A twelve-hour bus journey wasn't something I was particularly looking forward to, but it turned into one I will probably never forget.
Returning to Aberdeen from the Dreaming The Impossible youth festival in Nottingham, we had reached Dundee when suddenly a group of young people started worshipping to some music on their phones. Now, before I continue, I need to remove any 'Kumbaya' images out of your head and insist this wasn't a cheesy Christian sing-a-long. What proceeded was a beautiful expression of worship and unity that demonstrated how powerfully our young people had encountered the Holy Spirit at the DTI festival.
As I looked to the back of the bus, I saw young people praying for each other, prophesying across the seats. It's the stuff youth leader dreams are made of! One girl had been struggling at the festival, sensing that God was moving in everyone's life apart from hers and suddenly, someone prayed for her and she was experiencing God like she never had in her life. Wow, what a moment!
I have no idea how long this spontaneous move of God lasted, but it was at least the distance between Dundee and Aberdeen, which is over an hour. I was gob-smacked, humbled and excited to see the overflow of DTI taking place on a bus. It's certainly a journey I won't forget in a hurry.
I've always counted it a privilege to lead a youth group, even though it wasn't exactly on the top of my bucket list when I finished university. Can I admit I used to think youth pastor jobs were for people who didn't know what else to do with their lives? Yikes! So you can imagine the shock when my pastor and youth pastor pulled me to one side after I'd served at a church weekend away and said they wanted me to be the full-time youth pastor for our church. I thought it was a terrible idea! I had no experience with young people, but it seemed clear that God was opening this door.
I was raised in a Christian home and at the age of six decided to follow Jesus and dedicate my life to serving him. My father was a Methodist minister and my parents showed me how they believed true Christians should live. Whilst being a youth pastor has been life-giving and I believe it's exactly the role God has for me, the last couple of years have been some of the toughest I've experienced.
I'm sure I'm not alone in saying how difficult the pandemic has been for youth ministry. Young people really struggled with the lack of connection and although the live-streaming videos we did were fun and impactful, nothing quite compares to being face to face. That's just one reason why we made all the effort we could to make it to DTI 2021 last summer. Restrictions could have changed right up to the last minute, but we had faith this was going to happen, so you can imagine the joy when we actually set off to England with cases packed and young people expectant.
What amazed me is that normally it takes a few sessions of a youth conference for the young people to really get into it, but with this one, they were just straight in! Most of the members of our youth group have been connected to church for a while so they had an element of faith and belief that God was going to meet them.
Nothing could have prepared me though for the overwhelming comfort we found being able to spend some quality and dedicated time with our young people, and with God. The intimacy in God connecting with them was just incredible. Every time we met together, the Holy Spirit did amazing things. People were being filled with the Spirit as they prayed for each other and prophesied over one another.
One young lad heard from God and shared encouragements with those around him and people would instantly cry tears of joy when he spoke over them. He finished by praying for me and the same thing happened to me too! I couldn't believe it. Here I was sobbing after one of the young people from our youth group heard from God and spoke words of life into me.
Our young people had every reason to kick off after a twelve-hour journey and months of misery due to lockdown, but they opened their hearts, worshipped Jesus and it was amazing to experience this alongside them.
I've been a youth worker for nine years and I always see the festival season as a real momentum-builder. I know a lot of ministries wonder whether the big events are still worth it and whether we should ramp up hopes in our young people if things could change. I can only speak from my experience, but we made a big deal out of these festivals and I'm glad we did.
I'd encourage every youth leader out there to do whatever it takes to get your young people to a festival. It's worth the sleepless nights, the long journeys and the ups and downs. When you see young people encountering God like I did at DTI 2021, you'll know all the effort is worth it!
Dave Hall is the Youth Pastor at Catalyst Vineyard Aberdeen.