Western Great Lakes Young Life

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Category: Leadership Weekend

Leadership Weekend 2017 Recap

“You can be a great Young Life leader but still miss Jesus. I don’t want that for you.”

The need to remain in Jesus was a theme that sprang forth during the annual Western Great Lakes YL Leadership Weekend on September 15-17.

The weekend’s speaker Daniel Lai helped challenge the 235 volunteer leaders gathered at TWL to put first things first: “The only thing you need to do is fall in love with Jesus. One way to do this is by listening to Him.”

Daniel Lai has been with Young Life since 1999 and currently lives in the Bay Area where he serves as Metro Director for 
San Francisco Young Life. Daniel’s intimate knowledge and heart for the mission served to bring a message that was relevant to leaders, life-giving and broadened their view of what YL looks like outside of the Midwest.

His message was paired with practical tips and spiritual disciplines leaders could take home into their everyday lives—practices like Lectio Divina and the Prayer of Examen.

He didn’t hold back when addressing leaders to be bold in their leadership: If you are going to do ministry to the furthest out, like Jesus, it could damage your reputation.”

And later, sharing: “The country is changing. Are we ready to change in Young Life? Can we make Jesus accessible to all kids?”

Mid-way through the day on Saturday, leaders and staff gathered for the “State of the Region” address from Regional Director 
Chris Theule-VanDam.

“The state of the region is what God is doing through you all,” Chris shared.  “As a region, we are set up to share the love of Christ with more kids than ever before in this region.”

Chris presented two unique challenges to YL teams and leaders. First, what can each team do to know 500 kids by name by the end of the school year? And then, what needs to happen so that every kid receives a personal invitation to club this year?  

Then, to help leaders see the bigger picture of Young Life around the region, Chris introduced seven local YL Area Directors who each gave a testimony of how God is at work in their area. It was uplifting to hear first-hand of answered prayers and the plans and dreams of others being achieved.

“It was encouraging to pull the lens back and hear the big picture,” shared one leader.

Another remarked, “It’s great to hear how other areas [in the region] are doing and the ways in which they continue to grow.”


Leaders took to Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #YLLeadership2017 to post about their experience at Leader Weekend and foster a culture of learning as leaders.

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For those who came to Leader Weekend hungry—physically or spiritually—there was an abundance of food for the body (thanks to the Timber Wolf Kitchen and Work Crew) and also food for the soul (thanks to the worship team and seminar leaders).

Those who came longing for a break from the craziness of work and life back home found intentional moments of worship, prayer, rest and spiritual growth.

Those who came searching for authentic community and fellowship discovered the time spent with their YL teams helped facilitate that bond.

Those who came exhausted and worn out from the start of a school year found time for rest, play and renewal.

Those who needed to hone in on the best practices of a Young Life leader found there were opportunities to learn and grow in seminars like: “Helping Others Grow as Christ Followers,” “Thriving as a College Leader,” “Ministering to the LGBTQ Community,” “How to Do Relational Ministry,” “Leaders are Learners,” “Building Bridges” and others.   

Leadership Weekend was tangible proof that God is doing amazing things in this region through our volunteer leaders. This ministry wouldn’t be what it is without their commitment to and love for the Lord and for kids. Keep going, leaders, and may God equip and bless you as you reach the farthest out kids this year at your school and club.

What Young Life Leaders Are Saying About #YLLeadership2016

…and the TOP 10 reasons why YOU should go next year.


Leadership Weekend, the annual gathering of Young Life leaders from around the Western Great Lakes Region, took place September 16-18. Young Life teams traveled from near and far and gathered at Timber Wolf Lake. (Let’s hear it for our team from Michiana who travelled 4 hours to be there!) 

The weekend was filled with worship, teaching, prayer, rest, fun, idea-sharing and community-building. Below are the Top 10 things Young Life leaders have been saying about Leadership Weekend this year:

1. “God was praised.”

Our times of worship were led by the talented Crystal VanHekken (YL Staff member from the Greater Holland Area), accompanied by CJ Kingdom-Grier from Maple Avenue Ministries in Holland, MI and a band of others.

2. Aswan Morris’ message was “phenomenal,” “challenging and relevant” and “something we all needed to hear.”

Aswan Morris, Harlem Young Life Director in New York City, was our weekend speaker. He challenged our leaders to be Kingdom-minded and to intentionally work toward advancing the Kingdom of God, not just Young Life.

“I loved the ways in which he called us out in our ministry, making us truly think about the ways in which we are portraying the gospel to the youth in our areas. In addition, I appreciated having the leadership for the weekend be multicultural because it gave a beautiful vision of where our region is going and moving towards.”                                                

— WGLR Young Life Leader

3. “The breakout sessions were useful.”

“There were sessions that directly addressed my personhood and needs. They were relevant and informative and thought provoking…”

— WGLR Young Life Leader

4. “The prayer time breakouts were awesome.”

5. “Timber Wolf itself was just awesome”

It was a picture-perfect weekend, that’s for sure. And Timber Wolf Lake did not disappoint.

Photo by Meaghan O'Connor

Photo by Meaghan O’Connor

6. Program rocked.

Our Program Team (Ryan White and Carrie Rodgers) received rave reviews. Thank you, Program Team, for inadvertently teaching us to always check the “best by” date on our eggs before using them in a Young Life skit.  

7. The big cookie was a highlight, as usual.

8. Leaders felt inspired and fueled up for a new year of ministry.


YL Leaders from Grand Rapids Urban having a great time together at Leader Weekend.

“I always look forward to leadership weekend, and it has always be a beautiful time where God really fires us up for His ministry! I never leave without big dreams of what the Lord is going to do in each of our areas!”

— WGLR Young Life Leader

9. “Being in a community of leaders is 1000% energizing!”

YL Leaders from Kenowa Hills participating in the quadrathalon at Leader Weekend.

YL Leaders from Kenowa Hills participating in the Leader Weekend Quadrathalon.

“I love being able to bond and have fun with the leaders in my area so that we have and build that support for later on in the school year.”

— WGLR Young Life Leader

10. It was a chance to celebrate what God is doing.

Young Life leaders from Eastern Ottawa enjoying free time together at Leader Weekend.

Young Life leaders from Eastern Ottawa enjoying free time together at Leader Weekend.

Not only did we celebrate what God is doing and the growth occurring in the Western Great Lakes Region (we now have 30 different areas!), we were challenged in two important ways: 1) to look and live more multiculturally as a region and 2) to advance the Kingdom by spreading #YoungLifeEverywhere—meaning to go into every corner of the region, every county, every school, every hallway in order to reach every kid for Jesus.

>> You can follow more of the Leadership Weekend conversation by searching#YLLeadership2016 or #YoungLifeEverywhere on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

>> Watch our Leader Weekend Scrapbook Video below.



Timber Wolf Lake hosted the annual Western Great Lakes Leadership Weekend September 11-13, and those who attended raved about it all over FacebookInstagram and Twitter using the hashtag #YLLeadership2015.

Leadership Weekend is designed to bless and equip Young Life leaders—both current and prospective—at the start of a new year of ministry. It’s an opportunity to get away, to retreat and to build relationships. This year, 366 people from 22 different areas gathered at Timber Wolf Lake to be encouraged and inspired in their ministry, to develop new skills and grow in their faith, to connect with team members, to learn from staff and leaders, and also to pray, worship and focus on the main thing: Jesus Christ.

What a morning at Timber Wolf Lake! #ylleadership2015

A post shared by Chris Theule-VanDam (@theule23) on


A trio of talented women were the club speakers: Sara Webb from Wedgwood, Erin Iafrate from Grand Traverse YL and Alaina Smith from Little Traverse Bay YL. The authentic worship experience was led by the gifted Christopher Williams and Crystal VanHekken and others who made up the “WGLR Band.”



It wouldn’t be Young Life camp, however, without hilarious skits, outrageous games, laughter, fun and adventure. Let’s hear it for those hybrid games: egg sling shot and indoor relay race! (Thanks to Mike, Chandlar and Sam who rocked the program!)


“The clubs were my absolute favorite part!” commented one YL leader. “The worship was phenomenal and raw. The talks were filled with wisdom from God. And the skits and games were hilarious. I just loved everything about it!”

If you’ve ever been to Young Life camp you know that feeding the campers is a big production. For this weekend, 49 work crew volunteers worked tirelessly behind the scenes to prepare and serve some pretty tasty meals. And just when you think you were full enough…out comes the unforgettable BIG COOKIE, by far a camp favorite!   

But the leaders weren’t just fed food. Their minds were fed in leader training seminars and their souls were nourished through times of rest and recreation. Many commented on the good balance between times of rest and play with times to learn and grow. One person said the training sessions really caused leaders to “think and see things differently.”  

Another highlight was the prayer walk where leaders were given time to quietly walk through camp, stop at various prayer stations and follow the prayer prompts, which included a mix of introspective prayers, global prayers and prayers for kids and Young Life. Seeing YL leaders coming together for this intentional time of prayer was both powerful and beautiful.

Prayer Walk Collage 1 Prayer Walk Collage 2

Let’s give it up for an amazing #YLLeadership2015! A video was put together highlighting the weekend—take a moment to watch and enjoy!


“It was so encouraging to see how many leaders/potential leaders there are in our region. I loved the speakers. Every talk and training was powerful and really spoke to me in different ways. They helped with healing in my own life as well as encouraged me in ways to be a better leader.”

—YL Leader