Category Archives: blogs

what’s the single objective of youth ministry?

super-smart youth ministry blogger paul martin ran a blog series (that no one read, because he posted them during christmas week) asking a variety of people to reflect on the question, “what’s the single objective of youth ministry?”

there are some really interesting responses, worth reading, from:
joel mayward and adam mclane
benjamin kerns and jeremy zach
mark riddle

here’s my response (click here to see paul’s comments):

yikes. this is a scary question. i like complexity, and abhor easy-answer-theology. so, while i know you, paul, well enough to know you’re not looking for an easy answer or a 3-step process, identifying a “single objective” of anything is tough, because, we always have multiple objectives — always, whether we want to or not. i’d be so much more comfortable with a list of objectives than singling one out.

but…

i’ll play along. and i’m gonna use one word: christlikeness. that’s our singular objective, i suppose. if i were to put it into a sentence, it would be something like, “the single objective of youth ministry is to walk with teenagers on their journey toward christlikeness.”

of course, there’s a ton of secondary objectives implied in my sentence (as is — did i already say this? — always the case). as joel mayward wrote on your first day of this series, one can’t merely say “the objective is discipleship” without addressing what we mean by discipleship. of course, i know that you — paul — have a very different working definition and practice of discipleship than many youth workers. same is true here (and, really, i suppose my “christlikeness” and joel’s “discipleship” are two ways of saying the same thing).

my role as a youth worker is to live, honestly, my own journey toward christlikeness with and in front of the teenagers in my midst. i can’t change teenagers — that’s the holy spirit’s job. i’m not directly in the transformation business; i’m in the transformation hosting business. hosting is a metaphor that brings up sub-metaphors like stewarding (“how do i steward the time i have with teenagers in a way that best exposes them to the transforming work of the holy spirit?”), curator (“how can i highlight and bring attention to the good stuff god is already doing in the world, and in the lives of teenagers?”), and evangelist. wait — did i just say evangelist?!?! yup — but i don’t mean it in the way you might think. i mean it in the same way that apple might have an evangelist on staff. my role as a youth worker (connecting with what adam mclane wrote for you) is to be the evangelist for teenagers in my church. i am the lead banner waver for teenagers in my congregation, reminding them of their responsibility to collectively engage with the teenagers in their midst.

whatcha think? how would you answer that question?

summary of the extended adolescence symposium

adam and i were thrilled with how the extended adolescence symposium played out. we had a nice intimate turn-out that lent itself to robust dialogue and engagement. the speakers dove in, and kara powell did a great job of translating and fielding questions.

the ‘launch ministry’ blog has a great three part summary of the day:

part 1 – short overview. a snippet:

While in agreement on the general characteristics and trends of young people, the two presenters had vastly different responses to the data. Dr. Arnett views himself as a researcher and is very hesitant to create prescriptive responses to emerging adulthood. When pressed, he seems to indicate that this new stage of life is an unavoidable reality. This is the way things are now and are likely to be in the near future. As a society, we need to begin thinking about how to change our systems and structures to adjust to this new reality. He used the example of young adults being able to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26 as one positive idea for what this might look like.

Dr. Epstein, however, views himself as an agent of social change. He believes that emerging adulthood is a problem to be fixed. T0 him, the immaturity and delay of adulthood means that our social structures are broken. We need to change our parenting methods and our educational system to stop infantilizing young people and make them take responsibility for their actions while teaching them the competencies they need in order to make it in the world.

part 2 – framing a response. a snippet:

As I wrote at the end of the previous post, while I appreciate Dr. Epstein’s ideas about stopping the infantilization of young people and instilling competencies, the reality is that even if as a society we fully engaged his suggestions, we would still have generations of emerging adults that are experiencing difficulties. Because of this, I believe our response must include a directed response toward emerging adults and those that soon will be as well as a component that seeks to prevent the more destructive elements of this life stage.

Additionally, since this is a broad sociological issue throughout (primarily) western culture, our solutions and responses must include both activity within the church as well as beyond the walls of the church. My quadrant, then, will include reflections regarding earlier prevention as well as a direct response working with the current generation of emerging adults both inside and outside the church.

part 3 – implications for churches. a snippet:

A role in the community is something that young adults need and lack. This is especially true of emerging adults that do not attend a four year college. Those that do have a culturally defined role of ‘college student’ that has certain expectations around it. Those that do not, however, are left floundering in a weird in-between place where there is no role that helps define who they are. Could churches intentionally engage emerging adults, creating opportunities for leadership within the church and in the community? Maybe there could be post-high school internships or leadership development programs than intentionally seek to provide a role for emerging adults. Perhaps in some contexts there is room for a specific emerging adult ministry (a more mature youth group for college aged young people?), though I think that this could be problematic if the group does not intentionally find ways to connect emerging adults with older adults in the church.

the role of the holy spirit in youth ministry

i was one of the three contributors on this week’s slant33.com question: what’s the role of the holy spirit in your youth ministry? click here to see the excellent responses from the other two contributors, albert tate and brooklyn lindsey. but here’s my response:

I’ve had a bit of an awakening to the Holy Spirit in the last couple years. As soon as most people read that first sentence, though, they will assume I mean that I’ve awoken to signs and wonders stuff. That’s not what I mean. (Everything on the table: I’m in the middle; I’m not a sensationalist, but I’ve not had much personal experience or desire for signs and wonders experiences.) The awakening to the Holy Spirit that I’ve experienced has played out on two levels: in my own life and faith practice and in my thinking about youth ministry and church leadership.

My last year at Youth Specialties and the pressure I felt to perform were particularly soul deadening for me. By the time I got laid off, I was close to burnout—both professionally and spiritually. But in the two or three months that followed, I experienced a gorgeous re-awakening of my soul. I felt God’s presence for the first time in a long time. My prayer life rekindled, and I started to hear God speaking, nudging, consoling. I knew this was the Holy Spirit, who had never left, of course. Instead, my spiritual eyes were merely opening to the Spirit’s presence.

This ramped up when I launched the Youth Ministry Coaching Program. When my cohorts were in times of personal sharing, I started sensing the Holy Spirit giving me insight that was beyond me, and I even started receiving what could only be called words of truth to be offered to others. I entered into the exercise of this with open hands—not grasping it or claiming it or arrogantly confident about whatever I might think I should say. But I was amazed, over and over again (as I have continued to be over the last eighteen months) that what I was hearing—from the Holy Spirit—was usually accurate. One of the most powerful of these was a time when I had a strong sense that another person in the sharing circle had a word from God for the person talking. Sure enough, when I called that out, the words spoken had a profoundly holy and truthy beauty to them, and we all knew we were on holy ground.

This has changed both my regular, everyday experience of God as well as my youth ministry practice. When I’m leading my middle-school-guys small group, for example, I’m trying to choose (and it is a choice, by the way) to simultaneously listen to my guys and to the Holy Spirit. One of the surprise benefits to me, in a youth ministry setting, is that I feel unburdened and free. That’s because I’m not carrying the absurd responsibility of being smart or insightful enough to know what to say.

This personal awakening and shift in my practice has also shaped my thinking about youth ministry and church leadership. If you ever hear me talk about Youth Ministry 3.0 stuff these days, I hope you hear the difference from what I wrote about in that book. When I wrote that book, about four years ago now, I was not operating with this mindset or experience, and most of my suggestions only tip a hat to the role of the Holy Spirit. But these days, I’m convinced that great youth workers (and great church leaders) need to recover the art of collaborative discernment. Great youth ministry takes all different forms because it has to be contextual. But the path to a wonderfully contextualized youth ministry is not merely an effort of assessment and study. In fact, it is first and foremost an exercise of listening (and I believe that listening needs to be practiced in community, which is why I am passionate about collaborative discernment).

Yes, we need to do assessments and learn about the community we do ministry in; yes, we need to read and study and observe. But more important than all of that is the intentional act of gathering a small group of spiritually minded people to actively listen to the Holy Spirit. Ask, What teenagers have you placed in our midst? (No, just observing them is not enough.) Listen. Ask, What teenagers are you calling us to in our community? Listen. Ask, What would a culturally and contextually appropriate approach be to reach those teenagers? Listen.

Bottom line #1: Without a sense of the Holy Spirit’s role in your life, you will always be limited in your own spiritual growth and practice and, therefore, in your youth ministry efforts. Bottom line #2: A youth ministry that’s not informed by active and intentional listening to the Holy Spirit will miss out on who God is calling it to be.

This American Life covers Middle School

NPR’s classic show, This American Life, did an entire hour on the american middle school experience this past week. wow. so fantastic. you can listen to the whole thing, or to the individual segments listed below, by clicking though to the show’s page.

PROLOGUE.
Host Ira Glass interviews a 14-year old named Annie, who emailed us asking if we would do a show about middle school. She explains why exactly the middle school years can be so daunting. (4 1/2 minutes)

ACT ONE LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES.
In an effort to understand the physical and emotional changes middle school kids experience, Ira speaks with reporter Linda Perlstein, who wrote a book called Not Much Just Chillin’ about a year she spent following five middle schoolers. Then we hear from producer Alex Blumberg, who was a middle school teacher in Chicago for four years before getting into radio. Alex’s takeaway? We shouldn’t even try teaching kids at this age. Marion Strok, principal of a successful Chicago school, disagrees. (6 1/2 minutes)
marko comment: this is a great segment. and, i recommend that book (not much just chillin’).

ACT TWO. STUTTER STEP.
We sent several correspondents straight to the epicenters of middle school awkwardness: School dances. Producers Lisa Pollak and Brian Reed, plus reporters Eric Mennel, Rob Wildeboer and Claire Holman spoke with kids across the country during the nervous moments leading up to the dances. And Lisa even ventured inside, to the dance itself. (9 1/2 minutes)
marko comment: a fascinating bit.

ACT THREE. MIMIS IN THE MIDDLE.
When Domingo Martinez was growing up in a Mexican-American family in Texas, Domingo’s two middle school aged sisters found a unique way of coping with feelings of inferiority. This story comes from Martinez’s memoir The Boy Kings of Texas, which Lyons Press will publish in July 2012. (11 1/2 minutes)
marko comment: this is the one section i think you can completely skip. the producers could have easily found a literary piece to read that had more application and implication.

ACT FOUR. ANCHOR BABIES.
We realized that there are already reporters on the ground, embedded inside middle schools: The kids who report the daily announcements, sometimes on video with full newscast sets. Producer Jonathan Menjivar wondered what would happen if instead of announcing sports scores and the daily cafeteria menu, the kids reported what’s really on their minds. Students at Parkville Middle School outside Baltimore, and their journalism teacher Ms. Davis, agreed to try out this experiment. (7 1/2 minutes)
marko: this section is fine, but if you need to cut somewhere, it’s not as helpful as some of the others.

ACT FIVE. BLUE KID ON THE BLOCK.
Producer Sarah Koenig reports on a kid we’ll call Leo, whose family recently moved away from Rochester, NY, leaving behind all of Leo’s friends and stranding him in a new—and in his opinion, much worse—middle school. (10 minutes)
marko: you gotta listen to this one.

ACT SIX. GRANDE WITH SUGAR.
Ira speaks with Shannon Grande, a teacher at Rise Academy in Newark, about a seventh grader who had all sorts of problems with behavior and hygiene and schoolwork. In order to help turn him around, Grande had to harness the power of peer pressure for good. This story came from Elizabeth Green, who’s writing about Rise Academy for a book and for a reporting project on the schools called Gotham Schools. (7 minutes)
marko: some helpful stuff in here.

(big thanks to kevin libick for pointing this out to me!)

the youth culture report

i absolutely love it when i stumble onto cool youth ministry resources that i’ve never heard of, never seen mentioned elsewhere. i’m a bit jaded, i suppose, and often have a “seen it all” attitude. so finding something i truly haven’t seen before — well, that makes me happy.

finding theyouthculturereport.com was like that. my first exposure to it was when the guy who oversees it said he’d like to be a sponsor of the extended adolescence symposium (to be clear: this is not a “sponsored post” though — i’m writing about the youth culture report because i think you should know about it). at first i thought, “oh man, that thing is butt ugly.” but then i realized, “ah, drudge report.” yup. butt-ugliness, intentional. usefulness, also intentional.

the youth culture report is a collection of links to news stories youth workers should be aware of. that’s it. straight forward. it’s not auto-generated via key words, so an actual human being is making sure each article linked is truly worth it.

i’ve been checking in on the youth culture report for over a month now, to make sure i really liked it before i recommended it. in the mean time, i downloaded both the iphone app and the ipad app. i’m finding i use those even more than the website — they’re quickly becoming a go-to app when i’m sitting somewhere and have about five minutes to kill (wasn’t that tactful?).

anyhow, i really encourage you to check it out, if you’re a youth worker or the parent of a teenager.

how do you know when it’s time to move on from a youth ministry role?

i’ve really enjoyed being part of creating slant33.com this year. the youth cartel picked the 20 primary contributors, came up with the 52 weekly questions, and worked with the contributors to select three for each question. but i’m also one of the contributors. this week’s slant asks a practical question that has been posed to me many times over the last decade or so: how do you know when it’s time to move on from a youth ministry role?

here’s my response:

I moved too often in my first bunch of years of youth ministry. Let’s just get that on the table right up front. I can easily explain or justify each move (the church couldn’t hire me full time; I got fired; there were budget cutbacks, and I was going to lose my job). All legit. All rational.

The problem is, though, I think my mess was too much a part of the decision-making goulash each time. I wanted more power. I wanted to be liked more. I wanted to be respected more. And, man, the grass is so freaking green at the church calling you. It’s like green food coloring green.

I’m not saying those moves were mistakes. But I’m definitely saying my process of deciding was faulty. Well, except maybe the time I got fired. I didn’t have much say in that. But my discernment process for the next job was just as faulty as the ones that offered more volition. It wasn’t until I left my fourth church, to go to Youth Specialties, that my process was patient and thoughtful and anything resembling spiritual discernment.

In church world, we are pretty good at masking this. We are quick with the “God is calling me” language because it just doesn’t sound that good to say, “I just don’t like you people” or, “Sorry, but that other church offered me way more money” or, “I ran out of ideas here and need to go somewhere else where I can repeat them all and have them seem new.”

Over my dozen years at Youth Specialties, and in the couple years since, I’ve had hundreds of youth workers ask me about leaving. I don’t think we have the space to go into a deep response about spiritual discernment. But let me take a swing at a couple other related issues:

Are you worn out? Youth ministry can be one of the more wearying jobs out there. There are plenty of other jobs that are more physically exhausting. But when you add in the emotional, mental, and relational strain, well, it’s easy to get toasty. So we all get worn out. The question is: Is this a worn out that, with some rest, you can come back from? Are you tired, or are you worn out to the point that you’re going to do damage if you stay?

You might need some extended rest or a sabbatical in order to figure this out. (Of course, that feels risky too. My friend asked for and received a three-month sabbatical to discern whether he was supposed to stay at his church. On the day he returned to tell the church he had a renewed sense of calling and was going to stay, they informed him they’d decided the opposite. Ah, churches. That goofy bride o’ Christ.)

The other significant question I think youth workers need to ask themselves is: Can I find something—anything—that I can respect about my senior pastor and leadership? In my experience, most people who are even considering a move at all are, to one extent or another, dissatisfied. Something is not great. And, more often than not, when I dig into these questions with youth workers, I find the core issue circling around an eroded trust in and respect for the senior pastor (or sometimes for the broader church leadership; but that’s tolerable if the youth worker feels like the senior pastor is honest about it).

Here’s what it boils down to for me: If you’re wondering about leaving, even flirting with the idea, there are some steps to take and questions to ask yourself:

    1. Bring a discernment team around for this purpose alone. Obviously, these need to be highly trustworthy people who will understand the confidentiality of the situation. Read up on Quaker Clearness Committees and give the group permission, even a charge, to ask you anything and everything.

    2. Ask yourself, Why am I less than satisfied? Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and journal about it.

    3. If your dissatisfaction is centered around a lack of respect for the leadership of the church, you have three options:

  • Leave. If you are bitter and stay, you will do damage. Hear this: Even if the church leadership really is wrong, it’s wrong for you to be a mini Godzilla.
  • Realize you’ll need to leave but not immediately. Set a deadline. Be optimistic and supportive of the church leadership, knowing there’s a light at the end of your tunnel.
  • Or, find something to respect about your senior leadership and pray for a softened heart and renewed passion.

read responses from adam mclane and lars rood here. and check in on slant33.com every monday afternoon for a new question and three slants (or subscribe via email or rss here).

what’s your theology of development?

i wrote a web article for the immerse journal blog back in july. then i forgot about it. so it was a nice surprise to see it show up there today! and, the funny timing is: i wrote this before we’d decided to do the extended adolescence symposium. it’s proof i’ve been stewing on this for a while!

here’s a selection from the article:

I was on the phone with a well-known author the other day, talking about extended adolescence. He was asking me questions—in a healthy, skeptical way—about my slowly evolving contention that while we need to acknowledge cultural realities and do ministry in their context, the juggernaut of extended adolescence is something we can and should undermine, at least in our own homes and churches.

After almost 30 minutes of conversation, we arrived at a key crossroads. He made a statement I find to be indicative of the majority opinion of American adults: “It seems to me that the problem you’re referring to comes down to the self-centeredness of young adults today. They’re extremely selfish and have no interest in taking responsibility or becoming adults.”

I paused and took a breath. Then I responded (trying to use “yes, and” language rather than “you’re wrong” language), “Yes, I can totally see why you would say that. Today’s young adults do tend to have a level of narcissism that wasn’t as dominantly present 20 years ago. But that begs the question of why. I suggest they’re narcissistic because they’ve spent their entire lives in families and classrooms and churches and marketing messages that consistently tell them, that everything is all about them. To blame young adults for being narcissistic is like blaming an attack dog for biting. We have isolated teenagers, and now young adults, and then told them their culture is better than ours. Why would they ever want to grow out of that stage of life? How could they?”

click through to read the rest. there’s some good stuff in the comments section, btw.

click here to check out the info on the extended adolescence symposium.

slant33

over a year ago, barefoot ministries launched slant33, a creative weekly online set of three responses, by three contributors, to a question that youth workers would find helpful. it was a great start, and mostly interesting. but it also got a big academic at times, and not quite connected enough to the real world of in-the-trenches youth workers.

so, after a nice hiatus (i think slant33 vacationed in cancun), barefoot came to the youth cartel, and asked us to reimagine it for a year, taking the lead on identifying a new slate of 20 contributors, coming up with the 52 questions for the year, and moderating the whole shebang. they redesigned the site, making it much more user friendly. i’m stoked about it, and really hope you’ll follow it this year, engaging in the comments and joining in the dialogue.

the newly re-launched slant33 went live yesterday! new slants will be posted every monday. you can subscribe via email or rss here.

the list of contributors is amazing, including a wide variety of youth ministry thinkers and practitioners with great diversity in every way. check out the list of contributors here.

the first slant, that went live yesterday, has responses from kara powell, ian macdonald, and tiffanie shanks, to the question: how do you pursue personal skill growth?

as a tease, the next six slants, going live on mondays in the weeks to come will be:

– How far out do you plan your calendar? Why? What’s your process?
– How do you determine the line between vulnerability and over-sharing?
– In what practical ways do you find solitude and rest?
– What time and expectation boundaries should be non-negotiables for youth pastors?
– How is the priesthood of all believers fleshed out in your ministry? How does that impact your role?
– How do you decide what to teach?

and there are 45 more questions following that!

i hope you’ll join us!

(oh, and i need a small handful of guest contributors for a few slants throughout the year. let me know if you’re interesting in writing one!)

a big day for The Youth Cartel

let’s start with this: watch the video.

hopefully that video allowed you to chuckle a bit, and get an actual overview of our news today. i started The Youth Cartel several months ago. but for a while, it was just the umbrella under which i put all the stuff i was doing (including the Youth Ministry Coaching Program and the Middle School Ministry Campference). my friend and former ys co-worker, adam mclane, has walked with me through this last 18 months, meeting for coffee, being a sounding board, developing my websites. i trust adam completely, and we share so much similarity in terms of vision for youth ministry and the church.

recently, adam and i began a conversation about what it would look like to partner together. while we share vision and values, adam has a complementary skill set to mine, and i knew The Youth Cartel would be able to offer so much more with him on board. so, after a couple months of dreaming, praying, planning, and working out details, i’m stoked to announce that adam is joining me, officially starting september 1 (but doing some part-time stuff prior to then).

not only does this ramp up what The Youth Cartel can offer, it put me in a place to re-imagine the future. out of our discussions, a shared passion came out to help identify and lift up emerging voices in youth ministry. we’re going to do this in a wide variety of ways, many of which are only ideas at this point. but we’re stoked about Instigating a Revolution in Youth Ministry; and the reality is, we can’t do that alone, nor should we.

today, in addition to that snappy little video (which we shot in the california desert this past saturday!), we’re unveiling a new website for The Youth Cartel. we invite you to poke around on the site. you’ll find a much deeper and broader description of what we’re doing.

and we’re launching a bunch of ways for you to connect, becoming part of The Youth Cartel:

  • “like” our new facebook page here. that’s a place where you can stay up to date on new stuff, youth ministry discussions, and a community of people who understand you.
  • follow our twitter feed here. we won’t annoy you with tweets about what we’re eating or the location of our oil change, promise.
  • sign up for our e-newsletters here. our first, youtube you can use, will launch in september, and provide you with a weekly link to a youtube video, as well as discussion questions and creative ways to use it. other e-newsletters will follow.
  • add The Youth Cartel blog to your reader. in addition to my blog and adam’s blog, The Youth Cartel blog will be a place for conversation and revolutionary ideas.

oh, and would you do me a favor? tweet this (see the button below), or post it on facebook or google+ (both also below). help me spread the word!

shoot me an email or leave a comment with your ideas. we’d love to hear from you. my hope is that this won’t just be a big day for The Youth Cartel, but will be the start of something fresh for the people i love: youth workers.

top 20 youth ministry blogs

youth specialties has published their annual ‘top 20 youth ministry blogs‘ again. fine work by adam mclane. i’m honored to be on this list, and in the company of some fine blogs. i’m a little jealous of the amazing josh griffin, who leap-frogged me this last year, moving from #3 to #1.

i found adam mclane’s commentary, on his own blog, to be very helpful. like adam, i sure wish there were more women in this mix, but am glad to see kara powell (1/2 of the fuller youth institute blog) rise higher on the list, and see kenda dean appear. sad that tash mcgill dropped off. would love to see brooklyn lindsey‘s blog make the top 20 also. i was hoping my friend brian berry, who is coming on like a storm this year, would crack the top 20. apparently he was close in raw numbers, but dropped when influence was factored in. but give that another year, and brian’s blog will rise. i’m also hopeful that paul martin‘s stellar youth ministry blog will make the top 20. he has such fantastic stuff. same with joel mayward. in my super-secret plans for the youth cartel, i’m going to do what i can to promote some of these emerging voices in the next year. stand by for that.

ultimately, this list isn’t about who’s #2 or #17. instead, it’s a helpful tool for finding blogs to follow. add ’em all to your reader and follow them for a while. then, if they don’t scratch your itch, you can drop ’em. easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

here’s the list:

2011 Rank / Blogger Name, with link / (2010 Rank)
1 Josh Griffin (4)
2 Mark Oestreicher (2)
3 Tim Schmoyer (3)
4 Adam McLane (5)
5 Youth Specialties Blog (1)
6 Adam Walker Cleaveland (6)
7 Doug Fields (NR)
8 Fuller Youth Institute (13)
9 Jeremy Zach (11)
10 Jonathan McKee (12)
11 Orange Leaders (7)
12 Ian MacDonald (9)
13 Rethinking Youth Ministry (NR)
14 Terrace Crawford (26)
15 Chris Folmsbee (8)
16 Greg Stier (29)
17 Mike King (15)
18 Walt Mueller (10)
19 Kurt Johnston (19)
20 Kenda Creasy Dean (NR)