The Best-Kept Secret

By Andy Nixon –

You probably didn’t know that every year, 12,000 high school youth, parents, youth directors, and pastors spend two weekends in January in Gatlinburg, Tennessee for music, teaching and fellowship. In fact, Resurrection is probably the best-kept secret in United Methodism.

Worshipping God, encountering Jesus Christ, and seeking the Spirit’s vocational calling form the foundation of this dynamic youth conference. The 2014 version brought teenagers together from across Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and beyond. During the weekends, hundreds of youth made first-time decisions to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and hundreds more made decisions to explore full-time ministry as a vocation. Resurrection, in a word, is powerful.

Rez, as the event is affectionately called, is a work of the Holy Spirit where the Gospel message is shared through music, teaching, and an extraordinarily talented production team. Youth are invited to explore both faith in Jesus Christ and a calling to full-time ministry, and the results are impressive. The Holston Conference currently has the greatest percentage of young clergy in The United Methodist Church. Resurrection is the reason why.


Photo by Don Thomas for Resurrection 2014

This January, I had the privilege of being the speaker at the latest incarnation of Resurrection called Rez14. The focus was Psalm 27:14 – “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Along with Christian band The City Harmonic we worshipped, laughed, and cried as God poured out the Spirit on our time together. We talked and prayed about waiting, strength, love, and hope. Jesus moved. As the speaker, even I got to see Psalm 27:14 come to life.

In a denomination waiting for renewal and revival as Psalm 27:14 instructs, Rez encouraged me. There is a generation coming that is strong, has a passionate faith, and with many who are already called to serve. At Rez, the future of The United Methodist Church looks bright.

The Resurrection conference was born 29 years ago as the result of the frustration of three pastors. In 1985 United Methodist pastors Don Thomas, Steve Blakemore, and Hugh Kilgore attended a Holston Conference youth event and left disappointed. The quality, relevance, and engagement were just not there, and the three pastors felt they could do it better.

The three approached the Holston Conference about putting on a different kind of event. “The conference laughed at us,” said Blakemore. “We were told no one would come and we were wasting our time.”

Thankfully, the three did not listen. After starting off with 200 at their first event, Rez now draws close to 12,000 in attendance. So powerful is the experience that parents who attended Rez when they were teens now bring their own children.

“I am always excited about Rez, but this year my daughter is here,” Jason Roe said. Roe is a United Methodist pastor who serves on the Rez design team. “I was at Rez and heard the call, and now I am here with my daughter. That’s exciting!”

Almost 30 years later, a generation has now been touched by Resurrection and its impact is growing. The event the Holston Conference initially did not want has provided an enormous blessing to that conference as many who answered a call to ministry at Resurrection now serve as United Methodist pastors in the Holston Conference. As a result, the relationship between the two has changed for the better. Resurrection is still independent of the Holston Conference, as it is its own 501-C3, but the two are a team because each recognizes how they help the other.

Laura Lambert attended Resurrection as a youth and now serves as Associate Director of Connectional Ministries for Youth and Young Adults for The Holston Conference. She is also on the Rez design team.

“Resurrection has been a huge part of my personal faith formation,” Lambert recalled. “Attending as a youth, it was a time to deepen my faith and grow closer to the friends and adults who were a part of my youth group. As youth leader, it was a great time to grow closer to youth and for our group to grow closer to each other. Now, I love that God has given me the chance to work behind the scenes on this incredible event where I originally responded to a call to youth ministry in my life.”

Today, Lambert embodies the partnership between Holston and Rez.

Blakemore, one of the original founders, believes that the partnership proves to be a blessing to both parties. “The denomination advertises our event to churches, and we in return see hundreds of young people making the decision to pursue full-time ministry who then in turn become the pastors in Holston Conference churches,” he said. “It’s powerful!”

The partnership, however, is a balancing act. “If Resurrection was operated by the conference structure it would be subject to the quotas of representation and the politics that comes with denominationalism,” Blakemore said. “As a partnership, however, we can be a blessing to each other. Rez works because it is separate from, but partnered with, Wesleyan churches.”

Resurrection also flourishes because of the creativity it brings. Youth groups audition for spots to put on performances of various kinds throughout the weekend. Youth worship bands, dances, dramas, and even a youth magic act came on the stage at Rez14. The quality of what the youth groups provided testified to the hard work put in by the youth in the months prior to Resurrection.

Another key component of Rez is the presence of youth pastors and parents. Discussion questions are provided to youth leaders for each talk in order for groups to discuss the worship themes together. These moments allow for youth to open up about their lives, where Jesus is moving within them, and also insure that follow through and a support network will be there after returning home.

The greatest way to hear about the event, though, is from participants. Below are comments from the Resurrection Twitter feed, @RezYouth.

• “Hope and trust in The Lord establishes love and honesty towards others. I love Resurrection #Rez14 #hope.” — Matt Bowers, 18, Asbury United Methodist Church in Greeneville, Tennessee.

• “Blessed by an awesome weekend @RezYouth event, God truly made a difference in the lives of some young people, may we shine His light onward.” — Sam Ward, Associate Pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Rez also had its tender moments. As the speaker, I gave out my personal cell phone number to everyone at the conference. Yes, I gave my one and only personal cell number to 12,000 youth. Wow! Texts shot through my phone, some silly but many serious. I think I managed to read all of the 3,200 texts that came, and although I could not answer all of them one caught my eye.

Jesse Daffron of Rising Fawn United Methodist Church in Rising Fawn, Georgia, sent the following text that he graciously agreed to share: “I NEED you to do this for me. I know you don’t owe me anything, but my sister was unable to come to Resurrection this year because of her stomach not digesting food and getting nutrients to her body. She is currently hooked up to a tube pumping thousands of nutrients in her body a day. She has lost 20 pounds in the last month but she has now gained 30 back in a month. But her stomach still can’t work on its own so if you don’t mind her name is Jodi, she’s 15 years old and doesn’t deserve this pain she is in, so if you could possibly at the 4:30 session give her a call on stage or give her a shout out, or anything, you would make that girl happier than anyone on the planet. It would mean the world to her if you could do this so if you don’t mind. I will get up out of my seat and run up to the stage to hug you. Her number is … again if you could do this … I would be forever thankful.”

We made the call. Jodi answered. The Rez 14 crowd gave a shout-out that shook the land. I got that hug. We all our wiped our eyes and thanked God that a brother loved his sister so much we had to make that call. Jesus, too, knew about that kind of love.

It was a moment that was what I came to expect of Resurrection. It was two weekends of Holy Spirit moments. As I left I wondered, what if every United Methodist conference had a Resurrection?  What if hundreds of young people made the decision to explore full-time ministry each year in our conferences? What would our church look like then in the years ahead?

Resurrection showed me a passionate future for The United Methodist Church.  I’m glad I heard about it, because it’s not a secret worth keeping.



  1. I have a problem viewing the Holy Spirit as Entertainer.

    Youth groups being pumped up with loud music, flashing lights, drama and magic shows leaving attendees breathless and excited sounds secular and caters to the flesh. Youth groups used to focus on prayer, Bible study and missions. What a disappointment these teens will face when they transition to adult groups where these foundations are practiced.

    Our local youth group was bombarded with tactics like this by a misguided leader who thought running an arcade was the best way to win teens for Christ. In the end, the group dwindled down to only a few.

    Until there is a return to the basics of Christianity to empower youth rightly by the Holy Spirit – with an emphasis on service and holiness – the rest is just smoke and mirrors.

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