naming the vibe

this morning, on the van ride to heathrow, i was chatting with a chap (see how i’m throwin’ down that brit-talk?!) about my impressions of soulsurvivor. he was asking, specifically, what i found that was different from large-scale youth events in the states. and i was having a hard time putting my finger (or mind, or words) on the difference. i could name a few practical things, like the prayer/ministry time i posted about. but in my loss of the right framework, i kept repeating, “i don’t know, there’s just a different vibe.”

i sensed this “vibe” wasn’t just a british/american difference.

then it dawned on me: the difference is, soulsurvivor actually chooses to trust teenagers. they trust teenagers to make choices (example: this isn’t just about having multiple seminars to choose between; it’s lived out — as one example — in that no meeting is mandatory. they have a very cool team of people — called the “engagement team” — who rove around the grounds during the main sessions, finding the few who choose not to attend, and connecting with them. they’re not doing this to “police” them or tell them they need to head down to the big tent — just the opposite; they assume the big meeting isn’t the best place for connecting with and engaging those students, and meet them where they are.). soulsurvivor trusts teenagers to engage culture and use discernment, rather than isolating them from it (example: the late night dance club playing “secular” music). soulsurvivor trusts teenagers to minister to one another, and doesn’t only allow trained adults for these roles (examples: the prayer/ministry time i posted about, and the 19 year-old who gave one of the main session talks. And soulsurvivor trusts that god is actively working in and engaging teenagers (example: there’s a palpable expectancy that god is present and active).

One of the reasons I think I so resonated with this is that it’s been a core value of youth specialties from the beginning to trust youth workers. This is one of the things I believe separates our youth workers convention from others. it’s also a key reason we’ve had some run-ins with youth-ministry-world mucky-mucks in the past few years who think we squander our opportunity to be more directive with youth workers. But, admitadly, it’s easier to live out this trust when our audience is adult youth workers, than – as soulsurvivor does – with teenagers!


I think we in youth ministry in the states could learn a thing or two here. We have talked a good talk for a good long time about youth not just being the church of tomorrow, but the church of today (thunderous applause from a room of youth workers!). but we often treat them like little children who can’t be trusted. And I’m not even that sure we always trust god to show up in their lives (without our gracious help, that is). But I suppose that’s a whole different subject.

I’m very ready to hug my wife and kids and sleep in my own bed tonite.

10 thoughts on “naming the vibe”

  1. Marko,
    Thanks for your thoughts about trusting students. That is some very good insight. I especially liked reading about SoulSurvivor and its ‘Engagement Team.’ Thanks for the post!

  2. You bring up some interesting issues that go to deeper cultural issues in terms of American fixation on safety and control. In my experience with European kids, they are more independent and well traveled because the parents are less likely to hover and wring their hands. How would the latest ads for “on-star” or kids cell phones which play on parent’s fears play in England? Could it be that we are a bit overprotective and our kids are suffering for it? And if so, what does that say about our understanding of God?

  3. Now my mond is churning when it comes to an event as “simple” as our Presbytery retreats…hmmm…really like the thought of the engagement team

  4. those are interesting thoughts to bring back to america’s christian culture. i don’t know if it was taught to me outright or it’s just something i picked up from living in a f***ed up family that mingled scripture with abuse, but i believed that i was not to be trusted….ever! that feelings lie and emotions are not to be a guide. things are different now…but as i learn to listen to my inner voice and enter into a more personal relationshp with god, i also don’t feel like i fit in with western christianity. just the other day my daughter came home and announced that listening to donut man and sunday school and those kinds of things where good because they taught her what what right and wrong. it threw me…until the next day when i want to shout to her that those may be benificial but if she looked and listened to her heart deep down inside she would know what was right and wrong. anyway, just a rambling on what it seems we are up against in trusting our children. we must first believe that we ourselves can be trusted. and i would bet that for most american christians that will be a journey…or maybe not…just a thought.

  5. Marko,

    You are right on the money. I just posted on my blog about students that are just bored and want respect. I work at on of the most challenging middle schools in Houston. It is infested with gangs. After reading your post i understand that kids of all types just want to be trusted, respected, and acknowledged. Keep steppin….Peace Sam

  6. Not to be sexist but I believe it has to do with the feminization of American culture.
    We give up freedom for security without a second thought. We are consumed with safety and hold McDonalds responsible when someone burns themselves with their own coffee. Maturity can never grow in a pain free / risk free environment. Youth workers are no exception we are often far more afraid of offending a parent or senior pastor than of having a room full of inmature Christian young people. It’s just safer not to take risk because taking risk means that some will definitely fail. So what if their faith doesn’t mature under our ministry there just kids right?

  7. thanks for your thoughts on all the Soul Survivor stuff. You have stirred thinking on this side of the pond – thank you.
    Hope the bed met your expectations!

  8. Hey there Mark

    Firstly, thanks from a very greatful youthworker. Your session on eagles wings at Soul Survivor really fired up my 2 brand new workers who have raved about it since. Just waiting for Soul Survivor to upload the audio so I can hear it. With reagards to trusting the teens, you should see them in the Churches. I have served in several parts of the UK in differing denominations and all of them are very willing to let their teens have a go and even, dare I say it,………..make a mistake!! There is a real desire among the denomination leadrs to see the teens and 20’s released into the fulness of service within the life of a church community. And as for the justice thing. Are you coming to Durban in 2009?

    Keep up the good work mate. We apreciate it this side of the pond just as much, especially as you got a brit car!!

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