Tag Archives: youth worker development

What Would I Do Differently If I Started in Youth Ministry All Over Again

my newest column for Youthwork Magazine (UK) is now in print. hope this stirs your thinking. what would you do differently??

Recently I was interviewing someone for a ministry position while noshing on a fantastic Monte Cristo sandwich. We had a great conversation about life and ministry; but it was one-sided: I was asking the questions and he was responding.

But at the end of our time, the other guy asked if he could pose a question to me. Then he asked, “If you could go back and start in youth ministry again, what would you do differently?”

Before diving into this, I should probably make it clear that “going back” wouldn’t merely be a year or two. I’m 53 years old, and have been actively involved in youth work since I was 18. For the mathematically challenged, that’s 35 years. It takes imagination for me to remember anything from 35 years ago that I haven’t recently seen in a photograph (and, yes, we had color photographs back then).

I thought for a minute while chewing on a tasty bite of that sandwich made of French toast, ham, Swiss cheese, and raspberry sauce (props to the semi-crazy chef who thought of that!).

First, I acknowledged the easy stuff: I was an immature punk, overly confident on my natural gifting and under-reliant on Jesus. With that framing, I would make changes to significantly shift the focus off of me.

More easy stuff: 35 years ago was a different era. I did what almost everyone else did at the time—focusing too much attention on hype and events and entertaining teenagers. So, sure, I would change that. But so would most others.

Then it dawned on me, what I would really change if I could go back 35 years and start over in youth work: I would change me, my values, my priorities.

I’ve come to see something that many others have articulated in other spaces: The quality of ministry is first-and-foremost dependent on God. But next to that truth is the reality that the quality of the ministry is integrally linked to the inner life of the leader (or leaders).

With that in mind, here’s what I would do differently: I would actively and intentionally develop two parallel tracks for growth.

The Spiritual Vibrancy Track

Over and over again, I’ve seen good (but not great) ministries lead by youth workers with massive skill sets and a lack of personal spiritual vitality. And over and over again, I’ve seen amazing ministries helmed by leaders with B-level skills sets, but an interior life that is overflowing from a growing intimacy with Jesus.

If I could start again, I would pursue spiritual vitality over skill development. I would retreat and pray and seek mentors and read books and schedule down time all to the end of Jesus overflowing from my life all over every aspect of my ministry.

The Leadership Growth Track

In the coaching work I do with youth workers, I regularly get a glimpse into the reasonable ways one might separate good youth workers from great youth workers. I could parse that many ways, I’m sure. But I find that more often than not, the differentiation boils down to self-knowledge and the ruthless pursuit of growth.

Simply put: you can become a great leader by growing in self-knowledge and pursuing growth in a host of leadership character traits. Conversely, a great leader won’t stay a great leader if they’re coasting, if they’re decreasing in honesty, if they’re lazy about growth. After all, the most important aspect of leadership isn’t leading others, it’s leading yourself. And you’ll suck at self-leadership if you don’t know yourself, if you’re not honest with yourself.

If I could start again, I would put bring others around me to help me grow in self-knowledge. Then I would chart an intentional course of growth – in character, first; then in understanding about how leadership works.

Honestly, I have zero desire to go back 35 years and start again. Instead, my challenge (to myself, and to you) is to put these values, these practices, in place now so that in 35 more years, I can look back in celebration about all that God has accomplished!



announcing the 2012 plans for the Youth Ministry Coaching Program

over two years ago, when i was trying to figure out what to do with my post-ys life, one thing was pulling at me more than anything else: starting a coaching program for youth workers, built on what i had learned about myself in the coaching program i had been through with dr. john townsend. so, in early 2010, i launched the beta group of the youth ministry coaching program, with 9 youth workers in san diego (who traveled to our meetings from 5 different states). very quickly, i could see that i was really onto something: a whole-life coaching program rooted in personal and professional growth, wholeness, and leadership. a safe community where honesty was prized. accountability and customization, providing what each person needed for practical growth.

six months later, i started a second cohort with 10 youth workers, meeting in nashville (that group is having a reunion late next week, with all 10 attending, from 9 states). i’ve discovered much about myself in the process of leading these groups, including the reality that i love this more than anything else i do. i feel like i was made for this.

this year, i’ve been running four more cohorts of 10 people each, in san diego, nashville, winston-salem, and san antonio, plus a modified cohort for some of the staff of a church in detroit. here’s what some of them are saying:

Emily Capes, Pensacola First UMC (Pensacola, FL)
I am so thankful to have been invited to join such an incredible group of people that make up our YMCP. Marko is so intentional to hear and be present to each one of us but also allows us to listen, challenge and encourage each other. Every time I head home after a few days together I am overwhelmed with what a gift we all have in each other. It is rare to sit with men and women in the ministry who are willing to be so vulnerable so quickly. I wish everyone had the chance to be a part of YMCP – to know what it is like to be heard, valued and allowed to sit as part of our incredible Body of Christ in such a beautiful way.

Christopher Freeman, Ward EPC (Northville, MI)
Mark has a profound depth of intuition when it comes to understanding both a person’s strengths and weakness…it is an unmistakable gift of his. Every time I have been with Mark he has used this gift to bring the best out of me, and in such unexpected ways. I am not exaggerating here when I say that I would NOT be leading with the confidence I currently have had it not been for the insights and tools offered to me by my times with Mark.

Rocky Supinger, Claremont Pres (Claremont, CA)
There’s really no way to overstate the value of the YMCP. The interaction with a cohort of dedicated and creative youth ministry leaders is invaluable, and the one-on-one coaching and spiritual direction grounds the learning in practices and actions. It’s the most valuable youth ministry development opportunity I’ve ever had.

Mikey Pitts, Bay Pres (Bay Village, OH)
I was searching the youth ministry job boards and on the verge of resigning my church. My wife and I had already begun punching the numbers for a season of transition. When my church agreed to support my cohort participation, we felt it was God giving us a chance to step back and breathe. The cohort for me has been invaluable and life changing. It has been a year of sanctuary, presence, growth, clarity, and learning sustainability. For once in my ministry career there are people more concerned about my health and my growth then the ministry I am leading. It was a cohort of people like me who understood me. They were looking for the same things I was looking for and on the same path to be figure out what it meant to be the sustainable youth workers God called us to be. Once I was able to step back and heal, I figured out that my church wanted the same thing for me.

this year — 2012 — i hope to launch a handful of new cohorts, starting in august, september, or october. i’ll be leading two on my own. and i’ll partner with a few very carefully chosen co-leaders for a few more. depending on what fills up, the plan includes:

  • san diego
  • nashville
  • atlanta (which i’ll co-lead with paul martin)
  • greenwich, CT/NYC (which i’ll co-lead with brock morgan)
  • vancouver/calgary (which i’ll co-lead with matt wilks — this cohort will meet 3x in each city)

each cohort meets six times over the span of a year for 2-day meetings, filled with rich discussions, problem solving, personal sharing, one-on-one coaching, spiritual direction, and other components. you can download a PDF of a more detailed program overview here.

the cost for the two i’m leading on my own is $3000; and for the ones i’m co-leading (where i’ll be at 2 of the 6 meetings), the cost is $2250. i realize this is a steep hurdle for some; but i can honestly tell you that every single one of the 59 past and current participants would tell you it worth every penny.

a few more unedited quotes from current participants:

Shawn Kiger, Lane Memorial UMC (Alta Vista, VA)
The YMCP has been the best and most helpful professional development I have experienced in my 14 years of youth ministry. The love and support I have received not only from Marko but all the other members of the cohort have helped me to not only be a better youth minister but also a better husband, father, and Christian. I have recommended this program to every youth minister I know!

Kimberly Clarke, St. Matthews UMC (Greensboro, NC)
I was hesitant to join this cohort because I felt it would overlap with my master’s program in youth ministry. In actuality, it has turned out to be the perfect compliment! This cohort has encouraged me to reevaluate and improve my whole health–spiritual, physical and emotional–so that I can best minister to others. Marko’s wit is deceptive and masks a truly sharp mind. He is quickly able to hone in on the root issues, offer you the opportunity to make tough choices about self and ministry and guide you to resolution. Being able to bond and share with my cohort members is icing on the cake. Truly a God send.

Jonathan Odom, Beavercreek Nazarene (Beavercreek, OH)
When it comes to professional development, there are many options from which to choose. However, if your experience in the Youth Ministry Coaching Program is anything like mine, there’s no debate. YMCP is truly great because it isn’t solely about professional development. It focuses on whole-life transformation that will help you develop professionally, but more than that, you will grow as a Christ-follower. If you believe that value-driven, whole-life formation is the most valuable commodity you have to offer your ministry, then YMCP is for you.

Jesse Oakes, Lake Avenue Church (Pasadena, CA)
After nearly a decade of service and training in the church, parachurch, and seminary, YMCP is easily the most formative personal development program I’ve ever experienced. The chance to grow as an individual in community is wonderful. The return on investment makes YMCP a bargain.

i’ll be taking applications and filling spaces on a first-come, first-served basis, starting immediately. if you have any questions at all, please email me ([email protected]).