In the late 1990s, the youth of First United Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, were burdened with more than the normal stresses of growing up.
Their youth director was diagnosed with a blood disease and was not expected to live more than a year or two. As the associate pastor, I prayed earnestly that the church would surround the youth with God’s love.
The Academy for Spiritual Formation, a ministry of The Upper Room, provided the spiritual renewal and centering I needed during this difficult time. During my Two-Year Academy #13 (1997-98), I felt God speak to me. “Create a spiritual formation weekend for middle school youth in the local church.”
I envisioned a weekend led by the high school students and supported by the whole congregation. I talked and listened to students, parents, educators, and church leaders. I asked questions. “How do you lead youth to Christ?” “Who is Christ to your youth?” “How do you train high school students to disciple middle school students?” Discovery Weekend came to life.
Held in the local church, Discovery invites the entire church family to create a loving community where middle schoolers are encouraged to strengthen their faith.
Our beloved youth director lived to see the launch of Discovery. When he passed away in 1999, he knew his youth were surrounded by a loving church family.
Since the first Discovery Weekend in 1998, over 40,000 youth and 166 churches have participated. Thousands of students and adults have discovered a deeper relationship with Christ through Discovery Weekend, including the team training before the event. I have seen high school students who thought they could never share their faith find strength to reach out and lead others to Christ. I have watched students lead parents to experience Christ. I have seen students who were making dangerous life choices repent and grow stronger. I have seen critically ill students accept Christ while their parents wept in joy.
Today, Discovery Weekend is a ministry of The Upper Room, along with its influencers, Walk to Emmaus and The Academy for Spiritual Formation. I pray that many youth will be embraced by their church family for years to come. Discover more about this powerful ministry by visiting discovery.upperroom.org
This story first appeared in the Spring 2018 Fellowship Focus newsletter for friends and donors of The Upper Room. To read the entire Spring 2018 Fellowship Focus, click the below image:
“I believe with all my heart that vulnerability and authenticity are the only way to find wholeness in Jesus Christ. … I believe in the holistic, healing love and salvation in Jesus Christ, who walks with us in the valleys and brings beauty from ash heaps again and again and again. I am here to tell you that I have been on the mountaintops and in the valleys, and I have discovered that we need a reset in our souls. We need to share stories so that others will too. When we’re free to be real, that’s when the real joy comes.” Read more.