Teaming Up

As a Young Life regional director of the San Francisco Bay area, Clif Davidson felt called to help local churches and Young Life connect with each other. So about a year ago, he acted on his vision and started planning an event that would bring the two together.

“I felt, for a number of months, the Lord prompting me about our relationship with churches,” Davidson said. “I knew I needed to do a better job of reaching out. So I began to think about pastors in my region; I wanted them to see more of Young Life.”

So he came up with a list of churches and wrote personal letters to the pastors, inviting them to a “couples getaway” — a 48-hour stay, free of charge, at Woodleaf.

In the end, Davidson hosted three, two-day retreats for 15 couples with varying Young Life experiences. Each retreat was held during part of a week of summer camp, allowing the participants to see kids from across the country immersed in the fun, energy and love of Christ that makes up Young Life camp.

For some of the couples, being at Young Life camp was a bit of a flashback. Mark Harbert, senior pastor of Mayflower Presbyterian Church in Pacific Grove, Calif., and his wife, Laura, are familiar with Young Life. She began her relationship with Christ in 1975 at Malibu, a Young Life camp in British Columbia. A year later, the couple served on work crew together at Woodleaf.

“I was really touched by the way the Young Life format has remained the same but become very contemporary,” Laura Harbert said. “They’ve maintained the integrity of the message of Young Life but made it relevant.”

Building bridges
The purpose of the pastors’ camp experience, Davidson explained, was to help link the callings and resources of pastors with the mission of Young Life.

“My goal was to create some significant bridges with our pastors,” he said. “I also wanted us to talk about the needs of kids and what we can do together to fully serve them. And, I wanted to expose them to a Young Life property and give them a bigger picture for how they can use our properties to meet some of their needs.”

To facilitate that, Davidson provided them an all-access pass to the Woodleaf experience. Some groups, he said, met the invitation head on and not only attended club and shared meals, but also took a ride on the zip line and raced around the track in the go-cart-like Ridge Runners.

“They were so thrilled to be there,” he said. “We had at least one time together where we sat down and talked about the needs of kids, the relationship between churches and Young Life, and the challenges of that, and the successes and failures we’ve had in that together.

“In the end, I think we renewed our commitment to work together to be successful, over time, to get kids into church. As a regional director, I was reminded how important it is to walk hand-in-hand with the churches in our communities to reach out to kids and their families.”

A helpful introduction
For Tim Arensmeier, pastor of Sonoma Valley Community Church in Sonoma, Calif., Young Life is new not only to him personally, but also to his community. He opened up his church for Young Life committee meetings about two years ago and started attending them out of curiosity. Today, he is the committee secretary, and Sonoma has one high school and two junior high clubs going strong.

“The time at Woodleaf was a tremendous encouragement to me,” said Arensmeier, who had never been to a Young Life camp before. “To be there with other ministry couples whose initial introduction to the Gospel was through Young Life was impressive to us.

“Young Life wants to invest in kids not only right now, but they also really want to see kids serve the Savior throughout their life. And together, we can give them what they need to accomplish that.”

Mark and Janet Labberton went to Woodleaf in July. Labberton, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, Calif., had no previous Young Life experience, though his church currently supports the ministry. Janet Labberton was very involved in club and Campaigners when she was in high school, and she was a volunteer leader in college.

“I’ve always loved Young Life and feel really grateful for the foundation it gave me in my Christian walk,” she said. “I came away from Woodleaf with a renewed amazement of God’s hand at work in kids’ lives. I had an enlivened sense that God continues to work in the niche He’s given Young Life.”

Mark Labberton added, “The intensity of the fun was great but so was the intensity of the effort of really serving students and helping them discover the reality of the Gospel in their lives. I was impressed to hear the testimonies of students who’ve experienced pain, been loved by Young Life staff and discovered the love of Christ through that.

“That is why we’re so supportive of Young Life,” he continued. “Our church has a history of being very committed to Young Life. Some people in [our] church are financially supportive, some are on committee and many people in our church came to faith through Young Life. We want to be a strong partnership for the ministry.”

Soul support
The participants in this event acknowledged the relationship between local congregations and Young Life hasn’t always been perfect. Young Life’s connection with churches is a part of the ministry that can be neglected, Davidson said. And on the other side, some pastors don’t take full advantage of Young Life’s unique ministry philosophy and the ways it can help grow their youth ministry.

“We need to educate pastors about what Young Life is because I know some feel threatened by it,” Harbert said. “We need to look at it as just another opportunity to work together. Once Young Life connects kids to Christ, we need to connect kids to church.”

As a result of the “pastors at camp” experience, at least two new clubs are starting this year. Many of the participants, like Laura Harbert, decided to renew their relationship with Young Life in the form of committee work. And, Davidson said, several couples who were unable to attend last year are planning on signing up for the 2006 event.

“It was just so fun to be at Woodleaf and help people understand the ministry of Young Life in a fuller and deeper way. This is a weaving together of a fabric of people who all care about kids, and I think it’s something God is doing to help us all be effective in the work we’re doing in our communities. It was good to be reminded how much we need to work closely with churches in our community. I think we all realized we need each other.”​