”
F. Willis Johnson was one of those real people. Johnson made an exciting entrance to the stage with the help of DJSP, David Perez. His talk asked three big questions, what influence are you under?; are you a light-bearer?; and are you unashamed to be the light?
“There’s nothing, no one, no thing that can keep you from becoming who you are destined are determined to be and to do what you’ve been called to do,” Johnson says.
Johnson reminded the crowd that they are children of God, despite grades, stereotypes, gossip and more. He invited them to light up situations that are hurtful and difficult. With phone flashlights waving to the beat and the chant of “No dark in here; we’re the light tonight,” Johnson left the stage.
Kody Crider shared a testimony, telling the story of his real journey up Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. By way of a perilous tale riddled with bad decisions, Crider reminded the audience of the tenacity he has seen in their lives and their ability to climb mountains like addiction, depression, family struggles.
“Everyone sitting here today is dealing with a hardship that they felt they couldn’t get through,” Crider says. “I’ve seen you get over it and climb these mountains, and it’s encouraging.”
After a Saturday full of encouragement, games and learning, the crowd at WOW returned Sunday morning to hear from Bishop Farr. After asking them to carry this encouragement back into their daily lives and to do something new, Farr reminded them they are God’s equipment to do just that.
“It’s not the building, not the church, not the denomination, not an event,” Farr says. “It’s you and it’s me that God loves and uses to change the world.”