Youth Ministry is a Beautiful Mess. Mark Oestreicher (Marko) puts this elegantly in his new book, which I was blessed to get for free. Simply put, this book is a beautiful, authentic, transparent and gut-checking look into what’s right with Youth Ministry. Several things that Marko writes resonate with me and several of the mistakes Marko lists he’s done, I know I am or was guilty of as well.
Marko used to be the President of Youth Specialties, where resources poured down into the hands of Youth Ministers/leaders every where, so when he says: “In fact, I’m becoming more and more convinced that one of the worst things that can happen to a youth ministry is to become well resourced” (page 20, iBooks), one should sit up and listen.
When I started as a full-time youth pastor at the ripe old age of 21, I was in a small church with a youth budget of $3,000. Compared to some of my friends, that was a lot of money but to me, it was frustratingly small because I believed the lie that resources would make my ministry grow. I soon realized the best thing to do would be to write my own youth talks instead of buying other people’s youth talks (no offense Marko). I’m not talking about writing the fuzzy wuzzy stuff I was somewhat trained to teach but digging deeper and going deeper with the teens, writing “real” sermons. Once I gave God the control of what to speak at Youth Group, rather than Youth Specialties or Group or whoever else, I saw a dramatic shift in the kids lives. Now, I’m not all against resources, I think they can helpful at guiding and leading in the right direction for youth ministry practices or even youth talks. The issue comes when we believe the only way to do it is the way it’s shown to be done with these resources. I write books and read veraciously so resources that are for the pastor or ideas that are for him can be very effective and useful, again it’s full reliance to the lack of reliance on God.
Then, as things shift in the church, I was put down to part time because of financial troubles within the church and my budget was cut further. Soon my wife and now new baby realized we had to move. I changed jobs into a mega-church with tons of resourcing. Where I used my meager budget before to buy food and take kids out to eat I now had a huge budget to do greater and bigger events. I soon realized I fell prey to the trappings of “resources” again and needed God to slap me upside the head and remind me of the lessons of the past.
I share that bit of detail because Marko’s words resonated with me about resourcing and I couldn’t put the book down. Although this book is short (34 pages in iBooks), it packs a huge punch. Marko soon shares why he believes resourcing can be a bad thing: it takes our reliance off of the Spirit and places it in the hands of man.
Marko states his 2 bottom lines: “Bottom line No. 1: Without a sens of the Holy Spirit’s role in your life, you will always be limited in your own spiritual growth and practice and, therefore, in your youth ministry efforts *OUCH*. Bottom line No. 2: A youth ministry that’s not informed by active and intentional listening to the Holy Spirit will miss out on who God is calling it to be *DOUBLE OUCH*” (page 25, iBooks, Ouches were my own).
This has been a hard lesson to learn for me personally but Marko is dead on correct. I fear too often in Youth Ministry we rely on the programs, the resources and what the “pro’s” are doing that we neglect to listen to God for our own current context. We stop praying about ministry and simply “do” ministry. This does not create long-lasting disciples to Jesus but may create dedicated followers to a person, namely the youth pastor. Our jobs are not to create cult-followings for ourselves but to point them to Jesus.
Marko says some other very profound things about youth ministry, his own walk and his own “re-thinking” that he’s undergone as it comes to youth ministry. It’s a packed 34 pages that I feel every youth worker needs to read and re-read to remind us of what’s important. I know it’s a book I will refer back to so I can remember the most important thing: allowing God to lead, nothing and no one else.