MB youth challenged to consider their identity

‘Named 2015’ draws 780 to MB youth gathering

May 11, 2015 by

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DENVER — Every four years, high school students from Mennonite Brethren churches across the country get together for the largest gathering of Mennonite Brethren in the United States.

Youth stand on chairs to accept an invitation to commit or recommit their lives to Christ April 10 at the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches National Youth Conference in Denver. — Vance Frick

Youth stand on chairs to accept an invitation to commit or recommit their lives to Christ April 10 at the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches National Youth Conference in Denver. — Vance Frick

This year, 780 students and youth workers attended “Named 2015,” the National Youth Conference, which called youth to recognize the importance of their identity in Jesus.

Held April 9-12 in Denver, the event stressed identity through worship, seminars, service projects and even name tags.

“Names are significant,” said speaker John Richardson, an MB pastor from Fresno, Calif. “In the ancient world, your name was who you were. Your name was your character. Your name was your identity.”



Richardson challenged youth to test the ways teens and adults establish their identity. He highlighted three false beliefs about the source of our identity: appearance and popularity; achievements and works; and longing for the next thing. Richardson emphasized that God created and values each person so much that he sent his Son to die for our sins.

“We cannot improve our significance to God,” he said. “God loves you and longs for you, not because you are good but because he’s good.”

For those struggling to reflect the lordship of Jesus, Richardson said: “I won’t tell you to pray more or read the Bible more or go to church more but to fall in love with Jesus more.”

Richardson listed several scriptures that tell Christians who they are in Christ.

“Our problem is not knowing these things,” he said. “It’s living as if these are true.”

Quoting Rom. 1:21, Richardson said that identity is corporate as well as individual.

“Our identity is us, together. There is diversity in unity; it’s beautiful,” he said. “We are part of a unified diversity.”

He reminded the audience that they are part of a larger church body — the Mennonite Brethren.

“Our Mennonite Brethren family is making a difference locally and globally,” he said, listing distinctives such as peace, reconciliation and community.

“I’m Mennonite Brethren because this family fleshes out what it means to follow Jesus better than any other I’ve seen,” Richardson said.

‘Storm the gates of hell’

Students and youth workers attending Named 2015 were challenged to flesh out their identity in Christ through ser­vice projects with DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) and seminars called “Learning Ops.”

The conference theme and general sessions aimed to help youth better understand their identity in Christ. The Learning Ops, held in two blocks April 11, were designed to give students further ideas for living out that identity.

The following day, Richardson said fear is something that can keep Christians from moving forward in that identity.

But Jesus’ words in Matt. 16:18 are encouraging: “You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.”

Gates are defensive, Richardson said, and “Jesus is telling us to storm the gates of hell.” Richardson listed ways his listeners can go on the offensive back home. He suggested they start by getting out of their Christian bubbles.

“You can’t take back enemy territory if you’re always staying within your own gates,” Richardson said. “Don’t invite people to church; invite yourself to leave the church and find the people.”

Late-night activities hosted by Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University included games of dodgeball pitting teams of hundreds against each other.

Contributing: Connie Faber, Myra Holmes and Jared Janzen for the U.S. MB magazine Christian Leader.

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