Chap Clark offers daily updates on leadership program for high school students
Fuller Seminary was host again this year to the Student Leadership Project (SLP), a Lilly Endowment-funded partnership of Young Life and Fuller, now in its eighth year. The 11-day leadership development program brought together 37 high school rising seniors from across the country, hand-picked, personally chosen and nominated for their leadership gifts and calling. Fuller’s Chapman Clark, who co-directs SLP with Young Life’s Cliff Anderson, offers a daily journal below.
(Click here to watch a video interview with two SLP students.)
TUESDAY, JUNE 30
Last night was one of the highlights of the entire SLP experience. After our day of rest and play, conversation and reflection, we gathered for our last Young Life club--where we sang with such gusto that the camp staff came sneaking into the back to get a glimpse of the “choir.” Our crescendo moment came when several of our African-American student leaders taught us the song “We Are Blessed,” which they had learned at a Young Life urban camp the year before. We sang and sang like it was our last night on earth. Following club, we ended our last night in the Southern California mountains with an old-fashioned campfire and “Say so” gathering, where most of our community shared what God had been doing in their lives since they arrived. There was laughter and tears, but mostly sober expressions of honesty and pain and hope and gratitude. A powerful reminder of why we do this program: Kids need a safe place to be real, to go deep, and to bring the package of where they have been and who they are to the Lord. In community, where there is love and faith, hope reigns.
Tuesday was our last time in the mountains, and after breakfast, devotional reflections and prayer triads, the student leaders filled out their end-of-experience surveys. (We use these as a pre- and post-test instrument to get one slice of outcome data as we seek to improve our work.) Following this, one of our young women shared an original song, others taught us a song, we heard from a leader (most of the in-room leaders had shared their story at our gatherings along the way), and received a wrap-up message on going home from Dr. Cliff Anderson.
Late Tuesday afternoon we returned to Pasadena for our last night. Beginning with a banquet meal at Twin Palms restaurant, we finished our night with an interactive worship/community time where we reflected on Hebrews 11, sang a few songs, and then had the opportunity for the next hour and a half to move in and out of five “stations”: communion (or “community meal” for some of the traditions represented); private confession with a symbolic cleansing of the hands; the lighting of a candle of dedication and giving of a personal blessing; being sent out with the anointing of oil; and an art station where the student leaders could express themselves through a variety of artistic modes. This lasted deep into the night, and following our closing song at 12:20 a.m. or so, we took the next 45 minutes to clean up and say our goodbyes.
On Wednesday, our eleventh day together, the SLP student leaders and staff headed home to begin the next phase of the project: to carry on in mostly virtual community while being mentored and cared for over the next five years. We hope to see each and every one take at least one Fuller class, but our greatest goal is that they would know what it means to follow Christ and live for him, leaning forward into his Kingdom, and trusting him to lead, shape, forgive, and guide them along the journey. That’s SLP 2009.
MONDAY, JUNE 29
As we look to wrap up our SLP '09 experience, our morning was filled with exploring what it means to follow Christ when we so often fail, get discouraged, and sometimes even slip away. Our search brought us into the book of Galatians, and especially the fifth chapter, where Paul reminds us that it is faith—or trust in God—that, when coupled with waiting on the Spirit, produces the “righteousness for which we hope.” Typically Christians focus on trying to “be righteous” by being good and worthy and consistent to the rules and norms we’ve been taught. It is so easy to live as though God were folding his arms and waiting for us to “get with” the demands of the gospel. But Paul turns that thinking upside down when we read Galatians 5:5. Our job is to trust and wait; his job is to change us into the men and women we are called to be. And the outcome? There is only one that concerns our Father: love (Galatians 5:6, “…the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”).
With rapt attention and personal reflection, our student leaders and staff community wrestled with the specific areas or issues where we do not trust Christ—or where we struggle with that trusting. This now defines the journey we are all on as leaders: hearing and heeding the call of the Holy Spirit, who draws our attention to whatever would steal our trust in the lion of Judah, our King. Working through what I call “regular spiritual disciplines” as followers of Christ (worship, prayer, scripture, community, giving, and justice) and other “proven” historical spiritual disciplines of the people of God, like fasting, contemplation, and solitude, we are more readily aligned with the Spirit who is at work within us.
These are heady concepts for high school rising seniors. But our student leaders really wanted to know what it could mean to learn how to lean into the Kingdom of God, versus wallowing in the muck of guilt from the past or the bondage of failure and discouragement in the present. Our student leaders are preparing to go home, and to enter into a whole new way of living for Jesus Christ and serving him and his Kingdom. Today they’ve gotten the teaching, reflected on the scripture, and this afternoon and evening now present the opportunity to work through it all in community.
SUNDAY, JUNE 28
On this beautiful Lord’s Day the SLP community offered a couple of hours to worship the God of wonder underneath the canopy of creation. Following personal devotional time and prayer triads, we gathered for corporate worship. We began with some singing and prayer, then were led through a powerful lectio divina (“divine reading”) by our gentle giant leader from Atlanta, the Young Life staff man known simply as G. After our spiritual exercise of listening to God through Scripture, six of our student leaders stood before us and gave us their impressions of the practice and how God had spoken to them through his word. We then sang, and were given a message by Angela Reeves from Chicago.
The afternoon was spent playing at the local lake, engaging in multiple levels of conversation and sharing, and heading back for dinner. At night I taught on friendship, dating, and relationships from the content of a book each student was given, Next Time I Fall in Love. We followed the message by having the guys and young women in separate groups to debrief, and then headed to the woods for a campfire and s’mores.
Lots of issues are coming into focus for the student leaders, and the messages from the past week are coming together as we seek authenticity, honesty, and community.
SATURDAY, JUNE 27
Being in the mountains brings a whole new experience for our student leaders. Many have not spent much or any time in the mountains. Now as they are surrounded by towering pines and beautiful vistas, spending time learning about and then practicing some of the ancient practices of the people of God (sometimes called “spiritual disciplines”), a fresh appreciation for God and his creation is beginning to emerge.
Our kids are now moving beyond superficial relationships into true friendships based on intimacy and trust. It is a beautiful thing to see, especially up here in the mountains where we have a special place just to ourselves. Guys and girls are talking about their lives and stories and faith journeys. Students from different family backgrounds, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic communities are moving well beyond the stereotypes they have been taught to seeing each other as brothers and sisters before God.
FRIDAY, JUNE 26
Last night we headed into the heart of Westwood, California, to attend the Los Angeles Film Festival and see a documentary about youth and community empowerment called After the Storm. John and Ed Priddy, committed Christians who are filmmakers and good friends of Fuller Seminary, were key producers behind the making of this film—which tells of a New York actor and producer who wanted to make a difference for people in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina by using local kids to star in an off-Broadway musical. Our student leaders met a few of the kids from the documentary and then toured a bit of Westwood (along with the throngs there for a Michael Jackson vigil). Check the film out at http://www.priddybrothers.com/films/afterthestorm/.
Today after devotions and prayer triads, we spent time teaching and discussing spiritual gifts and calling. We then hit In-N-Out on our way to the camp where we’ll be spending the next few days: a secluded section of Thousand Pines Camp near Lake Arrowhead, California. Tonight we are playing wild games and then gathering for a Young Life club meeting, with testimony and message from Shelley Sadler, special assistant to the president of Young Life.
THURSDAY, JUNE 25
Last night’s debrief of the immersion into LA brought out a wide range of experiences and emotions. The incongruity between the two communities, the way they were treated in both, and how each student leader had their own unique feel from the time were discussed and debriefed.
This morning after devotions and prayer triads, we spent time going through a brief history of God’s movement in history, JB Phillips’ Romans 3:23 (“the straight-edge of the Law to show us how crooked we are…”), and how Galatians 5 reminds us the gospel brings freedom. This will become the bedrock for the rest of our teaching. Small group processing helped to bring these together, and then we cut loose and headed for the beach. Every leader is getting the chance to catch a California wave!WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24
After the first two days and three nights of teaching and learning and connecting, the SLP student leaders were ready for the most pivotal day of the experience – an immersion into both ends of the Los Angeles socioeconomic spectrum. We first gathered together on Fuller’s campus for directed quiet times and prayer triads. Then the students were introduced to what can happen when faithful and committed people decide to act in the face of injustice and poverty. In this case, it is Fuller alum Joe Colletti and Sandi “Mama” Romero, who a decade ago embarked on an “impossible” task to “take back” a neighborhood and park for the residents of downtown Los Angeles. In the mid-1980s MacArthur Park, for decades one of LA’s prime historical landmarks, had been invaded by violence, fear, hopelessness and darkness. As followers of Christ called to bring hope and healing to the inner city, Joe and Sandi dove into the center of the park and built a community development infrastructure that has been so overwhelmingly successful that “Mamas Hot Tamales” has been featured on NBC News with Brian Williams. Our student leaders spent a few hours with Sandi, and heard her amazing story of vision, struggle, faithfulness and pride.
Following our time with Sandi, the students walked the primarily Latino community with $5 to spend as a group. They went from shop to shop, among street vendors and the homeless, into flea markets and diners. Then we drove them just five or so miles down Wilshire Boulevard to the infamous Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Same street, two vastly different worlds. There they walked the shops and streets, and also had $5 to spend.
Our debrief is tonight, but from what we’ve heard so far they got the chance to see and experience close-up both poverty and exorbitant wealth, and in the process came face to face with power and injustice and race and prejudice. Tonight we get to share together how it felt as Christ’s followers to see what Sandi and Joe have done in the name of Christ, how the undocumented and poverty-riddled people of Los Angeles live, and what it’s like to try and be a kid, especially a kid of color, walking into a high-end boutique to spend $5. If past years are any indication, today will be an important day in the life of each student leader.TUESDAY, JUNE 23
The way the kids are coming together after just one full day has been among the most profound we've seen. This is a very sharp and committed group of student leaders. Today we had a quiet time on the life of Mary, took some fun pictures for the website, and went into teaching on how the invention and development of "adolescence" has done a number on today's kids. Helping the student leaders to see that God has created, redeemed and called them to live as chosen representatives of his Kingdom, to recognize, nurture and embrace the power that comes with that calling, and to live in authentic community is the journey they've been on for years. Identity, autonomy and belonging is the quest of every adolescent (and adult!), and it is the same journey of faith that Christ is leading them through.
This afternoon we are serving at an inner-city L.A. multi-ethnic church and finishing up with dinner and a Young Life club. MONDAY, JUNE 22
Last night was great: after a harrowing day of missed flights and delayed luggage, we gathered to learn names, play together and sing. After an initial "cabin time" for the students with their assigned in-room leaders and a good night’s sleep, we hit the ground running with quiet-time notebooks and a class on the "Deep Model" of ministry and discipleship (developed by Kara Powell and me) and Craig Detweiler's prep for our Hollywood excursion. After lunch and the Hollywood tour, we headed to the Rose Bowl for games and pictures, and finished at a pool party and our first Young Life club.
Today walls are dropping and the student leaders are settling in and making connections. A great start of SLP ’09.