Tag Archives: group magazine

youth workers and fear

group mag coveri wrote a feature-length article for the current issue of Group Magazine. in fact, they chose to make it the cover article; and they shot this photo of me in a suit at SYMC. i’m not sure how i feel about it (“Fun!” “Look, a whale in a suit!”). but i’m also honored — blown away, really — to be on the cover of Group. it’s a little surreal. i posted the cover on facebook yesterday, and a few of the comments would have made me blow milk out my nose, had i been drinking milk at the time:
– steve knight wrote: “you know what they say, sex sells”
– mike pitts said i looked like a college coach
– adam, my partner in The Youth Cartel, text me, “I’m hoping to be on the swimsuit issue of Group next year.”

anyhow: they put the article online. here are the first couple sections:

Fear Only Fear

I’ve been fired two times from ministry positions.

Well, that’s not fair. I was fired once, and I was laid-off once. But the fearsome inner dialogue that erupted within me—despite 20 years separating the two terminations—was eerily similar. I’d grown and matured in significant ways over those two decades, so my intense reaction to the latest bombshell meant:

A. My interior self hadn’t grown as much as I would’ve hoped, or

B. My experience, while deeply personal, is not uncommon to anyone who’s ever been told, “We don’t want you anymore.”

After walking alongside several fired youth workers over the last few years, my gut tells me both are probably true.

But the focus of this article is not about coping with getting fired. Losing my job was simply the most intense personal experience I’ve had of ongoing and pervasive fear. And the voice of fear has often been the primary tool the evil one has used to keep me frozen—exasperatingly short of the fully transformed life God has dreamed of for me.

In both terminations, I saw it coming. I grasped and positioned and politicked and even begged. I tightened my grip, hoping I could somehow control the situation and distract the approaching monster of loss. Once my control was taken away, I entered a very brief stage of disorientation mixed with relief. The waiting was over. My exerted effort to control (which is tiring!) was no longer necessary.

But quickly on the heels of that moment, the voice of fear started to whisper, then insinuate, then sneer…

“You’re done.”

“No one will hire you after this.”

“You’ll never again impact the Kingdom.”

“Your family is going to starve.” (Yeah, the voice of fear isn’t always rational.)

◊ ◊ ◊

My second termination was less than four years ago, so it’s fresh in my memory. It’s very easy for me to re-live the volcanic emotions of those unendurable months. Sure, I had other strong feelings: anger, sadness, and even something I can only call curiosity. But the struggle that almost undid me was unequivocally an MMA match with my inner voice of fear.

My youth ministry coaching program (for a video introduction to the program, go to theyouthcartel.com/coaching-2/) has given me a cautious invitation into the deepest places of struggle in the lives of youth workers. And I’ve found, over and over again, that somewhere around half of youth workers struggle with debilitating fear. They might hide it well, even from themselves, but it colors their interactions, nudges their decisions in one direction or another, and limits their freedom and ability to truly be themselves.

I’ll go a step further—we youth workers nurture a collective self-image of fearlessness (“Rawr! I’m a wild one! Get out of my way, ’cause I’m a bundle of Jesus-y action and energy!”). When that vocational stereotype (which is both thrust on us and self-selected) is combined with the spotlight of ministry leadership, it misleads us, telling us that our experiences of fear are not “normal.” And that’s a killer lie.

(the rest of the article unpacks a model for change, voices of resistance, what to do with your fear, and has a sidebar excerpt of my “fear journal” from a few years ago when i lost my job. read it here!)

an album, a movie, a curriculum, and an event worth mentioning

yup, this is a bit of a random collection, i’ll admit. but these are four things i really want to recommend, and i didn’t want to inundate you with four separate posts. see how thoughtful i am?

an album
i met brian houston in belfast, northern ireland, quite a few years ago (this is not the same brian houston from australia, btw). i was speaking at a youth worker event for the presbyterian church of ireland, and brian was the music/worship leader. i totally dug his music, and we hit it off. we did a couple other events together, and i hung out with him a couple times when i was in belfast (one of my favorite memories of yaconelli involves brian also, but it’s so off-color — thanks to a very drunk woman who came out of a bar to pursue yac when yac, brian and i were sitting in the lobby — that i cannot write it out here. feel free to ask me sometime when we’re face-to-face).

anyhow, i noticed on steve stockman’s blog that brian had a new album out. if digital files could get worn out, my other brian houston albums (particularly big smile) have 0s and 1s flying all over the place from over-playing. so i downloaded brian’s new album — shelter — and i just love it. rock mixed with gospel with heavy doses of blues and R&B. amazing lyrics, great voice.

let me be clear: i’ve not had contact with this guy in over 5 years, and no one asked me to promote this album. i found out about it by luck. i just really like it!

a movie
jeannie’s birthday was last saturday, and we’d celebrated with the kids earlier in the week. since it was just the two of us, she said, “let’s go to a movie that i would like.” (the clear inference, and probably fair, is that i tend to swing my movie-choosin’ weight around most of the time.) we looked at what was showing, and remembered that we’d heard good things about moonrise kingdom. but we had no idea.

HOLY COW! what an incredible film, in so many ways. the story is amazing and layered and insightful. but visually, i hardly even know how to describe it. i don’t normally notice — and completely enjoy — the color palate of movie scenes. i don’t normally notice — and completely enjoy — the symetry or framing of a scene. and the dialogue. and the costuming. and the casting. and so many other little bits about this.

plus, it’s about 12 year-olds!

jeannie and i left saying, “we never buy DVDs anymore, but we want to own that one so we can watch it a bunch of times.” youth worker joel mayward wrote a fantastic review here.

a curriculum
andy marin is a freakin’ saint. he has said and done what few in the church (at least the evangelical church) have been willing to say and do to build bridges with the gay community. and in doing so, andy has bushwhacked for many of us, providing a footpath that doesn’t seem as scary as it once did.

i read andy’s book, love is an orientation, a few years ago when it came out. quite simply: everyone must read this book. but if you’re an evangelical or catholic (those with more conservative understandings of homosexuality), you really, really, really must read it. please.

i knew that zondervan released a DVD curriculum to go along with andy’s book last year, and i knew it would be good. but i was lame, and i didn’t get around to watching it, even though two more of my friends — ginny olson and the esteemed adam mclane — are in it (in the fantastic session on adolescents and homosexuality). but i watched the whole thing the other night. and. it. is. so. great. it’s honest and helpful and will absolutely open up great dialogue. i highly recommend it — for adult groups, and maybe for more mature high school groups.

an event
i had a phone call yesterday with rick lawrence, group magazine‘s long-standing editor, to talk more about the content of the upcoming ReGroup event i’ll help to lead with him and kurt johnston on august 13 – 15, in loveland, CO (at the group HQ). i had been looking forward to this event prior to the call; but my anticipation is now approximately 8.3 times heightened.

we’re gonna talk through a handful of elements we’re seeing that really make a difference in great youth ministries (some of this comes out of my recent book, A Beautiful Mess). but rick and i agreed today that i’m going to spend a good chunk of time doing some of the exercises i use in my coaching program, helping the small-ish group of attendees to reflect at a more personal and strategic level about their lives and ministries. really, i now feel like this event won’t just be ‘interesting’ or ‘fun’ (though i think it will be those also); now i think it will be transformational.

limited to 100 people. it’s exclusive, baby. and it’s gonna rock. clicky-clicky.

MSMC12 ad

man, i love the ad adam created for the middle school ministry campference to go in Group Magazine (both Simply Junior High and Group Missions Trips are partners on the event, so they were gracious in giving us ad space). i think the ad makes The Youth Cartel appear to be a real organization! :)

and, if you a middle school youth worker, i sure do hope you’ll join us.

8 Youth Ministry Tipping Points -or- How Crazy That I’m Speaking at a Group Event!

here are a few realities some of you know, but are usually only spoken of in hushed tones:

a. it’s a bit wild (though fun) that i — mark oestreicher — am speaking at Group’s intimate and in-depth event, ReGroup. i mean, i’ve always appreciated Group Magazine, and the dudes at Simply Youth Ministry have had my respect for years. but, if we’re really honest, i was in the other camp. so it’s a bit trippy that i’m writing all these books for SYM, and now speaking at this event!

b. for those who follow these things, i really thought the tectonic plates of the youth ministry world had finished a season of massive movement back in late 2009 and early 2010. tic got laid off from ys. i got laid off from ys. zondervan sold ys to youthworks, but kept the publishing rights. a dozen other ys staffers lost their jobs or chose to move on. tic got rehired by youthworks to lead ys. doug parted ways with SYM, then joined ys. adam left ys and joined me at the youth cartel. really, it was a bit like playing day trader; and i’m only scratching the surface here. so, it’s all a bit humorous (well, it is to me, at least) that tic is now the executive pastor at my church, and i’m speaking at a group event!

c. most of you couldn’t care less about all that stuff; and it’s far enough in my past now that i really get a kick out of it all.

it’s awesome, in my thinking. i’m stoked to get to partner with group and sym, so i was off-the-charts cheesy-grinned happy when i got an email from rick lawrence of group magazine, asking me to be a part of this event.

here’s what i can surely say about ReGroup: i’m so stoked to be a part of this thing that i re-arranged a family vacation to be a part of it. to share three days of training with a great youth ministry friend who always makes me think more sharply (kurt johnston) and one of the wisest people in all of youth ministry (rick lawrence)… well, that will be a happy place for me.

very loosely based on some of the stuff from my recent SYM book, A Beautiful Mess: What’s Right About Youth Ministry, this small event (limited to 100 people only!) will focus on conversations about a handful of factors (8 of them, to be exact!) that can make a significant impact on your youth ministry. we’ll also mix it up with some exercises and models to get you thinking in new ways. and (this is a BIG AND), we get to have dinner at thom and joani schultz’s home (who i last saw — this is not a joke — at a remote, outdoor, riverside restaurant in botswana, africa; but that’s a story for another time — maybe that evening at their home.)!

here’s the official write-up:

This unique and intimate gathering is specifically crafted for youth pastors who crave the time, interactivity, and in-depth learning that happens in a retreat setting. Every year at this event, the 100-or-so attending youth pastors get an interactive ministry growth experience like no other (just ask past participants). Over the course of three days you’ll learn how to do something that’s rare in today’s youth ministry—push the accelerator down on “tipping point” ministry practices instead of fret about what’s not working. Our team will lead you through a pinpoint array of growth-producing ministry imperatives. In addition, we’ll stretch your thinking with some models of transformation and change that will get you thinking about “what could be” for both your youth ministry and your own life.

In addition, a highlight of this event every year is an evening at Thom and Joani Schultz’s (President and Chief Creative Officer of Group) home, enjoying a meal together. Also, we’ll gather in one of the most beautiful spots in the Colorado Rockies for a picnic and a special experience that will deepen your relationship with Jesus.

We’ve made the registration cost (which includes your meals) a low $125—our simple desire is to “love on” a community of youth pastors who have unique challenges and a unique perspective in the context of a three-day trajectory-changing retreat.

click here to read more, or here to register. time for some rocky mountain high, baby!

update on The Youth Cartel

ok, there’s just so much going on in our wee company, it’s hard for me to discipline myself to not post about my excitement over this or that every day.

so, as further prevention from “all cartel posts, all the time,” allow me to update you and remind you on a few things that are just the bomb:


The Youth Cartel is doing three events this year, and two of ’em are brand new:

  • the middle school ministry campference is in its second year. we have a great line-up (including tic long!); but the line-up isn’t really the reason to come. the reason to come is that, if you’re in JH or middle school ministry, this is the one place where you can really spend three days with your tribe. i’ve never been a part of an event where every single person who attends could offer a raving endorsement. the MSMC is in seymour, indiana, october 26 – 28.
  • the summit is the youth cartel’s new flagship event. i’ve been dreaming about this for two years or more, and with adam joining me, we’ve been able to turn the dream into a reality. but, seriously, it’s already surpassed my expectations, and it’s still 6 months away. the presenter line-up blows my mind. this is the event i would attend even if i had nothing to do with creating it. join us in atlanta, november 9 and 10 (btw: the first 100 who register get MAJOR bonus swag).
  • finally, adam has been dreaming of a grassroots, organic youth ministry event where anyone can speak. talk about leveling the playing field and acknowledging that we’re all in this together! that’s what Open is all about. our first Open is Open Seattle, on october 6. the second location is a doosy! (stay tuned)


with 6 cohorts of 10 youth workers each either completed or in progress, i continue to find the youth ministry coaching program to be my most deeply satisfying days, other than time with my family. we’ve opened 5 cohorts for later this year (or whenever they fill), and are deep into conversations with 3 denominational groups about cohorts specific to their tribe. oh, and we’ve just begun conversations about a possible new zealand cohort! ha!

here’s another quote, from current participant sam halverson:

The YMCP is the single most helpful resource I’ve found in over 30 years of professional youth ministry. While conventions, workshops, and seminars are influential and necessary, the Youth Ministry Coaching Program is a much more personal and personable resource for anyone wishing to understand and struggle with the ins and outs of professional ministry. The spiritual direction, values assessments, readings, discussions, personal sharing, and presence-minded shepherding led by Mark Oestreicher encompass all parts of life – not just youth ministry.


we’ve had a blast this year partnering with organizations and ministries as diverse as biblica, dougfields.com, urban youth worker’s institute, tyndale publishers, and about a dozen others.


already in 2012, i’ve been stoked about the release of The Way bible and A Beautiful Mess. I have 6 more books coming out with simply youth ministry over the next year (3 of which i’ve finished), and i’m working on two versions of an ebook that The Youth Cartel will publish.

adam published his first book, with jon huckins, through The Youth Cartel’s own brand: good news in the neighborhood.

i’ve been stoked about working with a few great authors to help them find publishers for their books, finalizing deals for lars rood, jeff goins, and len kageler.

and The Youth Cartel is throwing in hard on publishing through our own brand, with 7 projects signed. you’ll see these start to come out over the remaining months of this year.

oh, and i still love writing regular columns for Youthworker Journal and Youthwork (the UK magazine for youth workers), as well as occasional contributions to Immerse Journal and Group Magazine. Adam and i both write for Slant33.com.


our weekly Cartel Culture and YouTube You Can Use emails have been a great hit. in just 8 short months we have more than 1200 people receiving them.

we launched a free job bank on our website. and our facebook page, blog, and twitter feeds are all gaining traction.


i still love speaking to teenagers and youth workers, and find my schedule regularly full with amazing opportunities (like, i’m leaving for london this morning, to speak at the Youthwork Summit).

yup, we’re busy little beavers, and we’re having the time of our lives. thanks to all of you who have been so supportive of us. we long to serve you well (and push you a little bit). We have three or four more sweet ideas in the hopper, if we can find the bandwidth to get them going!