tash mcgill, a brilliant youth worker in new zealand, wrote an extensive and deeply thoughtful summary/review of youth ministry 3.0. this is the kind of reflection i dreamed of stirring up with this little book.
At last, I was so excited when this book arrived on my doorstep courtesy of a somewhat begging-type email to Marko. International shipping would’ve cost me $53 US.. which is kinda funny. The wait to see this book hit NZ shores .. well who knows how long, but considering all things.. I wasn’t prepared to wait.
There’s something great about seeing the words printed and the smell of the book. The hardcover and layout is great.
So – although I could’ve posted previously on the book – I wanted to wait until I had my copy, had re-read it just like everyone else. I’ve loved the conversations on the Facebook group as people are reading, thinking, devouring, wrestling.
I’m entirely biased towards the overall goodness of this work. Marko is my friend, fellow youth ministry type person, thinker, wise talker, grounded theologian and passionate exhorter of positive forward movement in youth ministry philosophy and practice. He’s also incredibly humble and has been so openhanded with the creation of this work and subsequent dialogues that he’s really embodied the essence of some of the YM3.0 premises we arrive at in the final chapters.
I’m entirely biased because these thoughts reflect both my passion for adolescent development,’cultural anthropology’, sociology, community psychology AND young people, the reformation of youth ministry practice and the future of the world. Many of these words and ideas are threads of my own story and I’m stoked to have had the opportunity for conversations around these ideas with Marko and the many other readers of his blog, YS groupies and the like.
This is not a typical youth ministry book because there is no cure prescribed – in fact, more or less, we’re left openended with a brief framework of some diagnostic tools and applications. The conversation is left openended intentionally. It does not answer all the things we instinctively want to be answered, because we have to wrestle with plenty of things ourselves.
Now…From The Beginning
I really loved Kenda Creasy Dean’s introduction – she nails the spirit of the book and the author. I’m a sucker for reading the forewards and the acknowledgements. And this section really sets you up for what you’re about to read. She highlights the honesty and potential discomfort of the ideas.
Framing Change in Youth Culture
Marko does a great job of reviewing the key tasks of adolescence, the emergence of youth culture and the history of adolescence in a broadsweeping but clear overview for people that get lost in the chaos of what all the science and psychology tells us. I’m a sucker for most of the reference material he refers to – and the recommended reading list at the back of the book provides great material that further unpacks these key ideas. There wasn’t much about actual brain function – but that’s ok, because you don’t want to lose people too soon in!
Marko’s concluding statement addressing where youth ministry as we’ve known it is currently failing highlights the shifting priorities of adolescence and how we’ve been slow to respond.
Implicitly, the question is brought to mind – with this elongated adolescent period, what does this mean for the future of the 20-something youthworker? It’s commented on in the sidebar too.
My lingering question: What happens if you line up generational shifts alongside these adolescent priority shifts and the responding youth ministry changes? What can we learn from mapping the past and present in order to make wise choices for the future?
A Brief History Lesson
The story of Youth Ministry 1.0 and 2.0 covered in chapters 3 & 4 highlights a few important things – including that the “first youth ministry missionaries” did it exactly right – they responded to youth culture by “letting it inform the language and topics of youth ministry.”
The charts included are helpful for mapping the drivers, youth culture fixation and key themes. Love those.
My lingering question: How much deconstruction of Youth Ministry 2.0 has to be done in order to have a healthy foundation for YM 3.0? Much, none or some? Is it possible to leap into YM 3.0 from 1 or 2.0 (yes, whispers of 1.0 still exist) or must there be a 2.8 process? What is the role of leadership and broader church context? Can a youth ministry grow (this is a better idea than leap or shift) into 3.0 without the active participation of the whole spiritual community?
Chapter five includes some gems.. Like Chris Cummings statement on pg 67
“This generation of teenagers knows there’s something worth living for beyond themselve, but they’re struggling with actually defining it.. and everything else in our culture says it’s all about them.”
This is a classic observation of the Generation Y tension – and what creates such a great melting pot moment for YM 3.0 to hatch in these communities of young people assured of their own value and voice, desperate for a way to make a difference.
Marko leans heavily on some of Tim Keel’s concepts from Intuitive Leadership (another big emphasis on how great both the endnotes and reading list from this little book is .. ) when talking about the role of youth workers shifting to “cultural anthropologists with relational passion”.
Much of the practice ideology here is straight out of a mission context that has been successful forever – Paul started it. “Culture informs contextualisation” is a great phrase that should stick in the mind. Themes of Communion and Mission were wrestled with publicly on the blog and the picture of a Present youth ministry took shape with the voices of dozens of youthworkers.. they translate well into this section. They also form an almost impeccable mesh with Generation Y values of tribe, cause, flexibility.
My lingering question: Ideologically, it’s perhaps the biggest shift the book deals with, something that really impacts the practices of goal-setting, future planning, curriculum development, the very fabric of what spiritual formation in practice looks like. Marko is truthful enough to say what many of us already know deep down – that programming small groups does not build true community. Small groups of young people and volunteers who truly embrace life together on a wider scale do – but that kind of “community curation” (my phrase, not Marko’s) I think requires a different mindset than what the current “ideal youth worker” might be in the minds of those hiring.
So…How do we get there?
This has to be the most frustrating but the most liberating section of the book – Marko raised great concepts, ideas and gives lots of permission to experiment, to fail and to invite multiple voices into the process. He offers a few key ideas – like Contextualization and pushes at colonization approach that some have had towards youth culture.
My favourite part of this chapter throws open the question of what real life-long learning in a youth ministry context can look like when YM3.0 will also require so much unique cultural anthropology. The priority of incarnational life with real young people becomes so particular. The stories and lives of the young people we are actually with (Present).. are the best blueprint to the youth ministry we are doing (Mission in current context). To me, it feels like a welcome spring clean of the boardroom whiteboard where we’ve drawn endless visions of what we’d like our youth ministry to be in 5 years time. (I’m not convinced that there isn’t a place somewhere for this thinking, but probably not in the priority line it has been in.)
Points of Note:
Discernment features strongly in this chapter – and my friend Jill recently commented that “discernment and intuition have a lot in common – discernment is perhaps educated intuition?” I think there is merit to the point especially in the context of discussing the communal discernment of a group in regards to youth ministry. So, discernment (being something we more naturally attribute to wisdom and age, experience) is perhaps the maturing spiritual gift of intuition that may be present in many of your young people/leaders/surrounding voices..that intuition may be found in those that naturally ‘feel’ the ebb and flow of the ‘environment’.
Multiple groups have been an issue of contention and whilst not supporting this as THE way forward, Marko presents it as an opportunity. You could argue that the response of people to this possible programming tool demonstrates a high level of 2.0 thinking that still resides. Others ask the question fairly enough, how to do this in the context of small ministries – but it’s an idea for consideration, not a prescription. My reflection is that this kind of approach allows affinity to be one of the key tasks worked out through your ministry.
Experimentation is a strong value here, especially the process by which the young people themselves are the dominant storytellers.
Supra-Culture is the youthworkers dream. “Common affinity found in Christ alone”. My thought would be that having the same philosophy or values at the core of your ministry would enable multiple groups to work out unique expressions of this Supra-Culture.. again, lots more experimentation and reflection required. More of a laboratory of youth ministry as many have commented on in discussion. The messiness of this is absolute, guaranteed – but the long term effectiveness of this approach may be highly rewarding.
My lingering question: Lifelong professional development for youth ministry that doesn’t sit in isolation from broader church leadership, that focuses on developing practical contextualization skills and anthropological thinking/frameworks that youth pastors can use. How? Also – how to encourage and enable youthworkers to hold the desire for effectiveness and the mandate to experiment and exegete locally in tension?
My lingering thoughts from this chapter:
Whilst Marko doesn’t cover the brain/biology equations, I think that the role of Feelings & Experience in the faith train diagram are vital. As these experiences and feelings form neuron pathways while cognitive recognition of “God” occurs – they must be valued. Thus the “feeling” and “experiential” components of our ministry may actually help form “faith” foundations while the rest of experience is in chaos?
Youth Ministry 3.0 will acknowledge the humanity and validity of teenagers – they are contributors “in development” and “in practice”.
The role of family-based ministry will need to change – for those places where it’s in practice.
We need to come up with new frameworks for KPIs, goal setting, reassessment and staff management in this area.
And So To End
I read this book last night with a drink, a starry night and a cigar.. in honour of such nights in San Diego! There were lots of things I underlined. Lots of things that will continue to be discussions over the coming years. I am excited for multiple copies of the book to arrive onshore so that meaningful conversations can start around so many things…
There are things I wrestle with – mostly to do with how we can appropriately engage in these practices and conversations in a way that sees real change. How quickly can we translate and establish new training and support structures for this new way of thinking and crafting youth ministry? How do we, taking these lessons, begin to also look ahead to what the kids of Gen X and Gen Y will look like and how youth culture may continue to map our response in youth ministry?
Mostly.. I’m glad to be part of the conversation. This reengages my hope and desire to work with young people and for young people – for the sake of attainable belonging or affinity with the person and body of Christ. (I’m not sure how they are both important or expressed, but they both are.)