Tag Archives: simply youth ministry

if the youth ministry blogging world had tectonic plates, they would have just shifted

i was just sitting here at my desk, thinking of all the changes i’ve been involved in over the past four or five years, and i had an image in my minds-eye of a rubber duck riding down a stream that — while just a stream from a human view — feels pretty crazy to the duck!

experientially, i’m pretty qualified to notice when change in the youth ministry world is significant (or if it’s only being positioned that way).

and, when josh griffin and doug fields (along with their downloadyouthministry.com partner matt mcgill and 8 other guests) launch a new youth ministry blog, it’s worth noting.

josh has had the #1 blog in the youth ministry world for a few years, and seeing the numbers behind the rankings, i can tell you that no one was even remotely nipping at his heals. then, the youth ministry veteren but blogging rookie, doug fields, started blogging. and, no surprise, within a year, had become the #2 youth ministry blog (bumping me down to #3, by the way!).

so, josh deciding to leave morethandodgeball.com behind, and doug deciding to shift his blogging over (in effect, shutting down his #2 blog) is a big change!

josh’s old blog — morethandodgeball.com — is being reimagined by simply youth ministry. it will now have a team of bloggers, and will — i’m confident — remain a very important (and leading) voice. if you don’t follow that one, you should.

but LoveGodLoveStudents.com, which will redirect you to the new download youth ministry blog, is the place where josh and doug will now be posting. it’s already live (started last week), and extremely active. i’m following it already, and would encourage you to do the same.

love god love students

A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating (and the Parent’s Guide 5-Pack Set)

first things first: i’ve been a really lousy blogger of late. these last few weeks have just been a blur, really. all filled with really wonderful stuff (including some days in detroit with my extended family, a sort-of partial vacation). but i haven’t been able to get “write blog post” up on the to-do list above items that were more pressing. and there’s nothing good about blogging out of obligation. plus, i always remind myself that approximately 4/5 of my blog readers don’t actually come to the blog to read stuff: most of you use a blog reader or subscribe via email. and those who DO come to the blog usually do so because they’re following a link on facebook. so, to you small handful who have typed in w-h-y-i-s-m-a-r-k-o-.-c-o-m into your browser, only to see the same ol’ posts that were previously there, i apologize. and: it’s unlikely to get much better in the next week or so!

ok, but!

parents guide, sex and datingi had a new book release last week! and i have to tell you about that!

when i was working on developing the “A Parent’s Guide” series for Simply Youth Ministry, we started with about 15 possible book topics, and narrowed it to 10. as part of the approval process with Group (as is true for all publishers), sales has to speak into the viability of a proposal; and Group’s sales peeps wisely suggested we start with 5 books in the series, rather than 10. narrowing the list to 5, i instantly knew who i wanted to work with on the co-authoring of A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Girls (that would be brooklyn lindsey), and on Teenage Guys (that would be brock morgan). the Social Media one was a complete no-brainer (duh, Adam McLane). and i knew i was just going to punch out the Teenage Brains book on my own. But A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating initially had me a bit stumped, both on the final title (i know this title could sound like it’s a sex guide for parents! but all other “more clear” variations were just making the title too long, or sounded creepy) and on who i might ask to co-author it with me.

joel mayward is a graduate of my Youth Ministry Coaching Program. i’d been working with him on developing the idea, and then the manuscript for his book Leading Up (a FANTASTIC book, btw). i knew joel to be a fantastic youth worker, an uncommonly deep and clear and curious thinker, and a really wonderful and skilled writer. so i asked him if he had any interest in helping me write to parents about this subject. surprised to be asked, he was stoked about it.

really, i love this book. it’s a short and easy-to-read overview of what’s most important for parents of teenagers to understand when i comes to both understanding their teenager’s sexuality and in how to talk about it. it’s theologically grounded (probably more so than any of the other books in the series), and surprisingly deep, considering the length and style.

here’s the back cover copy:

Helping your child make wise choices about sex and dating requires more than just one chat. It’s about building bridges of ongoing dialogue throughout the teenage years.

But youth workers Mark Oestreicher and Joel Mayward realize many parents don’t feel comfortable or prepared to have these kinds of conversations. That’s why they wrote A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Sex and Dating—to equip you to initiate healthy, honest discussions with your teenager. This book will also help you understand some of the relevant trends and issues in today’s youth culture.

Your role as a parent is to do more than provide your teenager with information about sex and dating. You have the opportunity and the calling to help your child live wisely and honor God in this sometimes tricky, occasionally awkward, and always vital area of life.

parents: get it. youth workers: get it for parents, or tell ’em about it.

parent-5-packand while we’re at it…

this book is the last of the five in the Parent’s Guide series! so The Youth Cartel is now selling the whole set at a $5 discount (a buck a book off!). the whole set inclues:
A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Girls (co-authored with Brooklyn Lindsey)
A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Guys (co-authored with Brock Morgan)
A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains (written only by little ol’ me)
A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media (co-authored with Adam McLane)
A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating (co-authored with Joel Mayward)

you can download samples of each book by following the links. or, go here to order the whole set at a discount.

Liesl and Max answers Josh Griffin’s questions about 99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents

you probably know already that i wrote a book earlier this year with my two teenage kids, liesl and max. it’s called 99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents: Living the Sweet Life at Home.

but yesterday on his blog, josh griffin hosted a little Q&A with my kids about the book. i loved their answers, so asked josh if i could post them also.

Q&A about 99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents
With Liesl Oestreicher and Max Oestreicher

Marko: Liesl and Max really did write these answers, just like they really did write the book with me (they wrote 100% of these answers, and about 70% of the book). Btw: Liesl is 18 – she graduated from HS last spring, and I currently on a gap-year, living in Ireland at the moment, and heading to India in January. Max is 14 (turns 15 in a week), and a freshman in HS.

Josh: OK, first off tell us about YOU!

Max: Drums + ukulele + bacon = Max Oestreicher

Liesl: I’m a dirty hippy, loving trees one hug at a time.

Josh: OK, now … what’s up with your dad’s beard?

Max: I think he should go pro.

Liesl: Babies and old, senile women enjoy grabbing and stroking it. It’s true, I’ve seen both happen.

Josh: The book is awesome – how did it come about?

Max: My dad wanted me and my sister to write a book about how cool he is. At first i refused, and then he told me i’d get paid.

Liesl: I was sitting in a forest, writing my autobiography, when a glowing figure approached me. The figure told me He was God, who had come down in human form to tell me something. He told me that He had peeked at what I was writing and that it was very good, that it even exceeded the work of the great Mark Oestreicher. He then told me that He wanted me to write a book for teenagers, just like me, about how to get along with their parents. And, of course, I gratefully accepted.
I don’t know, maybe I imagined that. Now that I think about it, my dad just sent me an email one day that said my brother and I were going to write a book and we were going to get paid for it.

Josh: What’s one thing that teenagers can do to change the game for the relationship they have with their parents?

Max: When you are getting in an argument/fight/disagreement with your parents, don’t get defensive. Respectfully communicate your point of view, and then listen to their’s.

Liesl: Respect their opinions. If you don’t, how do you expect them to respect yours?
…or you can just move to Ireland, like I did.

Josh: Tell us a story about when your parents screwed up. Make me laugh!

Max: My parent lost me at Disney World when I was three. They let go of my hand and I decided I wanted to go see KIng Louie.

Liesl: Once my mom and I were on a snowmobile on a family vacation. My mom accidentally went too close to a little dip and our snowmobile rolled over sideways. We couldn’t get up on our own, so before he helped us, my dad laughed as he took pictures.

Josh: Who do you love more – mom or dad? What do you value most about them?

Max: I think my mom is just ok, but compare her to my dad and she’s amazing.

Liesl: I would say my mom, but my dad is more likely to see this, so… definitely my dad.

Josh: You have the attention of a TON of youth workers – what would you say to them about their jobs/roles/calling?

Max: I think youth workers should give a lot of opportunities to get involved in a leadership roles as this has been very meaning full to me.

Liesl: It is really encouraging to here your life stories, especially the times when you screwed up. It shows us (teenagers in your youth group) that it is a safe place to admit to our faults when you do the same.


that’s the end of josh’s interview, but let me add a couple things.

first: one of the creative youth workers in my youth ministry coaching program recently told me about a very cool way she used the book. she took a single copy, cut the spine off (so all the pages were loose), and handed out each section (there are 6 or 7 sections) to a group of teenagers in her group. the groups read their sections, then made a presentation to the whole youth group, highlighting their own takes on a few of the ideas for improving their relationships with their parents.

and, here’s a goofy little video i shot for simply youth ministry when i was at their offices in august!

99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents

with my daughter, liesl, starting her 9-month gap year experience in europe and india, and with my son, max, starting high school last week, my kids have been on my mind quite a bit. so, it’s funny that i forgot to announce here on my blog that the three of us — me, liesl and max — wrote a book that recently released!

it was a blast writing a book with my kids. we went on a 3-day retreat to my silent place in the california desert and framed the whole thing, getting some of it written. then we came back to it a month or so later on a vacation and spent a few more days. they really did write a big chunk of it, and we all spoke into each other’s writing, tweaking and plussing.

anyhow: it’s a book for teenagers, in simply youth ministry’s “99 thoughts” line. it’s available anywhere you buy books, but we’re selling it on The Youth Cartel store, of course. parents, order one for your teenager! youth workers, pick up a case!

here’s the back cover copy:

99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents: Living the Sweet Life at Home

Liesl and Max Oestreicher aren’t perfect teenagers, and they’re the first to admit it. They get in trouble, they fight with their parents (and each other), and they frustrate their teachers from time to time.

But they do have something that a lot of teenagers really wish they had: a better than average relationship with their parents.

99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents is filled with ideas from this sister-and-brother duo on having fun as a family, appreciating why moms and dads do what they do, and finding the best ways to handle arguments and disagreements with your parents. (They’ll also divulge a few secrets about rules, independence, and getting permission!)

Even though the teenage years aren’t easy, you’ll find that a little bit of patience, understanding, and communication will go a long way toward experiencing a more solid relationship with your parents, and Liesl and Max are ready to be your guides along the way!

3 books coming out in august

i’m pretty pumped to announce that i have THREE books releasing in august. crazy, huh?

i’ve developed a series of little pocket guides for parents of teenagers for simply youth ministry. these are really designed to be a quick and accessible read for any parent, with the goal of increasing understanding (which, i’ve often found, puts parents in a better place to connect with their teenagers). the books are something youth workers could buy in bulk (they’ll be super inexpensive), and make available to parents.

there will be five books in all, releasing over the next 6 months or so. on four of them, i recruited a fantastic co-author.

the first two in the series are:

A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Guys: Remembering Who He Was, Celebrating Who He’s Becoming
by Mark Oestreicher and Brock Morgan

A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Girls: Remembering Who She Was, Celebrating Who She’s Becoming
by Mark Oestreicher and Brooklyn Lindsey

the other books in the series will be:
A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains, which i wrote on my own
A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media, which Adam McLane co-authored with me
and, A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating, which Joel Mayward is co-authoring with me

and… (i’m really pumped about this one!)… i co-authored a book with my two kids, Liesl and Max! They really did write the bulk of it. the three of us went on a writing retreat, framing out the whole book and writing 2/3 of it. then, on a family vacation over spring break, we finished writing the last 1/3.

it’s a book for teenagers, also published with simply youth ministry. and it’s called:

99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents: Living the Sweet Life at Home
by Liesl and Max Oestreicher, with Mark Oestreicher

you’ll be able to get them all on the simply store, or on The Youth Cartel store, or anywhere fine books are sold! and, of course, you can count on the fact that i’ll let you know when they actually release (very soon!).

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!

2 time-sensitive bits o’ info, and a bonus bit of info you’ll care less about

1. today is my 49th birthday. a couple weeks ago, max (14) asked me how old i’m turning, and i told him. he said, “No way!” i was pleased that he obviously thought i must be much younger, until he followed up with, “haven’t your turned 49 at least three times now?!”

49 feels weird. not bad; just weird. i don’t feel almost-50.

2. today is also the LAST day to download my latest book — A Beautiful Mess: What’s Right About Youth Ministry — from simply youth ministry, for FREE. tomorrow, it goes on sale in both downloadable and print versions. click that mouse while it’s free (or click tomorrow, and let me earn seventy-five cents!).

here’s a bit from a nice paragraph from a review posted by austin mccann:

…Mark Oestreicher’s book, A Beautiful Mess, was such a breathe of fresh air for me! Finally, a youth ministry book that didn’t talk about what is wrong with youth ministry, but actually explained what is right with youth ministry! Mark explains some of the current things in youth ministry that are working and bringing fruit in the life’s of our students. He helps us see that the glass is half full, not half empty. This book allows youth pastors and youth workers to be encouraged and walk away feeling like they are making a difference, because they really are making a difference! Mark admits that we must not resist change because we always need to be changing the way we do student ministry, but we must not change for the sake of change. We are doing some things right in youth ministry and let’s see the glass half full and continue serving students with the love of Christ.

3. i got home from san antonio (via london) last night, and am stoked to be home for a full week. next thursday, i leave for uruguay and argentina!

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!

A Beautiful Mess: What’s Right About Youth Ministry (FREE!)

hey, i have an idea: how about i run a big ol’ blog contest where the winner gets a FREE copy of my brand-new book, A Beautiful Mess: What’s Right About Youth Ministry?

but, here’s the catch: you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to enter, and everyone’s a winner!

i am quite pleased that the creative minds at simply youth ministry suggested we give away my book for two weeks (the downloadable versions). after these two weeks, it’ll cost you a few bucks, and you can also order a physical copy if you want. but for now, you can FREELY download a packet with a pdf, a .epub file for ipad, and a .mobi file for kindle.

how much does that rock? well, quite a bit of rockage, thank you very much.

here’s the skinny on the book: i was starting to sense a weariness in the youth workers i connect with, due to the barrage of “bad news” coming from people like me, as well as the research and books that have been telling us, in a sense, that we’re failing at our calling. i was stirred by a poignant moment i had at an event last year, where i felt i was complicating things, and stopped to try to encourage the good and faithful youth workers in that room (read that experience here, which shows up in the book also).

so, when SYM was asking me for book ideas, i suggested i write something about what’s going well in youth ministry.

at one point the book was called The Glass Half-Full — and that’s really the point of it. sure, there are some problems in youth ministry, and we can’t stick our heads in the sand. but there’s also lots of really wonderful stuff happening in churches all over the place. AND, the subtle notion that fixing what’s broken is completely within our power is, honestly, a bit arrogant and messiah-like.

so, that was the nexus of this baby. it’s not long — a quick read at about 10,000 words. easy, peasy.

here’s the back cover copy someone at SYM created (which summarizes the book very well):

When you think about the state of youth ministry today, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you cheer or fear? Is the glass half full or half empty? In this honest, frank, blunt examination, veteran youth worker Mark Oestreicher offers a fresh perspective on what’s working in youth ministry today—and discovers that perhaps things aren’t as broken as some of us might have thought.

Theologically and anecdotally, we can uncover plenty of encouraging signs in the realm of youth ministry, according to Oestreicher, whose youth ministry experience includes time as an in-the-trenches youth worker and as a publisher of youth ministry books and resources. A Beautiful Mess features insights on the issues and opportunities facing youth workers, including the trend toward longevity in ministry, the power of smaller churches, the work of the Holy Spirit, the rewards of authentic relational ministry, the need for integration instead of isolation, and the centrality of faith and humility.

This book will help you experience the freedom of your calling, rather than the stress of expectations. You’ll discover an abundance of reasons to remain optimistic, intentional, and faithful as you engage in the lives of today’s teenagers.

so, get to it. download your free copy 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.