Tag Archives: teen 2.0

current reading list for my coaching program (and a question about a virtual cohort)

in my youth ministry coaching program cohorts, there’s a reading assignment for the first five of our six meetings (the last meeting has a TON of prep, so i don’t assign reading). i’ve modified the list a bit from the first year of YMCP to this last year. here’s my current list, and why i have participants read them (if you’re not interested in the list, skip to the bottom of this post and consider my semi-related question):

for the first meeting:
Youth Ministry 3.0, by some dude
my book is a bit dated in some ways (i wrote it about 5 years ago, after all). i keep thinking i should write a Youth Ministry 3.1: What I Wish I’d Said (though, i ended up covering quite a bit of that in A Beautiful Mess, though indirectly). however, i assign this book first because i want to have common language in the cohort for many of the issues we’ll talk about. in fact, i lead a conversation based on the content of the book for about 2 hours at each of the first two meetings (where each of the other books get about a 45 minute discussion). whatever its weaknesses at this point (and they are there), YM3.0 still provides what i believe to be an accurate description of the primary changes in youth culture over the last 60 years, and a bit of backstory to books like Sticky Faith and Almost Christian, as to how we got where we are.

for the second meeting:
Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon MacKenzie
when yaconelli announced that i was going to be the president of ys, old ys insider (and wittenburg door staffer) craig wilson — now known as mcnair — sent me a copy of this book. i think it’s the only book other than the bible that i’ve read four or five times, all the way through. and i wish every book i would ever read would be like this one: full of amazing stories that act as perfect metaphors for concepts and ideas. in this case, the concepts and ideas are about maintaining your creativity when you’re part of an organization with red-tape and bureaucracy and constricting systems. the metaphor of the title is brilliant in-and-of itself: don’t get caught in the hairball, but don’t shoot off on your own trajectory. maintain orbit, staying connected to the hairball, and exerting your own gravitational pull. a freakin’ brilliant and wonderfully weird book, if there ever was one.

for the third meeting:
Teen 2.0, by Robert Epstein
i don’t know that i can think of another book — any other book — that i’ve ever read that has both shaped my thinking about adolescence, parenting, and youth ministry, while regularly pissing me off or driving me nuts. and, as about 70 people in my YMCP program have slogged through this long-winded but gripping diatribe, i could count on one hand those who wished they hadn’t bothered. you’d never know it by looking at him, but epstein is a freakin’ wild man, a voice in the desert, a logician and scientist who’s still very willing to use hyperbole and exaggeration. really, i’m not sure how else to describe this book (at it’s core, btw, it’s a description of how the “false” construct of adolescence came to be present and assumed as an unshakable non-negotiable). annoying? yup. longer than it needs to be? you bet. enlightening and perspective-altering? yeah, absolutely.

for the fourth meeting:
either Let My People Go Surfing, by Yvon Chouinard, or Delivering Happiness (not the comic book version, by the way!), by Tony Hsieh
one of the central themes of my coaching program is the importance of values. i’ve blogged about this a bunch (here’s an example of that), so i won’t harp on it here. but we work on and talk about values quite a bit in YMCP. after the meeting where each partipant spends time crafting a first pass at their own personal vocational values, i have them read one of these two books (they can pick, or read both). both are amazing case studies of leaders who lead their organizations primarily by ruthlessly bringing alignment (and re-alignment) to the organization’s values. they lost revenue because they cared more about the values. the made tough choices. they messed (both admit where they got it wrong, and where they were tempted to compromise on their values). after reading these books, we talk about what it cost them to embrace their values, and what they gained. then we bring that around to our own contexts.

for the fifth meeting:
A Beautiful Mess: What’s Right About Youth Ministry, by the prince of Saturn
i added my new book to my cohorts this past year because it felt like a nice book-end to the opening of Youth Ministry 3.0 (like i said, it clarifies some things, and emphasizes some things that were barely mentioned in YM3.0). but while participants are reading it, i ask them to be ready for these discussion questions:

  • What theology is explored here? How do you resonate or react to it?
  • Where are you most encouraged by what’s happening in your youth ministry? What does that reveal about God?

i also keep almost adding Almost Christian, by Kenda Dean, into the mix (probably replacing one of the current books). i haven’t added it in the past, because i’ve normally assumed most youth workers have already read it. but i keep finding that only about 25% of my participants have read it, and it really is — in my opinion — the single most important youth ministry book in the last 5 years (though it’s a very challenging read). each cohort ends up talking about it in roundabout ways, as i reference it so often; and most of my participants added it to their own self-assigned homework at one point or another.

Question: i’ve been toying with the idea (because multiple people have asked for it) of beta-testing a virtual cohort of the youth ministry coaching program. i’m a bit hesitant, because i think a massive, irreplaceable aspect of the value of the program is that we meet, face-to-face, for two days, every other month. that face time fosters the formation of a safe little tribe. each cohort grows to love one another and depend on each other for growth and support and accountability. and that just can’t be the same with a virtual cohort.

however, i know that there are just people who either cannot or will not find a way to pay the $3000 for participation in the full program. so… i’m wondering: if i beta-tested a virtual cohort (we’d probably meet one day/month, for about 4 hours, in a G+ hang-out), would you be interested? we could still cover some of the same ground; and it would be substantially cheaper, of course (though i don’t yet know what that means). anyhow: comment below, or shoot me an email ([email protected]) if you’re interested in exploring being a part of this beta-test. if i get 6 to 10 peeps, i’ll probably give it a whirl.

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?

three helpful epstein tests

i’ve mentioned dr. robert epstein‘s book, teen 2.0 on this blog a few times. it continues to shape my thinking (and, i can tell, the thinking of those in the one of my youth ministry coaching program cohorts that read the book).

i’d been aware of a couple of dr. epstein’s simple, online diagnostic tests. but i finally looked at them in more detail the other day, after he emailed me to tell me about his newest online test.

first, the ones i’d already been aware of:

how adult are you?
this test is based on the competencies of adulthood that epstein developed in conjunction with writing teen 2.0 (and it’s earlier version, the case against adolescence). not only is it interesting to take (i was VERY relieved to score 96%, btw!), the results show the categories that epstein describes as the primary competencies of adulthood.

and, there are a couple things worth mentioning here:
first, epstein found that, when he administered this test to a sizeable group of mid- and older teens, as well as a sizeable group of adults, there was no statistically significant difference between the groups. what that reveals, or at least suggests, is that older teenagers (say, 16 – 20 year-olds) have the capacity for living as adults. capacity is an important word there — because, as the book unpacks, and all of us youth workers are observing, teenagers and young adults are postponing adulthood longer and longer.

how infantalized are you?
this second test measures teen and young adult infantilization, or, to what extent they are treated as children, rather than aspiring adults. it didn’t make sense to take this one myself; but i’d be very interested to have a group of high schoolers (and even moreso, young adults) from my church take the test.

epstein’s newest online tool is based on what he’s now considering a “disorder” (of sorts):
extended childhood disorder
this would be interesting to use with young adults who seem stuck in extended adolescence, and would be good to use as a 3rd set part along with the other two.

all very useful, i think, for our youth ministry contexts.

btw: ys booked epstein to speak in a ‘big room’ at next fall’s national youth workers convention in san diego. should be very interesting!

confronting adolescence: thoughts from a meeting with robert epstein (part 1)

yesterday, one of my youth ministry coaching program cohorts had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with dr. robert epstein for 90 minutes. epstein graciously welcomed us into his home, served us iced tea and cookies, and engaged with us is a pot-stirring exploration of ideas. for an academic with such polarizing (and, some would say, extreme) ideas, we were pleasantly surprised by his warmth, humor and listening ability. we knew we’d enjoy his thought processes, which we did.

for those who don’t recognize the name: epstein has been a fly in the ointment of adolescent sound-bite propogandists for the last few years. particularly in light of the “new brain research” on adolescents, revealing a host of implications, epstein has consistently been the lone voice crying out as the antagonist: no, you’re drawing wrong conclusions from the adolescent brain scans. you’re assuming causality when there is no indication of causality.

epstein put his exhaustive study (and strong opinions) into a book released as the case against adolescence, then re-released a few years later (just recently) as teen 2.0. i’ve blogged about it a couple times here already, but most recently here (mini book review here).

when our group got back to our meeting place after our time with epstein (and a lunch stop that had a side-by-side in-n-out burger and chick-fil-a; possibly the 7th level of heaven when it comes to fast food — yes, a few of us ate at both), we debriefed our time, and created a list of the things that stuck out to each of us the most, or the things that would have implications for our thinking and practice of both youth ministry and parenting. here’s that list, in short-hand. in the days and weeks to come, i’m planning on writing posts about some of these, expanding and reflecting…

— our culture is awash in negative messages about youth. when we hear them enough, we believe them; but they’re not true, and are often driven by pr from drug companies who benefit from these views of adolescents. be hyper-aware of those messages; look for them. and be highly skeptical of what you hear. understand that they are a prejudice (comparisons to 1800s thinking about women and blacks, based on wrong assumptions about their brains).

— parenting needs to shift from a position of “control” to one of “facilitation”. facilitation = look for and encourage competencies. this has enormous implications for youth ministry.

— there are very few age restrictions in the OT, none in the NT. we need churches to return to a biblical concept of adolescence.

— what can we do? create “local culture” (micro-culture) in your home or youth ministry. repeat often that what teens experience ‘out there’ is not right, it’s broken. help teens understand that they do not have to live like the system says they have to live. (this fits in so nicely with the ideas i wrote about in youth ministry 3.0)

— “repetition is the mother of wisdom”

mini book reviews, part 2 (of 2)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith
5 stars

what a romp! grahame-smith (also the author of the similarly-genred pride and prejudice and zombies, which he “co-authored” with jane austen!), constructs a fantastical tale, from the fictitious journals of old abe himself, of the entire life of our 16th president. the true parts, the historic stuff, is based in fact. but this story adds the secret life of lincoln, as one of america’s best vampire hunters. his passion for killing vampires (born out of his own mother’s death at the hand — or drops of blood, as it were) becomes the driving force behind most of abe’s public life, including his presidency and his passion for abolishing slavery (which he hates at face value, for the reasons we would all know, but also because he comes to understand that slavery is supported by a nasty network of vampires and slave traders, for their own feeding purposes). no question, this book is dark! but i got a total kick out of reading it.

Wonder Boys: A Novel, by Michael Chabon
3.5 stars

on a recent trip to guatemala, i finished another book too quickly, and realized i couldn’t stomach the long flights home without a book. so i found my way to a large bookstore that had a few shelves of english titles. this book caught my eye, since i’d read chabon’s the yiddish policeman’s union, and knew he won the pulitzer prize for the amazing adventures if kavelier and clay (which i still need to read, at some point). wonder boys is about a pot-smoking, burned out professor/fiction writer (with some moderate success in his past), who can’t seem to finish his current novel (currently at 2600 pages, and only about 40% through his intended storyline). the lead character takes a young, conflicted writing student under his battered and malfunctioning wing, simultaneously corrupting him and promoting him to his first book deal. the whole thing takes place in a couple days, and is a snapshot of a guy who makes continual bad choices and doesn’t have the stones to own up to them; that is, until the partially-redemptive ending, where there’s at least a hint of phoenix-like resolve emerging from the complete pile of ashes he’s made of his life). a bit depressing, to be sure, but still well-written.

Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence, by Robert Epstein
5 stars

more than any other single book i have read in the past decade, this book has rocked my thinking about youth and youth ministry. epstein’s contention — extremely well documented — that we “infantilize” teenagers, keeping them in a protracted form of childhood, resonated with me (not that it sits easily, though, or is simple in any way). he claims (and, again, documents) that adolescence as we know it in the states (and, increasingly, in cultures impacted by american adolescent culture and the systems that exist to perpetuate it), does not exist in many, if not most, cultures around the world. we have invented it, and we are lengthening it, keeping teenagers (and now young adults) from living into the adult world that most of them possess the competencies for. the stereotypical brooding, emotionally-volatile, irresponsible, short-sighted teenager is a creation of our own invention. this book will call for a longer post or two from me, i think, than i have space for here. but i’ll say this: if i’ve ever said another book was a must-read for parents and youth workers, ignore that, until you have read this book. i’m already thinking, almost daily, about the implications for my own home (with two teenagers), my small group of 7th grade guys, and the many arenas i have for speaking to and (occasionally) influencing the thinking and practice of youth workers.

the myth of adolescence

adam mclane stirred some interesting discussion with his blog post on the ys blog the other day, called “is adolescence a myth?” he highlights the perspective of robert epstein, who has been, for a few years, making the case that adolescence is not real (or, at least it wasn’t, until we created it).

a bit from adam’s post:

Youth ministry is built upon the assumption that there is such a thing as adolescence.

But one Psychologist, former Psychology Today editor Robert Epstein, is questioning this basic assumption that the teenage years are a time of turmoil where a person figures out who they are as an individual. His theory is that adolescents aren’t that different from adults after all, we just don’t expect them to exhibit adult competencies.

then he links to this u.s. news & world report interview with epstein.

i also notice that epstein has a new book out (called teen 2.0). at 500 pages, it’s even longer than epstein’s first book on this subject, the case against adolescence (450 pages), which is part of why that book has sat on my shelf for more than two years without being read.

all that said, i’ve come to believe that the long-winded dr. epstein has a point. i don’t think we should pendulum swing. but i think he raises some extremely good points that have slowly infiltrated their way into my thinking in the last couple years.

here’s my 2 cents (my comment on adam’s post):

i’ve been stewing on epstein’s contentions for a couple years now, since i first saw his articles and quotes (first in response to jay geidd’s discoveries about adolescent brain development, most clearly reported in barbara strauch’s book, the primal teen). at first, i was angry. after all, i’ve spent my adult life pouring into this age group. and, as an adolescent development buff, have always viewed adolescence as a distinct life phase.

but, over time, epstein’s thrust has found some resonance in my thinking. i’m not ready to chuck adolescence as a unique life stage; but i have started viewing it (and talking about it) as a cultural construct, rather than merely a physio/psychological phase. it’s a chicken-and-egg question, really. i DO think we (our culture) “created” adolescence, in a sense (though there are god-design aspects built in also). but even if it is a social or cultural construct, it’s still the reality that our real life teenagers are living in! epstein’s stuff has implications, to be sure; and i really need to get around to reading his massive book that has been sitting on my shelf for almost 2 years (The Case Against Adolescence). but i also want to live out my youth ministry calling by doing ministry WITHIN the culture i and teens live in.

an important quote from Epstein’s book, fwiw:
“…Until about a century ago… adolescence as we know it barely existed. Through most of human history, young people were integrated into adult society early on, but beginning in the late 1800s, new laws and cultural practices began to isolate teens from adults, imposing on them an increasingly large set of restrictions and artificially extending childhood well past puberty. New research suggests that teens today are subjected to more than ten times as many restrictions as are most adults, and adulthood is delayed until well into the twenties or thirties. It’s likely that the turmoil we see among teens is an unintended result of the artificial extension of childhood.”

this is important stuff for youth workers and parents. what are your thoughts?