Category Archives: the youth cartel

ever seen conference rules like these?

in the first ‘tribal gathering’ (our main sessions) at the middle school ministry campference, i took the group through our “camp rules.” i’d like to think they are fairly one-of-a-kind for a youth ministry training event (or any church ministry event for that matter):


  • If you ask permission, you will be shunned.
  • Most things on the schedule are optional.
  • The rest of the things on the schedule are optional.
  • If you even think about breaking curfew, you will be praised.
  • If you sleep through breakfast or a meeting, you get spirit points.
  • A lack of interruptions during breakouts will not be tolerated.
  • For reals: We are peers here. Seriously.
  • The only thing that is not optional: it is not an option to be a dominating, arrogant, longwinded douchebag.
  • No one cares how crappy or lovely you sing. Bring it. We love you.
  • Play Hard. Try something new. Eat something bad for you. Unload something (it’s safe here).
  • This is Vegas.
  • Be here.

probably wouldn’t be wise to use these for a youth event; but, you know, this was for adults. :)

middle school ministry campference, day 3

sorry for the time delay, there, between my posts about day 1 and day 2 of the middle school ministry campference. day 3 was a blur of wrapping up the campference and traveling home, compounded by a laptop that died that morning. yesterday was a blur of sorting out said computer problems (which resulted in breaking down and getting a new laptop, in the end).

so, day 3!

after breakfast, we had our final round of breakout sessions, including a seminar by katie edwards on ‘developing volunteer leaders’ and a dialogue facilitated by brooklyn lindsey with the zippy-fun title of “brooklyn’s secret sauce: swapping recipes for what works”. springhill camp staff also led a learning experience called ‘freakin’ awesome games.’

in our final tribal gathering, we opened with an extended time of worship, punctuated by a sweet time of celebrating communion together. it was a deep blessing for me to see circles of middle school youth workers huddled up, praying together, arm-in-arm. we’d asked them to circle up and figure out how they wanted to experience communion together; but we hadn’t told them to spend time, arm-in-arm, praying together. so it was beautiful to see most of the circles lingering in that space and connection.

brooklyn read some final ‘camp mail’ letters (words of encouragement from senior pastors to middle school pastors attending the event), and we laughed our way through a hilarious game with nutty prizes. i woman with zero budget and zero salary (but who “works” full time) won a massive prize package from simply youth ministry, as well as a free registration to the symc — it was a beautiful moment. then, i spoke about what i called “eutychian middle school ministry.” i unpacked the story of paul and eutychus, from acts 20, suggesting that the first half of the story is a great example of bad middle school ministry:

  • paul is focused on his lesson plan above all else
  • paul likes the sound of his own voice too much
  • paul buys into the banking model of spiritual formation
  • eutychus is so relationally disconnected that on one notices his risk taking bahvior

and the second half of the story is an example of great middle school ministry:

  • the community SEES eutychus
  • paul gets awkward in order to connect
  • they shared life, not just teaching
  • they had an all-nighter! (’nuff said)

brook led everyone in a closing bit where they shouted out response completing the sentence prompt, “I believe…” beautiful and thoughtful and encouraging and hilarious statements poured forth about our identity, about the importance of middle school ministry, and about the impact of the weekend.

we shuffled off to lunch, and gave various hugs and handshakes and goodbyes.

i couldn’t be happier with how this event played out, in every way. and, reading through the evaluations, the positive response seems fairly unanimous. two or three months ago, i would have said i didn’t think we would repeat the event after this year. but now, with the 80 who attended almost begging for a repeat, and with my little soul so full of gratefulness and joy, i’m thinking we just might have to try it again next year. i have a few bridges to cross in figuring out if we can do that: but i sure hope and pray we can. stay tuned!

middle school ministry campference, day 2

ok, i know this event is my baby, and that i’m biased. but i really don’t think i expected the middle school ministry campference to go this well. it’s not that i thought it was going to go poorly; i just don’t know that i expected this.

jason hoffer, our wonderful host from springhill camp, was standing with me in the “game room” tonight, a large room full of booths, tables, ping pong and pool tables. and we were seeing dozens of clusters of middle school youth workers, just hanging out together and having fun. some were playing games. others were debriefing the day or getting to know each other better. and jason said, “this is what i always hoped this event would be.”

after breakfast this morning, we had morning breakout sessions, including dialogues on a cool variety of themes. people were totally ‘in’. my morning session was on the implications of recent adolescent brain research; and we had a lively discussion that felt like a group of friends brainstorming together.

we went straight to our morning tribal gathering. scott rubin and brooklyn lindsey led a hilarious game that only partially worked, which was part of the hilarity. we’d found these stuffed angry birds at walmart, and staged a large scale “angry birds live”, with youth workers launching angry birds using a slingshot aimed at a pile of boxes with stuffed angry bird pigs here and there. the ‘camp mail’ letters from senior pastors blessed everyone again, as did johnny scott’s worship leading. then steve argue gave an amazing talk about how we move (and how we help middle schoolers move) through fear and doubt to faith. he talked about faith as a verb, and walked us through peter’s steps on the water as an example of moving from one place of faith, through fear and doubt, to a new place of faith.

after lunch, we had another series of breakouts, and were then on to free time. now, since this is a campference and not a conference, free time included:

  • ziplines
  • horseback trail rides
  • paintball
  • climbing wall
  • high ropes course
  • a texas hold-em tournament
  • a dodgeball tournament
  • and lots of hanging out and talking

after dinner, we had another tribal gathering. kurt johnston and brooklyn led pingpongpalooza, we gave out a bunch of funny prizes, johnny led worship, i read camp mail, and we had a wonderful talk from michael flaherty. mike is the founder and CEO of walden media, the producers of all the narnia movies, as well as dozens of other films, including holes, bridge to terabithia, and charlotte’s web. mike told stories, which was awesome. he included much of his own story, and riffed a bit on the power of stories to shape us (and middle schoolers). he included lots of cool insider stuff, and responded to lots of questions. mike is the real deal, coming to the MSMC at his own expense, and staying with us for the entire weekend. his presence and engagement with people was a great gift.

then, free time again this evening, which included the game room i mentioned at the beginning of this post, as well as indoor high ropes and climbing wall, and a euro-bungie. we ended the night with a campfire, complete with campfire songs.

yup, another amazing day. oh, and the sun broke through the clouds today (which wasn’t forecast), which was a huge answer to prayer.

i came into this event wondering if we should repeat it. but i’m starting to think we simply have to find a way to do it again next year.

middle school ministry campference, day 1

ah, what a blessing to be in a room packed with middle school youth workers from around the country.

our first evening was amazing. people rolled in all afternoon — some driving up to 14 hours to be here. we gathered first over dinner, where conversation was instantly lively (which i would expect from middle school ministry people). we’re doing a fun little thing at meals. since the camp had the ability to hook up an ipod to their dining hall sound system, we enlisted 6 different attendees to “dj a meal,” which basically meant that they each put together an hour-long playlist on their ipod. it will be fun to see the different personalities reflected in these meal-time playlists.

our kick-off ‘tribal gathering’ tonight was everything i had hoped it would be. brooklyn lindsay opened the time with a creative prayer and some welcoming words. we did a little ‘who’s hear’ thing where the oldest youth worker and the newest youth worker (not youngest) each won a massive mega-pack of resources from our great sponsors at simply junior high (seriously, each mega-pack was worth about $700!). scott rubin and brooklyn facilitated a game we made up that had people identifying funny things about their ministry year, in a kind of a 1 on 1 competition mode. of course, crazy amounts of candy were thrown to the crowd, and the winner got a funny prize.

i went through the “camp rules” (which, i’d like to think, set this event apart from pretty much any other youth ministry training event on earth – i’ll blog them in the next week). then johnny scott and a couple other guys from our wonderful partners at CIY led a time of worship where everyone totally dove in.

then we launched into the soapbox sessions. we had four people give 7 minute soapbox rants about something they wish we in middle school ministry would think about or do differently. we set the stage by explaining that this was the kind of honest dialogue, filled with the opportunity for disagreement but permeated with respect and affection, was what we were hoping for the whole weekend. after each soapbox rant, myself or brooklyn moderated a few questions from the audience. katie edwards kicked it off by talking about her experience as a foster mom, and how it has impacted her views and practice of ministry. she challenged all of us to think differently about our field of ministry. jeremy hickman, an attendee who had won the online contest we held with attendees ahead of time to give a soapbox rant, spoke passionately about the need to invest in leaders. heather flies spoke via video about the need (and pay-offs) of good organization and communication. and kurt johnston brought it home with four mini-rants on everything from how “the youth ministry sky is not falling” to “let’s speak about god less and jesus more often.”

we followed this with our first round of breakout sessions, which included a seminar, a dialogue, and a “dialoginar” (a word we made up for something halfway between a seminar and a dialogue).

then, late night fun: the camp invented a new game for us — glow stick paintball. and few people did the ‘night owl zipline’ on springhill camp’s 1000-foot zipline. i think two people went to the screening of a thief in the night (yes!). but most hung out by a fire pit or in the dining hall and had fantastic conversations.

tomorrow, day #2, is a full day. but if it’s anything like tonight, it’s going to rock.

youth ministry, parents, and logic

i’m writing a short book for barefoot ministries on parents (not for parents, but about parents). it’s one of three short books geared for volunteer youth workers that will be released as ebooks. the other two are on understanding teenagers and leading small groups.

while i don’t agree with the “abolish youth ministry” viewpoint of divided: the movie, i totally think there’s some undergirding truth to the need for ongoing reshaping of our perspectives on parents. to that end, i just wrote these three sentences in the manuscript of the book:

There’s some big picture logic we have to embrace:

If we care about the spiritual formation of teenagers, and know that parents have a bigger impact on their spiritual lives than anything else, we would be foolish not to invest time and energy into parents of teenagers.

If we, ultimately, care about the whole lives of teenagers, and know that their parents have a bigger influence on their whole lives than any other influence (including their peers, and certainly including us), it would be arrogant or myopic to ignore parents in our youth ministry strategies.

If we see in scripture that parents have the primary responsibility for the spiritual shaping of their children, we would be biblical revisionists or showing our ignorance to attempt any youth ministry approach that circumvents parents.

what’s your response?

(as an aside, what’s it say that when i looked at google images with “parent” and “teenager” in the search, the majority of images are of parents and teens in conflict?)

last chance on MSMC, a new main session speaker, and two free tix

the middle school ministry campference is just a little over a week away, staring next friday (october 14 – 16). as i work on final details, my excitement and anticipation continues to grow. i just know we’re going to have great conversations and a tub o’ fun.

three things i wanted to mention here today:

FIRST: it’s not too late to join us. sure, the price is an extra twenty five bucks because you missed the deadline. but even at $350, this thing is a deal of the youth ministry training world (since fine dining and accommodations are included!).

SECOND: i’m stoked to announce that steve argue has joined us as our final ‘tribal gathering’ speaker. steve is a deeply good guy, a brilliant thinker, and a local church youth ministry practitioner. after a bunch of years in youth ministry training and teaching youth ministry at colleges and seminaries, steve is back overseeing youth and children’s ministries at mars hill bible church.

THIRD: (and this is way cool…) a particular church in ohio had registered and paid for four spaces early on. then their junior high pastor, who had registered for the spots, moved on. the other day, the student ministries pastor at that church contacted me to let me know they would like to give their FULLY PAID spaces away to someone who would benefit from them. i announced this to the wonderful people who have ‘liked’ The Youth Cartel facebook page, first, and two of the spots are now gone. but i have two left. you can win one or both of them. and all you’d have to do is get yourself to springhill camp for the event (since everything else will be taken care of).

i’m going to limit this to people who can join us for the whole weekend (in other words, you can’t get the free spots if you’re only going to join us for one overnight).

here’s how we’re gonna do this. send me an email ([email protected]) if you’re interested. and tell me two things:
1. why you want to come to the event
2. what nice thing you’ll do for the youth pastor who gave up these spots (and isn’t expecting anything in return)

i’ll pick a winner friday at noon (pacific, october 7), so act fast!

seminars, dialogues, and learning experiences at the middle school ministry campference

at the middle school ministry campference in a few weeks, we’ll have loads of fun, we’ll have some awesome tribal gatherings, and we’ll have a variety of smaller break-outs. in these smaller setttings, everyone’s voice will be heard. we’ve said it from the beginning on this event: you are needed, and you will be heard.

we’ve just finalized the 14 options for these break-outs, and they fall into 3.5 categories:
seminars: more content from the speaker, but still with plenty of time for questions and discussion
dialogues: the speaker will host a conversation that they’re passionate about (and have some specific knowledge about)
learning experiences: outdoors, active, participatory. you won’t just hear ideas, you’ll try them out.
(you’ll see the other 1/2 format below)

Kurt Johnston

• How can we move away from programs that isolate JHers without being reactionary? — dialogue
• Program vs. Relational vs. Missional (defining your ministry style) — dialogue

Katie Edwards

• Developing Volunteer Leaders – seminar
• How to rock it as a volunteer — dialogue

Brooklyn Lindsey

• Middle School Girls – seminar
• Trends that are impacting us, or should be — dialogue

Johnny Scott

• Creativity and Intentionality in Programming — dialogue

Scott Rubin

• Working with Parents — dialoginar (yes, i made up another word. scott and i were debating on whether to make these a seminar or a dialogue, and we decided to split the difference!)
• Middle School Guys — dialoginar

Me (marko)

• Implications of Adolescent Brain Research – dialogue
• Middle School Culture — dialoginar (yes, i’m going to use that too!)

SpringHill Camp Staff

• 15 fantastic community building activities that anyone can do — learning experience
• Time fillers (when you’ve got to kill a half hour) — learning experience
• Freakin’ awesome games — learning experience

it’s not too late to register! check out the website here; or go here to register.

only three days left to order your ‘extended adolescence symposium’ mp3 or ebook

i’m stoked. i wasn’t sure it would happen. but it did, thanks to some very gracious supporters who believe in what we’re doing.

so, yes, it’s official: the extended adolescence symposium is officially on.

i’m still a little in shock.

first, i thought it was such a crazy long shot that we could get our first pick of presenters. dr. robert epstein is a freakin’ grenade launcher. he has messed with my mind over the past year when it comes to thinking about adolescence and youth ministry and parenting. then there’s dr. jeffrey arnett, the dude who literally wrote the book (and came up with the phrase) on emerging adulthood. i think i’m a decent moderator; but when both epstein and arnett said they’d love to be a part of this thing, i knew we needed someone with much more significant mental chops. enter dr. kara powell. yup, her.

seriously, i designed this event for me! i want to learn from these people. i want to understand what’s going on in american adolescence. i want to more deeply think about the questions of why? and so what? i want to be challenge to rethink things. and, to be honest, i’m hoping to see a few sparks fly!

but the second shock was that people rallied to our kickstarter page and we have the majority of the funding we need to make this puppy a reality. i’ll try not to be hurt that no one opted in for the $500 steak dinner with me (sniff). i am a little surprised that no one wanted the $250 ‘lunch with one of the speakers’. heck, i think an hour with epstein or arnett or kara would, literally, be worth 5 times that, easily. but, hey, i’m not complaining. and mucho, mucho thanks to those who have pitched in, especially when getting the swag wasn’t your primary motivation (i know of many who just wanted to play a role in seeing this conversation take place).

next week, adam and i will launch a page on our website with regular ol’ ticket sales for this ain’t-been-done-before-and-might-not-be-again event. but, in order to get this thing approved on kickstarter, we had to come up with a couple non-event thingies. that’s where the mp3 of the event and the abridged ebook of choice quotes came from. but i only asked permission from the speakers to use their stuff for people who paid for it during the fundraising efforts on kickstarter.

in other words: the mp3 of the entire event, and the abridged ebook of selected content from the event will only be available until our kickstarter deadline this saturday, september 17. after that, we hope you’ll attend the event, but there won’t be any other way to get that stuff.

oh, and the regular ticket price will be $100. on the kickstarter site, you can still get ‘pre-sale’ tickets for $75. that price won’t be offered anywhere else.

so i’m just, ya know, givin’ you a heads up. (and, full disclosure, the money we’ve raised still won’t cover our actual costs.)

Cartel Culture (The Youth Cartel free awesomeness, part 2)

this week, The Youth Cartel (my kick-butt little company!) launched two amazing, free youth ministry resource emails. yesterday, i wrote about YouTube You Can Use, the weekly mini-discussion built around a youtube clip. free. really. that sucka will come out pretty much each and every monday (but only to the wise and savvy youth workers who sign up for it, here).

but that’s not all! if you order now, we’ll throw in the ginsu knives

wait. no.

oh, yeah, it’s CARTEL CULTURE.

let’s be honest: no one wants weekly emails full of long letters and articles — that’s what blogs are for (c’mon, sing that last line to the tune of michael w. smith’s ‘that’s what friends are for’; i’ll wait for you). links. when it comes to FREE weekly emails about stuff youth workers should see, it’s gotta be links, baby.

that’s what the weekly CARTEL CULTURE is. it’s a free link-fest (all in a beautifully designed shell, i must say, created by the unstoppable adam mclane). looks like this:

you’ll notice there that we have 6 links, each in a different “bucket”. but those are only 6 of the 15 “buckets” we’ll rotate through each week. the whole list includes:


who knows, maybe we’ll throw in some more categories over time (we’re sneaky that way — we’re a cartel, after all).

some of the links go to The Youth Cartel site, so that we can host some conversation around the bit. others go to external sites.

you can sign up here for the weekly CARTEL CULTURE email, which is free (did i mention that?). you’ll see the other emails you can sign up for also (YouTube You Can Use, and our event and book and curriculum news, the latter two of which will only be sporadic, at best). we promise, we won’t spam you or sell your email address or anything like that. hey, once you’re in the cartel baby, you’re like family.

YouTube You Can Use (The Youth Cartel free awesomeness, part 1)

The Youth Cartel launched two new FREE weekly emails this week. really, i can’t take any credit for them. my brilliant partner, adam mclane, came up with the ideas, design and content for both of them. i’ll throw in with some links and stuff from time to time, i’m sure. but, really, these are the shiznit.

first up:

YouTube You Can Use

each monday (if you sign up for this free list), you’ll get an email with a youtube video, and a mini discussion guide (topic, discussion starter, linked scripture verses, discussion questions, and a final ‘wrestle with this’ thought or question. it’s freakin’ youth ministry gold, man, and it’s free.

did i mention it’s free?

no, really, it’s totally free.

here’s where you can go to sign up for this.

oh, and if you missed the first email, click here to see the archived version, on the topic of perfection.

viva la revolucion, baby.