Tag Archives: fuller youth institute

kara powell reviews ‘understanding your young teen’

dr. kara powell, youth ministry professor at fuller seminary, executive director of fuller youth institute, author of tons of books (including the sticky faith series), is also a good friend and former co-worker of mine. so, i suppose i shouldn’t be too surprised that her review (part 1 here) of my new book for parents, understanding your young teen, was so warm and kind (not that kara would ever compromise her academic impartiality in the name of friendship… well, yes, she would).

here’s a portion of her first post on the book:

The first is Marko’s one-word definition for middle schoolers. According to Marko, when he asks parents and leaders to define young teens in one word, some of the answers he gets back are: stressed, immature, confused, impossible, fun, potential, emerging, spontaneous, and unpredictable.

None of those are un-true, but Marko’s best one-word definition for the young teen experience is “change”. I’ll admit I’m biased because that is also my best one-word definition, but nonetheless, as Marko says well, “The life of a middle schooler is all about change. As previously noticed, it’s the second most significant period of change in the human lifespan.”

If you know a young teen, this isn’t a surprise to you. You know that they are undergoing monumental internal, developmental changes (e.g., cognitive, physical, relational, spiritual).

Interestingly, one of the things we have learned during our Sticky Faith Cohorts is that change is hard. Even when it’s a good change, even when it’s a change you (or someone else) wants to make, it’s still hard. As Dr. Scott Cormode at Fuller regularly reminds our Sticky Faith Churches, “Change involves loss.”

When we look at the 12 or 14 year-olds (and maybe even 16 and 18 year-olds) around us, it can seem like they are gaining so much. In the case of young teens, they are gaining new freedoms, social skills, intellectual abilities, and even faith experiences. Yet they are also losing something: they are losing some of the simplicity of their earlier childhood, some of the lack-of-stress that comes from not paying attention to social dynamics, and even some of the confusion that comes from trying to juggle two or more thoughts simultaneously (especially when those are abstract thoughts).

i like kara’s reminder that the massive change of the young teen years is a change of opportunity and gaining things, as well as a change of losing things. i often remind parents, when i’m speaking to them about these issues, that while their young teen might not be able to put words to it, they all carry around substantial, unarticulated fear connected to the changes their experiencing. this is why it’s so critical that parents (and youth workers) are constantly–really, i do mean constantly–working to normalize the experience of middle schoolers.

(btw: kara and her partner in crime, brad griffin, co-authored a ‘bonus chapter’ in understanding your young teen on new research about young teen girls.)

the future of youth ministry, episode 3

i led a late night discussion at the national youth workers convention this past fall on “the future of youth ministry”. in preparation for that discussion, i emailed a few dozen friends with better youth ministry minds than my own, and asked them to complete the sentence, “the future of youth ministry….” about 15 of them responded (often with more than a sentence!). i’m posting them here as a series, sometimes with a bit of commentary from myself, and sometimes merely as a reflection-prod. would love to hear your responses.


kara powell and brad griffin’s responses are a nice pair. and as it should be — kara and brad are two halves of the team at the fuller youth institute. and much of their “sticky faith” research and writing these days has been focused extensively on the content of both of their responses…

Kara Powell
I think the future of youth ministry is one in which the age-segregation that has dominated the church ends and we move toward the type of intergenerational community and integration God intends. We’re seeing in our research how important intergenerational community and relationships are to Sticky Faith.

Brad Griffin
The future of youth ministry must move toward more intergenerational connectedness, more valuing of and partnering with parents, and less programming fluff.

i really resonate with what kara and brad say. it’s hard to argue with, since it’s coming straight out of their research. it’s also representative of the research of the national study of youth and religion, conducted by christian smith and others. kenda dean reports on this latter research most directly (for christian youth ministries, at least) in her book almost christian. and, as i’ve posted about here multiple times, i’ve found a good deal of resonance with robert epstein‘s teen 2.0 (and conversations with him).

all of this research and writing, blended with my own observations, leads me to this conclusion: most of our approaches to youth ministry, developed in an era when autonomy was a primary need of teenagers, and when the american church was particularly gung-ho about creating age-based autonomous ministries, has resulted in a church experience, for most teenagers in churches with active youth groups, that isolates teenagers from the adults in the church. one of the many results of this (certainly there have been positives, as well as negatives), is that we don’t provide teenagers with meaningful adult relationships outside of those adults who are either paid to be with them (youth pastors) and those who volunteer to spend time in the age-based ghetto (youth ministry volunteers). in other words, most teenagers in our churches with youth ministries don’t rub shoulders with adults being adults.

teenagers don’t get to watch adults doing adult things.

teenagers don’t get to practice being “apprentice adults” in the adult bits of the church.

by the way, this is true for teenagers in most areas of their lives, not only in our churches — we’ve just bought into the way culture at large addresses teenagers, either with good motives or not-so-good motives: put them over there.

this isolation from the adult world that most teenagers experience lacks on-ramps to the world of adults. no wonder extended adolescence has become our new cultural reality.

i’m not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater and completely do away with youth ministry. there’s a small, hipster movement of churches doing just that (“we don’t have a youth ministry, and we’re proud of it!”). i find that most of those churches are really just saying that they have other priorities that are much more important to them. but i do wonder if it might be wise for lead youth workers to intentionally choose a new job description (yes, easier said than done), from “lead programmer for teenagers” to “champion or lead banner bearer for teenagers”. the former is all about creating the ultimate space of isolation (stating t it negatively, to be sure); and the latter could be about being the voice — the gadfly — in the congregation, charged with the role of finding ways for teenagers to connect with adults, of not letting the congregation forget the teenagers in their midst.

what are your thoughts?

principles of rest

i LOVED april diaz’s article in the recent fyi (fuller youth institute) email, called “Activating and Resting (New Yoke Series, Pt 1)“, and am looking forward to the other parts in the series. april is a deeply gifted youth leader and church leader, whip-smart and relationally gifted. one of those truly rare, exceptional leaders who are fun and thoughtful. i listen when april speaks (or writes).

i particularly liked april’s four “principles of rest”:

Principles of Rest

Principle of TRUST. Ultimately choosing to rest is about whether or not we trust God. I find that when I don’t rest, it’s because I don’t acknowledge he is Lord of heaven and earth…and I am not! God is ultimately responsible for the kids and programs and parents and events and needs in our ministries. We have all the time we need to accomplish everything he has called us to do. So maybe if we can’t find rest it’s because we don’t trust God with the big and small things in our lives.

Principle of WILLINGNESS. God doesn’t force rest – you have to be willing. Never does God guilt us into another thing to do. Rest is simply an invitation to “come to me” and offer our burdens and exhaustion to the One who is capable of handling it all.

Principle of PARTNERSHIP. This is an incredible principle! The yoke Jesus is offering is about partnership with the Triune God in the activities of the world. In the Old Testament, yoking was only lawful for two like animals; only two similar animals were allowed to be partnered with each other for the work they were to accomplish together. And yet Jesus offers us a partnership to yoke or connect ourselves with him to find rest and work. Rest is about trading our heavy yoke for an easy and gracious yoke.

Principle of EXPERIENCING GOD. We are to say “yes” to rest not just because we’re tired but because we need to connect with God our Father. Rest is a gift for you to experience intimacy with the Father so you know all he wants for you to say and do. Then, as we find rest, it creates space in our souls for connection and gratitude.

read the rest of the article here.

top 20 youth ministry blogs

adam mclane’s research is complete, and he posted his list of the top 20 youth ministry blogs on the ys blog earlier this week. i’m super pleased to see whyismarko somehow land at #2. to be honest, i’m rather surprised by this, as it seems like my traffic never fully recovered from the 6 month blog sabbatical i took last year (and, even since i’ve started blogging again, my traffic has been on a slow downward arc). some of my slowing traffic, i’m sure, is that i have chosen to not care about it like i used to (the old 2 posts a day, every single day approach i used to use). these days i post when i want to, and rarely more than once a day. and if three days go by without a post, i choose to not care.

my ranking was certainly helped by the fact that, for whatever reason, my technorati ranking is pretty good at the moment (526), while josh griffin’s blog (who, i’m VERY confident, gets WAY more readers than mine) has an oddly low technorati ranking at the moment.

i like adam’s approach of considering influence as a subjective portion of the rankings. all rankings are, ultimately, subjective in one way or another (the compiler chooses which metrics to care about, which are often in opposition to one another). but i think the list will be even better next year, when those voting on influence are the last year’s top 20 (or, will that make it worse, like a church elder board that has the power to choose their own replacements!?).

some of the list are the expected standards of youth ministry blogging. but i was pleased to see tash mcgill pop up from 41 last year to 16 this year. tash is one of the only female bloggers on the list (kara powell of the fuller youth institute blog being the other), and one of only two non-US bloggers (the other being ian mcdonald of the UK-based youthblog). her blog is really worth reading (she’s a great writer), and i’m glad this list will give her more exposure. i’m also a fan of jeremy zach (as a person, youth worker, and blogger), and glad to see his blog on the rise.

the two biggest “injustices” on the list, in my opinion, are josh griffin not being in the top 2, and the fuller youth institute blog coming in at 13, where it actually dropped from #5 last year. the FYI blog is, i think, the single best youth ministry blog out there. if i were creating a “blogs youth workers should read” list of my own (100% weighted on my subjective opinion), the FYI blog would be #1. i’m not sure how it could drop this year, as the content is better than ever. but i have to believe it’s because not enough people know about it, and with the addition of “influence” in adam’s formula this year, it didn’t score high enough with those who provided the input on that factor. (there’s also a little “injustice” in people who barely ever blog at all making the list. for example, my good friend chris folmsbee makes the list at #8, a climb from #21 last year, but hasn’t posted since mid-march! or, how ’bout mark riddle, who rose this year also, but hasn’t posted since mid-january!)

ultimately, whether i made the list or not, i’m glad adam created it, because there are a few in the top 20 that i’ve never heard of — and i want to start following them.

here’s the list — happy reading!

2010 Rank / Blogger Name / Blog address (2009 Rank)
1 / Youth Specialties Blog / http://youthspecialties.com/blog (12)
2 / Mark Oestreicher / http://whyismarko.wpengine.com (3)
3 / Tim Schmoyer / http://studentministry.org (3)
4 / Josh Griffin / http://www.morethandodgeball.com/ (2)
5 / Adam McLane / http://adammclane.com (7)
6 / Adam Walker Cleaveland / http://pomomusings.com/ (1)
7 / Orange Leaders / http://www.orangeleaders.com/ (–)
8 / Chris Folmsbee / http://www.anewkindofyouthministry.com/ (21)
9 / Ian MacDonald / http://www.youthblog.org (9)
10 / Walt Mueller / http://learningmylines.blogspot.com/ (–)
11 / Jeremy Zach / http://www.reyouthpastor.com (28)
12 / Jonathan McKee / http://blog.thesource4ym.com/ (19)
13 / Fuller Youth Institute / http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/ (5)
14 / Mark Riddle / http://www.theriddlegroup.com/blog/index.htm (25)
15 / Mike King / http://king.typepad.com/mike_king/ (15)
16 / Tash McGill / http://tashmcgill.blogspot.com/ (41)
17 / Gavin Richardson / http://www.gavoweb.com/ (8)
18 / Matt Cleaver / http://mattcleaver.com/ (29)
19 / Kurt Johnston / http://simplykurt.com/ (10)
20 / Stevan Sheets / http://www.stevansheets.com/ (10)

deep church youth ministry

if you’re a youth worker and you don’t subscribe to the fuller youth institute‘s free e-journal, then you are seriously missing out or living in a cave.

this week’s e-journal had a link to an interview kara powell conducted with jim belcher, author of deep church (my review of this great book). i’m friends with both kara and jim, and worked with the two of them on a church staff a decade ago (and started a church service with them). so it was fun to hear them chatting. but i’m posting this on my blog, because the last 1/3 (or even 1/4) of the interview is where it seriously gets good, particularly for youth workers. jim says some really profound things about what we should be focusing on in youth ministry (based on his research for his book). i still recommend the book; but i highly recommend you take 5 or 7 minutes to listen to the last 1/3 of this interview (just fire it up, then click to the 2/3 point, if you don’t have time for the whole thing).

conflict on teams

mark mains had an excellent post on the fuller youth institute blog recently about conflict on teams, based on a gallup management journal article called What Strong Teams Have in Common: The five sure signs of an excellent team.

here are the five commonalities they say exist on strong teams:

1. Conflict doesn’t destroy strong teams because strong teams focus on results.

2. Strong teams prioritize what’s best for the organization, then move forward.

3. Members of strong teams are as committed to their personal lives as they are to their work.

4. Strong teams embrace diversity.

5. Strong teams are magnets for talent.

in his post, mark focuses on that first one — the point about facing conflict. i’ve found this to be so true with the leadership team of youth specialties. we’re really found that our conflicts, when approached with grace and a curious perspective, deeply tied to a commitment to our mission and values, actually makes us stronger in the long run. conflict is good, and makes us better.

but the other four traits are important also, and i can’t help but think of how they apply to youth ministry volunteer teams. great stuff. how does this reflect the youth ministry team at your church?

implications of the “lockbox theory” for youth workers

really excellent article on the fuller youth institute blog about tim clydesdale’s “lockbox theory” (which i’ve been seeing a lot about in the blog world). really, it’s a must read for high school and college pastors, as well as a helpful read for parents.

here’s the description of the lockbox theory from the article:

If collegians are neither abandoning their faith because of a hostile college environment, nor deeply interested in spirituality, what are they experiencing? College students seem to be following a third path of storing their religious beliefs, practices, and convictions in a sort of “identity lockbox” as they develop other parts of their identity (e.g., vocational identity, relational identity). Clydesdale explains that the lockbox “protects religious identities, along with political, racial, gender, and civic identities, from tampering that might affect their holders’ future entry into the American cultural mainstream.”

the article is worth the read for two main reasons:

1. it talks about a theory that is based on research, and counter to much of the popular thinking about older adolescents (or “emerging adults” — read: college students) and faith.

2. it offers a handful of very helpful suggestions as to what youth workers should do with this information.

fuller youth institute

my friend kara powell, and the peeps at what used to be called the fuller center for youth and family (or something like that), have re-branded, re-designed, and re-launched, under the much-easier-to-remember name: fuller youth institute (get it? FYI!)

here’s what i dig about kara and FYI: they bridge the gap between research and practice in youth ministry. this is rare. with much love for my academic friends, i think the following are all at least mostly true statements:

– much of what passes as academic work in youth ministry isn’t really academic (though this has certainly gotten better in the last half-decade).

– much of what passes as research in youth ministry wouldn’t pass muster with people who actually know how research is done.

– much of the good research done, both by spiritually-inclined institutions, and other studying adolescence, never gets connected with the real world of youth ministry.

that’s where FYI comes in. they exist pretty much for this purpose. they identify problems in youth ministry that would benefit from some research. then they do the research. then – this is where their uniqueness really comes out – they develop practical tools and articles that translate the findings and implications into real world tools and ideas for real world youth workers.

and… (drum roll)… it’s all free. yeah. free.

anyhow, they have an email all youth workers should subscribe to (see the “e-journal subscription” link on the home page), as well as a super-helpful website, a blog, a podcast, and a bunch of feeds you can subscribe to (i subscribe to their article feed, and their blog feed). and some of the work they’ve done has been translated, subsequently, into books kara powell and chap clark have published with ys:
deep ministry in a shallow world
deep justice in a broken world
and, a deep justice curriculum due out next may.