Tag Archives: mark riddle

the future of youth ministry, episode 2

i led a late night discussion at the national youth workers convention this past fall on “the future of youth ministry”. in preparation for that discussion, i emailed a few dozen friends with better youth ministry minds than my own, and asked them to complete the sentence, “the future of youth ministry….” about 15 of them responded (often with more than a sentence!). i’m going to post them here as a series, sometimes with a bit of commentary from myself, and sometimes merely as a reflection-prod. would love to hear your responses.

Seth Barnes (seth is the founder and executive director of adventures in missions. a brilliant thinker and entrepreneur with a heart for the broken of the world, seth is passionate about discipleship. he blogs here; but you shouldn’t read his blog unless you want to be challenged out of any speck of complacency you might hold onto.)

20 years from now, youth ministry in the US will look like youth ministry in Europe.
A few youth ministers will rediscover Jesus’ model of youth ministry and actually try it out (with 20-somethings).
The gap year experience will become an increasingly powerful tool in the youth minister’s toolbox.

my thoughts:
it’s difficult to know exactly what seth perceives youth ministry in europe to look like (maybe he’ll comment here and fill us in on his thinking); but i’m guessing that he’s referring more to youth ministry in a truly post-christian culture than he’s referring to any particular approaches to youth ministry found in europe. if that interpretation is correct, i fully agree with seth. our epoch of well-resourced churches is on the wane, and an assumed christian perspective is already gone in much of the u.s. (less so in the south, of course).

i’m very intrigued by seth’s 2nd sentence, and his inference that great youth ministry might look like a long series of praxis experiences born out in the context of small community (the 12 with jesus). of course, this implies a great deal of sacrifice on the part of both the youth worker and the disciples; and i’m skeptical (sorry) that many will be willing to go there.

as to the gap year experience (a common practice in the UK and other parts of europe where young adults take a year — often before or after college — to give themselves to a serving opportunity that often becomes a significant worldview shaper): i’m a huge fan. i wish we had more of this as a norm in the u.s.

Mark Riddle (mark is a very smart pot-stirrer who clearly has the ability to practice systemic thinking and knock people off balance into a perspective-altering space of disequilibration. mark leads ‘the riddle group‘, one of the premier youth ministry consultant organizations. and he blogs — occasionally — here.)

The greatest barriers to God’s dreams for the future of youth ministry are sitting in this room right now.

my thoughts:
like i said, mark is a pot-stirrer. my understanding of mark’s comment is that we have a natural tendency to limit what could be — particularly in the area of significant change — by our perspectives, biases and experiences. in a sense, we always ‘limit’ possible change; whereas an outsider, or someone thinking from a completely ‘other’ paradigm, can bring cross-current ideas and thinking that leap change forward, rather than tweaking and tinkering.

mark actually sat in on my late night discussion at the nashville convention, and had much more to say about this (that helped all of us in the room). i’m hoping he’ll comment here and help us all.

‘inside the mind of youth pastors’ blog tour

insidethemind1i reviewed mark riddle‘s book, inside the mind of youth pastors, here on ysmarko back when i read it. but now it’s out! and i agreed to be a part of mark’s blog tour for the book.

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?

riddle: (silence)

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.

inside the mind of youth pastors

Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leaders Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors, by Mark Riddle

ok — i need to start with a few disclaimers:

1. mark riddle is a friend of mine who i care about quite a bit.

2. this book was published by ys. i don’t write too many blog book reviews of ys books, because i try to keep this blog from being too overly marketing-y. i DO publish them from time to time, though, and felt this one was worth it, since i actually read the entire book!

3. this book releases in january! (sorry, you’ll have to wait!)

i’d known this book was in development for a couple years (since i know mark, and since i know our publishing schedule), and i’ve been looking forward to it. i’m not sure how well it will sell, since it’s a book — primarily — for church leaders (senior pastors and such) who oversee youth pastors, or are looking to hire one; but, i think it’s one of those books that just had to be written. and, this is clear: this is a book that will be immensely helpful to those who read it. i expect we’ll be hearing thanks from senior pastors and churches who find this book helps them break the cycle of bad assumptions, bad hiring processes, and bad hires. i think this book will help senior pastors and youth pastors get along better. and i think it will help youth pastors make better choices in “accepting a call” to a church.

mark writes clearly, in short chapters. the book can be read straight through, or in a non-linear fashion. depending on who’s doing the reading, you might want to choose our own adventure through these ideas. there’s good humor, and lots of stories, and a wad of helpful tools, ideas, suggested practices and processes.

so, here’s my suggestion: pastors who oversee youth workers really need to read this book. and youth pastor should pick up a couple copies of this book (honestly, i’m not just trying to sell it — i really do believe this) and ask your supervisor if they’d be willing to read it concurrently with you, and meet to talk through the ideas. it could do wonders for opening lines of communication on crucial issues about effective youth ministry, as it pertains to the role of a youth pastor.

thanks, mark, for working so hard to give us such a helpful resource.

here’s the website for mark’s consulting organization, the riddle group.

and here’s mark’s blog (which i have in my bloglines, and read daily).

not making it happen

my friend mark riddle wrote an excellent piece for the ys blog a few weeks ago. and for those of you who missed it there, i wanted to re-post it here:

I got off the phone this morning with John, a youth pastor, who will leave his church in 20 days because of the church’s financial situation. He’s built a big youth ministry with lots of kids and very few volunteers. “The church isn’t interested in working with teens,” he tells me. John is truly heart-broken for the kids and is reaching out to me to see if I can help the church in some way after he leaves. He doesn’t want to see it all fall apart and he knows it will after he leaves.

I didn’t tell him this. It’s probably for the best.

You see, somewhere along the way we youth pastors bought into a lie. We believe our job is to make things happen, to build programs, to attract youth all in the name of ministry, or building the kingdom. We bought into the idea that our job, our ministry is to make things go. We believe that somehow, our success or failure as a pastor is dependent upon our ability to motivate people to follow through and implement our plans and our dreams in the name of vision. In fact, we in the church are infatuated with visionaries who make it happen. The lie is pervasive these days.

Chances are this is a small reason why you love being a youth pastor. You have ideas, and you get to inspire and envision people to produce your programs. Chances are you are evaluated by how efficiently you bring others on board with your vision and how well you produce the goals and objectives you declared.

But this is a deeply flawed understanding of leadership and is destructive for church staff, and those within the church as well. This is a flawed perspective because it has unintended consequences. This kind of thinking is highly colonial and creates a level of isolation, entitlement and passivity that enables congregations to abdicate their responsibility to the leaders, who often gladly take it.

The leaders become strangers and distant from the people they are called to lead in this environment. In extreme cases people can become cogs in the details of a leaders mechanistic plans. Service is reduced to volunteer positions that must be filled.

It’s important for you to understand something.

You aren’t called to make things happen in your church.

Oh, you may be paid to make things happen, but it’s not God calling you to plan, lead and pull off all that unsustainable stuff. It’s not God calling you build it all, or convince others to build your vision either.

You will always have more ideas, more dreams, more hopes, more plans than your church should pull off in your ministry. You will always see more than can be done right now. You must learn to live with this tension.

* Your job as a leader isn’t to make plans and then have others buy into them.
* The role of a leader is to declare the mission, and create an environment in which people can dream and live into it.
* By making things happen you are robbing people from the God given responsibility they have to children in your church.

The difference is in the level of commitment of the people you lead. Take John for instance. John created a lot of great experiences, but the people within his church weren’t committed to it outside of a paycheck to a staff member. When John leaves in 20 days, his ministry will crumble and it will be a beautiful thing for his church. Because it will force them to make a decision about how engaged they will be for teens.

I know what you are thinking. His church won’t step up. They will lose kids.
Could be. It’s pretty common.

This is the commentary on how well we lead in the church though, not so much on the church itself. The people of the church are being faithful to how they were led. They are living out their ministry teens the way it’s been expected of them.

How many of our churches are this way and how many churches would lose people if the staff stopped making things happen? There is an entire culture of leadership within the church rising up based on this faulty understanding of leadership.

You see, not only is top-down leadership often manipulative, colonial and patriarchal, but it’s also reactive. It only creates more of the same problems that it’s trying to solve.

Whereas leadership that declares the mission and then cultivates an environment within which it can happen is restorative. It produces energy, not hype. It confronts people, and forces accountability. The kind of leadership creates accountability, without directly calling for it.

So is this the end of visionary leadership? Absolutely not. It is simply a change in the way churches approach the role of staff and the way the mission blooms within your church. There’s a difference between helping your community imagine a world beyond their currently reality (vision) and convincing them to live it your way.

What kind of leader are you? Do you feel the need to make things happen? Have you always been this way? If not, what taught you that this was the right way?

Or do you cultivate an environment in which people can engage deeply, or superficially? An environment where you let go of the implementation to the people of your church?