aaron arnold (full disclosure: he’s a good friend of mine) is the leader of youthHOPE, a very cool organization committed to developing youth ministry leaders in a variety of developing nations. they’ve done amazing work in places most people wouldn’t even visit. i’m really pumped that aaron is going to be one of our presenters at The Summit, presenting on “changes in global youth culture,” in the first session look at the here and now. (btw: some of the super-screamin’ incentives for being the earliest to register for The Summit expire at the end of the day tomorrow!)
aaron wrote a nice and thoughtful review of A Beautiful Mess on the youtHOPE blog (one of the blogs i follow).
So I saw that Simply Youth Ministry was offering a free download of Marko’s new book and I jumped on it. BTW, it is my first official book read on my iPad. I didn’t figure that I would get to it right away, but ended up reading it this afternoon in one sitting after coming back from the gym.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and was glad to see the positivity that Marko expressed in his latest analysis of youth ministry. It was also personally gratifying to read some of his thoughts that I have discussed with him before, as I have had the chance to get to build a friendship with Marko over the last 10 years or so since he first started going to Argentina during my time in Chile as a global youth worker. I would like to share some of my thoughts as I read the book and how it applies to global youth ministry.
There are so many concepts that I could comment on that come out in this short book, however I am going to limit it to three:
Contextualization is king, youth ministers should be natural missionaries!
I really can’t shout this loud enough. I read an article about 10 years ago by Paul Borthwick in which he compared so many of the skills that a missionary needs to acquire with those that a youth pastor should regularly use. At the time, I was in Chile serving as a global youth worker (the word that YouthHOPE uses for a missionary who focuses on youth ministry) and it made total sense to me. Youth ministry, more than any other age specific ministry, requires us to contextualize. Marko explains it simply here:
“In a world where youth culture exists, this simply must include adults who are cross-cultural missionaries, willing to embody the gospel into that cultural context.”
Marko makes another very interesting sub-point here as he explains, “Adolescence, as we know it today, is a cultural construct and didn’t even exist a hundred years ago.“ Even though adolescence is a lot younger or just emerging in most of the rest of the world, we can’t deny its presence and the need for focused ministry with global youth. I believe that youth workers are the best people to take on the challenge of reaching out and partnering with God in the transformation of the lives of the 1.8 billion young people around the world. If they are effective, then they have already put into practice the skill of contextualization (maybe even unknowingly) and with a little more training could translate that skill to a different country around the world.
Small and resource poor is not necessarily a disadvantage, but actually provides a distinct advantage.
When we peel away the performance/resource intensive programming, the technology and all the curriculum that we let other people write for us, there is really a simple formula for success in youth ministry. Marko outlines it here:
“Let me be clear about the three things that are necessary for great youth ministry:
1. You like teenagers (I would go a little further and use the world ‘love’)
2. You are a growing follower of Jesus
3. You are willing to live honestly in the presence of those teenagers you like (love)”
The lack of resources also helps us to avoid the “for” instead of “with” approach to ministry. When you need a freakin’ PhD to run the sound systems/lights, then it will probably exclude the involvement of 13-year-olds or good intentioned parents. So what happens is that your youth ministry is run by “experts” who more than likely aren’t involved in doing any of the three things that Marko writes about.
In the rest of the world, we really don’t have these issues and there is some great youth ministry that is happening with NO budget, NO full-time staff and NO fancy technology. That is not to say that they don’t want the resources that we have here in the States or recognize how much more they could do if they could serve full-time, but all of that is not the essence of success in youth ministry.
US youth ministry has something to learn from the rest of the world.
Marko references his involvement in youth ministries from other cultures and countries. He (and I totally agree with him) cites the intensity and excitement at the training events and how during a training with Latin American youth workers, he was able to come to some important conclusions about youth ministry and it’s essence. I believe that there is more that could have been written about what the rest of the world has to teach us about youth ministry. I am not criticizing Marko on this one, just throwing it out there. In fact, I love the way that he distills youth ministry, “The single objective of youth ministry is to walk with teenagers on their journey toward Christ likeness.” I first heard something similar from a Spanish youth worker, author and friend Felix Ortiz about 10 years ago as he tried to understand how to do youth ministry in the post-modern, post-Christian culture of Western Europe.
Also, I would say that if we could turn off our “God-complex”, “Savior of the world”, “God bless America superiority” for a minute, we would see that there is a lot to learn from the rest of the world and how they are doing youth ministry. It’s time the United States starts to import youth ministry philosophy and programming ideas instead of feeling like we just need to export. We are part of the global youth ministry and we can gain a lot if we just open our eyes and ears more.
In the end, I found Marko’s new e-book to be refreshing and encouraging. The self-proclaimed pot-stirrer goes optimist on us and I like it. However, please don’t put away your spoon Marko, there are still so many things to be challenged in the world of youth ministry.
A Beautiful Mess isn’t free anymore; but you can get a physical copy now!