Category Archives: books

THE ROLE OF TRUST (a small excerpt from Leading Without Power)

Trust is, perhaps, the single greatest factor in leadership. And, while trust is often lacking in hierarchical power structures (in churches or businesses), the funny thing is that it’s one of the few facets described in this book that is possible within traditional hierarchical power structures (if you want a good book on this—trust in the context of traditional power structures, that is—I recommend Stephen M. R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust).

The reason trust is possible even in hierarchical systems boils down to this: Trust is 100% dependent on honesty. If a hierarchical power-based leader is fully honest and transparent (a rare occurrence, to be sure), it’s possible to instill trust. But, more often than not, the mindset of a leader in utilizing role power and hierarchy has a mindset that says, “I know things you cannot and should not know; they are not your job to know them.” If the leader were, somehow, able to be completely honest with herself (another rarity), the truth would be closer to, “Being less than transparent and fully honest with you protects my position of power, control, and authority over you. You are more dependent on me when I know more than you do.”

Ah, but this tactic just doesn’t work.

Trust is 100% possible to build. Here’s the equation I’ve come up with for building trust:

(Pure Intention + Action and Honesty) x Time = Trust

Of course, trust is very easy to lose (in a second).

It is also possible to rebuild trust after it’s been lost. But the equation gets more complex:

(Owning Up + Checking In + Pure Intention + Action and Honesty) x Time2 = Rebuilt Trust

I have an axiom I teach in my youth worker coaching groups when we’re talking about trust: Without trust and safety, your ministry will not experience communion. And without communion, the ministry will be clubbish and wimpy.

If you’re my leader and I don’t trust you:

  • We will likely have friction (or at least be poised for it).
  • Small things will flash into big issues.
  • I will resist collaboration.
  • I will be skeptical of your leadership and motives.
  • I will hoard information and resources.
  • I will avoid engaging in the non-work relational glue that makes great teams.
  • I will unconsciously believe bad rumors I hear about you and be skeptical of good rumors I hear about you.
  • I will struggle to advocate for you.
  • I will subconsciously (or even consciously) not contribute to the larger vision you are casting.

of course, i go on to unpack the role of the Trust Guard, one of the 9 metaphorical job titles described in my new book Leading Without Power. this book is available at a pre-release special price of $10.99, and includes free (domestic) shipping — just use the code getlwp at checkout. but only until the end of this month when the book releases!

my dream is that church staff teams, youth ministry teams, and other church and ministry teams will read this book together and prayerfully consider how to take collective ownership of the 9 roles described in the book.

2 sentence book reviews, part 5

here we go — a week of 2-sentence book reviews on 39 books. i allow myself one sentence for a summary and one sentence for my opinion of the book.

a note about today’s reviews: since i act as the publisher for The Youth Cartel, i’m deeply involved with the development of the books/resources we publish. i’ve not included them in past “2-sentence book reviews” series. but i decided that’s silly, since i’ve read them all multiple times. the one tweak i’m making in my normal review format is that i’m excluding the star ratings — just assume they are all 5 stars! (also: i didn’t include all our Viva or NEXT curriculum releases, as i’m less involved in them — but they’re excellent also!)

Youth Cartel releases

think-vol-4THINK Volume 4: Relationships & Sexuality, by Jake Kircher

6 downloadable interactive and dialogical curriculum sessions intentionally designed to honor both scripture and the intelligence of teenagers. jake’s series is unique in its approach, and so well suited to postmodern teenagers who are weary of simply being told what to believe.

finding-jesusFinding Jesus in the Old Testament, by Eric Ballard

10 downloadable sessions highlighting an old testament character story with specific connections to how jesus completes the story. such an excellent and unique resource, helping teenagers see critical connections to life with jesus.

the-real-jesusThe Real Jesus: A Devotional, by Jen Bradbury

based on jen’s research (summarized in her excellent book, The Jesus Gap), this devotional invites teenagers to consider jesus’ question to peter — “Who do you say that I am?” — through 50 readings, scripture passages and sets of reflection questions.

soul-pirate-handbookSoul Pirate Handbook: A Devotional for the Good Life, by Luke Lang

a devo using metaphors from pirates to dig into a life of adventure. this is the best young teen devotional i’ve seen in a long time — so fun (and solid); yar!

sunday-comicsSunday Comics, vol. 1: Prophets, Priests, and Kings, by Gregg Jones

50 lessons (!) and 50 fill-in-the-blank comic/coloring pages (all downloadable) covering a big chunk of the OT. this is the most inventive curriculum (really ideal for young and middle teens) i’d seen in a very long time, and i knew we just had to publish it.

dont-do-thisDon’t Do This: Learning from the Screw-Ups of Youth Ministry Leaders, by Len Kageler and Jonathan Hobbs

though the real stories of ministry failure in this book range from hilarious to truly painful, the point is to learn. really, this is such an engaging and helpful book, and would be great to read as a team.

slaying-biblical-illiteracySlaying Biblical Illiteracy: Helping Teens Trust God’s Word, by Matt Andrews

a pocket-sized quick read offering pragmatic and creative ideas for bible engagement. i’m 100% confident that if you read this book, you’ll be trying one of its ideas within weeks.

survivalSurvival: A Devotional, by Eric Ballard

each devo has 3 parts: a fiction bit about two high school guys hiking the appalachian trail (and the crises they face), a connected real-life survival tip, and a devotional application. this devo would be a blast to use during a summer trip (camp or another adventure).

2 sentence book reviews, part 4

here we go — a week of 2-sentence book reviews on 39 books. i allow myself one sentence for a summary and one sentence for my opinion of the book.

Church and Ministry

search-to-belongThe Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groupsby Joseph R. Myers

5 stars

a deep dive into a theory of belonging and its application to church ministry. i re-read this older book for our Level 2 YMCP cohort and taught from it, which found strong connection with participants.

roadmap-to-reconciliationRoadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice, by Brenda Salter McNeil

4.5 stars

concise and practical cheerleading on exactly what the title promises. brenda is a helpful coach in this accessible book, and doesn’t employ guilting or shaming–church leaders need to read this book.

Christian Living

how-to-be-hereHow to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living, by Rob Bell

5 stars

thoughts on being present, and on living into who you were made to be (and into your dreams). some chafe at rob’s writing style; but i love it, and this book is simple, profound and wonderful.

tattoos-on-the-heartTattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Gregory Boyle

3.5 stars

catholic priest and founder of Homeboy Industries explores the realities of urban gang life and pathways for hope. finally got around to reading this book, and felt it started strong, but got extremely repetitive.

gift-of-hard-thingsThe Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places, by Mark Yaconelli

4 stars

a collection of essays, anchored in stories, about the role various difficulties can play in our lives. the storytelling is exquisite, helping to overpower the minor shortcomings of the “collection” approach.

Youth Ministry (and Parenting Teens)

(note: i was a little surprised to review what i’ve read and see that i’d only read youth ministry books that the Cartel published, or that i’d officially endorsed! instead of 2 sentence reviews in this section, i’m including the official endorsements i wrote for the publishers.)

smartphone-obsessed52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid: How to Engage with Kids Who Can’t Seem to Pry Their Eyes from Their Devices!, by Jonathan McKee

4 stars

I regularly find that parents want help, but don’t know where to find the good stuff. So much parenting advice is fear-based and impractical. But Jonathan’s gift to us is that he writes to parents from the intersection of hopeful parenting and practical ideas.

owning-faithOwning Faith: Reimagining the Role of Church and Family in the Faith Journey of Teenagers, by Ron Bruner and Dudley Chancey

4 stars

A cornucopia is a symbol of abundance and nourishment. As such, there’s no better metaphor for this book. Owning Faith is packed full of an abundance of nourishing challenges, encouragement and instruction, rooted in the best and most current research about creating a context for lasting faith to develop in teenagers.

smaller-church-youth-ministrySmaller Church Youth Ministry: No Staff, No Money, No Problem!by Brad Fiscus and Stephanie Caro

5 stars

In my coaching work with hundreds of youth workers across the US and abroad, I’ve become convinced of this truth: the pathway to fantastic youth ministry is shorter for small(er) churches. There are many reasons for this; but the two primary reasons are that small(er) churches often have the simple multigenerational realities in place for the sort of ministry that has long-term impact on the lives of teens; and, additional resources often end up becoming a seductive distraction, creating false-positive results where resources lead to impressive mass without substantive connection and belonging. Brad and Stephanie have written a wonderfully affirming and encouraging trail guide in this book, one that can lead any small(er) church into lifelong lasting impact on the faith of teenagers.

begin21Begin21: Your First 21 Steps with Jesusby Timothy Eldred

4.5 stars

Appropriately short and to the point, this helpful little book will be extremely helpful for thousands of teenagers who just made a choice to move toward Jesus. And, it will be equally helpful for the youth workers and other adults in the lives of those teenagers!

2 sentence book reviews, part 3

here we go — a week of 2-sentence book reviews on 39 books. i allow myself one sentence for a summary and one sentence for my opinion of the book.

Graphic and Illustrated

david-boringDavid Boringby Daniel Clowes

2.5 stars

lonely butt-obsessed dude tries to figure out life. i love clowes’ work, and time mag gave this one a great review; but it was just too dark and pervy for me.

patiencePatienceby Daniel Clowes

4.5 stars

time-traveling widower seeks out truth about his murdered wife. at 180 pages, this full length (massive) full-color illustrated book is clowes at his best, telling a paced story with visual spectacularity.

Young Adult

wild-robotThe Wild Robotby Peter Brown

5 stars

roz the robot crash-lands on an island and has to figure out her purpose. technically, this is a pre-teen book (grades 3 – 7), not young adult; but it is SO DANG GOOD, and layered with meaning well deeper than the story itself.

it-aint-so-awfulIt Ain’t So Awful, Falafelby Firoozeh Dumas

5 stars

an iranian-immigrant middle school girl in the 1970s tries to make sense of orange county california and her life and very ethnic family. really, one of the best books for middle schoolers (and preteens) i’ve read in a long time, full of fun and insight without heavy-handed moralizing.

flightFlight: A Novelby Sherman Alexie

3.5 stars

native american teenage guy time travels into different storylines (and bodies) while learning about himself and history. not alexie’s best young adult fiction, but i love that he has male main characters (rare in YA fiction) and, in this book, that the short length makes this book accessible for those who wouldn’t read longer books.

2 sentence book reviews, part 2

here we go — a week of 2-sentence book reviews on 39 books. i allow myself one sentence for a summary and one sentence for my opinion of the book.


millones-cajonesMillones Cajones, by Rob Bell

4 stars

a motivational speaker searches for deeper meaning. i’d be pretty happy if the first fiction book i ever wrote was as engaging as this one. (pro-tip: it’s a free download!)

sisters-brothersThe Sisters Brothersby Patrick deWitt

5 stars

two ruthless brothers head out on an assassination contact in the old west which gets complicated when one of them reveals his newly-embraced conscience. just plain old fun reading with amazing characters.

how-the-dead-liveHow the Dead Liveby Will Self

3.5 stars

an ornery self-centered matron tries to figure out the afterlife in london. i wanted to like this more than i did: self’s writing is brilliant, but often leaves me feeling stupid for my lack of understanding (even of regularly impossible word choices).

underground-airlinesUnderground Airlinesby Ben Winters

5 stars

in an alternate version of current day with a collection of southern states that still have slavery, a federal marshall (himself a runaway slave, conscripted to catch runaway slaves) wrestles with his past while solving a case. an amazing read, brilliantly crafted.

heroes-of-theHeroes of the Frontier,  by Dave Eggers

5 stars

with her life feeling like a dead-end, a single mother of two kids rents a crappy motorhome and temporarily goes ‘off the grid’ in alaska. seriously, eggers doesn’t know how to write a bad book, and anyone over 30 will connect with the existential search of this novel’s protagonist.

5 stars

a diverse family with a wealthy patriarch adjust to each other and the rapidly changing world around them when economic changes leave them penniless. i don’t think i’ve ever read a novel i would consider “economic fiction,” but i liked it, quite a bit.

2 sentence book reviews, part 1

here we go — a week of 2-sentence book reviews on 39 books. i allow myself one sentence for a summary and one sentence for my opinion of the book.

General Non-Fiction

Detroit: An American Autopsydetroitby Charlie LeDuff

4 stars

a bleak but stunningly-written journalist’s look into the gritty realities of detroit. equal parts memoir, history and investigative journalism with amazing storytelling, but missing any sense of hope (which would be frustrating for my friends and family who love this city).

unfaithful-musicUnfaithful Music & Disappearing Inkby Elvis Costello

4.5 stars

a rambling autobiography, focused more on costello’s music than the details of his life, but clearly revealing the author’s genius. as a life-long fan, i loved this book; but it would be tedious reading for those less interested in tiny details and seemingly endless names of collaborators and confidants.

whipping-girlWhipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, 2nd Editionby Julia Serano

5 stars (section 1); 3 stars (section 2)

a series of essays about transgenderism, widely considered one of the most influential books on the topic. i found the first section of the book (about 2/3 of the book) extremely helpful for my own learning, and the second section (focused on the exclusion of transwomen from the world of feminism) less helpful for my needs.

paperPaper: Paging Through History, by Mark Kurlansky

4 stars

Yup, it’s an exhaustive history of paper. for a book nerd like me, this was fascinating, though occasionally longer and more detailed than i would have preferred.

bassoon-kingThe Bassoon King: Art, Idiocy, and Other Sordid Tales from the Band Room, by Rainn Wilson

4.5 stars

mostly a freaking hilarious autobiography, with occasional freaking hilarious rabbit trails into nonfiction weirdness. rainn wilson’s humor is my kind of humor, so i loved this read (even the non-funny bonus chapter on the Bahá’í Faith was interesting).

furiously-happyFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Thingsby Jenny Lawson

5 stars

a breathtakingly hilarious and insightful autobiographical book about mental illness and depression. funniest book i read all year–hands down–with insight and honesty center-stage.

Business Non-Fiction

thin-book-of-aiThe Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, 3rd Editionby Sue Annis Hammond

4 stars

compact and right-to-the-point summary of the Appreciative Inquiry approach to organizational improvement. i believe this approach should have so much play in churches and ministries trying to  increase capacities and lean into values.

ai-a-positive-revolutionAppreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Changeby David L Cooperrider and Diana Whitney

4 stars

really, the same thing as the previous review (though i’d read this one if you’re only going to read one).

off-balanceOff Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfactionby Matthew Kelly

4.5 stars

how to embrace a mindset of sustainability and satisfaction rather than pursuing the counter-productive work/life balance. this book rocks, and (while occasionally too rigid or prescriptive) very much aligns with the values of our coaching program (and as such, is required reading in Level 2 cohorts).

thin-book-of-trustThe Thin Book of Trust; An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work, by Charles Feltman and Sue Annis Hammond

4 stars

sort of a cliffs notes on the factors that build (and destroy) trust in organizations.  considering the trust needed for churches and ministries to run well, and the lack of trust so commonly present, ministry leaders all need to grow in this area (and this book was helpful with language and framework).

war-of-artThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield

5 stars

exposing creative “blocks” for what they really are, and suggesting practices and mindsets for productive creativity. this is my second read though this short, dense and choppy book, and it left me breathless and pumped up both times.

Recommended Graduation Gifts for Teenagers

Slide1we have a few resources either published by The Youth Cartel, or developed by me (marko) and sold by The Youth Cartel, that are worth your consideration as graduation gifts (either for individual students, or for a youth group context). as is always the case with stuff we sell in our store, excellent bulk pricing discounts are available.

The Amazing Next, by Brock Morgan. honestly, there are so many cheesy high school graduations books on the market. most of them fall into one of two categories: (1) inspirational drivel, or (2) “this is our last chance to cram some apologetics down your throat so your freshman philosophy professor doesn’t undo everything we’ve tried to teach you.” both categories are lame, and both don’t get read by actual teenagers. that’s why we worked with Brock to develop this book. we wanted a grad book that was fun, honest, helpful and–most of all–would get read rather than shelved. i love this book, and the response (it released last year) has been overwhelmingly positive.

The Way Bible. i was the general editor on this baby, and it took 18 months of my life. we wanted (we, in this case, being me and Tyndale Publishers) to create a bible that was truly honest and helpful for older teenagers and young adults. almost all ‘teen bibles’ have a target of a 15 or 16 year old. we had 17 – 20 year olds in mind when creating this. it’s full of evocative black & white photography, book intros and a variety of other elements all designed to connect young adults with scripture. this isn’t a study bible — it’s a reader’s bible (and as such, the new living translation is perfect). it’s available in softcover, hardcover, and a black leatherlike cover. (i’ve bought copies of this bible for the guys in my 8th grade small group as a gift — don’t tell ’em.)

Ignite Bible. i was a general editor on this bible also — and it is specifically focused on middle schoolers (so this would NOT be a good choice for high school graduates — but, instead, for kids graduating from grade school into middle school). softcover and hardcover available.

4 Excellent Teen Devotionals for Summer Use


with the recent release of two very unique devotionals for teenagers, the Cartel now has four excellent options. i think each of these would be fantastic for a variety of summer youth ministry programming:

  • weekly program
  • students completing on their own (since they have more time in the summer)
  • as an aspect of summer camp, or follow up
  • as an aspect of a missions trip, or follow up

all of these are priced low, and have bulk discounts available. all our devotionals work great for individual use. but we don’t actually publish them unless they will work great in the context of youth ministry.

Soul Pirate Handbook, by Luke Lang, is our newest release. it’s a fun and engaging pirate-y approach to considering the good life that Jesus offers us. this would be ideal for middle schoolers and younger high schoolers.

The Real Jesus, by Jen Bradbury, is–in my opinion–about the most theologically rich devotional for teenagers you can find. and it’s pedagogically powerful, in that it very intentionally invites teenagers to bring their own thoughts and insights to the question Jesus asked Peter: “Who do you say that I am?” this devo is perfect for high schoolers and even college students.

Ordinary Time, by Erik Willits engages with the liturgical calendar (for those from non-liturgical churches, ‘ordinary time’ is the name of this season we’re in over the summer). this is a more reflective and contemplative devotional. and, really, this is an all-ages resource (as are the others in this series: Lent and Advent).

Finally, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Manual for Teenagers, by Jonathan McKee. this is our best-selling book for a reason: teenagers love it. it’s part fiction, part devo, all awesome. if you have teenagers who wouldn’t normally engage with a devotional book, this will be the exception.


2 sentence book reviews: YA Fiction and Fiction

30 book reviews this time around, over five days of posts. as always, i allow myself two sentences (unless otherwise noted):
– the first sentence is a summary of the book.
– the second sentence is my opinion of the book (complimented by the star rating).

my opinion:
– just because “Leaders are Readers” is a cliche doesn’t make it untrue.
– and, people who want to grow choose to read widely.

in this current series:
YA Fiction and Fiction (6 books, today)
Illustrated Books and Graphic Novels (7 books, tuesday)
General Nonfiction (6 books, wednesday)
Ministry and Theology (7 books, thursday)
Christian Nonfiction and Parenting (4 books, friday)

Young Adult Fiction

king dorkKing Dork and King Dork Approximately, by Frank Portman
4 stars each
king dork approximatelya high school outsider wrestles with identity, connecting with his dead father, weird parents, friendship, and girls, through his witty and skewed lens, fueled by literature and rock-and-roll. fantastic writing and character development, though seemingly embracing anarchy over hope.


the fifth gospelThe Fifth Gospel: A Novel, by Ian Caldwell
5 stars
a vatican priest must unravel a complex threat to the church in order to save his own life (and maybe his faith). ten years after caldwell’s The Rule of Four, this brilliant thriller is part gripping (fictional) story, and part glimpse into life in the vatican.

beautiful youBeautiful You: A Novel, by Chuck Palahniuk
2 stars
an average young woman gets caught up in a billionaire inventor’s pain-filled pursuit of world domination and revenge. as is always true of palahniuk books, this is filled with biting social commentary (this time about control and sexual obsession), but is so over-the-top that it dramatically decreased my engagement (i almost stopped reading it multiple times).

secondhand soulsSecondhand Souls: A Novel, by Christopher Moore
4.5 stars
in this sequel to moore’s A Dirty Job, a major shift seems to be underway in how souls are dealt with after death, and the unlikely team of san franciscans in on the transition must once again save the world. pure, weird fun: nothing more and nothing less.

bream gives me hiccupsBream Gives Me Hiccups: & Other Stories, by Jesse Eisenberg
5 stars
a wide variety of fictional short stories with deep wit (more than LOL humor). i was blown away by eisenberg’s writing and insight, and loved this book.

The Life Book and National Evangelism Week

thelifebook-book-coverhey youth workers: have you heard of The Life Book? it’s a nicely designed gospel of john with additional comments and interaction bits, aimed at teenagers. it’s designed as a simple, non-coercive ‘gift’ for teenagers to give out to their friends and classmates. and thanks to support from the Gideons, it’s completely free. in fact, more than 1.3 million teenagers have given out more than 19 million copies of The Life Book since 2010.

there are certainly a couple levels of benefit surrounding this. first, it gets the gospel of john into the hands of teenagers who would never step into your church or youth group. but it’s also a pretty cool discipleship step for christian teenagers, an onramp to having spiritual conversations with friends. this sort of verbal articulation of faith, we’re finding (most notably in mandy drury’s research on the importance of ‘testimony’ in adolescent faith formation) is critically important to developing a faith that last beyond youth group attendance.

i like the people at The Life Book also. they’re not weird. they’re good hearted, genuine people who really care about teenagers. so i feel good about telling you about them. we’re doing some stuff with them at our event, The Summit, this year also. and for those of you who order anything from The Youth Cartel store in august and september (and as long as our supply lasts), you’ll find you get a copy of The Life Book with your order.

so i’d totally encourage you to do a couple things:

  1. order copies of The Life Book for your group to give out.
  2. consider linking your distribution week with others during National Evangelism Week (NEW), september 20 – 26.

for more info, or to place an order, click here.

here’s some info straight from the peeps at The Life Book:

For National Evangelism Week:

  • We just made it up. Why? We thought it would be awesome if we all focused on both Evangelism and Prayer during the week of See You at the Pole.
  • Imagine one week focused on Evangelism and Prayer. September 20th- 26th, 2015
  • Make your request for Free Life Books by August 31st (that’s next monday!) to get them in time for this week.


  • What is The Life Book? The Life Book contains the Gospel of John (ESV) and includes interactive student comments and scripture helps for issues students face. Over 1.3
    Million students have handed out over 19 Million Life Books since 2010.
  • Can students give them out beyond National Evangelism Week? Yes. Feel free to request 2500 Free Life Books and have your students hand them out all throughout the
    school year. This is a great way to foster an evangelistic mindset in students. (Our experience recommends you request 25 Life Books per student in your youth group to
    hand out.)
  • Is it really free? Absolutely. No strings attached. We are wholly funded by The Gideons International.
  • Is this only for churches? Yes. We can only provide free Life Books to Church pastors and youth leaders.