IYC2022 Speaker from Willow Creek Thankful for Influence of Church of God

 In All Church of God, CHOG, IYC2022, IYC: International Youth Convention, Youth Ministries

By Carl Stagner

Willow Creek Church in Chicago, Illinois, has long been known as one of the largest, most influential churches in the world. Even in the years following a difficult season for the congregation, the multisite church continues to reach people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and walks of life with the gospel. Like the International Youth Convention of the Church of God, life change is a regular celebration at Willow Creek; like IYC, Willow Creek takes tremendous strides toward the advancement of the kingdom among young people. And, when factoring in the influence of one woman in ministry there whose life and calling was shaped in the Church of God, there’s even more to celebrate.

It was at IYC, after all, and as an intern under the leadership of Church of God student pastor (and IYC2022 speaker) Chip Taylor, that Gretchen Dedina sharpened her student ministry skills. Speaking of the opportunity to address the audience at IYC2022 in San Antonio, Gretchen reflects, “This is special to me because, first of all, I just love connecting with students and encouraging them in their relationship with Jesus. And this is a fun chance to be back with the Church of God. I was an intern under Chip Taylor, and God used the Church of God and experiences like IYC to help me move into full-time ministry. So, I can’t wait to be back with family.”

Gretchen’s pose with Chewbacca from Star Wars is a reflection of her fun personality!

Gretchen Dedina’s reputation precedes her—she’s a champion of students’ God-given purpose to leverage their influence in order to change the world. She knows firsthand that youth are not too young to be discipled, and be disciple-makers.

“This generation is making a difference, not just wanting to,” Gretchen explains. “One of my life verses is 1 Timothy 4:12; students are not too young! As leaders, our role is to help point students to using their natural influence, their wired gifts and skill sets, and their interests/passions in a way that honors and focuses on God. It’s not teaching them something new; it’s helping them participate with God. God is already doing something, and we have the opportunity to help our students engage with the ways he is working in their schools, communities, and this world. This generation cares deeply, and we have a responsibility to help them see how their hearts align with what God cares about.”

To preach and teach such truth with sincerity requires a firsthand knowledge of it. Gretchen’s heart for students comes from a place of genuine love for God and people. That’s why, when confronted with the opportunity to live out the gospel within her own family, she seized the moment. She and her husband Bradley have recently become foster parents, and the experience is proving to be one of stretching and growing for them.

“Without children of our own, a few empty bedrooms, and a heart for teenagers,” Gretchen reflects, “we wanted to be a place that could help, whatever help looked like. Maybe that’s a month, or a year, or longer. Honestly, we are really new at this, so we currently are really good at making mistakes (like most parents!) and figuring out new normals in our home. The decision has changed our life, and we are learning so much about ourselves, the character of God, our relationship with him and the impact of trauma in our world.”

Though on a separate scale, the trauma of the past few years of ministry for student leaders every where isn’t something easily dismissed. Gretchen knows that the pandemic didn’t just put strain on senior pastors, but youth pastors, too. She has some words of encouragement for youth leaders everywhere.

Gretchen Dedina teaching and preaching Christ.

“I’m with you friends,” Gretchen insists. “You are not alone. And you are right, what you are experiencing is too much. So, my prayer is that you are being honest that we are not well, and that we are finding the places to show up authentically, like with our counselors, or spouses, or friends. We need care, too. And even in the midst of all of this, God’s not done with you yet! God sees you, loves you, and is holding you. All those things you keep telling your students and leaders, now listen to your words—God is speaking them over you, too. Remember why you started, and keep living out that calling. We are in this together.”

In consideration of the theme of IYC2022, Gretchen couldn’t be more excited. “Upgrade” is not only a timely term, but it speaks of spiritual matters in ways relatable to the next generation.

“It’s been a long and hard road,” Gretchen explains. “When you read of the ‘wilderness’ in the theme passage from Isaiah 43:18–19, I feel the weight of that. Our students have experienced unbelievable things, yet God promises he is making a way right thought it. I am tired of living in a world of despair, so when I read these verses from Isaiah, I am filled with hope—a hope that lets me exhale. I think some of our students need a time at IYC to exhale, to laugh, to play, to be just be teenagers, to be encouraged, and be filled with that hope, which can take them into their next season—the new season that God is moving them towards.”

Make IYC2022 in San Antonio, June 30–July 3, a priority. After all, who wouldn’t want to hear from a pastor whose unofficial title evokes her fun spirit: “director of confetti cannons!”

Student ministries and youth groups everywhere won’t want to miss this unique opportunity to “upgrade” and hear Gretchen Dedina challenge and encourage all who will listen. Register and learn more about IYC2022 San Antonio, Texas, at www.iyc2022.org. Stay tuned for more speaker and artist announcements!

Feature (top) photo: Gretchen Dedina baptizes one of her students.

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