The mess we’re in and the culpability of youth specialties

not too long ago, a blog commenter emailed me and wrote that he noticed i regularly hint at or outright rant about the state of youth ministry: particularly, our wrong-minded obsession with field-of-dreams attractional ministry (“if you build it, they will come.”). he politely asked if youth specialties senses any culpability in this, and, if so, if that has ever been said. i responded that i think i’ve regularly said on this blog that ys shares part of the responsibility for this, and i’ve said it in seminars at the national youth workers convention also.

but i’ve been stewing on this for a couple months. and I think it deserves to be said more clearly.

while youth specialties certainly isn’t solely responsible, i think it’s very fair to say we should bear the brunt of the blame. yes, youth specialties is primarily responsible for promoting – for decades – a model of youth ministry, built on a set of assumptions (mostly unstated), that elevated programming as the best path to successful youth ministry. and for this – i will speak for us, organizationally – we are sorry.

we may have said that other things – like relationships and service and the Bible and Jesus – are more important than programming. but i think we modeled something different. we did this naively and unknowingly, and – this may be the biggest admission – we did this without realizing the implications of the values were promoting. or, maybe we didn’t want to think about the implications.

some might say i have no reason to make this admission, or accept culpability, since i wasn’t around ys in those days. but that would be a cop out on my part. and, if i’m honest, i would have done the same thing if i’d been in leadership of ys in those days. saying i’m not responsible is like white people saying we never owned slaves – it doesn’t change what was or is, it only gives us the impression we’re off the hook.

the entire world of youth ministry (and church ministry in general) has changed, of course, in the past 30+ years. in some ways, i think we’ve grown up (in a good way). and in some ways, i think the church is in a deeper pile o’ mess than we’ve been in throughout the past 100 years. 30+ years ago we were merely blissfully wrong about some things. now, i think much of the church, and much of the youth ministry world, lives in active denial. i’ll take blissfully unaware over active denial any day.

youth specialties is trying to change. and i think we have – dramatically – in the past dozen years. but it would be a wimpy, spineless move to realize change (at least in our message) and, simultaneously, revise history to pretend that we’ve always been about the things we’re about these days (things like valuing small and slow and quiet, caring deeply about the soul-condition of youth workers because we believe good youth ministry flows out of our soul-condition, embracing humility and passion as more important than power or size).

i’m hopeful, however. it’s oddly paradoxical, i realize, for me to say i’m hopeful a few paragraphs after i say i think the church is in active denial. i guess i’m hopeful because i see such great stirrings of change, such wonderful experimentation, and such massive shifts in values. i’m thinking that maybe the ‘active denial’ is – maybe? – an essential piece of the change process, just as it is in the cycle of grieving.

this admission said, i’m heading forward, and i know so many youth workers who are in the same place, facing the same way, with the same hopeful posture. and our numbers are growing by the day (ha! Is that the numbers monster re-surfacing again?). i can’t wait to see what youth ministry looks like in 30+ more years. i wonder what we’ll be apologizing for then.

64 thoughts on “The mess we’re in and the culpability of youth specialties”

  1. There a moment in the ritual of confession in liturgical traditions that chokes me up every time. A human being, vested in the tradition & agency of a priest, says these words to another human being after they share their confession:

    God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son
    has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us
    for the forgiveness of sins;
    Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace,
    and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

    The priest then says:

    Pray for me, a sinner also.

    Pray for me, Marko – for all the time invested in program & process, distracting me from the real life of following Jesus and living as a friend of God.

  2. Excellent response Bob to a great post Marko.
    Pray for me a sinner also.

    Interesting that I wrote a sermon I thought I was going to use yesterday (and then was told I wasn’t going to preach. Sigh.) basically on the same subject. I’m going to post it tomorrow.

  3. Marko, my wife and I attended the cincy convention. We walked away feeling that through the seminars, speaking with others, and general sessions, that most people were pretty unhappy with where youth ministry is and that there is a lot wrong with youth minstry currently. However, we never heard anyone give any ideas on how to change into an effective youth ministry,even what an effective youth ministry would look like, or what needs to change. We left feeling that youth ministry in most churches seems to be ineffective and no one really knows why. Not just ys, but every youth pastors thing I’ve been to in the past 2 years. Any ideas on specifically what youth pastors need to be doing to be more effective?

  4. Marko, one of the things that gives me so mcuh hope for our field is that people like you who are up in the front of it are willing to be so open about things like this. Thanks!

  5. We need to ask new questions.
    Instead of asking “how can I be successful in my ministry” or “how can I make my church grow” we need to ask God “What are you doing and how can I cooperate with you”. We’ve bought into a worldly model of success and it’s lifeless. If we could hear God perfectly and then turn around and obey him perfectly… and as a result our church/ministry gets 40% SMALLER, is that success? Yes, I think it is. Thanks for your honesty.

  6. Gosh…where to start? This is a fantastic subject with issues that can’t really be answered on a blog, but I like that the issues are at least being raised. a few thoughts:

    – I don’t think youth ministry is completely broken or that we’re in a major mess. Sure, things have changed and we may not have kept pace like we could have, but I’m not ready to concede that all is lost.

    – Joey, I’m saddened that the overall tone by youth leaders is a sense of despair. As a side note, and I’m sure I’ll get slammed for this one, I think it’s important to remember that a whole lot of the doomsday speakers and writers are highly educated, philosophical minds who haven’t done youth ministry in a long time. Youth workers who are in it every day see a ton of problems, but also see a whole lot to be optimistic about.

    – It’s interesting to me that on one hand publishing companies and organizations that put on conventions seem to be beating the ‘something must change because it’s all broken’ drum the loudest yet on the other hand still use a ‘build it and they will come’ model for their conferences. When I walk into a general session of just about any youth ministry conference, it’s a great big eye-candy show…despite what’s being said in workshops and side conversations about the fact that the model no longer works for ministry. I don’t get it. If we truly believe things are broken, why aren’t the biggest gatherings of our peers eliminating the very things we say have broken youth ministry?

    – Finally, I don’t think the above statement is a challenge to YS, Group, Simply, and others as much as it is a defense. The reason these companies still produce resources and conferences that reflect this model (with a few subtle changes) may be because it still attracts an audience. Youthworkers must not be too sick of the model, or feel that it’s ineffective, because they still show up.

    -Finally, I post on my blog and comment on others as a way of ‘thinking out loud’. These are just my most recent thoughts…not my final analysis on the subject. Like I said at the beginning, I’m just glad we’re talking!

    End of book.

  7. Marko– very well said! Out of youth ministry– but still doing the speaking thing and such– and you know what? Lots of programs baby! Big, happening– like dry bones man! Yet, here I sit wanting to be part of the movement– I’m too friggen old and you are too out there go figure– adversity brings huge change– I like many am tired of the verbage and the list that makes things all smell the same, look the same and “smell” the same. keep, keepin on!
    Seth sent me your deal.

  8. kj — i don’t think i ever said, or ever have said, that everything is wrong. or that everything is broken. and you certainly know that i am anything but a doomsday sayer. i think there are wonderful things happening in youth ministry all over the place. in fact, there are wonderful things happening in youth ministry in churches that have horrible assumptions about what constitutes good youth ministry.

    and, sure, we have programs and programming. programs are essential. but they’re not the goal. our neat stage at the ys convention isn’t the goal, or what we expect will actually make a difference in peoples’ lives. we know that people come to our events (or at least return to our events) because they were encouraged, not because they saw a neat show. i’m still happy to have a neat show, but, thankfully, it’s not the goal.

  9. i definitely agree that the program centered approach needs to change some. but i’m also thankful that God works through us even though we (and our ministries) are far from perfect.

    that is an encouragement to me, as i keep striving to use my talents and gifts to be used by God as effetively as i can. as i seek (with God) to make our youth ministry better, i know that God will use my mistakes as well as my sucesses.

  10. Marco – thx for sharing your heart and your willingness to say sorry.

    We have and are learning from our mistakes. I believe that what is next is by far more important than how we do it. But we need to have an idea of what is next. I propose that next is to change from “programming” to “life-on-life.” I know that this is way too simple of terms but it is, I hope, a start. If kids have a chance to see in the relationships they have with others (volunteers, pastors, teachers, peers, etc) God working growth happens. We become instruments in God’s hands to help kid’s grow in their relationship with God. Jesus came to this earth not to condemn but through Him save us (Jn 3:17). He did that by modeling for all of us healthy perfect relationships.

  11. Mark Eades, your comment:

    we need to have an idea of what is next

    really struck home with me.

    I’ve spent almost 25 years as an adult in the Western church – about that much time in the corporate world, specifically marketing & tech. Both worlds – Western churchianity & the corporate world – thrive on what I often see as a myth of modernity – something’s next. We all seem to wander about with a divining rod, looking for what the new new thing is.

    I am fascinated by the opening of the Didache (??????, Koine Greek for “Teaching”) – There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways. As friends of God, how to we unite on the way of life.

  12. *** hit submit accidentally ***

    What is it’s not about what’s next, but what’s our story, what’s here, what’s lost – where is G_d calling us. I can not imagine it is a new “program” or “operating system”, that has a SKU and can be sold. Instead, I can imagine the beloved community connecting with hunger that people – all people, no matter the age – have to live & find meaning.

  13. It’s interesting that you would post on this today. One of my best friends and I have been having this same conversation for the last couple of weeks in regards to programming and discipleship. One of the toughest things to get people to understand(myself included) is that discipleship can’t be taught in a one hour a week program. It is a lifestyle. It is a daily following of Christ. The thing that the both of us have struggled with is how to move from the programming type fo ministry to a more relational based ministry. I look forward to reading more about this subject.

  14. bob c – thx and I see what you mean. The “next” idea seems to always be what we are asking. That is almost what I belive causes us to “program.” What is the next best thing? How can this next thing impact our group? The next time let’s do this…

    I agree with you. Another “next” program isn’t what any of us need. But I do believe the idea that God is calling us to keep moving – towards Him. And we are called to do this with the kids. I think it happens through relationships, through life-on-life. I knew my thoughts were too simplistic but they are a start – again thx.

  15. Mark,

    Im curious….do you see the problems and issues in youth ministry as a microcosm for the church in general, or do you see them as totally different issues?

  16. Marko,
    Remember, I’m just thinking out loud. Not trying to draw definitive conclusions…

    I know firsthand that you aren’t a doomsday sayer. That comment as well as my ‘not everything is totally broken’ remark was more of a generic reference to Joey’s observation that most of what he’s hearing at training events is giving that impression, which makes me sad.

    I agree with your assesment of why conferences run the way they do which was basically the point of my comment. YS and other organizations program that way because it is a healthy balance of ‘show’ plus encouragement with the later being the ultimate goal, which is attractive and effective.

    I guess what I find myself pondering is this: If that formula works well at events created for those of us who lead youth ministries, why does it seem like we’re pushing against it so hard in the ministries we lead?

    Again, it wasn’t an attack on YS, Group, PDYM, Simply or other conferences but more of a defense saying: They do it because it works. So are organizations like YS culpable in the mess? Partly, but certainly no more so than youthworkers themselves.

    My super simplistic, overly optimistic viewpoint: There are lots of ways to minister to students…always have been and always will be. As long as churches continue to look for ways to connect caring adults with the teenagers in their community good things will continue to happen.

    An additional thought on ‘The Mess We Are In’:
    Of course we find ourselves in a mess. Church work has always been messy, and perhaps nobody within our walls, or outside of them, is more messy than teenagers. So I’m sure we do, in fact, find ourselves in a mess…but what a wonderful mess we are in!

  17. I think we basically have said: 1. Programs aren’t bad, but they shouldn’t be the center of our ministry. If we stopped programming tomorrow most of us would be without jobs. 2.Relationships are key with students and disciple making 3.Mentoring and discipleship as a way of life, not a program, is the way to go. Most youth ministries I know would check yes to all 3 of those things, invest in them and still see lots of good students, not just fringe, walk away after their senior year. Is there something outside of these 3 things that we must change? Core values, philsophy, etc. Any thoughts?

  18. joey, this sentence is a fairly significant assumption:

    If we stopped programming tomorrow most of us would be without jobs.

    To paraphrase an adage, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  19. But being without a Job …would that be such a bad thing? I think the challenge is relooking, rethinking, and striving for how the church both in its institutionalised state and beyond can improve to be that of which God calls it to be. I think there are some naysayers that think youth ministry is the end all to be all. Those that say only 4% (the lie) will be Christians and so forth. I think offering hope, and giving a realistic view of how things are going and both the realities and offering hope. That is one thing I do like about YS – is its honesty and vulnerability to strive to help serve youthworkers and the youth they love.

  20. Marko- Great thoughts. I think you are (or have been for a while) entering into a realization that the way we have done it needs to be transformed. Or, more to the point, we as youth pastors/workers need to be transformed. Many of (pointing the finger at myself) have gotten used to the way we do things and we like it because it allows us freedom. Having students “come to us” is freeing because it allows us to point the finger at them if they don’t want to come. Suddenly our ministry mentality is that if they don’t come it’s because they don’t care or they have other greater priorities. I have a number of friends who work for YWAM and I am always inspired by the way they raise support and hang out on skid row immersing themselves in the world of the homeless. Not safe…..but then again freeing.

  21. Jennifer – microcosm is a pretty big word (or small word) for a simply jr hi guy like myself. Thanks for reading my simple thoughts.

    I just think that if we are going to have an impact on kid’s life (and in any ones life) it has to happen in a way that they can actually see it and know it to be true. Life happens – and if a youth sees life happen in front of them and we are still following after Christ I think we are doing what we are called to do. If we do it on a retreat or our weekly youth time or if we just take a kid with us to go shopping for the family – let them see Christ in our regular lives. I hope this is of use to anyone.

  22. Question; you say:

    the entire world of youth ministry (and church ministry in general) has changed, of course, in the past 30+ years. in some ways, i think we’ve grown up (in a good way). and in some ways, i think the church is in a deeper pile o’ mess than we’ve been in throughout the past 100 years.

    Church ministry has been around for 2000 years, what made it so immature as of late that no we can grow up?

    This is an honest question, it’s interesting how we talk about churches now growing up. Does this mean they weren’t for 1970 years or did they immature at some point?

  23. For many of us old timers, YS gave us direction at a time when youth ministry was little more than babysitting teenagers. It is easy to look back now and say “we should have done…” But as was suggested above, the church and its ministries have been constantly evolving for over 2000 years, and those of us in youth ministry over the past 30 years have been part of the evolution. We learn. We grow. And we SHOULD change as those things happen. Thanks Marko, for keeping YS where it belongs- on the lead edge of ministry. Where ever that edge may be.

  24. Much like KJ I’m thinking out loud…

    I’m a new timer to youth ministry but an old timer at life (kinda) In the last two years that I’ve been to NYWC (cincy and nashville) I’ve come back refreshed and energized to continue on this journey that God called me to. Marko in Cincy you made the statement to set our “crap-o-meters on high” so along my journey I’ve prayerfully ( adjusted my crap-o-meter) considered what is necessary for “my” students to see Jesus more clearly and follow him more closely. For some of my students they need a solid program to help them in their walk for others they need a solid friend in their walk and still others a solid performance to help in their walk. All that to say that I’m not so certain that culpability can be assigned to Group, Simply, or YS that theres one right answer on what’s necessary for ministry to be effective.

    So with that I say “Thank you”…For faithfully serving us and trying to equip our ministries with better tools to keep fighting the good fight.

  25. Great post, Marko!

    I’m still a rookie in youth ministry and I certainly don’t know it all…not by a long shot. I’m going into my 4th year as a full time youth minister and I’m hoping that this year will be revolutionary…not only in my personal life, but in my ministry as well. I get discouraged when I realize just exactly what all of us youth ministers are competing against. When I was a student involved in youth ministry (mid-90’s), we didn’t have the overload of entertainment technology that we do now. No wonder students are UNENTERTAINED by our youth ministries…we can’t even compare to everything else out there!!! BUT, I’ve come to realize that my youth ministry will forever be ineffective if I seek to entertain. I’m not called to be an entertainer…I’m called to be a minister to students. My ministry goal for 2007 is that all of this entertainment crap will be left at the door. Sure, we will still have fun, but I’m hoping and believing that Jesus (yes, just Jesus) will be enough. Maybe I’m being ultra-simplistic, but it has worked before and I believe that it will work again.

    Thanks Marko for running a company that has always been fun and encouraging to me and my ministry.

  26. In reading through the above posts I’m struck by how often the word “effective” comes up. Someone wanted to ask when the church became immature. My answer is anytime it assumes that Christ and the dominant philosophy of the culture are the same thing. North American evangelicalism buys into the dominant culture of pragmatism, the drive for effectiveness, so much that we can’t imagine a future where it is not the main criteria for evaluation.

    Where Marko is maturing is that he recognizes, at least in my opinion of him, that YS started very pragmatically – what did it take to get a kid to convert? Now do it. – but has discerned that God does not call us to be effective. Of course YS is still a business and still functions within a world where pragmatism dominates and so it feels a tension. Like any organization which feels a tug in a new direction, YS makes compromises with its constituency. That is what makes them a leader from within rather than a lonely prophet. In Marko’s confession, I hear his acknowledgement that YS was captivated by culture but has now decided to move culture in a different direction. Count me in on that new direction.

  27. Blair I echo Marks sentiment.

    But another question: What other avenue do you suggest for evaluating ministry? If it’s not effectiveness (in spiritual growth terms) and it’s certainly not numbers what do you suggest that we should measure the quality of our ministries? I question your assertation that God does not call us to be effective.

  28. uh, thanks, mike. that could be taken many ways (romantically, affirmingly, oddly, sarcastically) when written as a little four-word comment on a blog, mike!

  29. Effective ministry – seems like an oxymoron to me. My favorite monk always reminds me that we follow someone who started with 12 guys, most of whom we would not allow near a church board. One of them betrayed him. He ended up with 11.

    How about thinking more about the vitality of ministry, the communal Christian practices and congregational vitality. While vital churches may be successful or may attract new members, I wish we spent more time looking at less traditional data indicating congregational health and wellness—such as spiritual depth, clear vision of congregational identity, a sense of connectedness to God and others, engagement with the world outside the church’s doors, a willingness to take risks and change, a disposition of learning and mentoring, and deepened awareness of the Christian story in relationship to life and work. How revolutionary would it be to see a community “measuring” congregational vitality through a set of thematic markers: coherence of practice, authenticity of practices, and transformation through practice.

  30. Great words of truth and thought for all of us who are ministers to students. We are forgiven sons and daughters of the Lord of heaven and earth! For that we should be very grateful we have been allowed to love and serve students, warts, zits, imperfections and all. I love the thoughts about Jesus and the 12. Thanks for the truth and for the accountability.

  31. I just entered youth ministry a month ago. That is right, I am fresh blood. Also, I grew up in the “if you build it; they will come” model. I have a 4-year degree from a Christian University, and we used most of YS’s material from which to study. I walked into my first youth ministry/student ministry job with 2 years of internship experience, one YS confrence, and several other “eye-catchers” on a resume, and I found out one thing:

    After all the talking about youth ministry (the philosophy, theology, pstchology, counseling, ministerial roles, and legal roles), I need some how to’s every now and then.

    Yes, I am called to this ministry. Yes, it is my passion and what fills me up. Yes, my heart jumps when one teen says that he read something in his Bible the other night that impacted him. Yes, I know this is where God wants me to be.

    But, I am clueless about most of the practical aspects of youth ministry. Again, I am not tooting anyone’s horn or preaching for marko’s job security. I need this resource/ministry of how to’s. Because it is easier to get overwhelmed by the hows than the whys. At least, that is my opinion.

  32. I was there in those early years and I am here now – we all bear the same responsibilities for the places we screwed up, and also for the countless lives we somehow touched in those over programmed years. Even those in youth ministry now who are completely at peace with their role, balancing spiritual depth, relationship and personal growth will still mess up, will still miss a student who needs us most, and will still wonder years later if any difference was made. It is a part of life, let alone a part of ministry, to grow as we experience both joys and failures. Church reform is slow, as is educational reform, and one thing I think YS should be lauded and applauded for is the fact you at least get us started on the conversation. One of the responses was from a couple who attended in Cincy and wondered if anything is being done about this state of discontent, and I have come to find rest in the knowledge that maybe, for such a time as this, our role is to wait as much as it is to fix. I don’t teach or lead the same way I did 10 years ago, and I certainly have to work harder to connect with students than ever before, and so as I wait for what God has in store for ministry down the road, I feel it is ok to revel in this time He has provided now, even if I don’t always feel successful or “finished”. I thank you guys for that – I do not feel alone in this – and hope that along with your confession you also sense a spirit of all that you have done very, very well. Peace, Karen

  33. I think that YS has done a pretty good job NOT promoting the attractional ministry approach; at least for the last 10 years (I can’t remember much past that…it’s all a blur). Really, in approaches recommended and resources offered, I think YS has been doing a good job. As Marko mentioned, the error may have been more in what was modelled than in what was said. I agree. I think another way the attractional model or a “bigger and better” approach has been learned through YS is by who they champion, who they put before us as speakers, etc. Although, I must admit that there has been more of a balance lately, and I appreciate that.

  34. Isn’t this kinda like saying the jews were responsible for Jesus’ death… when in reality we are all responsible? Perhaps God will redeem our mess of programs and bring good. I totaly respect your humility Marko.

  35. Marko: As a parent of a 13yr old son and 14 yr old daughter I have one comment on your statement:
    “we may have said that other things – like relationships and service and the Bible and Jesus – are more important than programming. but i think we modeled something different. we did this naively and unknowingly, and – this may be the biggest admission” Relationships is something I’ve noticed significantly in this generation of youth. Its detailed very well in Chap Clarks book, Hurt, which I’ve read and highlighted and and bookmarked significantly. Maybe its not so much how much the ministry approach has changed but how much the audience has changed in terms of what they (the youth) expect from their leaders, pastors, and parents; authenticity and true relationships as one leads one life with ones faith clearly in view.

  36. Wow, a great blog Marko and some interesting response to it from all over the place. Honesty is a tough thing, don’t know why cause it has worked out well for you here! I wonder though, what does that do for the books etc that YS have published? What does it do for everything that has been published in the field of youth ministry philosophy etc? Have a look at your earlier post about the top ten books that have impacted youth ministry, some of them really are attractional models of ministry… in fact much of what has been published and is popular among youth workers is a variation of this same theme. PDYM, Duffy Robbins, Tim Hawkins (if you have heard of him over there), certain aspects of ‘relational ministry’ is simply a new (or not so new now) attraction, even maybe Family based ministry Mark DeVries is another attractional method. It seems we can’t live without some sort of attraction. Much of the response is asking what do we move onto if move from the bigger is better atractional model?

    Perhaps we need to move on to the narrative of Jesus Chrisat… the Story as it is told in Genesis to Revelation. It’s the greatest attraction ever if we would just put it at the centre of our youth ministry and train ourselves to package it and repackage it in creative and interactive ways without compromising the narrative. Think about it… C.S. Lewis and Narnia, Tolkien with Lord ogf the rings and now also Jackson with the movie, Mel Gibson with ‘The Passion’ and recently the creators of ‘Nativity’ the movie, the creators of ‘Prince of Egypt’ the cartoon, are all repackaging, creatively, the same story or sections of it. I would suggest that this one of two key tasks opf a youth worker. And unless your attraction is based around that story it is a waste of time. Incidentally the way we live our lives is also a repa ckaging of the same story. (I may write some more about this on my Blog). Just gpot a phone call and I am late for a meeting I have to go to. (Another necesary evil)

  37. After attending 14 YS conventions and being in full time youth ministry for a little longer than that, I too have grown tired of the attractional model of ministry. And, after leaving the Cincinnati conference last fall my thoughts were,”this is the last YS convention for me.” Not that I’m no longer a YS fan; I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am for the support and encouragement through the years! My first thought was, “maybe I’m just getting too old.” (I’m 38) But even at the conference I was observing people of all ages seemingly underwhelmed by the bands, the lights, and craziness that really got me and others excited years ago. Sure there was still a little pack of people up by the stage during Jars of Clay; but from the back of the room you could see the vast majority sitting in their chairs and yawning. Maybe there are other people like me who are thinking, “I’ve done this before… and it’s been great! But what really has it changed?

    I asked the same question of my own ministry a few years ago. We had done the “traditional” youth ministry program with lots of students and adult staff. And we even had a “successful” small group ministry as well. But as long as the “big” thing was happening, that got the most attention, because it demanded the most. I realized a huge change was needed. Our youth group now meets in smaller (what I call Underground – and yes, it’s a term I used before YS had their Underground!) groups three weeks each month and then come together as one larger group for the fourth week of the month. These smaller groups are co-ed and would look very much like a “home church” (though I would think there are still some major differences). After two years of doing this, I have seen students grow so much in their faith. There is more opportunity for people (staff and students) to use their gifts and really get into each other’s lives. And students have been more comfortable inviting unsaved friends to this format as well.

    I fully endorse change a new ways to think through things (though I know nothing is ever really new).

  38. gosh, rick — i was “done” with the bands at the convention years ago (i’m 43, so maybe it was when i was your age!). but i don’t think i ever really went for that. i sure hope you can find all the other stuff we’ve added that’s NOT flashy, and skip what doesn’t work for you (like we always encourage everyone to do): prayer room, labyrinth, morning prayer, mid-day prayer, verspers, late night discussions and book groups, conversations at a coffee shop.

  39. Thanks for the honesty. Since my first YS event over 20 years ago I too believe we simply had it wrong. We need to move from SUCCESS to SIGNIFICANCE, from PIED PIPER to FATHER, and from PROGRAM to INCARNATION. BRAVO!

  40. I just have to agree with KJ…….(many posts above.) I have only been able to attend one YS convention (Charlotte – 02) as I am a volunteer…..called to minister to youth, without being a youth minister. The most meaningful part of that convention for me, is I think, an indicator or what today’s youth need. While the “show” was great, uplifting, energizing……what changed my life was the sense of belonging…..of being supported and, finally being understood and appreciated.

    Our youth can have the energy-fun-show- entertainment from a variety of places. We must provide them with genuine relationships with adults that will enter their lives with intentionality and a sense of responsibility. I have seen kids disillusioned by adults who “serve their time” and then don’t maintain the relationship. (if they created much of one in the first place) It is essential that we provide avenues to foster those relationships. We have to cultivate those leaders and explain our expectations clearly. How many Sunday School teachers will go to a ball game to watch “their” youth? How many “forget” them when they are promoted to the next grade, to focus on their “new’ students? It takes time to build trust….and a teenager will carry the hurtful experiences into their next interactions. I see this generation of teens as wounded and cautious. The expect to be judged, misunderstood, and mostly ignored by adults. (But they are so hungry for that connection)

    While this type of ministry will not be easily measured………it’s success will become evident as these students grow into the adults that invest into the lives of the next group. The youth ministers will have to be willing to share that position of “favored adult person” with others. And it has been my experience that YM’s are frequently control freaks! :) But this will be an opportunity for many to use their gifts, and for the YM to share the responsibility as well as the rewards of working with teenagers.

    YS—– you are awesome. I needed to know that I wasn’t the only “grownup” out here who thought teenagers were fascinating and fun. As you know, “normal” adults frequently don’t “get” youth ministry type people! If your only contribution was the encouragement of YP’s you would totally rock! But you have done and are doing so many worthwhile, important things. You are a blessing and I pray for your wisdom and direction in the future.

    L. Green

  41. I have been in YM for about eight years now. I have attended 3 YS conferences; I have loved each of them. I have never gone to a YS conference because of the bands; frankly as a black youth pastor there really isn’t all that much that appeals to me. However, I am going to attend the next one because I love the fact that I am surrounded by people who get me. People who understand who I am and what makes me “tick”. For me, that is what the NYWC is all about. I am surrounded by people who give it their all for youth because they have been convinced that that is what they were born to do.

    YM is all about trying what works. I know personally that within my YM , as is true in education, I have to appeal to multiple styles of learning. I am all for the model of youth ministry that has the flash but I also understand that there have to be small groups and discipleship programs as well. A motto for success in youth ministry that I have adopted is: “When they graduate college with their faith in tact then maybe they have gotten so far as it concerns a relationship with Christ.”

    In short, we can employ a myriad of styles, formats and techniques so long as remember that at the end of the day it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to woo them and sustain their walk; not ours or our programs.

    Oh yeah and Marko, I love you too! :-)

  42. Hey, I’ve been there with you for 25 of the past 30 years… This almost fits the political rhetoric of “if I knew then what I know now…” But oh how the youth culture has changed. I see that we need to properly balance the ministry that we do. There is a time to draw a crowd, and there is a time to sit down, 2 on 1 (since one-on-one is dangerous) look them in the eye and let them know that I care. Early on it seemed like kids just needed a place to go, someone already cared for them. Now, they need someone to care – and they certainly don’t lack for a place to go.

    Let’s not forget where we have come from, but rather, let’s change so that we can continue to meet their needs, (after all, isn’t this where the traditions of “the church” stood strong as the doors opened and the people walked away?).

    So, don’t apologize for what we didn’t know about the past, and let’s launch into a future that reaches out to the needs of kids and points them in the direction of Savior that loves them and in my opinion is ready to slide a whoopi cushion under them just to see ’em smile.


  43. I am a recovering YSer. I fell into the cult of adoring everything YS. Back in the day I bought it all– hook, line, and sinker. I tried to be cool. Problem is, I’m not. Never have been, never will be. I tried to be relevant. I tried to put on the show. Bigger, better, more incredible. I tried to do everything YS told me to do. I tried to do everything I learned in the conventions, read in the books, and saw on the videos. And I failed. Man was it awful. I did everything I thought I was supposed to do and nothing remains. Kids I worked with and “ministered to” using the programs and formulas I learned in Cincinnati and Dallas, at the Core in Little Rock, in the YS Journal I subscribed to every year I was in youth ministry, are no where to be seen. No change of life. No difference made. Ultimately no Jesus.

    I’m glad lots of folks go to the NYWC and feel that they “belong.” Not me. All it did was reinforce how terrible I was in youth ministry and how I was doing it all wrong.

    I thought I was a loser, failure, and pretty useless in the kingdom of God. And I really was. I quit youth ministry because I thought “I’m not like those awesome YS people. I just need to get out the way.” And so I did. I’m still in ministry, just not with kids. But for years now I have struggled with trying to get over my days when I was a YS believer.

    I appreciate your comments. They are for me… rehabilitating. Today, I don’t care about programing, I have quit trying to be cool, hip, relevant, up-to-date. I don’t try to relate. I just want to love Jesus and love people, young and old. I pray, read the Bible, and often times fail at doing what it says. And that works for me.

    The lesson I have learned is it is not about the “Jesus Junk” publishers are selling or the “Christian Crap” that promises to fix all the problems of the world in 12 easy steps or 40 glorious days or one little prayer prayed over and over again. It is about Jesus. Period. Love God, love people. That is ministry, for youth, adults and little green men from Mars.

    I guess you could say, like YS, I grew up, or rather am growing up, too.

    Please, don’t misunderstand me. I think there are a lot of wonderful people associated with YS who love Jesus and want to serve. Mike Yac’s books are still on my shelf and I pull them out every so often and read them and they minister to me deeply.

    But I left YS a long time ago. Sounds like YS is joining me on the outside.

  44. The last post breaks my heart and I’m not sure how to respond pastorally beyond wanting to take Youth Ministry Failure out for a beer to hear the full story. Dude, if you’re in Toronto then supper is on me.

    Someone asked what youth ministry that wasn’t measured in pragmatic terms might look like. Off the top of my head the words “counter-cultural” and “practices” jump to mind. This isn’t all that new. Christian Smith’s advocacy for reclaiming distinctive language and practices as an antidote to moralistic therapeutic deism would fall into this category. Maybe guys like Shane Claiborne and Tony (and Bart) Campolo with their experiments in alternative communities. When the church needed renewal and a pry bar away from culture in the past, the monastaries provided that force. Interesting that a “new” monasticism is on the rise now. I know that YS publishes him ( I don’t profit from shamelessly plugging him )but Shane Hipps asks some important questions about the role of media in our lives. He’s pretty accessible but academics like Romanowski and Twitchell have also asked quesitons of evangelicalism relationship with the dominant media of our time. Mark Yaconelli’s Contemplative Youth Ministry (another shameless YS plug that I don’t profit from) should turn your world upside down (at least it does mine). I’m a huge fan of Kenda Dean’s reclamation of a doctrine of atonement that isn’t simply substitutionary (although it is that) and her connection of the Passion of Christ to practices. You can’t buy the book yet but Andrew Root who teaches at Luther will change the way that we view “relational” youth ministry when it comes out. In short, practices which have inherent value and evaluatory criteria are the best antidote to pragmatism.

  45. “YM Failure”, bro I am giving you a virtual hug. Youth minisitry, strike that, ministry in general is all about Christ. We mere mortals can only present Christ and leave the results to Him and Holy Spirit. I learned a while back from my YM mentor, Frank Bishoff, that we can only do what we know to do and leave the results to Christ. Brother, (or Sister) we take on a burden when we aassume the role of Holy Spirit in the lives of our youth or any other person to whom we minister.

    Remember, “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” 1Thess. 5:24

    “YM Failure”, I love you!


  46. I don’t agree. Youth ministry is not broken. I’ve been in youth ministry since 1992. I’ve seen ebb and flow to it the whole time. My focus is always to touch the hearts and lives of kids. The first 10-12 of my youth ministry years were spent working within a more formal, church directed context. For the last 2-3 years, I’ve been doing it differently. My main method to reaching kids has been through coaching wrestling for the last two years. I’ve actually found this to be extremely effective.

    Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in having a youth ministry as part of my local assembly. B3ing under authortiy is crucially important for my own spiritual growth. But what I’ve found is that I reach a larger segment of the lost audience by being outside the walls of the church. Inside the church walls, it’s now more about discipleship and spiritual growth. Outside the church walls, it’s about the great commission, the outstretched arms of Jesus meeting needs, and the example of what a Christian looks like in “real life.”

    I think some of the current terminology would call this a “missional”. I don’t care about the label. All I care about is that I am reaching young people with the love of Jesus. Yes I can show that Jesus loves you by slapping a half nelson across your neck and feel good about how God is using me to touch lives.

    What I sense going on in youth mininstry at the moment is a realignment or a re-balancing. We have been too focused on number and programs. It’s the kids that count! When we star using this principle as our motivation, then I think the sun will shine again.

    Just the meandering thoughts of soon to be middle-aged youth leader for life.


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