Once again, we welcome Chris Folmsbee to our blog to post about youth ministry (and transformative environments). I can’t help but chime in: this is one of the soundest education strategies I’ve seen. Creating opportunities to learn is at the heart of education.

I spent this past weekend in San Antonio, TX with some new friends at
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and a few other churches within the Diocese
of West Texas.  I led several conversations for a couple dozens
students around mission, community and identity formation – some of the
very things we’ve recently been discussing on this blog. 

Each of the conversations were punctuated with experiential learning
environments consisting of such activities as sharing food and
conversation with the homeless, collecting food for a local help
pantry, participating in the Eucharist, intentional conversations in
which to discuss the experiences, numerous forms of art expressions and
so on.

I’ve come away from the experience feeling very inspired and
encouraged.  Possibly the most inspiring element to the weekend was the
relational composition I noticed between the various groups of students.

I’ve spoken to and trained many students at various gatherings throughout North America over the last decade or so and never have I more clearly witnessed a sense of true community and cooperative learning than while at St. Luke’s. 

The mutual trust and respect, acceptance, care, gentle honesty, admiration for one another and the overall sense of missional cooperation that the students shared shone brilliantly through a long day of serving others all the while practicing the discipline of fasting.  This, along with a creatively designed schedule and a terrific bunch of committed students and volunteers, led to a day of sudden wonder!  [BTW- For those of you who have been recently astonished by what you have seen God do in the lives of the students within your group, I’d love to hear your story!]

This recent experience has led me to think deeply again about how I attempt to equip youth workers to create environments for transformational youth ministry.  Realizing that we can’t explore all of the elements of a transformative environment on a blog post I limit myself today to helping us think through three primary elements of the transformative environments we shape for our students.
The three elements for this conversation are time, space and matter.  Perhaps you have heard others express what they mean by these three environmental elements, as they are certainly not uncommon.  However, for training and equipping purposes, I choose to define these three elements as follows:

Time – not just minutes and hours (chronos time that is quantitative) but an undetermined period of time or an intentional pacing that cultivates a non-anxious, peace-filled, calm and reflective environment in which something unpredictable can occur (karios time that is qualitative).

Space – not a buffer zone but a sacred, ascetically intriguing and astonishing physical and or mental ‘room’ in which to contemplate and consider the wonder, beauty and creativity of God’s narrative and mission.

Matter – not solely the theme or the name/purpose of an event but the cooperating substance or content that evokes the imagination, imparts for a recreated life and inspires toward transformation.

Creating environments of transformation is some of what we are called to do as youth ministers and educators.  Along with the work of the Holy Spirit and the enduring activity of God, we seek to establish an influential set of conditions that provide a framework in which to help our students more deeply experience God.
What other factors besides time, space and matter are important for a healthy, effective and transformative environment?  How might you define the elements of time, space and matter differently than how I have defined them?  What are the ‘set of conditions’ in your particular ministry context that provide for an experiential framework purposed for spiritual discovery and growth?

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