Category Archives: blogs

what the church needs: loyal radicals

loyal radicalssome time ago, a friend send me a link to this online article, written by bob hopkins, about the sort of people who are able to foment change in the large, change-resistant world of british anglicanism. he calls these people “loyal radicals.”

i thought the insights were absolutely brilliant, and have SO much application for the coaching work i do with youth workers, who are all too often (understandably) frustrated with the change-resistance of their churches.

my slightly edited version of hopkins’ definition of a loyal radical:

Loyal Radicals are grass roots leaders who are passionate about mission and change, but are totally committed to the church [or organization] they belong to and are working for change from within.

here are the traits of loyal radicals he draws out:

  • Love the church (or organization) they are a part of, even though they are passionate for change (and often frustrated by institutional resistance to change).
  • Love of the church (or organization) is fueled by faith that God is able to bring about change, even when it seems impossible or unlikely. It’s a positive, hopeful perspective, built more on a theological perspective than on optimism.
  • An attitude of expectancy.
  • A strategy of pressing forward with confidence that there is a way forward, a way around the obstacles. They “look for the slightest crack in the door, sticking your foot firmly in it and keep pressing it there as long as it takes to ease the door open.” They find and leverage “healthy creative pressure points.”
  • Their strategy is one of “benevolent subversion.”
  • They gather and disseminate stories of pioneering success.
  • They network with other Loyal Radicals for learning and encouragement.
  • They have a ton of patience.

in my coaching program (YMCP), one of the assigned readings is a quirky little book called Orbiting the Giant Hairball. it’s a former Hallmark Cards creative’s thoughts about how to remain creative while involved in an organization with tendencies to draw you into the hairball of its bureaucracies. but, really, it’s about being a loyal radical (though the author never uses that term). there’s great dove-tailing, certainly, between the book and the ideas above.

over and over again i chat with youth worker (or other ministry leaders) who would love to see change in the organization they are a part of; but they’re often not willing or interested in the “loyal” half — they just want to be the radical. problem is: that almost never works. radicals can influence change, to be sure. but radicals influence change from outside the organization, exercising a prophetic voice. if that’s you, go with it (just be ready for a diet of locusts and honey). but if you really want to see change in a church or organization that you love even while it frustrates the heck out of you, then spend some time reflecting on this idea of a loyal radical, and how you can more fully embody the traits listed above.

if the youth ministry blogging world had tectonic plates, they would have just shifted

i was just sitting here at my desk, thinking of all the changes i’ve been involved in over the past four or five years, and i had an image in my minds-eye of a rubber duck riding down a stream that — while just a stream from a human view — feels pretty crazy to the duck!

experientially, i’m pretty qualified to notice when change in the youth ministry world is significant (or if it’s only being positioned that way).

and, when josh griffin and doug fields (along with their partner matt mcgill and 8 other guests) launch a new youth ministry blog, it’s worth noting.

josh has had the #1 blog in the youth ministry world for a few years, and seeing the numbers behind the rankings, i can tell you that no one was even remotely nipping at his heals. then, the youth ministry veteren but blogging rookie, doug fields, started blogging. and, no surprise, within a year, had become the #2 youth ministry blog (bumping me down to #3, by the way!).

so, josh deciding to leave behind, and doug deciding to shift his blogging over (in effect, shutting down his #2 blog) is a big change!

josh’s old blog — — is being reimagined by simply youth ministry. it will now have a team of bloggers, and will — i’m confident — remain a very important (and leading) voice. if you don’t follow that one, you should.

but, which will redirect you to the new download youth ministry blog, is the place where josh and doug will now be posting. it’s already live (started last week), and extremely active. i’m following it already, and would encourage you to do the same.

love god love students

Google Reader’s euthanasia and Feedburner’s unplugging from life support

i am not a techie.

and that statement isn’t meant to be in the least dismissive of techies. i wish i were more of a techie. and i’m sure adam mclane, my partner in The Youth Cartel, regularly wishes i wasn’t such a technotard. we would quickly lose count if we tried to tabulate the times i broke one of our websites (more than once when he was traveling!), or cried out for help because i couldn’t figure something out. this little blog would have been long ago shuttered after the infamous ‘nativity post debacle of 2011’ had adam not come to the rescue.

reader deathbut i am a fairly heavy technology user. nothing all that out of the ordinary: two blogs, a pallet of websites, four facebook pages, two twitter feeds, instagram and dropbox and skype and google+, online platforms for invoicing and customer service and event registration and a few other things, and mobile apps for all of these. and i have regularly followed several dozen blogs thanks to google reader (which was my second app for that purpose, after a previous one went down).

so i’m more than a little annoyed that the sometimes-helpful-sometimes-infuriating-always-narcissistic people of google have chosen to kill off google reader. really. it’s the #1 blog aggregator in the world, used by millions, and they’re euthanizing it — on monday (july 1). add to that, feedburner, the google-owned service i’ve used for a long time to allow people to receive my blog posts via email, has stopped being serviced, and is all but dead. they’re not euthanizing it, but they unplugged it from life support last fall, and it’s wheezing and sputtering and slowly dying (and could break and die at any moment, which would be it, since google has a ‘do not resuscitate’ order in place).

my techno-problems, in order:

  1. i don’t understand this stuff. i just want it to work for me.
  2. i want to quickly scan all the blogs i follow in one place, not go to all of them.
  3. i have almost 1000 people who have followed my blog on google reader, and all of them are about to be dispersed like dandelion seeds on july 1.
  4. i have about 350 people who receive my blog posts via email due to feedburner subscriptions, and they’re soon to lose that ability.
  5. i don’t understand this stuff. i just want it to work for me.

so, it seems there’s just no way around it: i’m going to lose a crap-ton of readers. bummer. i hope some portion of them will re-engage via some new means (fist shake in a northerly direction toward google headquarters!).

here’s what i’ve found, through some searching (throat clear: by searching on google):

feedlyblog reader
i’ve switched to feedly, a free service that seems pretty good (this techcrunch article and this gizmodo article were helpful). and if you are a google reader user, and switch over before the googs euthanize the reader, the import function is one-click easy-peasy.

i’m sure i’ll have a little adjustment period. but it looks like it will suit me just fine. i really like the social media sharing buttons at the bottom of each post in the view i use.

thank you, feedly!

(btw: adam has more details, step-by-step instructions here in his post called Migrate to Feedly Now! but i want it noted that he — the techno-wizard — told me no one uses RSS or a reader anymore until i told him about the techcrunch and gizmodo articles. apparently they have more tech cred than me, since he subsequently made this change and wrote his helpful blog post.)

email subscriptions
the replacement for feedburner (the email subscription thingy) was a harder one for me to figure out. articles i read pointed mostly to paid services. and while i truly love you if you’re one of my email subscribers, i wasn’t jazzed about handing over fifteen bucks a month for that service. i mean: that’s the price of one IMAX 3D movie ticket!

mailchimpso, after whining to adam in what might have been passive aggressive ways a few times, i finally had a conversation with him where i came right out and said “I need your help!” (because, as i always tell the fantastic youth workers in my coaching programs, “great leaders are willing to ask for help,” and “asking for help counter-intuitively draws people to you rather than repelling them from you.” so, adam should be really drawn to me right now.) of course, he knew exactly what to do. he exported my feedburner stuff, imported it into MailChimp (which we already use for many other purposes), created a nifty little email header for me, and set things up to automatically send out emails a half hour after i post new stuff on my blog.

yup. that would have taken me weeks to figure out. took adam about 45 minutes, i think (that’s the learning here, right? you all need an adam. but you can’t take mine.)

seriously, MailChimp is fantastic, and free for small (low quantity) users. and there’s a robust truck full of help tools. and the amazingly friendly and insightful founder/CEO (ben chestnut) spoke at The Summit last year!

bottom line #1: if you’re one of my whyismarko’s email subscribers, you’ve already been switched over to the new dealio, and should be reading this in a lovely email format with my smirking face at the top.
bottom line #2: if you’d like to start receiving my posts via email, just enter your info over there on the right sidebar area where it says to do so. (by the way, i tend to post about 1 – 3, maxing out at 4, times per week. so it’s not an overwhelming quantity.)


there you have it! “marko’s tech solutions blog” will now follow the trail blazed by the googlebots. i’m calling dr. kevorkian right now (he’s got a direct line at google).

5 questions the american church must answer

Third Option Men is a men’s discipleship ministry. actually, i hadn’t heard of them before they contacted me, as that’s just not the portion of the ministry world i run in. their blog has been running a series based on interviews with a variety of church and ministry leaders, called Soulutions: 5 questions the American church must answer (here’s the whole series so far). frankly, i’m a little surprised they asked to interview me for this series; but i was very happy to participate.

marko-oestreicher-1here’s their post of my responses, which was based on a phone interview, and not written answers. but in preparation for the phone interview, i’d written out some thinking for myself so i was ready…

In Matthew 5, Jesus commands His disciples to be “salt” and “light”. What does that mean?

Well, salt is metaphorical language about bringing out the natural flavoring. I love this, because it speaks of the good and ongoing redemptive work God is already actively doing in the world – that’s the natural flavoring, in my thinking. For us to be salt, we’re being invited into God’s Kingdom work in the world. This is a very different perspective than one where we – the church, or individual Christ-followers — are introducing God into the world, as if he isn’t already present and active.

And light – man, what a beautiful image. Think of all the great things light does:
It provides clarity
It helps us to see things the way they really are
It dispels darkness
And it often provides warmth

For me, the language of being Salt & Light is winsome and welcoming and invitational.

How is your church/ministry being the “light”?

Since The Youth Cartel is about helping the church (mostly through church youth workers) more effectively engage teenagers with the love of Jesus, I’d like to think we’re being light in a few strategic ways:

  • we’re bringing a humble honesty to the realities of working with teenagers
  • we’re trying to do things in new ways, which – I hope – brings light into new corners
  • and we’re encouraging youth workers along the lines of my answer to the first question – encouraging youth workers to see the work of Jesus already active in the lives of teenagers, and to actively participate in that restorative work.

What is the Church in America doing right?

In the arena of youth ministry, I’m encouraged by quite a few things, including:

  • a big increase in thoughtfulness among youth workers. We’re starting to move beyond the entertainment approach to youth ministry, and that’s a very encouraging sign.
  • I’m seeing an increase in humility, which is wonderful, and very Jesus-y.
  • I’m seeing a move away from copying each other to the idea that the best youth ministry (and the best expressions of church) are those that are collaboratively discerned and contextually unique. If we really believe that God is already active in the world, it’s great to see so many ministries looking to join up with that at a local level, rather than thinking our own brilliance or the best practices of a church on the other side of the country will result in anything but blurred copies, rather than vibrant originals.

What does the Church in America need to change?

Personally, I’m just completely tired of the culture wars. And working with teenagers and young adults as I do, I know that the vast majority of people under 30 have no interest in that fight. We need to wake up to the fact that holding our own beliefs doesn’t mean we should be arrogant jerks to others who don’t believe what we do. For example, I feel like the church in my city of San Diego (the church I am a a part of is a wonderful exception to this) is known primarily for what the church is against. That is ultimately not helpful to the cause of Christ.

I’d love to see the church in America be known, first and foremost, for it’s welcome and embrace of people who don’t believe like we do. It’s time for us to offer unconditional belonging prior to belief. I realize that’s messy; but so was the New Testament church.

Where will the Church in America be in 10 years?

Even if our economy recovers more fully, I think churches will have less and less funding, and will be forced to dramatically rethink things like staffing and expensive facilities. I think this will be a painful process – and will probably take closer to 20 years to really play out. But I’m hopeful that this painful process will produce some beautiful risk and blaze some new trails.

how would you have answered any of these questions?

it’s january, but emmanuel is still with us

my most recent back page column for youthwork magazine (UK) came out a few weeks ago (just got my physical copy that swam all the way over from england). i wrote it in december, soaking in all that wonderful pre-christmas warmth and cheer and spirituality. but i knew the readers would read the column in january. so:

The Festive Spirit

At a recent youth ministry training event I spoke about what real change and transformation looks like for a Christian. Somewhere in the middle of the talk I commented off-handedly about how I feel like it’s only been in the last three years that I’ve begun to experience the Holy Spirit, rather than merely acknowledging, understanding, or conceptualising the Holy Spirit.
A friend of mine wrote me two weeks later: ‘You said something to the effect of “I didn’t really discover what life in the Spirit really meant until the last few years.” What changed for you? I imagine you as someone who seeks God deeply and honestly. I was taken aback by that statement. I wonder if that is something that can help me in my own walk.’

Here’s how I responded:

‘Yeah, I don’t mean to say I was unspiritual or anything prior to a few years ago. I just think that I mostly saw my faith as an intellectual pursuit that outworked itself in my actions. But I didn’t ‘get’ the role of the Holy Spirit. I felt broken in my departure from my last ministry position, and wondered so deeply if I would ever have any value again (sounds dramatic, but that was the state I was in). It was then that the Holy Spirit broke through that in a powerful and affirming way, starting me down a new road. It’s not been a complete ‘charismatic renewal’ or anything. I’ve just grown in experience and practice and believe that God actually speaks to me. That is what has reformatted my understanding of the Spirit’s role in leadership.’

I’m only sharing that exchange with you to set the table for this: I think we have had (and I have had) a less-than-full embracing of Emmanuel (meaning ‘God with us’).

It’s December as I write this, and I’ve been reflecting on that interchange above, and what God is doing in my life. But while I’m unavoidably Christmassy right now (I’m even listening to Christmas music as I type this!), I realize you will be reading this in the decidedly non-festive post-Christmas months.

jesus in mangerAnd here’s where my mind went (or was lead): How come we only talk about God entering into his own creation (which, of course, God did through the birth of Jesus) at Christmas? I mean: I love, love, love the word Emmanuel (am I allowed to have a ‘favorite Bible word?’). It’s pregnant with the entire gospel. That single word summarizes every aspect of Christianity that keeps me tethered when I’m feeling hopeless for the church or annoyed by my brothers and sisters or disgusted with my own inability.
But, treating Emmanuel as a Christmas-only word, well, that’s a rip off. In a sense, it’s as if we pack up Emmanuel with the ornaments and lights, and shelve it for 11 months.

For me, that mirrors how I treated the Holy Spirit for most of my life. ‘There you go, Spirit – you’re a good theological concept, and I have a high appreciation for you. Now, it’s time to get back into your storage box until you’re called for again.’

God with us. 12 months a year (not just one). At Christmas we hold expectation of Jesus’ coming. What if we had that same expectation that God could powerfully show up at even the most mundane and ordinary moments of our day-to-day lives? If we truly believe that; if we really lean into that; if we really remember that the power and intimacy of God is with us at every moment; our experience of the Holy Spirit will be revolutionised.

Maybe that’s the bottom line of this whole thing: what’s it look like for you and me – as children of God, and as youth workers – to live with an Advent expectancy that the Spirit can move powerfully all the year around? Let’s dream big ‘Christmas-sized’ dreams about what God can do with us today and in the coming year. How about a little infusion of anticipation in your faith today? I’m telling you, it’s like a booster shot of Christmas pudding.

Jesus sauce

i write an every-other-issue back page column for youthwork magazine in the UK, trading months with the insightful leader of soul survivor, mike pilavachi. this is the third iteration of me writing a regular column for youthwork magazine. for a few years, i wrote a tiny column called “marko’s misconceptions.” after it must have appeared that i was the stupidest youth worker in the entire world, given the quantity of my misconceptions, the editor switched me to “postcards from marko,” which included youth ministry reflections from various places i was traveling to. but, in early 2011, we changed it again, to the current back page format. my column is called “Mark: My Words.” get it? ha! oh, those double meanings.

i love youthwork magazine, because — while it’s still a resource of thinking and ideas for me and my tribe — it has just enough “otherness” to provide me a perspective i likely wouldn’t always get from american youth ministry bloggers and writers.

anyhow, for my last column, which posted on the youthwork magazine site a couple weeks ago, i reflected on some recent learning from a sermon i preached for my church. it seems to have stuck a chord. a couple peeps from the youthwork mag staff have reached out to tell me it’s the favorite of the columns i’ve written for them over the last seven or eight years. and, in a first, i’ve gotten a couple emails and messages from readers across the pond, reflecting on the application for their own lives.

so… i share it with you here!

I preached in my church a couple of weeks ago, and was assigned a passage: 1 Corinthians 3. There were two strange aspects of this experience, both of which were good for me.

First, in the thousands of times I have spoken to groups of teenagers and youth workers – and occasionally preached to adults – I could count on one hand those that were based on an assigned Bible passage. Normally, I get to pick; and I pick stuff I’m passionate about, stuff I understand, and (if I’m really honest) stuff that I can make sound really good, so I’ll feel good about myself. Being asked to speak on an assigned passage took me out of my comfort zone – big time.

The second aspect that was strange to me was that I discovered that the primary teaching of Paul’s message in this passage isn’t really the message that I’d taught from it dozens of times before. That put me a bit off balance. Fortunately, I’ve found this the posture in which God does his best work on me.

1 Corinthians 3 starts with Paul’s classic words about needing to give the Corinthians milk, because they weren’t ready for meat, because they were infants in Christ. That face-value message has served me well for decades of speaking to teenagers: ‘You’ve got to grow up and own your faith!’ True. Good. Yes, that’s what Paul’s saying.

The handy thing about that message is that it’s not for me. That good and true message is for other people. Same could be said for the following paragraph, where Paul again blasts the Corinthian church for creating a ‘Paul camp’ and an ‘Apollos camp.’ Good. People, other people, those people, need to hear that. But as I sat with the passage in my off-balanced state, as I spent ten times as much time meditating, researching, reading and praying than I normally would, I started to see a deeper message in 1 Corinthians 3. And, ouch, it was a message for me!

The Corinthians were guilty of adding their own cultural values to the gospel, thinking they were improving it. As one of my friends put it, they thought they could keep their sandwich, wipe off a bit of the Zeus mayo, add a little Jesus sauce, and have a greatly improved sandwich.

Now I was in trouble. If the deeper truth of the passage is a confrontation about treating the gospel as Jesus sauce on top of the otherwise unchanged values of my life, I’m fooling myself if I think I’m improving anything. I’m not fortifying the gospel, I’m tainting it. I’m diluting it.

As an American, I’ve been steeped like a teabag in a value system of individualism, self-reliance, and the ‘human right’ of happiness. I spread a whole heap of Jesus sauce over that mess and convince myself I’m a Super-Christian. But that’s not the gospel, right?

When I look at my values through the lens of scripture, rather than looking at scripture through the lens of my values, I’m exposed. (Your cultural values might be slightly different, but they’re no less purveyors of subterfuge when it comes to the gospel.) And, as a youth worker, the next thought has to be ‘Uh-oh. How often must I be slinging travel packs of Jesus sauce to the teenagers in my midst, propping up cultural values and making them look “Christian-y”’? Ick.

I want my life to be formed by the otherness of Jesus more than the values of those who are, as Paul calls them, merely human. Wait – scratch that: I’m already formed by merely human values. So I need to be re-formed.

Only when I’m honest about and aware of the cultural values that seduce me, the ones that are so much a part of who I am, can I hope to resist them. Only when I’ve stopped, or at least started to stop, grabbing for the Jesus sauce to make my values seem good and nice, anointed even, only then can I hope to see clearly enough to stop handing out free samples of Jesus sauce to the youth in my church and community.

it’s not too late to register for The Summit (and, Terrace Crawford’s Q&A with me about it)

yesterday, the one and only terrace crawford posted a series of questions he asked me about The Summit and The Youth Cartel. with terrace’s permission, i’m gonna re-post it here, since he asked questions i liked!

terrace: What is The Summit?
me: It’s a youth ministry training event; but our intention has always been to do something very different than the many other excellent training events offered in the youth ministry world. For those familiar with TED, you can probably see how it was somewhat of an inspiration for The Summit. We want to stir imaginations and spark creativity in thinking about each attendee’s unique context. We’re not promoting a particular approach, or suggesting a methodology, because we firmly believe that–today, more than ever–those approaches and methodologies need to be spiritually discerned, unique, and contextually appropriate. So, think of The Summit as the “chemical agent” intended to bring about a combustable reaction leading to change!

terrace: How does the event set itself a part from other youth ministry conferences?
me: To be clear, The Summit is not a “skills training” event. It’s an IDEA event. We believe that by bringing together a group of carefully selected presenters, each giving short, concise talks based on ideas that should shape our thinking and practice, youth workers will leave buzzing with applicable and unique thoughts about the “new things” God might want to do in their ministries.

To that end, each of the first three sessions will have five or six presenters, each giving a 12 – 15 minute talk on an area of expertise. Each session is grouped under a theme umbrella; so there’s a sense where the presenters in each session will each share a unique facet of the same cut gem. After each of these sessions, attendees will self-select one of the presenters with whom to spend another 45 minutes in what we’re calling “Digging Deeper.” The presenters are preparing these times not as further lecture, but as a guided interaction toward contextualization for everyone in the room.

terrace: I love the theme “Panorama: A Big Picture of Youth Ministry — Past, Present, Future.” I noticed many of the speakers aren’t youth workers. Do you think these presenters will be able to help discern where youth ministry is at or needs to go?
me: Actually, the session themes are “Here and Now: Naming our Current Reality,” “Peripheral Vision: Voices from Other Fields,” and “The Horizon: Where We Could or Should Be Headed.” In the first and third of those, all but two of the presenters are youth workers (of various sorts). It’s just that second session where we were intentional about bringing in voices from other fields of study or practice that we think have something we could learn from. So, on one hand: yes, i totally think these presenters can help us discern where youth ministry needs to go. But on the other hand: I don’t think it’s the role of the presenters (or me, or any other youth ministry speaker or youth ministry organization) to, ultimately, tell youth workers where they need to go. Youth workers need to exercise their own spiritual discernment, listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance about what God is calling them to do in their unique context. The event is an aid to that process, rather than the answer(s) to that question.

By the way: I look at that second session (Peripheral Vision), and am just blown away by the line-up. That session alone would be something leaders in other organizations would pay a grand or two to hear. I’m really looking forward to every aspect of the event; but, honestly, that’s the session I’m salivating to hear (sorry, let me wring out my beard).

terrace: I really like how a couple of the sessions are followed up by time to have teams wrestle with application to the big ideas shared at the event. What do you hope this will accomplish? Any expectations?
me: I suppose I mostly answered this one already! But, yes, we really wrestled with how to make the event more than just hearing from 18 gifted presenters. With that many ideas flying around, it could easily feel like drinking from a fire hose, right? So, we came up with those Digging Deeper sessions as a way for youth workers to, well, dig deeper on three of the topics that really caught their attention or heart or curiosity. If those unfold as we hope they will, I think they’ll massively multiply the take-home value of the event.

terrace: What’s next for The Youth Cartel? Do you plan to bring these special events back next year?
me: Man, we have so many things going on, it’s just crazy! We’re publishing now, and have our 3rd and 4th books coming out at The Summit; and we have another six or so titles coming out in the next 6 – 9 months. The Middle School Ministry Campference was a massive success last weekend (its second year), and we’re definitely repeating that. Our Open events kicked off with Open Seattle a few weeks ago (which surpassed all expectations); and we have Open Boston and Open Paris in the first half of 2013. The Youth Ministry Coaching Program is moving forward: I’m close to wrapping up a cohort that’s been meeting in San Antonio; I’m starting a new Nashville cohort in January (there’s still space for one or two people, btw); We’re launching a Canadian cohort in December; and I have two online groups starting in December with the beta-test of the new YMCPv. I’m still writing lots of stuff, and have a couple more books coming out with Simply Youth Ministry in the next few months, plus a JH Bible I general edited coming out with Thomas Nelson mid-year 2013. And, our consulting roster is full of wonderful organizations we’re honored to partner with.

terrace: Any last minute notes for those who aren’t registered?
me: It really isn’t too late! The event, in Atlanta, is next Friday and Saturday (November 9 and 10). If you’re in driving distance, deciding to attend at this late date is totally do-able. There are cheap hotels very near the event location. And, heck, this amazing event–even at this late date–is still under a hundred and fifty bucks (plus, everyone will be getting freebies worth about $50!). And, hey, if you want to attend, and can’t even afford that, shoot me an email ([email protected]), and I’ll do what I can to help you out.

my blogroll (the annual update)

here’s what i’ve got in my blog reader these days. i try to keep it paired down — i just don’t have time to read hundreds of blogs every day. but these are the ones i look at at least once a day (well, i look at my blog reader at least once a day — often more than that; but i skim unless something catches my attention). there are dozens of others – particularly youth ministry blogs – that i check in on from time to time, but aren’t listed here. And, if i find that someone hasn’t posted for a year, i unsubscribe. a few of these are very close to that!

the categories are somewhat arbitrary – they’re just what work for me!

tash mcgill
scot mcknight
seth barnes
david hayward
asbo jesus
andy marin
jonny baker
andrew jones
tony jones
dan kimball
zach lind
crystal kirgiss

youth ministry (this is a tough category for me, because there are SO many wonderful youth ministry blogs. i read dozens and dozens more than this on an occasional basis. but these are the handful i find the most thoughtful and challenging, or, frankly, are just friends of mine in youth ministry that i want to stay current with.)
mike king
fuller youth institute blog
josh griffin
kurt johnston
lars rood
brooklyn lindsey
adam mclane
wayne rice
rachel blom
scott miller
david hausknecht
r.j. grunewald
bethany stolle
terrace crawford
doug fields

ymcp (these youth ministry bloggers are current or former participants in my youth ministry coaching program)
robb gossen
paul martin
luke macdonald
zack weingartner
marty estes
andy sahl
chuck hilman
joel mayward
jeff goins
rocky supinger
daniel longden
kevin libick
sam halverson
shawn kiger

journey (my church)
brian berry (generations and high school pastor, close friend)
josh treece (the former middle school guy)
todd tolson (former discipleship guy, and long-ago middle school pastor, now a church planter)
christina robertson (christina is our middle school pastor, and i’m one of her volunteers)
ed noble (lead pastor, and friend of over 20 years)

humor and oddities
passive aggressive notes
fail blog
mcsweeney’s lists
exploding dog

Rachel Blom’s review of A Beautiful Mess

one of the bloggers to break onto the top 25 youth ministry blogs list this year, rachel blom, published a nice review of A Beautiful Mess on her blog: Youth Leader’s Academy. she posted this a long time ago, and i’ve had it sitting in my drafts folder for months. i’ve since gotten to know rachel in real-world, not only online world; and was so pleased to see her blog make the top 25 list this year. i encourage you to follow her blog. and, of course, i encourage you — as rachel clearly does — to pick up a copy (or 10) of A Beautiful Mess!

Mark Oestreicher (across the globe known as Marko) has written a very un-Marko-ish book. His usual style is to provoke, address, and criticize. In a loving manner, absolutely, but he’s usually on a crusade of some kind to point out what needs to change in youth ministry.

In this new book A beautiful mess he is on a crusade as well, but an entirely different one. He actually wants to encourage us youth leaders, that we’re doing an awesome job. He wants to show us what we’re doing right in youth ministry. How very, very encouraging for a change!

He shows a few trends he thinks are making youth ministry headed in the right direction, like theological reflection and the integration of teens instead of the isolation they often face in church and in their whole world.

Now Marko wouldn’t be Marko is he didn’t throw in some very sharp observations here and there like this one:

What we don’t need is to replace one technology (“programs are the answer!”) with another technology (“post-programming is the answer!”).

There’s, as always, food for thought in his writings, the kind you’ll need to chew on for a while.

young adults as youth ministry volunteers

in a recent edition of, i responded to this question:

If young adult brains aren’t yet fully formed (particularly in the areas responsible for wisdom and decision making), what implications does that have for working with young adult volunteers?

click through to see michelle lang and paul martin’s responses, but here’s mine:

Here’s a rub I regularly experience when talking to rooms full of youth workers. I’ll mention the new realities of extended adolescence, and the findings referred to in the question above. Then I’ll ask: how many of you are under 30? Usually, somewhere between 30% and 50% raise their hands. My regular gag is to say, “Well, it’s nice to have so many teenagers in the room today!”

I’ve never been (or at least haven’t been for a long time) one of those youth workers who thinks that only young adults make good youth leaders. I like diversity. But, there’s no denying that some of my most wonderful youth ministry volunteers over the years have been in the 18 – 25 year-old range.

And while I’d like to think my particular young adult leaders were always a serious cut above average, the reality I’d rather not admit is: they are – on average – physiologically limited in wisdom, decision-making, prioritization, impulse control, and a bunch of other skills I’d sure like my volunteer leaders to possess.

Part of my struggle with this, though, is that I’m still very unconvinced that the whole teenage brain thing is a nature thing (god’s design, you might say), and is more likely to be a nurture thing (the result of our collective restrictions on young adults, keeping them from moving into adulthood or using their brains as adults). And, as I’m buying into the notion that young adults (and even teenagers — particularly older teenagers) are fully capable — whether behavioral indicators show this or not — of “being adult”, I’m forced to wrestle with a few things:

  1. Extended adolescence is not the fault of young adults. Sure, there are slackers. I’m guessing there always have been. But I think it’s wiser for us to examine ourselves, our culture, our churches, our homes, and stop pointing the finger of judgement at 20-somethings. Collectively, we’ve created the culture that isolates teenagers and young adults from adults and adulthood; we’ve created extended adolescence. They’re merely living into our expectations (“You’re not yet an adult”).
  2. It seems possible for some (a few) post-high school teenagers and young 20-somethings to step into adulthood, in some cases very quickly, to reverse the extended adolescent trend, or at least side-step it. I’m not talking about those outliers who naturally move into adulthood “early” (by today’s norms), and would have in any culture, in any era; I’m talking about an average 18 or 21 year old newly leaning into the capabilities they already possess. What is required? In short: meaningful responsibility and expectation (can you see where this is going, as it pertains to young adults in youth ministry?).
  3. But don’t even start comparing your experience as a young adult in youth ministry, in 1982, to that of young adults today. Not the same thing, and you’re probably being revisionist in your memory anyhow.

A large church brought me in a couple years ago to help them think about young adult ministry. They knew things were not going well. But it was way bleaker than I expected, or, I think, than they realized. In a church of a few thousand, there were maybe 25 or so actively engaged 20-somethings. About a dozen of them attended a super-lame class on Sunday mornings that felt like death by crockpot. And another dozen or so found their primary connection to the church as volunteers in the middle school ministry. Of course, here’s the tension:

  • Many of the church leadership (but, to his credit, not the senior pastor) thought the best response was to hire a ‘young adults pastor’ and create (my words) a new pocket of isolation, keeping ‘emerging adults’ (the kinder term now being used to describe the third segment of the adolescent experience — formerly called ‘older adolescents’) disconnected from the adult world. Of course, this is all spun under the banner of “let’s create a space that’s uniquely theirs” (which often actually means, “let’s create a space for them so my space can stay uniquely mine”).
  • The young adults serving on the middle school team were the sharpest of the 2 dozen young adults in the church, and — on average — ahead of the curve on the plodding move to adulthood.
  • But, a church (that church) can’t say, “Our intentional ministry for young adults is to have them work with the middle school ministry.”

Or can they?

Maybe the answer to the question at the top of this page isn’t to “boundary” or limit young adults in youth ministry. Maybe we need to take the counter-intuitive step of giving them more responsibility. Or, just, giving them the responsibility we would give any adult, without a bunch of coddling and hand-holding.

Some might read this and respond, “Well, of course, we already do that.” Sure. Maybe you do (maybe you don’t). Maybe you never read about teenage brain development and extended adolescence, and maybe you never bought into the idea (or, I’m thinking: myth) that “this is just the way things are.” Or maybe you were never intentional at all, and were merely perpetuating stereotypes about who makes the “best” youth ministry volunteers.

But I’m thinking that meaningful responsibility, spending time with adults (on an age-diverse ministry team), all covered in a watchful layer of intentionality and a leaning toward developing volunteers of all sorts – well, that might just be the best young adult ministry possible.
What do you think?