7 sins of re-inventing your youth ministry

jonathan mckee, of the source for youth ministry, puts together a podcast that’s a long-form interview with someone in youth ministry (the podcasts are usually 45 minutes to an hour in length). he recently interviewed me (at our sacramento nywc) about the contents of my new youth ministry 3.0 book, and we had a fun discussion. the podcast came out recently, and is available here.

part of jonathan’s schtick for these podcasts is to ask his interviewees to come up with a list of “7 sins” related to the topic being discussed. so, for our discussion of youth ministry 3.0, i came up with a list of “7 sins of re-inventing your youth ministry”, which we talk through at length on the podcast.

here’s the little list i came up with:

7 sins of re-inventing your youth ministry

1. Assuming everything is fine as is.

2. Assuming youth culture is what it always was.

3. Assuming you have all the answers to what needs to change.

4. Assuming change should be a democratic process.

5. Assuming everyone will easily be on board with change.

6. Assuming more is better.

7. Assuming teenagers really dig cool programs and nifty youth facilities.

what do you think? any you’d add?

there’s great discussion going on around these over at the youth ministry 3.0 facebook group (with almost 1100 members now!).

oh, here’s a clarification i wrote on #4, which seemed to create some confusion for people:

there’s a difference between discernment and democracy. democracy assumes everyone has a vote, and that decisions are made merely by the result of the vote. this is NOT the same as discernment.

certainly, i believe discernment should be a communal process (i write about this a little bit in the book). but even deciding who should be a part of the discernment process requires discernment!

bottom line: we want to discover what god wants for our ministries, in the context in which we find ourselves. the holy spirit is not bound to voting, and seems to more often speak with a still, small voice, through marginalized and introspective kids (and parents and leaders), and in unexpected ways.

make sense?

for more on this, mark yaconelli has some great stuff on communal discernment in “contemplative youth ministry”, as does tim keel in his great book, “intuitive leadership”.

12 thoughts on “7 sins of re-inventing your youth ministry”

  1. Wouldn’t making assumption 1 result in a failure to see the need for a reinventing? Those are really good. I will pass them on to our youth minister.

  2. Great list. I would add:

    8. Not including your pastor in your ideas
    9. Implementing ideas to fast

    Great post. We could probably write a book on this alone.

  3. I’ll post this on your facebook site too, but here are my thoughts:

    I’m not a fan of #4 or #5 frankly. Both assumes a certain brand of leadership that I’m less and less a fan of.
    If by #4 he means that change must be top down then he assumes that either, that there people aren’t interested in rethinking youth ministry in the church, or that youth pastors are incapable of leading a community with this kind of engagement (discernment is a good word). Certainly change is not easy, and there are forces at work systematically to keep things the way they are, but saying the top down is THE answer is a flawed assumption. What’s more, most churches who aren’t change friendly don’t respond well to top down leadership.

    #5 – is similar to #4. This is the language of top down. It assumes the leader is right (on board) and that the world will be right and good and best when everyone aligns themselves with the leaders ideas. It’s the antithesis of #3. Getting people on board with your ideas for them isn’t how change is actually done in most churches. (There are a few exceptions. Just go to a catalyst conference.) But most leaders don’t live in a climate that allows for this kind of thinking, nor should they.

    Ironically, both #4 and #5 point back to old school youth ministry where the youth pastor is the hub of the youth ministry. They essentially say, “We need to change things and the youth pastor can’t be THE one to do it all. Now let’s ask the Youth Pastor what he/she wants us to do differently.”

    Youth pastors fall into this trap often. It’s the idea that we just need a bigger hammer to change things.

  4. mark, did you read my “unpacking” of #4 at the bottom of the post? i am NOT advocating for a heirarchical, go off by yourself and find a vision then shove it down everyone’s throats! i’m advocating for communal discernment, which – i contend – is different than democracy.

    on #5: hmmm. i’m not sure where you’re reading “top down” into this. it’s certainly not my perspective, at all. i’m only suggesting that a youth worker excited about change should be aware that not everyone will share that excitement (another reason the process of change needs to be rooted in communal discernment).

  5. good luck on speaking tomorrow (err… later today). i’m working on ym 3.0 after getting it yesterday. i hope to finish it soon. good stuff.

  6. While glad for your clarification on #4, I actually think it could potentially be the ‘sin’ with the most long-term detrimental effect. There are many things in ministry and life where a purely democratic process is detrimental. Let’s face it, even in our government we use representation…

    Great post.

  7. thanks for clarifying #4. i would have left a comment asking you to explain that a bit more but now i’m commenting on the clarification. This kinda hits home right now because i between two youth ministries right now and am planning to leave one to go full time to the other but not completely sure how to go about that. I was asking other people’s opinion but your clarification helped me realize that it wasn’t so much what other people think but what God wants in our lives.

    This concept not only belongs in Youth ministry but in all parts of life.

    Thanks again

  8. You missed some of my biggies:

    – Assuming everything is broken

    – Assuming the need to do massive, ground up restructuring for every new wave of ideas that tears thru youth ministry blogs

    – Assuming that the closer you are to being a teen yourself the better your ministry to them will be (a pet peeve)

    – Assuming that church as a whole is not relevant to them

    – Assuming that separating them from the church adults and activities is better (or worse, for that matter)

    – Assuming that parents are either the enemy or a bystander

    – Assuming that teens don’t care about things like communion or other traditions

    – Assuming they come to your group or outreach because of you or your program

    I’ve seen unsaved, raw, inner city wild teens rove the church looking for where the communion supplies went, because they had missed communion and felt it was so important to them that they didn’t want to miss out.

    Should they have taken communion? Of course not. But it does show me that sometimes things we think they don’t care about really are on their radar.

  9. I would add:
    1) Watering down the message in an attempt to make it more palatable
    2) Underestimating the intellectual abilities of the young people – schools have done this and look at the result – substandard education – we can’t allow sub-standard discipleship – the kids are capable of understanding more than most folks tend to give them credit for.

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