Tag Archives: national youth workers convention

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.

post-national youth workers convention

well, the nywc is almost over. only the final ‘big room’ to go. i’ll be heading down in a few minutes to attend that whole session, in support of my friend tic long. after more than 30 years at ys – most of those years leading the nywc – tic is doing his first-ever general session talk. i know what he’s going to talk about (fear), and think he is the right person at the right time with the right message.

this convention, here in nashville (as opposed to the earlier one in san diego), has not caused anxiety or weird feelings for me. honestly, it’s been wonderful. i’ve had a very full schedule, but have deeply enjoyed my time here. i haven’t been able to make it to the general sessions much, due to so many appointments — the one session i made it to did feel a little weird for me, as that space has so many memories and is so deeply connected to who i am and who i was. but, really, being here has been awesome.

i spoke 4 times:
– a ‘fishbowl’ dialogue called “soul care for busy non-contemplatives”. i really enjoyed this one — lots of great interaction and participation. i love the fishbowl format, and really felt we had a “we’re in this together” vibe in the room.
– a brand new seminar called “leading without power”. i think this one went well — i got good feedback. i’m planning on a blog post series with some of this content in the weeks to come.
– a 2 1/2 hour ‘grande seminar’ called “youth ministry 3.0”. despite the remote location, we had a decent turn-out, and great interaction.
– and a late night discussion on “the future of youth ministry”. this had a super-small turn-out, and some of the dialogue was a bit odd; but it was still worth doing. i have a blog post series planned out of this one also.

and i had dozens of meetings: time with friends getting caught up, time with youth workers who asked for an hour, time with current and potential ministry partners cooking up cool new things for youth workers (ooh — i’m so excited about some of the stuff i’m gonna try in 2011 and 2012).

in the end, this convention didn’t feel as much like closing the loop on a past reality to me as much as it felt like framing and realizing the good, new reality. i think the ‘leading without power’ seminar title is a good metaphor for my place at nywc, and it’s good.

i hope i get to come back next year!

approaching nywc nashville, a personal reflection

i’m sitting in my hotel room in nashville, at the ys convention. i’ve been here so many times before. in fact, i calculated a couple years ago that i’ve spent more than 3 months of my life in this hotel. ys conventions before i was on staff with ys, ys conventions while i was on staff, emergent conventions and national pastors conventions, and a handful of prep meetings. but today i add a new category: ys conventions after being on staff with ys.

there’s an ego-y part of me that just wants to say i deserve to be here. but there are plenty of reasonable reasons i might not have been invited; not the least of these is that my presence could be (slightly) awkward, or contribute, in a small way, to a distraction from the ‘this is a new day’ vibe that ys is rightfully creating these days. so it’s a credit to my friend tic long, and to his bosses at youthworks, that they were cool with including me.

the san diego convention, a couple months ago, was uber-weird for me. i was loaded with anxiety. that dissipated a bit over the course of the weekend, but still kept me lying low and not being very present. it was hard to put a finger on the weirdness i felt, but i think it centered around not really knowing what my place was. i also had, in a classic 7th grader way, an absurd but unshakable sense that everyone was staring at me (i know this wasn’t true in the least, but i couldn’t seem to escape it). i was projecting little thought-bubbles above their heads: “oh, it’s so nice that he’s here” (with a pitying voice), or “what’s he doing here? isn’t he the guy who screwed up ys?”

one of the really nice things about that experience was that, as i started to notice my levels of anxiety setting in, i recognized the feeling. but the wonderful realization that dawned on me was, “i never feel this anymore!” i had lived with so much anxiety and stress for the last two years we were with our former corporate ownership; so much pressure to conform; so much pressure to turn things around financially; so many impossible decisions, or choices that were expected of me but went against my gut. and i never have that anymore.

sure, if i’m being completely honest, there’s a little identity weirdness in walking around with a nametag that says “speaker”, and not something more. no “all access”, no “ys staff”. and — this is silly, but honest — after so many years of being given absurdly grand suites by the hotel, it’s a little humbling to be in a very, very normal hotel room.

but i expect this weekend to be 170-degrees different than san diego. yeah, not 180-degrees, but almost. the tiny flicker of anxiety is only that. i notice it, but it’s not debilitating. i feel good about being here, and am excited about the stuff i get to do, the youth workers i’ll get to rub shoulders with, and the friends i get to connect with. i’m excited about being present — and i don’t merely mean ‘here’. presence is much better than just being here, if you know what i mean.

reflections from the desert about nywc and the 1 year anniversary of leaving ys

It’s Tuesday, October 12, 2010, as I write. 8:15am. I woke up this morning in Canebrake Canyon, in the desert east of San Diego. I’m back at the desert home I have retreated to a few times in the past for days of silence. But this is the first time I’ve been here in a year.

The last time I was here, in November of 2009, I spent 6 days here, silent other than my cries to God. I gave a full day each to being present to five emotions: anger, hurt, sadness, fear, and joy. I allowed myself to feel that emotion to the fullest extent, then journaled and prayed and meditated and stomped around. And I healed. Really, while I’m sure some of this is my personality make-up, I am still – a year later – a bit surprised by how quickly I was lifted out of the overwhelming anxiety of what happened and fear of what was to come, how quickly God pointed me in a new direction, how quickly my heart healed.

There are still some wounds in there, I’m sure. I really don’t think I’ve stuffed them or buried them; I just think they’re the natural sensitive places left over from injury (very much like the sensitivity of the scar on my thumb that’s been there since 11th grade, in 1979). This residual sensitivity was made very clear to me a week and a half ago at the National Youth Workers Convention.

The week before the NYWC, I started to feel something I hadn’t felt in a very long time: anxiety. In fact, I was more interested in the foreignness of the feeling than I was in the feeling itself.

I lived with high anxiety (thanks, Mel Brooks) for my last two year at YS. It was constant. It ruined my sleep, lowered my productivity, and pushed my faith into numbness. My soul was a zombie soul.

So when I felt that anxiety again, for the first time since I left this canyon a year ago, it was more intriguing and encouraging than it was debilitating. I was intrigued by the realization that I hadn’t felt anxiety in 2011, even once. And I was encouraged that my life these days is so full of wonderful things and that none of them cause me anxiety (concern and stress from time to time, sure; but not full-on anxiety).

All that said, things were really uncomfortable for me the first day at the NYWC. Even driving into the parking lot of the convention center was awkward. And as I walked from my car to the room where I would check in as a speaker – passing lots of attendees and a handful of people I know – I was seriously battling the impulse to give in to emotional freeze (the gateway to zombie soul). I was twitchy, and distracted. I called an old friend by the wrong name. And I was totally living into that classic middle school reality of the imaginary audience: I felt like everyone was glancing my way and wondering (at best) how I was doing or (at worst) how I had the balls to be there after I had (my absurd projection of their thoughts) screwed this company up so deeply.

Eventually, I stood in the back of the opening “Big Room”, finding a little relational mooring point first with Christina, my Middle School Pastor, and later, with one of my closest friends and former co-worker. They helped normalize the whole thing for me, completely understanding how weird it was for me.

After 30 minutes, though, I realized I had a greater desire to go home and see my wife (between her trip to start grad school, and my trip to start my second YMCP cohort, I’d literally seen her for 15 minutes total in the past 14 days). So I went home. On my way home, I made the decision to give myself permission to lay low for the weekend – to engage or be scarce to whatever level I wanted, without guilt or shoulds. And, over the weekend, things really did shift for me. Engaging youth workers during my seminars was certainly key to this – sensing that I was ‘in the zone’ and had a place at the event.

But I also noticed the residual sensitivity of the anger/hurt/sadness/fear stuff of late 2009. I had a wonderful talk with Mark Matlock about this that was very healing for our friendship; and other similar talks. And I realized there are probably a few more of these talks that would be wise to pursue.

So, here I am in the desert. It’s about a month and a half away from the anniversary of when I came out here last. But today is only a week away from the one-year anniversary of my lay off. Make no mistake: I hope I have learned a great lesson about how not to treat an employee who needs to (for whatever reason) be let go. But my collection of descriptors, as I look back on this past year and take stock of my current reality are: gratefulness, peace (geez, I really didn’t think that would be possible), growing confidence, greater spiritual intimacy, and emotional health. And… the zombie soul is no more. In its place is a fully alive, warm-to-the-touch, responsive, tender soul. There’s surely still some fragility there. But I’ll take a fragile living soul over a tough dead one any day.

leading without power

when youth specialties asks speakers to do a seminar at the national youth workers conventions, they ask for a handful of possible seminar titles. then tic long chooses the ones that fit the overall mix. i’ve been through this process for 20 years or so, including all the years i worked at ys. so it was nothing new to me: i suggest a half dozen or more ideas, some of which are fully developed, and some of which aren’t much more than a title. and, when tic picks one of those that’s only a title… well, there’s work to be done!

this year at the ys conventions, i’m doing four seminars (3 in each of the 2 cities). and two of the seminars i’ll be leading were those “only have a title” kind: soul care for busy non-contemplatives (which is a “fishbowl” discussion), and leading without power. this morning, i had to turn in descriptions for these babies, which meant i had to think a little bit about what they might actually cover!

here’s what i wrote for leading without power:

Leadership guru Max Depree wrote a book with this title, identifying the unique challenges of leadership in a volunteer organization. This is our reality in churches, in youth ministry. We don’t lead with the power of a paycheck, or the power to hire or fire. Instead, we live in the unique space of leading through invitation rather than leading through demands. We’ll contrast this with power-based leadership a bit, then get into a bunch of ideas for leading laterally (and sometimes, leading up).

depree’s book, leading without power, was one i read more than a dozen years ago. and i haven’t read it again since (though i’ve often ruminated on writing a book based on one of the chapters: organizational hope). and, while i couldn’t actually tell you much about the content, other than that one chapter (i’ll need to re-read the book in prep for the seminar!), the title alone has haunted and challenged me for years.

so much of what we read, hear, and absorb about leadership has an embedded power dynamic in it. and i see this all over the church today. it’s certainly dripping from most of the lexicon of leadership books written for church leaders. in fact, i think it’s interesting (and frustrating, and sad) that the few books i’ve read that model a very different kind of leadership are not from or about the church (another amazing and weird book with this vibe is let my people go surfing, by patagonia founder yvon chouinard). certainly, a wonderful exception from power-leadership-in-the-church books is nouwen’s classic, in the name of jesus (man, i have to read that one again also!).

but we do not lead with power. sure, you might counter that we have spiritual power. but that’s not the kind of power i’m talking about. we (let’s use youth pastors, for example) don’t possess the power of the paycheck. and we’re leading in a space where we believe (more in theory than in practice, in many churches) in the priesthood of all believers, and in the sons-and-daughters of god reality that means we’re all siblings, on equal power-ground.

after a dozen years of leading with the luxury of paycheck power (hopefully i didn’t wield that like a light saber most days), i’m back in a space where all of my daily involvements — from my volunteer work at my church, to my consulting work with churches and ministries, to my writing work — involve the opportunity to lead, but no platform for power. i suppose the only arena where i could “lead with power” is in my home; but i’ve found it doesn’t fly well there. :) (yes, i used an emoticon in a blog post.) and it’s bringing me back to these questions again.

the san diego cohort of my youth ministry coaching program had an interesting discussion at one of our meetings about leading laterally and leading up (this is where i grabbed that wording for the seminar description). we talked about what it looks like to lead other church staff over whom you have no responsibility or authority; and what it looks like to lead your senior pastor (a position many youth workers are put in). of course, things like demands and “clarified expectations” go right out the window, as they’re useless. instead, questions of vision, communication, suggestion, transparency, example, story, and healthy politics (yes, politics can be healthy) come into play. and, while good leadership should always be embedded in a soup of support and grace, it becomes a non-negotiable when leading without power.

for example, in my consulting work: i can give great ideas and walk away in disgust if the organization chooses not to embrace them. but that’s not leading; that’s banking (at best), or drive-by consulting (at worst). in order to lead in a situation like this, i need to come in with compassion, understanding, and a posture of listening. that’s an interesting tension to live in, when active listening is, ultimately, not what the organization is paying me for. but, i’m learning, it’s the only route to leadership in this context.

what about you? what struggles are you experiencing with shedding power-leading? what struggles are you experiencing with lateral leading and leading up?

nywc promo vid

surely, it will be wonderful and a little bit surreal for me to be at both of the ys national youth workers conventions this fall (in san diego and nashville). but not being there would be, well, horrible. at least i’ll have more time to just hang out than i’ve had there for a dozen years!

i hope you’ll be there also.

here’s the first of the nywc promo videos ys is releasing. nice slo-mo, bay-bee…

the best encouragement note

the other day i was given a bag full of encouragement notes, written by attendees at the cincinatti and atlanta national youth workers conventions. it’s a beautiful stack of back-pats and heart-hugs, really. i’m about 1/3 the way through reading them so far; but one of them really caught my attention, and made me laugh out loud (and bring it out to read to others in the house).


I’m not surprised you got FIRED! It was completely all your fault. You kept Jesus as number one, you were still, you ignored corporate values, you thought small, you were real, you put your family first, and you sought kingdom values. What did you think would happen, you idiot?!?

no signature, no name. not even a “hope you’re well” or well-wish. just those awesomely sarcastic, yet wildly loving three sentences.

i’m not sure that’s all true — but it sure did make me crack up and encourage me at the same time!

changes to the national youth workers convention

we’re hosting a monthly webinar on the nywc site, leading up to this fall’s national youth workers conventions. i did the first one this week, and talked (for a LONG TIME!) about the changes we’re making for this fall’s events. next month, mark matlock will talk more specifically about the open space day at the event.

here’s the new nywc website (reg is now open!)

and here’s a recording of that webinar (we had a few technical problems, but got through them)…