since mark and i have been friends for a long time, i thought it would be fun to interview him. so, here it is!
marko: dude, we’ve talked for years about rethinking youth ministry. youth ministry 3.0 is my thinking about the church into new ways of thinking and doing youth ministry, and you helped be refine many of those ideas. in what ways is ‘inside the mind of youth pastors’ your contribution to this movement? why did you write about staffing a youth ministry in a church? is it just because you dream about administration?
riddle: I’ll let you in on a little secret. I haven’t waited my whole life to write about staffing a youth ministry. To be blunt, staffing isn’t something I’m all that passionate about. I am, however, passionate about youth pastors and sustainable youth ministries. I’ve had a unique perspective for a few years in which I can step back and look at youth ministry from a 30,000 foot view. What I saw was amazing individuals called to youth ministry consistently diving into situations that at best were limited, and at worst were toxic. I noticed that there was only so much the average youth pastor could change in a church, regardless of the number of books, seminars, leadership courses or how hard they tried to change the system. The system was to strong mostly because of the difficulty of truly engaging church leaders into the conversation. From my perspective the only way to really see new things happen, or to move into YM 3.0 is to engage church leaders into the conversation, but there was a major barrier that consistently kept church leaders from entering to the extent they need to. Most saw youth ministry as a staffing issue. A conversation about great youth ministry in most churches is short circuited by a conversation about staffing. When staffing is the first question it keeps church leaders from engaging to the extent they need to be involved in the solution. Great youth ministry isn’t really the key issue for church leaders, great staffing is. It goes something like this: “If we find the right staff person, they’ll tell us what youth ministry should look like.” So I wrote about staffing as a trojan horse. The book looks like a staffing book, but it’s really radically rethinking youth ministry in staffing language. It’s only a start frankly, but I hope it will open the door for church leaders to dream about YM 3.0.
marko: so you don’t think reading my book will fix everything?
marko: fine. uh, in the book you write about the role of a youth pastor in two contexts, church a and church b. can you briefly describe those ideas?
riddle: Church A believes the responsibility for the spiritual formation of youth belongs to the staff, in this case the youth pastor. These churches will talk about equipping, and recruiting volunteers for ministry, but the buck stops with the staff person.
Church B says the responsibility for the spiritual formation of youth belongs to the parents and community of the church. It’s the very real manifestation of the moments when an infant is dedicated and the parents promise to God and the church that they will raise the child in the way of Christ. In those moments the congregation says they will help. Youth ministry (and children’s) ministry is directly related to those holy moments. Church B may hire a youth pastor, but their role is very different from Church A.
marko: is there a church a-b, baby?
riddle (ignoring me, and continuing): What’s interesting is most churches often talks like Church B, but function like Church A.
marko: what are the implications being church a or church b? is it more than who’s first in the yellow pages?
riddle: Church A revolves around the youth pastor. They are the hub of the youth ministry. Every new idea, vision, program, administrative detail, volunteer recruited and relationship with kids all come from the youth pastor. When the youth pastor leaves, the youth ministry struggles or collapses. It generally struggles until someone with a new vision and values comes in as a staff person and becomes the next hub. There’s quite a price for this kind of ministry in terms of volunteers, parents, kids, trust, and sustainability. Church A is the result of a transaction between parents and staff. While most youth pastors complain that parents drop kids off and have given up responsibility for the spiritual formation of their kids, youth pastors gladly take that responsibility upon their shoulders and in many ways enable parents.
Church B, however, produces engagement. The role of youth pastor then becomes different dependent upon the gifts of the pastor and the community. It’s not built around the staff, so it’s more sustainable. In the churches I work with who become Church B, they can go a long time without staff. Many go for 16+ months and continue to thrive. The youth pastor in this kind of church receives a wonderful gift. They get to be themselves and let the church own the ministry. They can dream with a team, while not being burdened to function outside their passions and capacities.
marko: your company, the riddle group, does consulting for churches all over the country, what exactly do you do?
riddle: We help churches who function like Church A, become Church B. That’s all we do. We aren’t interested so much in the latest program or trend in youth ministry, we help churches own their youth ministry. We help churches make youth ministry important. We help church leaders think in new ways about youth and become more engaged in the conversation to improve this important ministry.
marko: and where did you come up with the name for ‘the riddle group’? i don’t understand it. is it, like, “riddle me this?” like, a batman reference?
riddle: (more silence)
marko: (sigh) ok, what does leadership in church b look like?
riddle: Leadership is Church B is very different than in Church A. In Church A command and control is pretty common. The leader (read: modern title for pastor) names the hill the ministry and volunteers will take. This could be a new program, new service, new priority etc. Then the leader spends time getting buy-in, in attempts to align the people of the church with their vision. This is what we call “vision-casting” and is a persuasive technique that focuses on involvement in our ideas. The problem with this kind of leadership is legion. It’s the main way in which we think of leadership in the church these days at big conferences and it’s they way most of the published pastors try to lead their churches. I recently heard a story of one of these published pastors in an interview describe his understanding of leadership. He said something like, “We’re at a banquet and everyone is at the table waiting to eat. The pastor is the dude with the food.” That pretty much sums up Church A mentality. The pastor is God’s chosen vehicle to give the people what they need. While this is the dominant model presented to us at catalytic kinds of conferences, I don’t think it really produces disciples like we’re called to and I think it robs the church of the joy of being the church.
Church B leaders don’t start with their ideas, or the gaps in the ministry they see need improvement. They convene a conversation and see who shows up. Then as a community they look around the room and see who loves youth, what they’re passionate about and finds ways to set them free. Church B leaders refuse to take on responsibility when people try to give it to them when it isn’t theirs. They redirect it. They aren’t the dude (and dudettes) with the food. They are recognize that everyone in the church has wonderful dreams and gifts to give to youth. Which have often been driven from them through our constant drumming or our vision and style of leadership into them. I love this subject and it’s the focus of a Learning Lab I’m leading in Tulsa in late April.
marko: thanks, mark. i’d like to make one suggestion to you. maybe you should change the name of ‘the riddle group’ to ‘we’ll help you hire a youth pastor who will fix all your problems group, llc’. you don’t even have to credit me if you use that, ’cause i’m just that gracious.
i think he hung up. but it might have just been that the call got dropped.