Tag Archives: brian berry

criticism bites

criticism-bites-berryi blogged before about my good friend brian berry’s excellent book Criticism Bites. brian’s life and mine are wonderfully connected:

  • he’s the student ministries pastor at my church
  • even though i volunteer in the middle school ministry, and he’s more hands-on in the high school ministry, i am, technically, one of his youth ministry volunteers
  • my son is in brian’s small group
  • brian’s son is in my small group (and his older son was in my last small group)
  • plus, we like each other and hang out regularly
  • so, i’m biased. but i’m biased in a good way, in that i know his life and character and skills (bow-staff, among others).

    that’s part of why adam and i wanted to carry brian’s book in The Youth Cartel’s online store, even though we didn’t publish it. it’s a book for anyone in ministry, really. while brian’s examples are often in a youth ministry context, anyone in any ministry role will absolutely benefit from his insight on how to effectively handle criticism.

    brian has even been the recipient of criticism from ME! and he has handled it pretty well.

    i had a fun (and somewhat silly) chat with brian about his book recently. here’s the video:

    pick up the book here!

brian berry’s fantastic new book, ‘as for me and my (crazy) house’

my good friend (and the student ministries pastor at my church), brian berry has published his first book: As For Me and My (Crazy) House: Learning to Protect Your Heart, Marriage, and Family from the Demands of Youth Ministry. i can tell you it’s fantastic. in fact, i’ve already shared thoughts from it with multiple people in my youth ministry coaching program who had questions about figuring out how to have a healthy family life while in youth ministry, and they have found it immensely helpful.

i was honored to be asked by simply youth ministry to write the foreward; and i’m going to share there here, as a good long endorsement:


I’m not a fan of balance.

Maybe I should rephrase that. Balance is fine, but I think we delude ourselves when we pretend it’s achievable. I have often said that balance is something I only experience when I’m swinging past it on my pendulum swing from one extreme to its opposite.

I’ll even take that hyperbolic statement further: I don’t think balance is a biblical value. Balance is, as I see it, an American value. It’s a rational idea, born out of our obsession with systematizing.

You might think I’m nuts or merely exposing my subconscious justifications for my own imbalance. And you might be right. But even if we approach the question of balance from a purely pragmatic perspective, it simply doesn’t work. Matthew Kelly, in his helpful book, Off Balance, shows that decades of efforts in the business world to address the “work/life balance problem” hasn’t increased workers’ satisfaction—with either their work or personal life—even a smidge. In fact, as a whole, we are a less satisfied people than we were before all of these efforts.

There are better (and more biblical) ways of thinking and living. Sustainability comes to mind. The Old Testament approach to letting fields lie fallow every seven years isn’t a picture of balance; it’s a picture of sustainability. Jesus pulling aside by himself to pray wasn’t an issue of his reaching a point of equilibrium; it was about the Son staying deeply connected to the Father, so his integrated, passionate, all-in life was sustainable and effective.

Life in youth ministry (or any church role, for that matter) isn’t easily partitioned off into work buckets and home buckets. Our best lives are integrated. Sure, we need boundaries. Yes, we have to turn off our cell phones and intentionally disconnect from the never-ending demands of youth ministry. Absolutely, we need to prioritize our own spouses and children over the non-stop needs of others. But this best life isn’t one of stasis. Our best life—the one that gives the most to the kingdom and provides the deepest satisfaction—isn’t a teeter-totter in limbo.

I’m drafting this foreword on a Sunday morning, sitting in my backyard. My eighth-grade son is playing drums in the middle school worship band at this moment. My wife just woke up and is getting a cup of coffee. My high school senior daughter is still sleeping, but we’ll soon head to church together. I’m “working” on a Sunday morning. That doesn’t compute if my goal is balance. But in a scheme of sustainability, it makes perfect sense. Last night we had a fantastic family night, eating dinner together and watching Home Alone. By writing now, I can be more present to my family later in the day, when they desire my presence. Writing, this morning, isn’t a choice of balance, but it sure is a choice of sustainability and satisfaction.

Brian Berry understands this. Brian is 100 percent all in. He gives himself completely to his wife and five children. He gives himself completely to the youth ministry at his church. He gives himself completely to his friends, to his parents, to his Savior.

I have the privilege of observing Brian’s life close-up. He’s the youth pastor at my church. My own daughter is a student leader in his high school ministry. Brian’s freshman son, T.J., was in my middle school guys small group for three years. I’m currently the small group leader for Brian’s second son, Tyler (who’s in sixth grade). Brian was a participant in my coaching program for a year—a year in which he wrestled with many of the ideas in this book. And Brian is a close friend and confidant, often sitting in my backyard for hours of conversation about how we can be better youth workers, better husbands, better fathers, better Jesus-followers.

From this close-up perspective, I can state with certainty: Brian Berry’s life is not a model for balance. The dude is way overcommitted. I worry about him, because he’s one of the busiest guys I know.

But I can also state these facts with certainty:
1. Brian leads a stellar, world-class youth ministry.
2. Brian effectively empowers and serves a team of pastors who lead ministries from birth through young adults in our church.
3. Brian finds time for writing and speaking and teaching other youth workers.
4. Brian fluidly leads the youth workers network for our area.
5. Brian’s wife gets lots of his attention and focus.
6. Brian’s children all feel loved and known by their dad (his two sons that I know best revere him and aspire to be more like him—he is unequivocally their hero).
7. And Brian aces the seminary classes that usually bore and annoy him.

Brian Berry is the poster child of imbalance. But his integrated life is one of gorgeous sustainability. To be sure, his life is always teetering on the edge of unsustainability.

But maybe teetering on the edge of unsustainability, without tipping over, is the best, all-in, passionate life Jesus dreams of for us when he promises (in John 10:10), “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

In this fantastic book you’re about to read, Brian doesn’t position himself as a model or an expert, but a fellow traveler. However, you could do a lot worse than to learn from the imbalanced-yet-sustainable, full life of this author, my friend.


by the way, you can download a free sample of brian’s book on the simply youth ministry site, here.

2 sentence book reviews, part 4 (christian non-fiction and youth ministry)

this is the final post in this series of 2 sentence book reviews. part 1 was fiction, part 2 was general non-fiction, part 3 was a combo of young adult fiction and graphic novels. this time around i’m covering christian non-fiction and youth ministry.

i allow myself (with a few exceptions this time) one sentence for summary, and one sentence for opinion.

Christian Non-Fiction

Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir… of Sorts, by Ian Morgan Cron
5 stars
Autobiographical stories of a unique childhood with a tyrant father, with spiritual commentary. Cron’s writing is about as good as it gets in Christian publishing, and his storytelling and reflections make this a “c’mon, you’ve gotta read it” book.

Liberate Eden, by Greg Fromholz
App: 5 stars
Book: 3 stars

Book-as-app about our connection to creation, I think. The app is the most creative thing I’ve seen in publishing in a long time, but the actual book is wordy and wanders (it actually annoyed me).

The Day Metallica Came to Church: Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything, by John Van Sloten
5 stars
Adventures at the intersection of Bible and culture. Fantastic insights, particularly the author’s concepts of bible and culture as both co-illuminating and counter-balancing.

Youth Ministry

Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids, by Kara E. Powell and Chap Clark
4.5 stars
Researched-based and practical help for parents who desire for their children’s faith to last beyond the teenage years. some amazing chapters and some ok-to-good chapters, but overall highly recommended (i’m recommending it to parents constantly).

Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults: Life-Giving Rhythms for Spiritual Transformation, by Richard R. Dunn and Jana L. Sundene (releases march 3, 2012)
4.5 stars
i’m departing from my 2 sentence approach for this one, because i wrote an official endorsement for it:
When it comes to young adults, the American church seems to be stuck between hand-wringing (“Why are there no 20somethings in our church?”) and finger pointing (“Why don’t those people grow up?”). Neither of these responses are particularly helpful. Thankfully, Sundene and Dunn sidestep this lose-lose response and suggest a relational approach, not a program. Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults is praxis at its best: research and theologically informed, yet real-world practical.

As For Me and My (Crazy) House: Protecting Your Heart, Marriage, and Family from the Demands of Ministry, by Brian Berry (release march, 2012)
5 stars
slight variation on my 2 sentence approach, here are the last two sentences of the foreword i wrote for this helpful book:
In this fantastic book you’re about to read, Brian doesn’t position himself as a model or an expert, but a fellow traveler. However, you could do a lot worse than to learn from the imbalanced-yet-sustainable, full life of this author, my friend.

a bonus review!!

Awkward Family Photos, by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack
4 stars
just what it says. hilarious.

YMCP, NYWC, and the Symposium

what a week this is. tomorrow, i start a two day meeting with the san diego cohort of my youth ministry coaching program. it’s only my second meeting with this cohort, so we’re all still getting to know each other. i can’t wait — it will be a particularly great time, i’m sure. when we met last, one of the (many) things we did was brainstorm a list of topics they would like to discuss at some point throughout the year. two of the top subjects (we voted), were “balancing family and ministry” and “handling criticism.” well, it just so happens that my good friend and youth pastor (who also happens to be the youth pastor at the church we meet at, and a YMCP graduate himself), brian berry, has done a bunch of thinking on those two subjects. he’s done seminars on them at the NYWC and SYMC, and is writing books on both of them. so, brian is joining my cohort one morning to lead discussions on those two themes.

thursday, i head to atlanta for the national youth workers convention. i’m leading three things while i’m there:

– a panel on ‘the future of youth ministry.’ i’m moderating, but the amazing panel includes: brooklyn lindsay, steve argue, brock morgan, and andy tilly. friday, 4 – 5:30.
– a learning lab on ‘how teens think.’ sunday morning (yawn!), 8 – 9:30.
– a learning lecture called ‘toward a ministry of belonging.’ sunday afternoon, 1:30 – 2:30.

i have a crazy full schedule during the rest of the event — current and potential client meetings for The Youth Cartel, old and new friends, publishers and partners. in short: a blast.

then: monday: the extended adolescence symposium. yup, i’ve been blogging about this one for a while, and it’s finally here. two leading thinkers and a brilliant moderator, helping us understand the strange phenomena that is extended adolescence. it’s just a one day dealio — 8am – 3pm. and it will be nicely intimate (probably about a hundred of us); so lots of opportunity for conversation and questions. there’s still room, btw.

but here’s a cool thing (if you’re still reading this blog post all the way down here!). my good friend luke macdonald believes in this event. luke and i, by the way, shouldn’t be friends, my many peoples’ estimation. he’s in a very conservative, reformed church of the stripe that usually doesn’t trust me. but luke took a gutsy risk and joined the youth ministry coaching program last year. in the midst, i came to greatly respect, trust, and enjoy him.

anyhow: luke believes in the extended adolescence symposium, and wants to support it, even though he can’t attend. so luke texted me and told me he wants to pay for two tickets, and that i can give them away to anyone who can’t afford them. first person to comment telling me you want to come but can’t afford it gets them. let me know if you want one or both tickets.

brian berry’s words about ymcp

brian berry is a rising star in youth ministry (imho). he needs to be one of those “next generation of youth ministry voices” some have asked about in the youth ministry blogosphere. he’s a great blogger, and the dad of 5 kids (2 adopted from africa). he also happens to be the youth pastor at my church, and the dad one one of the guys in my middle school guys small group. and he just finished a year in my youth ministry coaching program. here’s what brian wrote on his blog last week about ymcp.



I don’t know who coined the phrase “leaders are learners”, but it is an axiom I try and embody. I think all great leaders are not only people who others follow, but they are people who strive to continue to be better at leading. For those who want to lead in the church, this is essentially a non-negotiable in my opinion. I believe that a leader who stops learning, stops leading.

To this end, I have tried numerous leadership contexts for developing my own leadership. All have their strengths and weaknesses.

BOOKS: “Leaders are readers” is also a true axiom. I believe that a key way to be mentored is to read the writings of leaders from multiple genres. The problem is, no matter how well they are written, they’re a one way communication device. I can’t interact with the author as I read, respond to his or her with disagreements, or ask clarifying questions of leadership premises.

CLASSES: I have taken several formal leadership classes from accredited institutions. I have read required reading, written papers on the subject, and logged hundreds of hours toward the goal. Sometimes they are helpful. Most of the time, the prof and/or material we discuss does not seem to see them through the lens of a $200 per session seminars that I do. But their biggest problem for me is that their curriculum is based on an academic goal or requirement that may or may not produce a practical result in my own leadership context.

SEMINARS AND CONFERENCES: My most common and sought after leadership context is the seminar format. I still go to them and I still love them. (I even teach at them) They allow me to get close to some leaders I could not financially afford to connect with on a one-on-one leadership level. It’s in a topic the attendees self-selected themselves for and therefore is often surrounded in a learning context that lends itself to camaraderie and common goals. But they can be like “drinking from a fire hose”. Too much info crammed into too short a time. So much so that if I’m honest, much of it gets lost. Also, in as much as I can taylor my schedule of what I want to go to, I rarely if ever get to decide what content goes into the menu as a whole.

But, my most recently leadership learning was really not any of those categories. In many ways, it was the best of all 3. It was the Youth Ministry Coaching Program that Mark Oestreicher launched this last year and that 9 of us joined. I don’t say this lightly, or because Marko is my friend, but it seriously was by far, “THE MOST EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP TRAINING ENVIRONMENT I’VE EVER BEEN IN.”

Here’s 4 reasons why I’m not just using hyperbole:

IT’S CUSTOM DESIGNED: the overall content, the dates of our meetings, and even the agenda each month was spoken into by the constituents. So I got to custom design the content, my presentations, and my homework to what I needed for my life and my ministry.

IT’S EASILY TRANSFERRABLE: since you’re meeting every 2 months for 2 days, there is ample information to soak up and ample time to integrate your learnings into life and ministry.

IT STRETCHED ME: yes I spoke into the content, but there was also content spoken into by the facilitator or by others in the group. The consequence of this is that I was stretched and tugged in ways I would not have normally chosen. I’m a better leader because of it.

IT’S HIGHLY RELATIONAL: no other leadership context I’ve been in (excluding friendships I’ve formed over a decade+ of ministry together)… has produced the level of intimacy, vulnerability, and friendship that this experience did in a year. We literally did life and leadership together. No conference, class, or book is designed to do that to this degree.

Oh… and if this learning context sounds like you, well I’d highly recommend you dive in. There are 7 of these Coaching programs being launched again this year and if you’re in student ministry and looking for a leadership learning context to dive into for your own personal/vocational growth, then I can confidently tell you, this class transformed my leadership.

You can check out the video of our experience here. You can download and get the full details here more info here.

best youth ministry blog post of the week

my friend brian berry rants — GOES OFF, really — on ‘i love boobies’ bracelets. fantastic.

a snippet:


I hate them.

I’ve pulled them off 10 year-old boys on my soccer teams, called out guys in our high school program for wearing them, and questioned girls who walk proudly with them on- the latest of which was earlier today.

To mock them, I even bought www.ilovemanboobies.com, www.ilovemoobs.com, and www.ilovemoobies.com Yep, I own them all… cuz I was seriously thinking of starting my own stupid trend to mock the current one. I was gonna make bracelets and t-shirts with a giant silverback gorilla and his big boobies and raise money for prostate cancer or maybe diabetes or something. I just hate them so much that I don’t want to risk losing money fighting them with my satire, so I’m a chicken of an entrepreneur and haven’t done anything with my url buying spree yet.

read the rest. i was laughing out loud, and completely agreeing. can’t stand those stupid things, and find it hard to believe that anyone ever thought they were a good idea to create in the first place.

10 “new” questions youth workers must be asking

my friend brian berry published a great post the other day about the changing/new questions he’s asking himself these days (compared to his earlier years in youth ministry). good and honest stuff, and a great reflection of the changing world of adolescents in america:

I have at least 10 questions I’m asking now that I wasn’t asking when I started this phase of my life (or at least I couldn’t have articulated them if I did).

1. How can I create an environment where students can think about faith genuinely and live out their faith intentionally?
2. Is it even possible to raise 5 teenagers in one home who love Jesus and serve God in a way that is both genuine and owned as an individual? What kind of parent do I need to be if that is going to be a reality for my family?
3. What is the effect of facebook, social networking, and computer screens on a faith and community?
4. Why do so many of our students date people who don’t share a common faith system with them?
5. Is the good ol’ fashion work ethic really that old fashioned? Why are so many young adults around me just plain lazy?
6. Why are homosexual and lesbian lifestyles increasingly being embraced by students and how can I create an environment where this is openly discussed like any other decision/issue students face?
7. Do my own kids want me to be their youth pastor? What are the benefits and dangers inherent in that?
8. If faith is more caught than taught, what characteristics are contagious in me and the ministry around me? What is being “caught”, regardless of what is “taught”?
9. What am I doing as a norm in ministry that I will genuinely have to apologize to the next generation of youth pastors for?
10. The Bible, plain and simple, is not being read by well over 90% of the students in my ministry. Period. Is there anything I can do to change that?

what questions are you asking? more specifically, what new questions are you asking?

who do you want to be?

my good friend brian berry (also the youth pastor at my church) has been wrestling lately with time, balance, priorities and future. it’s a good wrestle (even though it may leave his hip out of the socket, as good wrestles can do). he and i chatted at some point of the importance of not only looking at to-do lists, opportunities and responsibilities, but starting from a place of values.

brian took a swing at this and developed a stunning summary of his values that blows me away. seriously, i got a bit choked up reading it the first time (and have read it several times since), because it’s so beautiful. i encouraged him to post it, as an example to others. he’s done that, with the title “who i want to be“.

brian came up with five core values, then created a short list of actionable clarifications under each one. his five core values are:






i couldn’t more strongly encourage you to read it, and consider something similar for yourself. i think an exercise like this is so critical in our goal-obsessed american church culture.