how The Summit is shaping up

i had this idea swimming around in my head for a couple years, of a youth ministry event that was totally different and unique. i imagined it as TED for youth workers. i even looked into making it an official TEDx event, but discovered that TED doesn’t allow events with religious connections.

so, once adam joined me at The Youth Cartel, we decided to take a risk and try this thing. we tweaked a few things from the TED format, to make the event more ideal for the sort of learning we hoped would occur. and The Summit has been a win. two years in atlanta, and now in our second year in nashville.

we’ve always said The Summit is not a training event. there are other youth ministry events with that goal. the goal of this event is to spark your imagination and instigate new thinking. we want the presenters and their content to be fodder for the holy spirit to get your stirred up, out of ruts, and into dreaming new dreams for your youth ministry. (these aims, by the way, are why we pull a thematic thread through the event, and why we have 45-minute ‘digging deeper’ dialogues after each main session.)

summit-2015-theme-squarethis year we’re making what we think is an awesome tweak, based on our theme of Elephants. we’re going to address “three elephants in the room of youth ministry.” The Summit always develops in a very organic way, with me having tons of conversations with people, exploring our theme(s) and getting input. this year that’s especially true since we have a curator for each session. so, for now, here are the descriptions of the sessions, with info about where we are in the planning.

NOTE: today is the early bird registration deadline. if you register by tonight, you save $40 on the individual and group rates. we really hope you’ll join us in nashville on november 6 and 7.

Session 1 (Friday Evening)
Elephant: Immaturity and Transition in Youth Ministry
Curator: April Diaz
April, along with other presenters, will guide us in an exploration of the awkward topic of our collective immaturity. While misaligned values and unspoken expectations are normally the cause of conflict, we youth workers often seem to have difficulty seeing our own contribution to the problems. Not knowing how to deal with conflict, we too often move on, only to repeat the pattern. Together, let’s look at the plank in our own eye.
other confirmed presenters:

  • Jen DeJong — Transitioning Well
  • Danny Kwon — The Surprising Benefits of Staying a Long Time

other likely presentations:

  • Why We Lie to Ourselves
  • Celebrating Youthfulness Without Being Immature
  • Being Professional Without Becoming a Suit

Session 2 (Saturday Morning)
Elephant: Evangelism and Apologetics
Curator: Dan Kimball
In an increasingly post-Christian world, how do we talk about Jesus and the gospel with those outside our youth room? While the age of pluralism has caused some to simply stop talking about Jesus and the gospel, others charge forward with 1980s approaches. Honestly, the issues are complex; and many of us find it easier to avoid altogether. Dan Kimball, along with other presenters, will bring a variety of perspectives and ideas to this Elephant in our collective room.
other confirmed presenters:

  • Brock Morgan — Bringing the Good News Back to Evangelism
  • Daniel White Hodge — Baptized in Dirty Water: Evangelism in Post-Civil Rights Era

other likely presentations:

  • Good News or Bad? Interpreting Lifeway vs. Pew Research
  • Beyond Conversion Theology: Toward a Postmodern Apologetic
  • The Bono Effect: The Shift from Evangelism to Justice

Session 3 (Saturday Afternoon)
Elephant: Ministry to LBGT Teenagers
Curator: Ginny Olson
We’re not out to change your theology (in either direction!). But let’s be honest enough to admit that we are not wildly succeeding at responding to and including gay teenagers (and those questioning their sexuality). And most of us will be totally lost when we have a transgender teen sign up for summer camp or a mission trip. We promise you: the presenters in this session will not all agree with each other. But our hope is that we’ll all learn and think in the midst of the dialogue about this massive youth ministry Elephant.
other confirmed presenters:

  • Daniel Merk-Benitez — Helping Your Church Be Proactive with LGBT Issues
  • Mark Oestreicher — Helping Parents of LGBT Teenagers
  • Justin Lee — Creating Safe Places (title not final)
  • Gemma Dunning — Love The Saint: how to pastorally support, love and encourage LGBT teens

other likely presentations:

  • What I’ve Learned and What We’ve Changed

Session 4 (Saturday Late Afternoon/Early Evening)
Focus: Elephants as Formation Instigators
Presenter: Jon Huckins
This last session is a chance for us to worship together and wrap up the day with a broader perspective. Jon Huckins is an accomplished guide in the arena of peacemaking; but we’ve asked him to apply those insights to how we address the Elephants that exists in our churches.

oh, and…

Pre-Summit Sessions (3-hour learning experiences during the day on friday — included in your registration. note that these are not necessarily connected to the event theme)

  • Dave Sippel — Sustainable Youth Ministry
  • Jake Kircher — Helping Teenagers Own Their Faith
  • Mike King — Theological Imagination and Spiritual Practices Among Elephants and Sacred Cows
  • John Huckins — Arming Teenagers to Wage Peace

(more Pre-Summit Sessions will be added)

seriously — this thing is very much shaping up to be a barnstorming, powerful, revolutionary time together. i had the youth pastor at a very large church (a guy with more than 50 paid youth workers under him — a guy who normally gets paid to go speak at events) email me the other day, writing, “I’m planning on coming to The Summit this year. The topics and line-up look SO GOOD and important!”

photo in need of a caption

saw this on a friend’s facebook page the other day, and felt it was screaming out to me: “Marko! Make me a Photo in Need of a Caption!” and, so, i comply.

winner gets a copy of one of our upcoming Cartel product releases! (all pretty amazing, btw)

bring it!

IMG_7321

CONTENDERS
(so many good ones this time, i had to be picky!)

Erik Day
Meanwhile…, youth pastors in Portland, OR ReThink the knitting and crochet lock-in

Brian
The wise men’s outfits didn’t do their wisdom justice

scott
Seattle Youth Leader Network

rickhanzelin
“We’re Sgt. Hipster’s Lonely Jackass Band.
We hope you will enjoy the ennui.”

Jeremy Duncan
Shoes optional.

brianaaby
Dare 2 Share 2 Much

Jeremy Best
3 of them are dressed ironically. 1 is not. Guess which one.

Bob Morman
There is a law against this somewhere in Leviticus.

Toby Shope
Crochetmeless!

Michelle Hutchinson
Listen, hobby lobby had a sale and one thing led to another.

Taylor Brown
VBS grows up

(i’ll make the final call tomorrow, friday)

and the winner is…

this was a tough call, as i thought about four of them were a tie. but, can’t have that many winners. so:

Toby Shope’s “Crochetmeless!” took me a few seconds to get, then totally cracked me up. you win, toby. i’ll contact you about your prize!

thanks for playing, everyone.

FRIDAY NUGGET: When I Was a Youth Pastor…

“My senior pastor was a YP 20 years ago, so…”

i hear a youth worker start a tale of frustration with this line (only the number of years changes) once a month, at the very least. 9 out of 10 times this is followed with a negative story that includes this line from the senior pastor: “When I was a youth pastor….”

some of you reading this are youth workers who will one day be a senior pastor.

let’s all stack hands on this: if we, one day, find ourselves out of direct youth ministry, but overseeing a youth worker, we will NOT be one who utters that phrase, unless it’s followed by “things were certainly different”

you might consider adding, “And you’re awesome.”

Hopecasting excerpt: Exile Island

I’m very excited to be kicking off a 5-week sermon series at my church this weekend, based on my book, Hopecasting. I’m preaching the opening weekend, and am looking forward to hearing how the senior pastor and youth pastor handle the other four weeks. As I started to prep, I remembered that I’ve had this excerpt from the book in my blog drafts for a long time. So I thought I’d get it up and out there! A funny little story from my own pre-teen years.

We all experience exile. And we all want Hope. So if I’m correct that Hope comes to us in exile, why does Hope seem so elusive?

When I was about ten years old, my family stopped by my dad’s office on our way to some sort of church gathering. I distinctly remember what I was wearing that day (brace yourself): white dress slacks, white shoes and a white belt, nicely accented with a maroon dress shirt. I was the perfect picture of a 1970s preteen, dressed to impress.

My dad’s office was in the middle of some woods, but there was a subdivision being built nearby; and what preteen boy can resist the pull of exploring a construction site? I had a friend with me that day, and we asked if we could explore while my parents did whatever it was they needed to do. My mom’s cautious approval came with a clear directive: “Only if you do not get dirty.”

Off we went, fully intending to keep the white pants white.

hopecasting.coverOn the construction worksite, we found a mostly-frozen-over mini-pond of awesomeness. A muddy area had apparently been partially flooded during the winter months, and was actively thawing on this springtime Detroit Sunday. There was a large ice island in the middle, with a bit of a causeway leading to it. Of course, I quickly found myself planting a stake (literally) in the ice island and claiming it for the motherland. Only then, amidst the revelry of conquering, did I notice that the causeway had disintegrated after I’d crossed to the island.

I panicked. Do I stay out here on this ice-island, maintaining the whiteness of my clothes and the purity of my intentions to behave as instructed? What other options were there? I didn’t want to be on the island. But both staying put and doing anything else seemed to only have tragic outcomes.

I felt a shift under my feet. At first, I thought the island might be breaking into pieces; but instead, the whole berg was slowly sinking under my weight. Brown, muddy water started flowing over the edges toward my outpost in the middle.

My friend was trying to help, I’m sure. But when he pushed a large, floating wooden door toward me and yelled, “Use this as a raft,” neither of us were thinking very clearly. Needless to say, I took a mud bath that day.

I was on that exilic island by my own doing (our exiles are sometimes, though not always, due to our own choices). But I quickly wanted out. In my panic, I jumped for a promise that couldn’t deliver.

When we’re in the midst of the pain of exile, Hope can seem impossible. We’re desperate, and therefore highly susceptible to the lies our culture tells us about how to extricate ourselves.

Really, since an influx of Hope is about opening ourselves up to the influx of God’s presence, the enemies of Hope are wolves in sheep’s clothing, encouraging us to retain control.

We humans have developed myriad ways of keeping God at arm’s length during our times of exile. We buy into these false solutions because we believe they’re less risky than completely opening up to a faithful confidence that God continues to author the story.

FRIDAY NUGGET: Financial Aid instead of Scholarships

probably a bit late in the summer for most of you to consider this idea for this year; but something you might want to store away for next year…

recently, at one of my Youth Ministry Coaching Program meetings, a youth pastor shared something brilliant:

We have had a real problem, for years, with students and families applying for ‘scholarships’ for trips. We kept getting families with plenty of money applying, and regularly had to encourage those without enough financial resources to apply (when they weren’t). We finally discovered it was all about terminology: families (both parents and teenagers) see ‘scholarships’ as something to earn based on merit, not need. So we changed the terminology to ‘financial aid’ (a very clear term paralleling colleges and universities), and found the issue cleared up immediately. The right people–those who needed help–had no problem requesting ‘financial aid,’ and those with more resources didn’t bother.

FRIDAY NUGGET: 3 characteristics of the best leaders

i was listening to one of my coaching groups share final reports they’d prepared, looking back at the last year of growth, and setting goals for the next year, and it struck me:

the very best leaders–those who are extremely high capacity, inspire people, and really get things done–have three characteristics:

  • confidence
  • focus
  • humility

without confidence, leaders are risk-averse, avoid conflict, and don’t have the self-knowledge needed for excellent leadership.

without focus, leaders can have great ideas and/or be good managers, but don’t possess either the ability to stay anchored in values, or the intellectual (and spiritual!) blinders needed to develop and evaluate ideas and initiatives.

without humility, otherwise good leaders disconnect from the people they’re supposed to lead and rely on themselves too much.

which of these three characteristics do you need to grow?

Growing in Faith for Youth Ministry

my most recent ‘epilogue’ column for Youthwork Magazine (in the UK) is out. here’s what i wrote:


My church has just launched a capital campaign. It’s not sexy; but it’s needed. Several years ago, the church’s landlord (we were leasing space) informed us we could move or buy the place, as they had plans to level it and sell it to a condo developer. We stretched and believed and gave and somehow, by God’s grace, bought the property (of course, a bank now owns a major portion!).

But now, the place is sort of falling apart and needs major infrastructure improvements that go way beyond our budget. So we’re asking people to pray, “God, what step of faith do you want me to take?”

I was at a leadership meeting about this campaign recently, and one of our pastors shared about the three steps he and his wife were taking as they considered the commitment they would make. He outlined three steps:

  1. What might we be able to do?
  2. What can we add as a sacrificial stretch goal?
  3. What portion can we add as a step of faith?

A few days later, I was sitting in a room with 50 North American leaders of youth ministry organizations. As I looked around the room, I was discouraged by how un-diverse the group was. I noticed that it was almost exclusively white, and almost exclusively male. I also noticed that it was almost exclusively old. I thought to myself: How is this group of old, white men—myself very much included—holding onto control of our ministries and getting in the way of younger leaders (and women, and people of color)? How could we change that? How can I change that?

In that moment (whether it was a prompting from the Holy Spirit or a result of the cheesecake I’d just devoured), that 3-step giving approach came to mind, and I quickly wrote it down on a pad of paper. As I reflected, I gave myself a mental pat on the back, acknowledging that I’m already attempting, in some ways, to give platform, opportunity, and voice to youth ministry leaders who aren’t old and white and male. That’s the first bit: What might I be able to do?

But when I looked at my scribbled notes, I was challenged by the other two bits: What might I be able to do as a stretch goal? And, What can I do on top of that as a step of faith?

Now, a few days later, I’m still ruminating on that. But I’m also seeing that this process could be helpful in more contexts than capital campaigns, as was clear to me from my application on the issue of getting out of the way and making room for non-old-white-male youth ministry leadership in my sphere of influence.

My a-ha: this is an approach to growing my faith (belief in action) in any area of my life! and this is an approach to growing my faith in the practice of youth work!

I’m thinking now of Nate, a 13 year-old guy in my small group. Honestly, the guy is a challenge. He’s not intentionally destructive or disruptive; but his ADHD, immaturity and…well…oddness make him exasperating when our small group is trying to have a conversation about pretty much anything.

What might I be able to do about Nate? Well, so far, I’m trying to be patient. I’m disciplining myself to not shame him, or make him feel anything close to rejection. I’m making sure the other guys in the group don’t make fun of him. All of that is my reasonable and important response.

What more could I do, as a sacrificial stretch? Dang, it’s clear I need to do something any good youth worker should do (but I haven’t done): I need to spend time with Nate. I need to build a relationship with him outside of the group. I need to pursue him.

And then, for the increase of my own faith and—hopefully—Nate’s welfare also: What can I add as a step of faith? In order for this to have teeth, my action has to be beyond my ability, beyond my normal practices, beyond my desires. This extra portion needs to be action that will reveal God, rather than revealing Marko. This third portion takes my past the limits of my own imagination and competency and resources. Honestly, I don’t have an answer for this yet (though I have a sense that praying that God develops in me a genuine affection for Nate is a piece of it). But I’m praying about it, asking God to show me that step (or steps) of faith, and to give me the courage to act.

Where do you need more faith in your youth work? Start by considering your rational, measured contribution. Add to that a stretch goal. Then, on top of all that: consider the step of faith that takes you beyond yourself into “Only God” territory.

two ways of viewing long-term partnership for short-term missions

had another wonderful day in jamaica yesterday, visiting with a few local pastors served by teams who come with Praying Pelican Missions, and visiting teams in action.

and i realized i’d only been communicating one of the two (equally valid and beneficial) meanings of talking about the value of long-term partnerships in short-term missions. i’ve written many times about how one of the things i really love about PPM (and one of the values and practices that sets them apart) is their commitment to developing long-term relationships with local, indigenous church leaders (in this case, jamaican pastors), and exercising a no-exceptions policy of only doing work requested by these pastors. it’s a significant way they are able to stay away from activities that aren’t culturally appropriate, or are tainted by anything like corruption, or are merely bad missiology and american-savior colonialism.

i saw this in PPM’s work in haiti two years ago; i saw it in belize last year; and i’m seeing it again here. but, while the Cartel does have a partnership with PPM, i still feel a pretty strong obligation to represent my youth ministry tribe. so i check this value/practice with every pastor i meet on these trips, asking them about their vision, asking about how PPM treats them, asking if they feel served or used. i make it clear that i’m a third-party, and usually get a bit of alone time with them. and so far, that value/practice has been proved in 100% of these conversations.

but there’s another way to think of long-term partnership in short-term missions. it’s the value of you and your church establishing a long-term partnership with a church and community somewhere else. i was reminded today that this is the ideal that PPM longs to see.

but, honestly, few groups do this. and i think the primary reason (though i’m sure there are others) is that many of us still have ‘tourism’ in the mix, at least a little bit, when we think of a location for short-term missions (particularly when it’s international). as a middle school pastor, i wasn’t convinced it was good stewardship to take young teens on a foreign missions trip other than to a mexico border town (which, for the last 25 years of my life, has been within 2 hours of home). and, honestly, i sometimes got a little jealous of the high school ministry heading off to exotic locations when my group was heading back to the border again.

but i’ve seen the impact of long-term consistency, since my own church has had a church-to-church partnership with a single church (and community) in haiti for about four years now. the benefits multiply for both the recipients of ministry and for those traveling to do ministry.

for the recipients, the long-term relationship offers (at least) these things:

  • it removes the dance of not knowing the visiting group, and wondering what their motives actually are
  • it removes (or at least lessens) the feeling that recipients are ‘less than’ or begging
  • it increases the joy of working together, since the visiting team begins to feel like family
  • it allows the recipients to play a more active reciprocal role of ministering to the visiting group, praying for them and in some ways participating in communion with one another

for the visiting team, the long-term relationship offers (at least) these things:

  • it decreases our temptation to see ourselves as little saviors. we’re going to visit (and serve) people we know and love, not faceless foreigners who need our generosity and pity
  • it takes the guesswork out of the relationship, building confidence in serving alongside (with a confidence in knowing how the serving fits in with the vision of the church and pastor)
  • it decreases any pressure we might feel to slip into unhelpful (and even damaging) stereotypes, like some already mentioned
  • and it builds momentum, healthy tradition, and expectation in your group and church

heck, i’ve even seen, in my own church, how our long-term partnership has re-shaped the worldview of our whole congregation. prior to that partnership, we had a somewhat myopic vision focused almost exclusively on our local impact. now, a short three or four years later, local and international serving has exponentially grown at my church, with a much greater sense that we are playing an active role in God’s redemptive work in the whole world.

so it’s obvious: i think youth workers should consider returning to the same location for multiple years, building a relationship with a church or ministry you learn to know, love and trust. you and they will both benefit greatly. really, in my mind, i see the best-case-scenario as a triangle: a three-way partnership (including an organization like PPM to both find the right partnership and handle logistics).

oh, and as a wonderful corrective to anyone who might, even for a second, think something like “we’re bringing the gospel to jamaica;” i took this photo of the cornerstone of one of the churches we were at today. yup, jesus has been here a very, very long time.

  


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blessing a school so a local church wins

a number of years ago, i started volunteering as a lunch-room monitor at three local middle schools. i’d met with principals, and they’d told me this was help they needed. there were four significant positive benefits: i got to see kids from my group at school; i got to meet their friends; i got to build trust with the school; and i got to hang out with the vice-principal and principal on a fairly regular basis, chatting about this and that.

somewhere along the way, after i’d built some trust, one of the principals share with me–in passing–how he was frustrated because, with budget cuts, he just couldn’t afford to bring in special speakers for all-school assemblies anymore. i quickly offered: i could bring speakers in for you.

we usually brought in top-notch communicators a couple times a year–once for a retreat, and once for our biggest outreach event. so, for two years, i would bring those speakers in a day early, and they would do a non-evangelistic, non-religious talk (critical for keeping trust!) at the three schools. the principals LOVED it, and it built massive bridges, opened all kinds of other doors in the community, and reflected really well on our church and its commitment to the community.

then i got fired. so there’s that. different story, though.

but my successor called me about a year later to ask for input. he said, “i have these three principals calling me asking for assembly speakers, and wondering if i’d like to come by and get to know each other. can you tell me what’s going on here?”

here’s why i share this today. as you might know, i’m in jamaica, observing the work of Praying Pelican Missions. i very much dig (and approve of) the all-too-unique approach of this organization: their stringent commitment to developing long-term relationships with local, indigenous church leadership, then serving the vision of those leaders. i know plenty of other organizations who say or imply that they do this; but as someone who’s been on more missions trips than i can count, with lots of organizations, i can honestly write that i skepticism keeps being undone with PPM.

IMG_7136this morning, i found out the american youth groups i was going to see were doing work in schools. my skepticism instantly kicked in. i instantly imagined reluctant school administrators, tolerating the imposing gringos. and i instantly started to question my PPM host, almost as if i was going to finally find out the truth of this organization, that they were only committed to working under the leadership of the indigenous local church leadership when it was convenient.

i was wrong.

the local church leadership WANTS PPM teams to work in public schools (btw, the teams are doing work with children in the classrooms in the morning–both jesus-y stuff, and math and spelling reviews–and doing service projects in the afternoon, some at schools, some in other locations). in fact, PPM was skeptical when church leaders asked for this. but the church leaders explained: we are on these school boards. we want to bless our communities. but we need help. and if (this is where it started to remind me of the benefits of my partnership with principals all those years ago) the school and community are blessed because of the church, that’s enough for us right there. but it also has a significant positive impact on the community’s view of our church, which helps in plenty of other ways.

i sat with three different jamaican principals today also. in each case, they honestly shared (i could tell they were being authentic with me) how the visiting teams were a win for everyone, including their students.

ok. i stand corrected. i’ll put my skepticism back in it’s storage container (i have a neat little pocket for it in my new travel backpack).

oh, and here’s a pic of my and sister norma. she’s a PPM staffer here in jamaica, after a lifetime of being a teacher and principal herself.

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