Tag Archives: barefoot ministries

the value of small

starting later this month, i’ll be speaking in 5 locations for barefoot ministries’ $5 training. it’s a very cool half day of training, for (can you guess?), five dollars. the day is targeted at volunteer youth workers, and is ideal for teams to attend together. check out the $5 training site for more info and locations.

the second seminar that day will be on leading small groups. i also wrote a short ebook for barefoot on this subject. here’s a bit from that ebook on the value of small:

Americans love all things big (and if you’re a Canadian, you are welcome to snidely agree; but while you might not share the same passion for big, I’ve still seen how Canadians assume that big ministries are better). And we have developed a strange measuring stick for success over the last couple hundred years or so. We inherently believe that Big Means Success.

Even if you hold a healthy skepticism about this measuring stick, it’s a value that permeates the church world.

But let’s undermine this for a bit. I’m going to create a comparison chart, and I’ll be the first to admit that there’s some overstatement and generalization on this thing. Bear with me, and look for at least some truth here:

Big values compliance | Small values uniqueness

Big requires sameness | Small has space for differentiation

Big is ideally suited for broadcasting a message or rallying the troops | Small is ideally suited for collaboration or discovery

Big treats participants as consumers | Small treat participants as participants

Big is great for hype | Small is great for ownership

Big shapes a movement | Small shapes individuals and community

Big is stage-centric | Small is people-centric

Big is personality driven or program driven | Small is relationship driven or, better yet, present

Big, when it comes to youth ministry, has its place. I haven’t given up on large-group teaching times or worship or moving a larger group toward a common goal.

But if we really want to see ownership of adolescent faith, and if we want to see faith lived out in the daily lives of teenagers, we have to get them talking and sharing honestly. That rarely happens in a larger group.

In a smaller context, everyone can be known, and an environment of emotional and relational safety can be fostered.

While there are myriad ways to live into the value of small, it has to be part of the core DNA of an effective youth ministry these days. This is particularly true since today’s teenagers have such a heightened need for belonging.

why it’s important to understand teenagers

starting later this month, i’ll be speaking in 5 locations for barefoot ministries’ $5 training. it’s a very cool half day of training, for (can you guess?), five dollars. the day is targeted at volunteer youth workers, and is ideal for teams to attend together. check out the $5 training site for more info and locations.

the first seminar that day is called ‘understanding today’s teenagers’. i also wrote a short ebook for barefoot on this subject. here’s the opening few paragraphs from that:

A visiting alien (the kind from another planet, that is, not just a foreigner) could watch a bunch of TV shows and movies with teenagers in them, and form a fairly robust understanding of the values, thought processes, and inner life of a modern-day teenager.

But the alien would be wrong.

Sure, they’d get a few things right. But those two-dimensional sources would be mostly misleading. Those flat personifications of teenagers would not provide understanding for these real-life scenarios:

Tyler has loving parents and a great church youth group. He’s smart, and goes to a great school. In rare instances, Tyler can be hilarious and social. But most of the time, Tyler keeps to himself, brooding and sullen. He seems to be naturally attracted to dark, violent music. He regularly sits in his room, staring at the wall, doing nothing. Why?

Jenna is a creative and social 16 year-old who, despite what people might assume about her, has never been a big partier, and is fairly inexperienced with alcohol. She is also on her church’s youth ministry worship team, deeply connected with her family, and excited about the responsible young adult she is becoming. So why does Jenna break into an unopened bottle of vodka her parents have in the pantry? Why does Jenna, realizing she’s going to get caught, but wanting to have a bit more, bring vodka to school in a travel mug? And why is she surprised when she gets caught and suspended from school?

Crystal does not fit the easy and obvious stereotypes of a high school dropout. And she hasn’t dropped out yet, but she’s secretly working toward it. Crystal has attended an expensive private school for 11 grades, and both of her parents are extremely involved in the school. They have a comfortable home, and give Crystal lots of (but not too much) freedom. She has done well enough in school, and doesn’t seem overly stressed. So why is Crystal secretly taking G.E.D. tests, one at a time, so she can drop out of school one semester before graduation? Why is she planning on moving to a farm in another state?

Jason’s home is complicated. He has an older brother with learning disabilities who takes most of the family’s attention. His parents are present, and trying, but they’re really odd and quirky. And they struggle financially, living in a very rough neighborhood where Jason is a minority. But Jason is about the sharpest, most alive teenager you would ever meet. He’s generous and humble, loyal and passionate. Where did that come from? Who should get the credit?

Real, three-dimensional teenagers are complicated.

I suppose it’s fair to say that all humans are. But we adults are not teenagers, and our assumptions about what drives thought and behavior are colored by our adult perspectives and experiences. Add to that the reality that understanding teenagers is a constantly morphing and shape-shifting body of information. Today’s teenagers are not the same as teenagers in 1987 (and certainly not the same as teenagers in 1967). Sure, some things haven’t changed. But I think it’s fair to say that more has changed than has stayed the same.

So our own experiences of being a teenager, if we can remember them at all, are only nominally helpful.

If we want to be effective in coming alongside teenagers, helping them develop a real and active, sustainable faith, the ultimate starting point is: nurturing your own connection with Jesus.

But, that’s not what this ebook is about.

If we want to be effective in coming alongside teenagers, helping them develop a real and active, sustainable faith, the second most important piece of the picture is: presence. A willingness to be there.

But that’s not what this ebook is about either.

So let’s go with the third most important thing, which is what this book is about. That thing, the third most important aspect of effective engagement with teenagers, is: understanding them.

Sure, there are great examples of fairly clueless youth workers of all ages who have been used by God in the lives of teenagers despite their lack of understanding. But a deep and growing understanding of teenagers and their world will have an impact (a positive one!) on every aspect of what you do in youth ministry: from conversations to small group leadership, from teaching topics to teaching approaches, from event planning to parent interactions, from expectations to the values of your ministry.

That’s what I’m hoping to provide you in this short book. It won’t be comprehensive, of course. I’ve studied all this stuff continually, for years, and I’m still learning all the time. I still have blind spots in my understanding. Plus, teenagers and youth culture continue to shift and change.

But I hope to give you a leg up, a cursory overview of the lives and world of the real-life teenagers God has called you to. If you add this knowledge to the first two priorities (your own growing connection with Jesus and your willingness to be present to teenagers), you’ll be a better youth worker than most.

btw, the first $5 training event is this coming saturday (january 21), in orange county. check out the site for more info.

locations of $5 training

i’m stoked to hang with hundreds of youth workers at each of the five locations for barefoot ministries’ $5 training over the next four months. seriously, this idea is almost insane — a half day of youth ministry training for your volunteer team, for $5 each? shoot, the freebies and other goodies from the day are worth much more than $5 (WAY more). in fact, i think you’ll actually be losing money if you don’t come (and bring a team).

sorry we’re not coming to dozens more cities. but, if you live within a reasonable drive of these locations, i hope to see you soon!

january 21 — orange county, ca
Magnolia Baptist Church
720 S. Magnolia Ave
Anaheim, CA 92804

february 11 — chicago, il
Community Fellowship Church
4817 West Madison Street
Chicago, IL 60644-­‐3640

march 10 — vancouver, bc
Burnett Baptist Church
20639 123 AVE
Maple Ridge, British Columbia

march 17 — toronto, on
Morningstar Church
7601 Sheppard Avenue
East Scarborough, ON, Canada

april 21 — atlanta, ga
Fellowship Bible Church
480 W Crossville Rd
Roswell, GA 30075

click here for more info, or to register.

$5 training

i’m pretty stoked to be working with barefoot ministries in bringing an amazing volunteer youth worker training event to five cities in early 2012: $5 training. the name says the price. where else could you get a great half-day of training for your team for only $5/person?!

here’s the website, which will give you more info.

we’re coming to the following cities:

anaheim (orange county, CA), january 21

chicago, february 11

vancouver, march 10

toronto, march 17

atlanta, april 21

if you’re within driving distance of those cities, i hope you’ll bring your team!


over a year ago, barefoot ministries launched slant33, a creative weekly online set of three responses, by three contributors, to a question that youth workers would find helpful. it was a great start, and mostly interesting. but it also got a big academic at times, and not quite connected enough to the real world of in-the-trenches youth workers.

so, after a nice hiatus (i think slant33 vacationed in cancun), barefoot came to the youth cartel, and asked us to reimagine it for a year, taking the lead on identifying a new slate of 20 contributors, coming up with the 52 questions for the year, and moderating the whole shebang. they redesigned the site, making it much more user friendly. i’m stoked about it, and really hope you’ll follow it this year, engaging in the comments and joining in the dialogue.

the newly re-launched slant33 went live yesterday! new slants will be posted every monday. you can subscribe via email or rss here.

the list of contributors is amazing, including a wide variety of youth ministry thinkers and practitioners with great diversity in every way. check out the list of contributors here.

the first slant, that went live yesterday, has responses from kara powell, ian macdonald, and tiffanie shanks, to the question: how do you pursue personal skill growth?

as a tease, the next six slants, going live on mondays in the weeks to come will be:

– How far out do you plan your calendar? Why? What’s your process?
– How do you determine the line between vulnerability and over-sharing?
– In what practical ways do you find solitude and rest?
– What time and expectation boundaries should be non-negotiables for youth pastors?
– How is the priesthood of all believers fleshed out in your ministry? How does that impact your role?
– How do you decide what to teach?

and there are 45 more questions following that!

i hope you’ll join us!

(oh, and i need a small handful of guest contributors for a few slants throughout the year. let me know if you’re interesting in writing one!)

immerse: a journal of faith, life and youth ministry

not long ago, barefoot ministries (the youth and youth ministry arm of nazarene publishing house), now lead by chris folmsbee, acquired the journal of student ministries, and have re-launched it as immerse: a journal of faith, life and youth ministry. the new journal, with mike king as its executive editor, is not merely a title change, but a complete overhaul. it’s something, i believe, very different in the world of youth ministry magazines, with a level of depth and whole-life embrace that fits nicely in the space between purely academic and purely pop. i’m stoked to be a part of the advisory team of this venture, and have written a column for an upcoming issue.
immerse website
download the free preview issue

here’s the little bit i wrote for the preview issue about why i’m excited about immerse:

We’re clearly in a time of deep change, and I expect it’s likely we will always be from here on out. The dramatic changes in the world around us and the world of teenagers calls on youth workers to re-think assumptions, values, practices, models, roles, goals and theology. What’s needed is nothing short of a Youth Ministry Reformation.

The time is seriously ripe for Immerse; and I’m hopeful that this journal will become one of our tribal sweat lodges. We need real-life physical spaces for dialogue, experimentation and exploration. But we also need this kind of collaborative trail of breadcrumbs, a printed resource to host and foment reflection and revolution. I, for one, am full of anticipation about journeying together.

i really encourage you to check it out.