we need some painful disruption in youth ministry

a couple weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me this quote in a google chat:

“The major advances in civilisation are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur”
(Alfred North Whitehead)

and, immediately, i started thinking of youth ministry.

and this is what came to mind: i don’t like pain. i avoid pain. but i really like change. in fact, two of the seven vocational core values i came up with for myself earlier this year when i was doing some reflection on where i’m headed were:

I want to change the world. I believe in my gut that I am invited into the ongoing restoration work of Christ in the world, and I want to actively participate in that Kingdom work.

Change is non-negotiable. Upheaval, starting new things, risk and failure are all necessary and good, both for the organization I’m a part of and for my own level of thriving.

sounds like a recipe for pain, doesn’t it? because, really, there’s no way to lean into change and upheaval without also heading into some pain.

i pray for, long for, dream of, and want to be an active part in youth ministry changing. i won’t go into long detail about what that looks like; but i will say that our continued isolation of teenagers, our culturally lame attempts to entertain them, our arrogance about how cool we are (please know i’m looking in the mirror on that one), our immaturity, and our ongoing fondling of bigger and better as a measurement of success all need some painful disruption.

tweaking isn’t going to get us there.

here’s where i might be shooting myself in the foot (which would, i assume, be painful): i’m a youth worker. i can’t escape that calling. and — if i’m honest — i don’t really have a sure-fire recipe for a new way. whatever disruption happens is likely to hurt me in one way or another.

but that quote got me thinking:

what would “processes that all but wreck the [youth ministry structures and assumptions and culture and organizations] in which they occur” look like?
what would it mean?
where would it come from?
what might be beautiful and smelling of the kingdom of god on the other side of it?

18 thoughts on “we need some painful disruption in youth ministry”

  1. This is really good. And I have no idea what the answer is, but I think you’re on to something. I’ve been a volunteer youth worker for several years and the one thing I’ve seen that makes the biggest impact LONG TERM, the biggest ‘change’ in kids lives – is RELATIONSHIP. It’s the day in and day out, the messy, the 11 o’clock at night texts when something bad happens, the letting them raid your refrigerator, the prayer, the study, the listening, the honest answers, the BEING THERE and BEING AN INFLUENCE that makes the difference. You can have fancy programs and a great budget and good attendance and the best facility in the valley, but if you don’t have adults that honestly and intimately connect with kids then you’re just another distraction. We have the last chance to impact kids in a huge way right before they become adults. We can help them catch a vision for the part they play in the world. Our influence can be powerful. I’ll be honest. Being that influence has a price. Most people aren’t willing to pay it.

  2. Marko,
    Love this blog post! Thanks for putting it out there. Ready for some seismic change to happen to the world of youth min.

  3. One thing that I think needs to change in youth ministry (and ministry as a whole), is the need to feel like it is a worthy career (contrasting with worthy calling). Like the Israelites who longed for a king when all the other countries around her had one, I think people in ministry all too often desire to be like everyone else who finds themselves in a “director’s” position–comfortable salary packages, respectable budgets, nice equipment, etc. I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t take care of their pastors or ministries, but I think there is a big difference between loving our pastors/ministries and funding them.

    I would challenge youth pastors to purposefully move to churches who can’t pay you well or fund a youth ministry well, but have a huge heart for God and for those who serve in the church. It may be painful to the family budget, and you might not have anything in regards to a youth budget (which will probably mean your ministry will not impress anyone else in youth ministry)–and that will indeed be painful–but you might find the spiritual family you’ve been looking for all this time to nurture you. And you might even be able to nurture your spiritual family and youth ministry in ways you’ve only dreamed you could be given freedom to do!

  4. Marko–
    Back in the trenches and from my lil point of view– right on. I came back into to the same old stuff from years ago. Codependent students and codependent leadership that loves the cudo’s more than the truth. Same old is still alive. My silly take– the rents still have huge influence on still the old time stuff.
    Peace out

  5. Great post! My life got wrecked by a desire to write a novel series that would take young adults/tweens through the entire Bible via fantasy adventure. First book just came out two weeks ago. I’m very interested to see where God takes all this.
    Have a great day!
    Nathan J. Anderson

  6. Great post. My life got wrecked by a desire to write a young adult/tween novel series that would take readers through the entire Bible. Just published the first book, Jak and the Scarlet Thread, three weeks ago. I’m very interested to see what God does with all this. Have a great day!

  7. I couldn’t agree more that it is time for change in youth ministry and even the church as a whole. What I am struggling with is where to begin? Part of me is tired of hearing about youth ministry being broken and I’m ready for answers. I am tired of the church moving at a snail’s pace while the rest of the world is light years ahead of us.

    I am encouraged by the voices in youth ministry that suggest programs/ministries that only try to entertain students or model the latest cultural trend are not working. There is too much at stake for us to keep doing what is safe because we are afraid of pain or even change.

  8. Marko –

    Our youth ministry changed the moment disruption came into my life as a pastor. For the last few years we walked through the life and death of my special needs son with our church family.

    All of sudden there was no pretense, fun and games didn’t mean as much any more. This was real life and it was scary, it was painful, and it forced all of us to turn to the things that are important. The students and parents watched as we cried, cheered, and grieved. We did it together. They were there as our son took his last breath’s. God used our pain – our disruption – to influence the families that we were ministering to in a way that we could never otherwise achieve.

    And I will be the first to tell you that it sucks. This wasn’t the life I signed up for. I never wanted this, but God did. Maybe CS Lewis’ quote is appropriate:
    “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”

    Now, I don’t want to come across all doom ‘n gloom. This has been my story and I know it’s far from over. And I know that God can use our successes as well as our pains. But I wonder, are not the are greatest successes the ones that overcome the greatest pains?

    The way I see it: if we want to see a divine disruption in our ministries, it has to start in us. When you are literally living life together and share the good, bad, and painful programs quickly become secondary.

    But enough of my rambles. I’ll sign off and let others respond. Thanks for your work and your heart for youth, leaders, and the Church.

  9. MarkO, I really appreciate what you do in pushing the boundaries of thought in youth ministry for many including myself. I trek with you for the most part on your thought patterns that you write about. I really appreciate your love, intelligence, sense of humor, and caring that you present the truth revealed to you. I often disagree with you and I echo some truth in this post, but enough with the building you up. I think this post is a bit too esoteric. Am I wrong? Are you not speaking while holding some major stuff back? I don’t expect you to give me answers so I can fill in blanks, here.
    I filter a ton of what you say and allow God to inspire me in ways that never happens with folks that just feed the masses.

    I’m not trying to insinuate that it doesn’t make complete sense or anything, but I almost feel like you just got me hyped up for something and there’s no meat. I look at my context here, for what God has given me some small influence on and I’m not sure what you say here fits.

    Thanks and please keep pushing.

  10. Andrew, i really appreciate you sharing your painful and beautiful story with us. thanks for blessing us with that.

    Jonathan, thanks for the kind words, bro. and, yeah, there wasn’t much “meat” on this post. it really came about because, when i saw that quote, i immediately started thinking of how it applies to youth ministry. i, as much as the next guy, have a tendency to think that adjustments and modifications and tweaks are going to be enough. i mean, i don’t say that when i’m speaking on this subject or ranting about it in a blog post or book; but in my practical, day-to-day youth ministry work, i default to minor adjustments. and i don’t think that’s going to be enough. my little course corrections are so far behind the pace of change in youth culture and culture at large that the gap between my practice and what’s actually needed and called for is widening daily. that said, the post was merely meant to be a reminder to me (and others, hopefully) that the “results” i really long for, if they’re to be realized, will likely bring with them significant pain for me (a loss of income, for example). it’s a gut-check thing. it’s a call to examine what i really long for — am i willing to sacrifice income and safety and security and influence and other things for the greater glory of god via an emerging and disruptive approach to youth ministry (whatever it may be)?

  11. Makes sense. I can understand the need to reaffirm decisions you’ve already made and are making. The answer is yes, you’ve already proven that. Because of that God is using to push others willing to make that sacrifice.

    I’m not very revolutionary, but I know to be any good for the teenagers and parents that I get to serve alongside that I am often unwilling to give myself up. Thanks for the challenge. http://donmilleris.com/2011/09/13/what-to-do-with-pain/

  12. Evertt Rogers at USC says,
    1. 3.5% of the population are innovators
    2. 13.5% are early adopters…the rest, well…

    Hence, you need to either begin shaping the 4th graders or find out what the innovators in 4th grade are becoming. HOW?

    Eric Von Hippel, Professor at MIT, has two principles:
    1. Technology transfer/innovation occurs best between not within an industry. In other words, you will not find the answers by talking with youth pastors.
    2. Lead-Users are the one who will shape the next generation and they are transitioning to adulthood beginning at 4th grade.

    What does the 4th grader need to become over the next 10 years or by age 18? Can we help them become that stereotype and function effectively in the DESIGN SOCIETY not the INFORMATIoN SOCIETY by 2025?
    The Five Mind-Sets for the 21st Century
    “The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason to hope.”
    Teilhard de Chardin
    Does your grand-parenting job seem impossible? If so, that’s not surprising. Your many roles are so often contradictory in preparing your non-Christian 4th to 12h grader for being a teenager and then an adult.

    • Be global and be local.
    • Collaborate and compete.
    • Change perpetually and maintain order.

    How can you possibly reconcile all this? No one can.

    But you can triumph over these obstacles, despite conflicting expectations, if you focus less on what your grandchild should do and more on how they should think. Successful adults think their way through their jobs and life, using five different mind-sets that allow them to deal adeptly with the world around them:

    • A reflective mind-set allows a teen to be thoughtful, to see familiar experiences in a new light, setting the stage for insights and innovative ideas.

    • An analytical mind-set ensures that a teen makes decisions based on in-depth data—both quantitative and qualitative.

    • A worldly mind-set provides a teen with cultural and social insights essential to operating in diverse subcultures that exist today even in a high school.

    • A collaborative mind-set enables a teen to orchestrate relationships among individuals and teams producing desired outcomes.

    • An action mind-set energizes a teen to create and expedite the best plans for achieving their long term goals.

    The key to a teen’s effectiveness?
    8th graders will begin the process of learning and practicing how to regularly access all five mind-sets, not in any particular order, but by cycling through each as needed. And they shouldn’t go it alone. When they collaborate with their peers by interweaving their collective mind-sets, teens—and their peers—will excel.
    Material adapted from Henry Mintzberg and the International Masters in Management Program:
    Mindsets in Practice
    “Functioning effectively in high school encompasses five basic tasks, each with its own mind-set”
    Managing Yourself Relies on a Reflective Mind-Set

    Without reflection, high school can be mindless. Events make sense only when you stop and think about what they mean, how they connect, what patterns they reveal. When God is involved, there is purpose and pattern. Reflection puts events into new and clear perspective. As you look in, you can better see out, perceiving familiar things in unfamiliar ways.

    • a class as a place to test skills as well as learn facts,
    • a classmate as a partner in your project and
    • a peer group, their passions and networking as your team.

    As you look back—at what worked and what did not—you may see ahead to what your high school could become.

    Managing Your World Requires an Analytical Mind-Set

    You analyze most effectively when you go beyond the superficial. You drill into richer sources of data, including your and others’ underlying values and biases. What data and assumptions are they using? Breaking up complex situations into component parts helps you see problems in new ways, moving you toward action and change.

    Managing Your Context Depends on a Worldly Mind-Set

    When you see the world through the eyes of other cultures, other subcultures, other international high schools, you better understand the diverse contexts in which you must operate eventually. This requires getting out of the local high school and spending time where careers exist, customers are served, environments threatened, etc.

    Managing Relationships Requires a Collaborative Mind-Set

    You organize most effectively when you manage not individuals but the relationships among them. You’re always creating the conditions—the structures and attitudes—that encourage teamwork. You’re managing from inside, throughout a team—not from the top. You’re not running the show—unless absolutely necessary.

    Managing Change Calls for an Action Mind-Set

    Christ has a bias toward action. Your challenge, then, is to mobilize your and others’ energies around the opportunities. Where is God beginning a new work in your high school and how can you join HIM? An action mind-set is not about “whipping the horses into a frenzy.” Instead, survey the situation, determine you and team’s capabilities, your high school’s or community’s needs and help everyone move in the right direction with God’s resources and power.

    [email protected]
    © 2011 Dr. William Wilkie

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