current reading list for my coaching program (and a question about a virtual cohort)

in my youth ministry coaching program cohorts, there’s a reading assignment for the first five of our six meetings (the last meeting has a TON of prep, so i don’t assign reading). i’ve modified the list a bit from the first year of YMCP to this last year. here’s my current list, and why i have participants read them (if you’re not interested in the list, skip to the bottom of this post and consider my semi-related question):

for the first meeting:
Youth Ministry 3.0, by some dude
my book is a bit dated in some ways (i wrote it about 5 years ago, after all). i keep thinking i should write a Youth Ministry 3.1: What I Wish I’d Said (though, i ended up covering quite a bit of that in A Beautiful Mess, though indirectly). however, i assign this book first because i want to have common language in the cohort for many of the issues we’ll talk about. in fact, i lead a conversation based on the content of the book for about 2 hours at each of the first two meetings (where each of the other books get about a 45 minute discussion). whatever its weaknesses at this point (and they are there), YM3.0 still provides what i believe to be an accurate description of the primary changes in youth culture over the last 60 years, and a bit of backstory to books like Sticky Faith and Almost Christian, as to how we got where we are.

for the second meeting:
Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon MacKenzie
when yaconelli announced that i was going to be the president of ys, old ys insider (and wittenburg door staffer) craig wilson — now known as mcnair — sent me a copy of this book. i think it’s the only book other than the bible that i’ve read four or five times, all the way through. and i wish every book i would ever read would be like this one: full of amazing stories that act as perfect metaphors for concepts and ideas. in this case, the concepts and ideas are about maintaining your creativity when you’re part of an organization with red-tape and bureaucracy and constricting systems. the metaphor of the title is brilliant in-and-of itself: don’t get caught in the hairball, but don’t shoot off on your own trajectory. maintain orbit, staying connected to the hairball, and exerting your own gravitational pull. a freakin’ brilliant and wonderfully weird book, if there ever was one.

for the third meeting:
Teen 2.0, by Robert Epstein
i don’t know that i can think of another book — any other book — that i’ve ever read that has both shaped my thinking about adolescence, parenting, and youth ministry, while regularly pissing me off or driving me nuts. and, as about 70 people in my YMCP program have slogged through this long-winded but gripping diatribe, i could count on one hand those who wished they hadn’t bothered. you’d never know it by looking at him, but epstein is a freakin’ wild man, a voice in the desert, a logician and scientist who’s still very willing to use hyperbole and exaggeration. really, i’m not sure how else to describe this book (at it’s core, btw, it’s a description of how the “false” construct of adolescence came to be present and assumed as an unshakable non-negotiable). annoying? yup. longer than it needs to be? you bet. enlightening and perspective-altering? yeah, absolutely.

for the fourth meeting:
either Let My People Go Surfing, by Yvon Chouinard, or Delivering Happiness (not the comic book version, by the way!), by Tony Hsieh
one of the central themes of my coaching program is the importance of values. i’ve blogged about this a bunch (here’s an example of that), so i won’t harp on it here. but we work on and talk about values quite a bit in YMCP. after the meeting where each partipant spends time crafting a first pass at their own personal vocational values, i have them read one of these two books (they can pick, or read both). both are amazing case studies of leaders who lead their organizations primarily by ruthlessly bringing alignment (and re-alignment) to the organization’s values. they lost revenue because they cared more about the values. the made tough choices. they messed (both admit where they got it wrong, and where they were tempted to compromise on their values). after reading these books, we talk about what it cost them to embrace their values, and what they gained. then we bring that around to our own contexts.

for the fifth meeting:
A Beautiful Mess: What’s Right About Youth Ministry, by the prince of Saturn
i added my new book to my cohorts this past year because it felt like a nice book-end to the opening of Youth Ministry 3.0 (like i said, it clarifies some things, and emphasizes some things that were barely mentioned in YM3.0). but while participants are reading it, i ask them to be ready for these discussion questions:

  • What theology is explored here? How do you resonate or react to it?
  • Where are you most encouraged by what’s happening in your youth ministry? What does that reveal about God?

i also keep almost adding Almost Christian, by Kenda Dean, into the mix (probably replacing one of the current books). i haven’t added it in the past, because i’ve normally assumed most youth workers have already read it. but i keep finding that only about 25% of my participants have read it, and it really is — in my opinion — the single most important youth ministry book in the last 5 years (though it’s a very challenging read). each cohort ends up talking about it in roundabout ways, as i reference it so often; and most of my participants added it to their own self-assigned homework at one point or another.

Question: i’ve been toying with the idea (because multiple people have asked for it) of beta-testing a virtual cohort of the youth ministry coaching program. i’m a bit hesitant, because i think a massive, irreplaceable aspect of the value of the program is that we meet, face-to-face, for two days, every other month. that face time fosters the formation of a safe little tribe. each cohort grows to love one another and depend on each other for growth and support and accountability. and that just can’t be the same with a virtual cohort.

however, i know that there are just people who either cannot or will not find a way to pay the $3000 for participation in the full program. so… i’m wondering: if i beta-tested a virtual cohort (we’d probably meet one day/month, for about 4 hours, in a G+ hang-out), would you be interested? we could still cover some of the same ground; and it would be substantially cheaper, of course (though i don’t yet know what that means). anyhow: comment below, or shoot me an email ([email protected]) if you’re interested in exploring being a part of this beta-test. if i get 6 to 10 peeps, i’ll probably give it a whirl.

20 thoughts on “current reading list for my coaching program (and a question about a virtual cohort)”

  1. I would live for you to do an in-person cohort in the Detroit area.

    Short of that – I’d love the opportunity to do the virtual cohort!

  2. That should have said ‘love’

    God willing, I’ll live whether you do a Detroit cohort or not…

  3. I feel I would be interested in the cohort online, but also feel like it couldn’t start till January at earliest for me! I’d be interested in a Reno group too if that could be arranged. I’m going to grab at least Dean’s book at YS next week! Sadly, I’ve only read 3.0, and that’s because I wasn’t really a reader until finishing my degree last year.

  4. If it started in the spring I would be willing to give it a shot. I did my entire M.A. Degree online and I found our discussion groups very helpful even though we could not see each other.

  5. Would the virtual cohort be open to youth workers outside of the US, and as it is currently structure do you think the themes/purposes would be beneficial for someone ministering overseas?

  6. i would potentially be interested in a virtual cohort with you, depending on cost, as others have said. i’ve been interested in a coaching/mentoring thing for a while now. i serve at a church in San Francisco. let me know your thoughts.

  7. hey, commenters — just so you know: i’m pulling all your names and email addresses into an “interested” list (along with those from the people who are emailing me). i’ll be in touch sometime soon about my evolving thoughts on this!

  8. Mark, I’d love to participate virtually or a live one in the twin cities, MN. I think there might be enough people here to make it happen? Either way, I love this idea and would be interested.

  9. Depending on the cost and time required, something like this would be great for volunteer youth ministers, who can’t afford conventions because of full-time work, families, and cost. If it were relatively cheap and met at a time that works for a full-time career person, I’d pass it on to our volunteer youth minister at our church to see if he were interested.

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