By: Nate Herndon
I have had the privilege of performing the Gospel through Program over the past 3 years for The Falls Church Anglican’s youth Breakaway Weekends. In case you don’t know what I mean by “Program”, it is an ongoing skit that happens throughout any Breakaway weekend. I have been thinking about Program a lot recently because October is when we start preparing. My friend Mark and I begin brainstorming ideas and characters, talking through those ideas to anyone who will listen, building out a relatively cohesive story line, and then rehearsing with whoever we trick into becoming our third cast mate. It is a very time-intensive process getting ready for the two weekends in February and March. Why do we do it?
Because it matters.
I still remember my first trip to a Young Life camp. The year was 1995. I was 7 years old, and my mom was volunteering as the camp nurse for Greensboro Young Life’s weekend camp. As a 7-year-old, I was completely caught up in the story of two hillbilly brothers doing everything they could to save their property and save the camp (Windy Gap) from a greedy real estate developer. This developer had plans to destroy the camp for his own gain. I remember the program vividly, but I also remember the speaker who always followed the program skits and how he could hold the attention of 400+ “big kids”.
From that point on I have always been drawn in by the program, whether it is at a Young Life camp or at Breakaway. Program serves a purpose. This wasn’t obvious to me at first, but once I saw it, program became even more beautiful and compelling. It’s most obvious purpose is that it is a way to get kids engaged with what is going on up front. Each club acts as a funnel where everything builds to the presentation of the Gospel by the speaker: High energy songs and games lead into the program, which is followed by worship songs, which flows naturally into the presentation of the Gospel. Each part of club is intended to draw the crowd’s attention to the front, to break down walls through games, repeater lines, laughter, and dancing, and to have them share an experience with their leaders and friends.
When it is at its best, program not only builds to the Gospel presentation but it also reflects the themes present in the Gospel. A well-done program follows the arc of the Gospel—Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration, or, if you were a Fellow with Mike Metzger as your instructor: Ought, Is, Can, Will. Program is an opportunity that should not be wasted or seen as simply a filler or transition. What I am talking about may never be noticed by kids, leaders, or maybe not even the speaker – but my hope is to give a new lens through which to look in order that you might see what I see.
When kids arrive at camp everything is perfect. Things are as they ought to be. The kids are excited to be off the bus in a beautiful place. As they move through the first night they experience the dissonance between the way things ought to be and the way things are. They see this through the program and more importantly through the talk. Over the next couple of days, they are confronted with their own brokenness even as they see the brokenness of the characters on stage. The speaker starts to pull back the curtain and reveal that, though they are broken and helpless on their own, this is not the end of the story. They discover that there is hope, and that hope is Christ. Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross they are given the opportunity to be in a right relationship with the Father. The character’s in the program always face a crisis, but it isn’t until they are at their lowest that they realize they cannot accomplish their goal on their own. They must ask for help. It isn’t until they are united that they are able to start restoring order to the chaos. At the final club, the heroes are reconciled, the antagonist is redeemed, and the kids get a look at what is to come. They catch a glimpse of what it means to look forward in eager anticipation to Christ’s second coming, when he will redeem all that is broken.
Program is compelling because the Gospel is compelling.