Category Archives: the youth cartel

announcing the 2012 middle school ministry campference

last year i took a big risk. well, i took a bunch of them; but one of them, for sure, was to put on the first-ever national event just for people who work in churches with junior highers. this is my tribe-within-a-tribe, my people. i love middle school youth workers maybe even slightly more than i love middle schoolers themselves.

four amazing organizational partners believed in the dream and took the risk with me (simply junior high, christ in youth, group mission trips, and springhill camps). i called in favors from middle school ministry friends (who, frankly, didn’t take much convincing, because they couldn’t stand the idea of missing it). and 75 people trusted us enough, or were desperate enough, to attend the event. honestly, i was worried — a month out — that it was going to be too small. but as the event drew near (last october), i had this deep sense that the size was going to be just perfect for the first time out. i still figured, at that point, that it was a one-time thing.

then the middle school ministry campference happened. and all of us who were there felt like we were on holy ground. we could tell we were onto something. every single one of my hopes and expectations were surpassed. it was like no other youth ministry training event i’d ever been to. “speakers” stayed for the entire event, hanging out, having meals and conversations and laughing fits with the level playing field of attendees. even michael flaherty, the CEO of walden media, instigated late night shenanigans.

people who attended said things like:

MSMC was everything you love about camp – fireside chats, laughing until your sides hurt, worship, and the felling you’ve made an entire army of new friends who love random, awkward, authentic, and deeply impressionable middle schoolers. I left refreshed, encouraged, and challenged to go back and love middle schoolers and their parents to Jesus! (elizabeth)


The MSMC just confirmed the importance of middle school ministry and confirmed my calling from God to continue in this work. (andy)


Wait! There are other people like me? I think this is one of the main reasons I enjoyed the campference. To hang, talk, laugh, pray and cry with like-minded people. (mark)

and, people begged us to do it again.

honestly, i kinda put out a few fleeces to god. i don’t know that they were hard-and-fast fleeces. but they were questions i needed god to answer for me.

first, i needed to know that at least a couple of the partner organizations would support the idea. i checked with them, and was thrilled to find out they were all ‘in’ for another year (that was a huge confirmation from god, actually).

second, i felt we needed to find a good location for the campference that was farther south. this was a conflict for me, because springhill camp in evart, michigan, had been such a generous partner, with a facility that rocked. but springhill came back and offered their south camp, in southern indiana. check.

finally, i wanted to hear from my inner core of middle school ministry peers (a.k.a., the “speakers”). 100% unanimous, they were all in, and certainly not with reluctance!

so, here we go! the 2012 middle school ministry campference is a reality, and the site is live. we’ll take registration live in a couple months (though you can enter your info if you want us to let you know when that happens, or keep you informed of other developments). just yesterday i invited a very special guest to join us, someone i would be so completely, off-the-charts stoked to have join us.

much more to come in the months ahead. but i hope — if you care about junior highers and middle schoolers — that you will join us this year.

getting teenagers to read the bible

what youth worker wouldn’t like to find a way to get teenagers engaged in the bible?

that’s why The Youth Cartel partnered with Biblica (formerly International Bible Society) to create CBEmini.

CBEmini is a 9-day starter version of Biblica’s 8-week community bible experience. using a fantastic, stripped-down edition of scripture, without the verse numbers and other distractions (so it reads more like a novel), The Books of the Bible provides a way to read the bible in three ways that circumvent what biblica’s research has found as the major hurdles to bible engagement:
– we read the bible in fragments
– we read the bible without context
– we read the bible in isolation

while the full community bible experience takes groups through the entire new testament in 8 weeks, CBEmini provides youth groups, reading in small groups, a 9-day experience of reading through luke and acts. there’s a full leader’s guide, with an overview and 3 weeks of discussion guides. youth workers can choose to use the free pdf of the scripture (which we provide with the leader’s guide), free email subscriptions, or the free version of The Books of the Bible on YouVersion (the app). or, they can choose to purchase copies of The Books of the Bible new testament for an ultra-low price of $5.99 when you buy a case.

and here’s the best part: the whole thing is FREE!

yup, free. biblica’s desire is purely to help people (and, in the case of CBEmini, youth groups) experience the bible in a way that will shape their lives.

we had over 500 people at the atlanta NYWC sign up for CBEmini. but, of course, many of you weren’t there, and we’d love to have you join us in this extremely cool experience!

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP. you can also join us on facebook, or follow on twitter.

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.

YMCP, NYWC, and the Symposium

what a week this is. tomorrow, i start a two day meeting with the san diego cohort of my youth ministry coaching program. it’s only my second meeting with this cohort, so we’re all still getting to know each other. i can’t wait — it will be a particularly great time, i’m sure. when we met last, one of the (many) things we did was brainstorm a list of topics they would like to discuss at some point throughout the year. two of the top subjects (we voted), were “balancing family and ministry” and “handling criticism.” well, it just so happens that my good friend and youth pastor (who also happens to be the youth pastor at the church we meet at, and a YMCP graduate himself), brian berry, has done a bunch of thinking on those two subjects. he’s done seminars on them at the NYWC and SYMC, and is writing books on both of them. so, brian is joining my cohort one morning to lead discussions on those two themes.

thursday, i head to atlanta for the national youth workers convention. i’m leading three things while i’m there:

– a panel on ‘the future of youth ministry.’ i’m moderating, but the amazing panel includes: brooklyn lindsay, steve argue, brock morgan, and andy tilly. friday, 4 – 5:30.
– a learning lab on ‘how teens think.’ sunday morning (yawn!), 8 – 9:30.
– a learning lecture called ‘toward a ministry of belonging.’ sunday afternoon, 1:30 – 2:30.

i have a crazy full schedule during the rest of the event — current and potential client meetings for The Youth Cartel, old and new friends, publishers and partners. in short: a blast.

then: monday: the extended adolescence symposium. yup, i’ve been blogging about this one for a while, and it’s finally here. two leading thinkers and a brilliant moderator, helping us understand the strange phenomena that is extended adolescence. it’s just a one day dealio — 8am – 3pm. and it will be nicely intimate (probably about a hundred of us); so lots of opportunity for conversation and questions. there’s still room, btw.

but here’s a cool thing (if you’re still reading this blog post all the way down here!). my good friend luke macdonald believes in this event. luke and i, by the way, shouldn’t be friends, my many peoples’ estimation. he’s in a very conservative, reformed church of the stripe that usually doesn’t trust me. but luke took a gutsy risk and joined the youth ministry coaching program last year. in the midst, i came to greatly respect, trust, and enjoy him.

anyhow: luke believes in the extended adolescence symposium, and wants to support it, even though he can’t attend. so luke texted me and told me he wants to pay for two tickets, and that i can give them away to anyone who can’t afford them. first person to comment telling me you want to come but can’t afford it gets them. let me know if you want one or both tickets.

why churches should care about extended adolescence

i wrote a short piece on extended adolescence for recently, on why churches should care about extended adolescence. here’s a snippet, from the middle of the piece:

Churches are realizing two things: teenagers leave after youth group, and there are no young adults in our church. Sure, there might be a lame and weird little young adult group of some sort; but in many churches, you know your average high school graduate wouldn’t be caught dead going to that group.

In response, churches around North America are creating young adult youth groups. Really, that’s what they are (of course, they wouldn’t call them that). And this, my youth worker friends, is only perpetuating and extending some of the very problems we’re discovering about how we’ve approached youth group for the past 40 years or so. Isolation isn’t the church; homogeneity doesn’t have much of a scent of the Kingdom of God. And creating these pockets of isolation only further removes the onramps to adulthood that teenagers (and now “emerging adults”) so desperately need.

Here’s why I care about this: just like I don’t want my 13 year old son to have the same faith he had when he was 8, I hope he isn’t stuck with his current faith when he’s 26. And, I feel the same for every teenager in my church. To be honest, I feel the same about every teenager in your church.

go here to read the whole thing.

join us in atlanta on november 21 for the extended adolescence symposium, where we’ll wrestle with these important issues with the help of three of america’s leading experts on the subject.

pre-sale offer from adam on my new book: understanding your young teen

my sneaky partner in The Youth Cartel sent out an email to our email list recently. being more gracious than adam, i’ve decided to share it with a slightly wider audience! here’s the email i got from adam (since i’m on our mailing list!)

An insider deal
Hey mark, Adam here.

I want to let you know about a brand new book Marko has coming out from our friends at Zondervan. It’s called, Understanding Your Young Teen. If you do middle school ministry, this book was written with the parents in your ministry in mind.

I’m a little biased, but I think it would be an excellent book to buy for some key parents and host a discussion group. I’m convinced that as you develop a partnership of understanding with parents in your ministry your impact in the lives of young teens will become even more significant than it already is.

To read the full description of the book, click here.

A Special Pre-Sale Offer
Here at The Youth Cartel we just launched our online store. For you, what that means is that we can pass along some exclusive stuff for our Cartel friends. (You know– keep it in the family.)

Marko’s new book doesn’t start shipping until some time in December. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pre-order it from us and get some bonus stuff when it releases.

Here’s what I’m thinking:
The book itself is $11.99 in our store. (Retail is $14.99) So just on price we’re already hooking you up. But let’s add some fun to the equation, get all Cartel-y.

Pre-order 1-9 copies – Marko will sign one copy & Marko will send along a note of encouragement.
Pre-order 10-29 copies – You’ll get the signed copy, a note, and we’ll schedule a 15 minute one-on-one time with Marko to talk about whatever you want.
Pre-order 30+ copies – You’ll get the signed copy, a note, and we’ll schedule a 15-20 minute time where he’ll Skype into a parent meeting.
Pre-order 100+ copies – You’ll get all of that. And I’ll buy Marko a puppy. Because he loves dogs. (NOT!) Seriously, if you want to buy that many copies we’ll do something awesome and no animals will be harmed.

One of the fun things about our new store is that any order over $65 automagically gives you free shipping. In this case, that’s just 6 copies of Understanding Your Young Teen. Cool, right?

To take advantage of this pre-sale deal, click here.

Thanks for your partnership! Viva la revolucion!

~ Adam (whyismarko editor’s note: the less gracious one)

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

i’ve really enjoyed being part of creating 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 every monday afternoon for a new question and three slants (or subscribe via email or rss here).

extended adolescence on the immerse journal blog

i wrote a bit recently about why youth workers should care about extended adolescence for the immerse journal blog. here’s a bit from the middle of the piece:

Do you realize that adolescence in America is now considered almost 20 years long? The onset of puberty has dropped; but the bigger change is on the upper end. Adolescent researchers now consider adolescence to extend all the way through the 20s for most.

There’s a complex set of reasons for this, and they’re not all bad (I’m sure you can think about it and come up with several of those reasons). But here’s the tricky part for me, as someone who’s passionately called to youth ministry: my calling is not about keeping teenagers in adolescence! My calling (and I assume yours) is about raising up young adult disciple of Jesus who understand and own their faith. Really, my calling (and yours) is about raising up adult disciples, if we take the long view. I have no interest in investing my life into the idea of keeping teenagers where they are. Discipleship is about going somewhere!

How should this new reality impact our work with teenagers (let alone 20-somethings)?

What does this mean for the spiritual lives and faith formation of teenagers?

If creating a new ‘youth group’ for young adults, prolonging their isolation from the adults in the church isn’t in answer, but those students have no interest in going to cold and dry adult worship service, what options do we have?

How can we do ministry in the real world teenagers live in, but still be counter-cultural, providing onramps to adulthood?

click here for the rest of the article

and, join us as we wrestle with questions like this at the extended adolescence symposium in atlanta, on november 21.