Adam sent this out in a nice email to our Cartel email subscribers. thought i’d post it here also!
New San Diego & Nashville Cohorts
YMCP is a year-long, whole-life coaching program for youth workers. It’s built on a cohort approach: Each cohort has 10 youth workers, which provides a shared learning environment, a variety of inputs, and a team of ministry friends who’ve got your back. Full cohorts meet for two days, every other month, over the course of the year. In between meetings, we interact on a secret facebook page, as well as coaching phone calls.
There are still two “open” cohorts (not denominationally-focused or funded) with a few spaces in them:
The 2014 Nashville cohort has five confirmed participants and five more spaces available.
The 2014 San Diego cohort has three spaces available.
Both of these cohorts will launch when we fill them up (and all participants get to vote on meeting dates). For more info, check out this page on our website, or email me and I’ll send you the program overview and other stuff.
What Youth Workers are Saying about YMCP
Here’s the thing about YMCP. You sign up thinking you’re in for some good youth ministry insight and discussion (you are), and maybe the people will be cool (they will). But what you can’t know until you’re in the midst of it is how you’ll grow to look forward to each meeting as a time of sanctuary, how the room full of strangers will be friends by the end of the first day, how your heart will drop a bit at the end of each cohort because you know there are only a few left. My year in YMCP helped me grow as a youth worker, for sure. But what I am truly thankful for is the way it helped me define who I am – as a person, as a follower of Christ, and THEN as a youth worker. The insight and personal development that came out of YMCP for me go way beyond my professional life. I’m more confident in my decisions, my abilities, and my passion than ever before. And I have nine awesome, crazy, amazing friends in ministry and in life that I can call on at any time.
The Youth Ministry Coaching Program is hands down the most important program I have participated in my 13 years of youth ministry. The holistic approach and balance of training, inward reflection and spiritual growth allowed me to be stretched not only into being a better youth leader, but also into being a better person. YMCP is of great benefit for the veteran or rookie youth worker.
YMCP with out a doubt saved me from leaving youth ministry. I was in a tough spot without any direction. This program helped facilitate a safe place to work out and through the situation. It was an absolute highlight of my life so far to be in such a dark place, and over the course of a year with the program be restored with grace through great coaching.
After transitioning from full-time ministry to a volunteer position, I couldn’t see how I would effectively live out my calling. YMCP helped me regain my passion and find direction to help me move forward in my ministry.
i was looking over some old notes from leadership team retreats, and found some great stuff for personal and team development. i remember when our freakishly insightful consultant, mark dowds, led our team in these exercises, first making commitments to ourselves, then to each other. both are surprisingly difficult and vulnerable.
it was fun to read my 6 year-old response to the question, “what am i committed to for myself?” i’ve had SO much change in my life and faith and vision over the last four or five years; so it was interesting to me that these still ring pretty true.
i am committed to passionate living — i must have a significant portion of my involvements be things i can be passionate about.
i am committed to growth: in self-knowledge, in emotional intelligence, in knowledge about subjects that interest me, in leadership, in spiritual fruit, in new and refined skills.
i am committed to a life of joy.
i am committed to experiences — i want to experience more people, places, situations and involvements; and to experience more of god.
i am committed to a full life.
how about you? what are your commitments to yourself?
since most youth workers haven’t heard of morgan schmidt, the author of our upcoming release, Woo: Awakening Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus, i thought it would be a good idea to add a few words in the front of the book about why we chose to publish this work. here’s what i wrote:
A Word from the Publisher
Publishing is tough these days. (I wanted to write, “It’s gettin’ hard out here for a pimp,” but I thought the music/movie reference might get lost, and some would be offended.) Most publishers just cannot afford to release a book by an author who doesn’t have a built-in platform to move thousands of copies on her own.
Morgan Schmidt does not have a platform to move thousands of copies of this book on her own.
But, call us visionary or passionate or stupid, we simply had to publish Morgan’s book. Morgan Schmidt is more than the ideas and words on these pages; we believe she’s an important emerging voice in youth ministry. And built into the DNA of The Youth Cartel is a commitment to find people like Morgan and help them shape all of us.
And the words on these pages—well, I am really not blowing smoke when I write that they are among the most important and reorienting and revolutionary and fresh words written about youth ministry in the last couple years. Plus, as a bonus, Morgan writes in a winsome way that leaves you no choice but to really like her, whether you agree with her proposals and perspectives and time-delayed explosives or not. As with most of the stuff we publish or host at our events, our goal at The Youth Cartel is not that you agree with us (or fall prey to our megalomaniacal plans to rule the world), but that you are invited to think, reflect, and hear the voice of God about youth ministry.
With that, I’m excited to introduce you to Woo: Awaking Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus and to the insightful Morgan Schmidt. (You can take it from here, Morgan…)
Partner | The Youth Cartel
oh, and for the record, here’s what some other people are saying about it:
Morgan Schmidt is a snappy and relatable writer. But above all, she is a prophet blessed with a winsome honesty that sneaks up on you as you’re planning your umpteenth mission trip and whispers: “Recalculate.” For Schmidt, being human boils down to desire; and youth ministry that’s honest is about desire too—the desires of youth for God, the desire of God for them. With Woo, Morgan Schmidt joins a new class of practical theologians taking aim at the false gods driving the youth ministry industry, and she restores our focus—and our hope—on young people’s God-given desire to become, belong to, and worship as the body of Christ. Woo completely won me over.
Kenda Creasy Dean, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church
Woo is, hands down, one of the most sensible and simultaneously exhilarating books about pastoring students that I have read in a long time. Morgan Schmidt wisely guides us to awaken desire rather than run from it, equipping us to form desire to follow in the way of Jesus. Woo invites leaders to see students as real people, with real longings that matter. Don’t let the warmth and wit of Morgan’s writing fool you—this changes everything you’ve known about youth ministry.
Dwight J. Friesen, Associate Professor of Practical Theology @ The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, coauthor of The New Parish
Woo is a book about desire, the desire of young people to be authentic and real. It is also about the desire for those who serve the Church to be the midwives who help them do just that. Knowing Morgan Schmidt, I can tell you this book is authentic and real. Here is offered one devoted person’s theology and praxis around the ministry to youth. I highly recommend it, and I thank God for this offering to the Church.
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel, VIII, Bishop of Olympia
Both Augustine and Kierkegaard, in their own ways, asserted that we are what we desire. Consumerism has adopted in a counterfeit but powerful way this theology. When our desires go askew and latch onto consumer goods, political ideologies, or fear about our children, we create pantheons of idols to worship. Like a prophet from the Old Testament, Morgan Schmidt has called out youth ministry for its idol-making, asserting with flare and depth that youth ministry has been captured by desires other than encountering the living God. This is a book that will challenge you because it will ask you to expose your desires. But in so doing, you may find not the idol of successful youth ministry, but the living God who will draw you closer and closer to the humanity of young people this living God loves.
Dr. Andrew Root, Luther Seminary, author of Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry
I really like what Morgan Schmidt is saying to youth pastors in Woo: Awakening Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus. We should know by now that approaching the Christian formation of young people in our churches needs something more than doubling down on what we think worked in the past or even a “new” method or model—a full theological paradigmatic shift is necessary. Morgan carefully unveils a more spiritual posture toward the young people we want to do life with. It starts with a passion to approach them with a sense of awe in their personhood. It involves our curiosity and commitment to cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work of unleashing a young person’s imagination in the pursuit of discovering his or her beautiful God-given humanity. Maybe if we spent more time nourishing our own lives with God and what it means for us to become more fully human, we might just find ourselves around young people who feel fully alive desiring life in Jesus Christ. If you are comfortably ensconced in a church that puts on programs for youth to consume, and measures its success based on immediate results—don’t read this book. It will either make you very uncomfortable or—if it captures you—it could get you fired. But, then again, it could also spark an awakening in your congregation.
Mike King, President/CEO of Youthfront, author of Presence-Centered Youth Ministry: Guiding Students into Spiritual Formation
i must be in a weakened state of judgement, because these actually made me laugh…
A little silliness to get you through monday morning:
Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn’t much, but the reception was excellent.
A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, “I’ll serve you, but don’t start anything.”
A dyslexic man walks into a bra.
A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says: “A beer please, and one for the road.”
Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: “Does this taste funny to you?”
“Doc, I can’t stop singing ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home.’” “That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome.” “Is it common?” “Well, It’s Not Unusual.”
A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, “Doctor, doctor, I can’t feel my legs!” The doctor replied, “I know you can’t, I’ve cut off your arms!”
I went to a seafood disco last week…and pulled a mussel.
A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. “But why?” they asked, as they moved off. “Because”, he said, “I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.”
Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him…(Oh, man, this is so bad, it’s good)… A super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.
what is the achilles heel is of your youth ministry?
what is our collective achilles heel is in the youth ministry world? what’s holding us back?
when i asked this question to a group of youth workers some time ago, dr. dave rahn brought up was that, at it’s root, the problem of kids leaving the church after youth group boils down to a theology problem, based on our theology of church. he suggested each church has a self-image based on their theology of church, and that works itself out in all kinds of practical ways. if you take some of those assumptions down the road a few iterations and years, you end up with teenagers who aren’t connected with their churches beyond youth group. i’d love to see a book on this, frankly: how a variety of ecclesiologies result in certain approaches to youth ministry.
my observation, based on the youth ministries i observe, is that our collective achilles heel for decades was arrogance. and this is still present; but i think it’s moved into a second-place spot, behind fear. fear has become a motivator for way too much of what happens in youth ministry these days. all kinds of fear: fear of parents, fear of church boards, fear of our little kingdoms being threatened, fear of our salaries being threatened. but more than all of these, i’ve seen a fear of culture become a motivating force. often, this is a roundabout fear: parents and church leaders possess a fear of culture, and youth workers instinctively know that if they play into these fears, they will get resources and job security and whatever else we desire.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship [and daughtership]. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (romans 8:15)
fear is a cul-de-sac. it might bring short term results; it might get donors to open their wallets, secure our jobs, and get people in our churches to see ‘value’ in the youth ministry. but it starves our souls, and sets our teenagers up for a lifetime of wrong-headed interaction with culture and the world.
how we could see our ministries embrace hope instead of fear?
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God
this verse is–word-for-word–psalm 42:5, psalm 42:11, and psalm 43:5. now i know there are literary/poetic reasons this verse repeats three times in two chapters. but it also seems to indicate that it’s something we should really notice!
what would it look like for our ministries to be characterized as ministries of hope?
here’s a little snippet of the writing i’ve been doing in the desert this week. this is the intro to the 8th chapter of the book (which is about hope). this chapter is tentatively called “Jesus, the Hope-Giver.”
My favorite Broadway musical is Cats.
That’s a lie, actually, and a glimpse into my strange sense of humor. Seriously, the percentage of normal, well-adjusted guys who love Cats has to be terribly small, right? Sorry if I’ve offended you. Sort of.
My favorite Broadway musical is Les Misérables. But to be honest, I prefer the film versions, because I can focus on the storyline more, not being distracted by the theatrics and staging. I was more upbeat about the 2012 version with Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, and Anne Hathaway than many people I know. And I was two-thumbs-up about the 2000 version with Gérard Depardieu and John Malkovich. But my favorite version of the story, by far, is the 1998 (non-musical) version starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and a pre-Homeland Claire Danes.
I think the reason the 1998 version of “Les Mis” is my favorite is because it contains one of my all-time favorite scenes in any film, ever. It’s a scene in all versions of Les Mis, but none capture it quite like the 1998 film version.
You can skip reading this paragraph if you’re a Les Mis groupie, but to make sure everyone is on the same page: Les Miserables is the story (written as a book, by Victor Hugo, in 1862, and widely considered one of the best novels of the 19th century) of Jean Valjean, a peasant who steals a loaf of bread for his starving sister’s child and spends 19 years in prison for the crime. After his release, he breaks parole, and his hunted down by a law-obsessed police inspector named Javert. There’s much more to the story, of course. It’s an exploration of law and grace, loyalty, transformation, and redemption.
My favorite scene occurs fairly early in the film, when Jean Valjean is first on the run for breaking parole. Turned away from multiple inns because his yellow passport marks him as a convict, Valjean is taken in by the town’s priest, Bishop Myriel. During the night, Valjean steals the rectory’s silverware. But he is caught, and policemen return him to and the silverware to the rectory to refute Valjean’s claim that the silverware was given to him, enroute to what will clearly be a return to prison.
Here’s the breathtaking scene. When the police ask the Bishop if the silverware is his, he responds that it was the rectory’s, but that Valjean is correct in stating it was a gift. As the police release Valjean and turn to leave, the Bishop continues, saying that Valjean had forgotten to take the silver candlesticks. Valjean’s face reveals confusion, and the Bishop re-iterates that the valuable candlesticks were part of the gift.
Pulling Valjean aside, Bishop Myriel quietly says, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I have bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred, and now I give you back to God.”
The scene is powerful to me (and thousands of others) on multiple levels:
• I am Valjean (and so are you). I do not deserve mercy, but have been shown it countless times, by my God and by people in my life.
• The “measure” of mercy is over the top: not only forgiveness, but a double-portion gift.
• This is a clear picture of Jesus, particularly through the lens of the Bishop’s final comment.
• As a follower of Jesus, I am called to live like this, to be a dispenser of this style of mercy, which I find simultaneously life-giving and completely counter to my instincts.
And the scene is a powerful picture of hope’s arrival. Valjean heads into the rectory courtyard, held by the policemen, completely without hope. Full of fear and absolutely demoralized, days out of exile and about to be returned. He leaves with a kernel of possibility starting to crack open in his heart.
This is Jesus, who shows up in the midst of our confusion and pain and fear, and surprises us with hope. Other than the fact that Valjean would not be returning to prison, the immediate circumstances of Valjean’s life are still difficult. But his imagination is sparked, a dream of a new potential, hope and longing commencing the Tango.
recently i had dinner with a youth worker couple who had the kind of story i hear way too often these days. they’d been beat up, in one way or another, by a church. the pastor had said they were doing a great job, blah, blah, blah. though he did seem to have concerns about ministry style (they were relational, he was organizational). in the end, they got totally blindsided by the pastor or the board telling them they needed to leave. there was some kind of agreement on what would be said publicly, which the church and pastor (the way it was told to me) totally violated. lots of hurt. lots of pain. lots of mess.
i hear these stories every week. literally. there are variations, of course. some involve massive tension with a cold-hearted automaton of a senior pastor over a period of years, resulting in the ministry version of parallel-play (ministering alongside each other without any significant interaction with each other). some involve a spineless yes-man of a senior pastor and an overbearing board with some misguided ideas about what the youth ministry should be doing or valuing.
but the common thread is “abuse”. once in a while, i get the sense that the youth worker was in the wrong (even if only partially). but whether there was wrong on both sides or not, there are all-too-often scenarios where the treatment of the youth worker is unacceptable.
as i was flying home and thinking about and praying for this wonderful and sad youth worker couple, i started to ask myself some more macro-level questions. maybe it was because i was in a plane at the time, 35,000 feet over somewhere. that big-picture view. anyhow…
why is it that churches are SO bad at conflict resolution?
why is it that churches are SO bad at conflict resolution, particularly amongst their staff? so few senior pastors seem to have any ability in this area (surely, there are wonderful exceptions).
why do so many youth workers get abused by their churches? while they’re at the church, and especially in how and why they leave.
maybe it’s because our calling is so unique, so given to misunderstanding? maybe it’s because great youth ministry will never look quite like most senior pastors envision a pastoral role to look? when the senior pastor of my church in omaha re-inforced the office dress code, stating that jeans and shorts weren’t appropriate around the office, and that we would wear khakis or slacks and a collered shirt unless we had a specific ministry reason why we were dressed otherwise, i took him literally. and the summer day i was going to be hanging out with middle school kids off-campus, i wore a collered shirt and khaki shorts. he yelled at me in the middle of the office: “we don’t want to see your knobby knees around this office!”
yeah, maybe that’s true. and i’m sure it’s true much of the time. but here’s the harder thought that i almost wish i hadn’t had…
what if the reason so many youth workers are treated poorly by our churches is partly because of us?
what if it’s because we’re immature? or, unprofressional, sloppy and ill-mannered? what if we’re hiding behind our calling and job descriptions (and audience) as an excuse for not getting organized, not growing up, not being a team player?
i’m not suggesting we all start keeping office hours and wearing dress slacks (and clip-on ties!). i’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt as a type this, and i can’t imagine working in a church where they required me to “dress up” for the office.
i tears me up to see so many youth workers treated poorly by their churches. and with each individual case, my primary response is empathy and shared pain. i know what that feels like. but taken collectively–looking at the whole mess from a few tens-of-thousdands of feet in the air… well, i just wonder what role we’ve all played in creating a system that would treat us this way, over and over and over again.
Lent Starts March 5th
We’ve got you covered…
Did you know Lent starts in just a few weeks? We know you just got done submitting receipts from the Christmas Party and you’re trying to pre-screen all of the Super Bowl commercials before 25 parents call you about the latest GoDaddy attention grab this Sunday.
Relax. We’ve got you covered.
Fellow youth worker Erik Willits has put together a great resource for your group, a Lenten devotional simply called Lent.
Tons of youth groups (and entire churches) tested Lent in 2013 and loved it.
Bulk Pricing for Lent
- 1-4 copies: $9.99 each
- 5-9 copies: $9.49 each
- 10-19 copies: $8.49 each
- 20-99 copies: $6.49 each
- 100+ copies: $6.09 each
i’m heading to atlanta this weekend to speak at a youth event. of course, i’m hoping things will have returned to whatever is normal for coldlanta. in the mean time, this photo seemed timely. prize (maybe prizes) for best caption(s)! how about a copy of The Youth Cartel’s LENT devotional (we call it a youth ministry resource, but it’s really good for anyone 10 – 100 years old).
not as many entries this time around, but there sure are some funny ones! here are the ones that rose to the top, from the subjective lens of my sense of humor:
Luckily Steve Erkel is always prepared
Yes, unfortunately it is the only plow in Atlanta.
Daft Junk: we plow all night if we’re lucky
Minimus Prime: Of course, certain Transformers have always been a little less popular than others.
and the winner is…
rob, you almost won. funny stuff. but i have to go with joel’s “minimus prime,” because it’s just so fun to say! congrats, joel! i’ll email you to get your prize to you!
back in 2005, just before YS got sold to zondervan, i got sent on a sabbatical. i say “got sent on,” because i hadn’t actually asked for it. but it become apparent to my co-leaders and my boss that i was running on empty. i wasn’t empty yet — i wasn’t burned out. but i was in danger. so they graciously cut me off. three days later (literally), i was in hawaii starting 11 days by myself (i spent a month away from work — 100% disconnected — but the first 11 days were by myself, in hawaii). while this was critical for me, i also think we had a bit of a “this sort of thing will never again be possible after YS gets sold to zondervan/harpercollins/newscorp” understanding that fueled a few decisions like this!
the consultant who worked with our leadership team, mark dowds, gave me an assignment. every day i was to take one of the reflection questions below and think about it while taking an hour-long walk. he was insistent about me walking while meditating on the question. after the hour, i would come back and do some journaling about what i’d thought about, or heard from god. then i’d spend another chunk of time praying.
the whole thing had a profound impact on me. and in the years since, i’ve returned to these questions, and given them out to dozens of others (especially those who are headed out on a saabbatical).
it’s been a while, though. i’m completely loving what i get to do these days. but i have noticed that it’s 5% less fun than it was 6 months ago. i think that’s probably only because adam and i are doing too much, running too hard. we’re making some adjustments right now that i hope will help; but we haven’t seen the fruit of those adjustments yet.
Where is my life going?
What do I want life to be like in 10 years (remove all fantasy and projection of anything material from your thoughts and get to the substance of life experience)?
What might God be trying to teach me?
Am I growing spiritually? Meditate on the fruit of the spirit (do I love more? am I more kind? etc.).
What moments in life have been the most pleasurable and God honoring? Revisist these times and reexperience them in your body.
What am I most afraid of and what can I discover about myself?
What changes am I going to make in life to be healthier in a holistic manner?
What can I do to relinquish more control in life in order to become more dependant on God for outcome?
What opportunities might this season be presenting me that I am not seeing?
If I was to make the gutsiest choice that could benefit my life and family more what would that choice be?
i STRONGLY encourage you to find a way to prayerfully consider these questions.
i’m in Charlotte, NC at the moment, launching a brand new cohort of YMCP. YMCP is a year-long, whole-life coaching program for youth workers. it’s built on a cohort approach: each cohort has 10 youth workers, which provides a shared learning environment, a variety of inputs, and a team of ministry friends who’ve got your back. full cohorts meet for two days, every other month, over the course of the year. in between meetings, we interact on a secret facebook page, as well as coaching phone calls.
the NC cohort is made up of all UMC youth workers, and is hosted by the western NC conference of the UMC. in december, we started a similar UMC cohort in SC. and in the spring, we’ll be launching a PCUSA cohort in pittsburgh (hosted by the local presbytery).
in march, april diaz and 8 women will launch the first-ever Women in Youth Ministry cohort, with a combination of online meetings and face-to-face meetings in orange county, CA.
the 2014 nashville cohort has five confirmed participants and five more spaces available.
and the 2014 san diego cohort has three spaces available.
both of these cohorts will launch when we fill them up (and all participants get to vote on meeting dates). for more info, check out this page on our website, or email me (email@example.com) and i’ll send you the program overview and other stuff.
the Open Youth Ministry events hosted by The Youth Cartel and a growing cluster of regional youth ministry organizations is such a cool collection of local, contextualized events. each one or two-day event is local in the sense that the organizing team is at least 75% (or more) local (only adam mclane, from The Youth Cartel, is a non-local on each team); the speakers are almost all local; a local youth ministry organization receives a third of the ticket sales; and each event has a unique feel and format, decided on by the organizing team.
all this is built on the belief that the best ideas often come from local, in-the-trenches youth workers.
add to all that goodness: each Open event costs a ridiculously cheap twenty five bucks!
in 2014, we have six Open events officially happening (and a couple more under consideration). two of them are coming up VERY soon, and registration is live and cranking.
first up is Open Boston, on february 7/8, at Gordon College. this is Open Boston’s second year, and the organizing team is fired up. the main event is saturday; but the team decided to add an early day on friday with a couple intensives, dinner, and a time of worship (all still included in the $25 cost!). i’m actually going to Open Boston this time, and am super pumped about it. see the website here, and register here.
a couple weeks later, the first-ever Open Grand Rapids will take place on february 22, at Cornerstone University. the speakers have been chosen and plans are ready to go. we’re really stoked about adding GR to the list of Open host cities this year. see the website here, and register here.
coming up later this year:
- the first-ever Open Denver on september 13
- the 2nd Open Paris on october 24/25 (we’re adding housing options this year!)
- the 2nd Open Bay Area (CA) in november (date still being finalized)
- the 3rd Open Seattle (date still being finalized, but in october or november)
mark the dates on your calendars if you’re within driving distance of any of those cities and plan on bringing a team! and if you’re near Boston or Grand Rapids, get to it!
Recently I was asked to speak on Psalm 139 for a youth worker’s spiritual retreat. Of course, Psalm 139 is such a familiar psalm (“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me… Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?… For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”). And I didn’t just want to offer clichés. Since it was a spiritual retreat, and the youth workers would be introduced to a variety of spiritual practices, I thought it might be helpful for me to approach the text the same way. So I spent some time approaching the Psalm with Lectio Divina, a wonderful process of reading the text slowly and prayerfully, inviting God to speak or nudge or prompt; and if or when a word or phrase catches your attention, to sit with that and ‘roll it around’ for a while, asking God to reveal what he wants to say to you about that particular idea.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything.
I read the Psalm slowly and prayerfully a few times from the NIV, and once from the RSV. Nuthin’. But then I read it slowly and prayerfully a couple times from The Message, and two phrases immediately jumped out at me. From verse 2: I’m an open book to you, even at a distance, you know what I’m thinking. And from verse 5: I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too—your reassuring presence, coming and going.
In the midst of this gorgeous poetry about God’s presence were two little acknowledgements of God’s absence. Or God’s apparent distance. And while I’m pretty into God’s ‘comings’, I’m not such a fan of god’s ‘goings’.
The dark night of the soul
John of the Cross came up with this nifty little phrase we still use back in the mid-1500s. Some of his explanation works for me, some leaves me a bit cold. But, knowing that all of us, myself included, experience times when God seems very distant and/or silent, it struck me that some of these youth workers would be coming to a three-day spiritual retreat stuck in that place, with a palpable fear that God would remain distant and silent throughout the retreat. So I compiled a little ‘off the top of my head’ list of thoughts for spirituality during the dark night, built on my assumption that: When God seems distant, it’s rarely because he actually is. It’s usually because there’s something preventing us or blocking us from seeing or knowing his presence.
1. Hold firmly to the truth that faith is a choice.
I’m not talking about the free will/predestination debate here. I’m suggesting that almost everyone who goes through times of God’s distance or silence and comes out the other side, describes how formative it was in their own faith development. So in a time of God’s apparent distance, one of the most important disciplines we can exercise is to choose, each day, to be a person of faith. In times like this, faith has very little to do with emotion or feelings.
2. Hold two things in tension:
Release yourself from any guilt over being in this place (as if God is distant because you were bad), while being ruthless in looking for roadblocks that could be preventing you from seeing God.
3. Pray prayers of aspiration.
A church leader friend once shared how his church had struggled with reconciling their desire to be fully authentic and honest with the truth that they didn’t always, at every moment, believe everything in the creeds they wanted to be a part of their church life. They settled on something I have found extremely helpful: they consider the creeds to be statements of aspiration, statements of what they long for and want to believe. I have found this perspective way-helpful in terms of my own prayer life. When God feels distant, or when I’m struggling with doubts, I can pray with aspiration. I can pray Psalm 139 or the shield of St. Patrick with an attitude of hope and longing: this is what I desire to be true and real and my daily experience.
4. Break with the norm.
Find a spiritual director to help you spot God’s presence in your life. Re-arrange your daily schedule. Take a road-trip. Try some different approaches to prayer and scripture. Look for God in places you wouldn’t normally look (spiritual classics, nature, children, film, music).
5. Be more green.
So often we’ve been asked (by our churches and traditions) to focus exclusively on either God’s transcendence or God’s imminence: Evangelicals tend to chose transcendence, and our Christianity is primarily about living out a personal communion with a transcendent God. Our evangelism and worship and discipleship are all built around this. More liberal churches tend to chose imminence, and while cautious about God’s ability or interest in connecting with individual people, embrace the “agenda” of God–doing good works, caring for the earth, justice, and the present work of the Kingdom of God.
A friend of mine describes these two polarities as yellow (for transcendence) and blue (for imminence), and says all Christ-followers need constant nudging toward combining those colors to create green. It’s a beautiful metaphor. But the implication here is this: especially when we’re stuck in times when God seems distant or silent, pursuing the ‘other’ primary color than the one we’ve been steeped in from our tradition can open up new ways of seeing, hearing and experiencing God’s presence.
6. Wait. Be still. Slow down.
This is likely the most important. If John of the Cross’ reasoning is correct at all (that we primarily interact with God through our own images of God, and that God distances himself from us in order to move us beyond our limited images), the only path forward is to wait. Most of us are so uncomfortable with silence and slow. But it’s an essential component of a fully-lived Christian life. Create a pattern of slowing down.
in the last couple weeks, i’ve heard a couple stories of youth workers that were so inspirational and challenging to me. both stories were inspirational because they capture a vivid snapshot of the passion of people who truly love teenagers. and challenging, because, in both cases, they poked at my comfort and my willingness to really empty myself (as christ did).
yesterday, i shared the beautiful (and difficult) story of tim and sue. here’s the 2nd story:
would you offer to give up one of your kidneys to a teenager in your youth group who needed one?
i have a few nurses in my immediate extended family, who i recently spent time with in the detroit area over the christmas and new year’s holiday. one of them was present the day a volunteer youth worker came in for surgery, along with a teenage guy from his youth group. apparently the kid desperately needed a new kidney, and a match and donor had been difficult to find. so this youth worker–let’s call him dan–stepped up with an offer than falls significantly outside the normal role description of any volunteer youth worker i’ve ever known. really, it falls outside the job description of any paid youth worker for that matter!
i would have prayed with and for the teenager, sure. i would have likely visited him in the hospital. i would have tried to be a listening ear when he was struggling with mortality and the brokenness of his body. but i truly don’t think it would ever cross my mind to say, “take one of mine!” in this case, though, if i had been this youth worker, i would have died.
my family member who’s a nurse, and was there, said the two–dan and the teenager–were prepped for surgery and both rolled into adjoining surgical bays at the same time. family waited.
but in a time-frame that was confusing at first, because it wasn’t long enough, the teenager was rolled back out. turns out: when the surgeons went in, they found dan’s kidney was cancerous. it had been completely undetected in all pre-op tests and was 100% unknown to dan and his family. the doctors were able to remove his cancerous kidney and save his life. and some time shortly thereafter, another kidney donor was found for the teenager.
the end of the story is amazing: dan’s life was spared, and the teenager is fine also. but that’s almost a distraction from why dan is an unknown youth ministry hero. dan’s a hero–far and away beyond anything i have ever, ever done in 33 years of youth ministry–because he was willing to go to irreversible, costly, intimately personal lengths to give to a teenager.
paraphrasing, “greater love has no youth worker than this, but to offer up his kidney to a teenager in need.” seriously. dan, i don’t know you; but you’re my hero.
in the last couple weeks, i’ve heard a couple stories of youth workers that were so inspirational and challenging to me. both stories were inspirational because they capture a vivid snapshot of the passion of people who truly love teenagers. and challenging, because, in both cases, they poked at my comfort and my willingness to really empty myself (as christ did).
i’m in england as i write this post, speaking at the british YFC staff conference. it’s a wonderful family gathering of 450 youth workers from all over england, wales and scotland. immediately following my morning talk on the first day, where i’d attempted to remind the crowd of the simple core of our calling (and not all the complexity we’re often pulled toward), a upper middle-aged couple approached me and asked if i could spend some time with them. later in the day we met for what turned out to be a coaching session of sorts, and i hope god used me to speak some truth into their lives, both encouragement and caution.
but their story…well, it just blew me away.
sue and jim had mostly raised their own children (i think their children are 18, 21 and something a little older than that now). sue was (and is) a part-time mobile hair stylist, and jim manages some properties. but three years ago, sue felt a nudge to consider ministry, and started bible college. as part of her program, she was expected to do some sort of practicum. she approached the minister of her small church and asked about starting a children’s ministry. there were no children in their church, but she somehow reached out to some children from a “council estate” (the british equivalent of a housing project; but here in britain, they are often not urban) a few miles outside of her town. very quickly, the church had a small children’s ministry of 7 or 8 kids. as sue got to know the kids a bit, she realized the struggle of their community, that many of the children never even had a chance to leave the estate, and that there was not a single church presence in this large community, where thousands of children and teenagers lived.
so sue and jim sold their house and moved into the housing estate.
they asked their church for support, but were, in essence (these are my words), shunned, and told that the church would have no part of their work. with no training, no resources other than their own, and no support, they began working directly in this community, seeing the children’s ministry quickly grow from 7 or 8 to more than 120 children attending every week. they launched a young teen gathering and an older teen gathering. initially, their ministry work consisted mostly of taking kids on excursions to give them experiences outside their little estate world. needing transportation for this work, they used personal funds to purchase a 16-person mini-bus. but as the ministries all grew, these excursions became more and more untenable.
without a place to meet, they’d originally held gatherings in their home. but when the attendance overwhelmed their space, they rented space in a small building on the edge of the community.
currently, they run 6 weekly meetings for these three age groups — a sort of “youth group” for each on a weeknight, and a children’s or youth church for each group on sundays. they do all of this without any consistent help from any other adults (one of their adult children had been a key leader with them, but he has just recently needed to step out due to other demands in his life). a long-empty small church building in the middle of the estate has just come up for sale, and they’re in the process of considering using jim’s pension to make an offer on the building.
jim and sue (jim runs the older teen group, and sue runs the children’s and young teen group — but they both attend everything) seriously need to make some changes in order to become sustainable (and hopefully, their recent move to become a YFC centre will be part of that solution).
no youth ministry expert would look at jim and sue’s ministry and conclude that they’re doing things perfectly. how could any two people run multiple ministries of this size and demand in a sustainable way or a way that reflects “best practices” of relational youth work. but without anyone willing to join them in their work, they’re doing literally everything they can to meet needs and follow jesus. changes need to happen, or they won’t make it.
but their hearts. their willingness to give all. their courage. their generosity. their willingness to forfeit comfort. frankly, i was breathless, and brought to the edge of tears.
what are you doing–what am i doing–what brings you beyond your own self-sufficiency and resources? what are each of us who are called to youth ministry doing to minister in a place that completely requires dependency on god?
i was trying to find an old blog post this morning, and came across this bit i wrote in 2006 (a mere 8 years ago), with thoughts about change over the next 10 years:
The world in 10 years
(a ridiculously subjective summary by Mark Oestreicher)
Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind (one of the best books I read last year) is primarily about the change in culture that will demand more right-brained thinking than the dominant left-brain thinking of the past few decades. He talks about the need for leaders to be creatives and empathizers, more than (the former) logicians and knowledge workers.
In one short chapter, Pink offers a three-part summary of the primary change we’ll experience in the next 10 years (of course, Pink’s book is written to business leaders, so keep that in mind):
A few facts from the book:
- Each year, universities and colleges in India produce 350,000 new engineering graduates.
- Half of the Fortune 500 companies now outsource to India.
- 1 out of 10 IT job will move overseas (to Asia) in the next 2 years; 1 out of 4 by 2010.
Our issue isn’t the outsourcing of jobs, of course.
But what will it mean for our affluent and resourced churches and youth ministries when our country, religiously, looks more like Europe, and the thriving, model-creating influence in the church is coming from Asia? Will be have the humility to learn and grow?
Quote from the book: “The result [of massive automation]: as the scut work gets off-loaded, engineers and programmers [think youth workers!] will have to master different aptitudes, relying more on creativity than competence, more on tacit knowledge than technical manuals, and more on fashioning the big picture than sweating the details.”
Nobody predicted that Western teenagers would so quickly skip over the already slow and tedious technology of email and so fully embrace the instant real-time social technologies of IM, texting, and MySpace.
MySpace has already replaced the mall, and is THE place for teenage social networks. But all we’re doing so far is talking about the dangers.
A few facts from the book:
- the U.S. has more cars than licensed drivers
- self-storage is a $17 Billion industry in the U.S. alone
- the U.S. spends more on trash bags annually than nearly half the nations of the world spend on ALL goods.
The impact: the search for empathy, beauty, play and meaning.
Columbia University’s Andrew Delbanco: “The most striking feature of contemporary culture is in the unslaked craving for transcendence.”
This is our story! Empathy, beauty, play, meaning and transcendence? That’s our stuff! And we know the inventor of those things!
One more thought, NOT from the book
Many sociologist and culture writers are talking about a major shift in identity, from…
An identity rooted in individual and national (I am autonomous, I am how I define myself. “I did it my way”. The Marlboro Man. Anything larger than me is a nationalistic connection.)
An identity rooted in local and global, or what some emerging leaders are cutely calling “glocal” (I am defined as part of a ‘local’ community – but local isn’t geographic, it’s however I define my community; and, I see my identity more rooted in being a citizen of the world than in being a citizen of my country.)
Obviously, this has massive implications for us in church leadership and youth ministry leadership, as most of our theologies, approaches, assumptions and methods are built on individual/national identity frameworks.
honestly, those words sorta cracked me up, reading them today. and, i was struck by how much has changed in 8 short years. looking in the rearview mirror is always easier and more accurate, of course. if i were to name the variables that have shaped change the most, i would now label them differently. i would suggest a move to a culture in which these realities are primary shapers:
You’ve likely read or heard these sorts of details elsewhere, but the amount of knowledge and information that exists in the world is said to double roughly every eight years. That’s insane. It’s an absurd understatement to call it “exponential” growth.
But an enormous additional dimension to this steep increase in information is the ease at which we can access all of it. No longer are these mountains of knowledge and information protected in musty libraries and hidden in corporate vaults: almost all knowledge is accessible to us with the click of a mouse, or, increasingly, the touch of a thumb on our mobile platforms. Unless you live “off the grid”, information is in your face constantly, whether you want it or not.
Not only is all knowledge and information available (at least more of it than we could ever use), it’s all available at this moment. It’s accessible anytime, anywhere.
When we have to wait for something these days, it automatically feels foreign or antiquated.
The easiest place to see this is our relationships with hard goods, from contact lenses to mobile phones to car leases. Even the laptop I’m typing on right now—a very new MacBook Air—has a “planned” or “built-in obsolescence” of about 18 months (of course, Apple is brilliant at promoting and exploiting this). And what should I do with this fairly expensive and originally cutting-edge computer when I need the new version for whatever reason? Really, I might be able to get twenty or thirty bucks for it on Craigslist; but it won’t be much more than a formerly useful paperweight.
Another easy-to-grasp example for our relationship with technology: computer printers. Several years ago now, the printer industry went through a major re-orientation of change-or-die proportions. Printers became cheap and disposable when printer manufacturers realized they could make more money from ink sales if they got people to buy low priced printers that required disposable ink cartridges. I got the printer that sits on my desk for the best price possible: FREE! But I spend more money annually on the stupid ink cartridges (which are also disposable, by the way) than I spend on car tires!
Disposability, though, is way more far-reaching than the lack of permanence with respect to our technology hard goods. Disposability has become the norm for most things (unless they’re seen as a commodity with appreciating value, which is not the world most people live in). In this reality, careers are disposable, and relationships are disposable, and experiences (merely another item to be consumed for their temporary satisfaction), and beliefs.
these three culture-shaping realities–information, immediacy and disposability–are super-critical for youth workers to be aware of. all of us adults are shaped by these realities, but we’re immigrants to this culture. teenagers are natives. are you thinking about ministry responses (i.e. teaching wisdom and discernment!)?
i thought about making this a photo in need of a caption. but, honestly, i don’t want to spend a minute checking on blog stuff this week that could be spent either hanging with family or relaxing and decompressing. so, just enjoy this lovely and festive photo, my little christmas gift to you!
wow — the fact that it’s only days from christmas doesn’t seem weird to me; but the fact that 2013 is days from ending, that’s wild to me (as it always is).
if you work in a church, this might not be the end of a budget cycle. but so many youth workers i know are in the final days of a 2013 church budget. and if that’s you, and you have a tiny stash o’ funds left, i’d like to suggest two good uses, all of which are also time-sensitive:
1. FREE SHIPPING in The Youth Cartel store on all orders of $25 or more, for the continental U.S., through tuesday, december 24 (christmas eve!). this is your chance for a win/win. we have way too much product in our “warehouse” (the shelves in adam’s garage). and, of course, you get the double-win of our awesome products AND free shipping. we’re seeing people use this opportunity to do a couple things:
- place bulk orders on a single product (remember, any order of 20 or more copies of a single product gets a 35% discount anyhow!). yesterday, someone bought 20 copies of the “Parent Pack of Awesomeness” (all five books in the Parents Guide series). and someone else bought 40 copies of the Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenagers, clearly getting ready for a retreat or a small group series or something.
- or, quite a few have just used this to stock up on resources they’ve wondered about, but hadn’t gotten yet. i’m seeing lots of orders with 5 or 6 different titles, just 1 or 2 copies of each.
you don’t need a coupon or code for this deal. just have more than twenty-five bucks in your cart, and a continental U.S. address, and the shipping will automatically get cut. easy peasy, sugar-plum squeezy.
2. Event deposits. we’re offering the very best deal you can ever get on pre-registrations for our two national events, the Middle School Ministry Campference, and The Summit. in both cases, a $25 non-refundable, but fully transferable deposit now (before 2013 ends!), locks in the lowest rate, and we’ll invoice you for the balance at the end of next summer.
- the Middle School Ministry Campference (here’s last year’s website) is a weekend-long tribal gathering for people who work with young teens. you learn a ton, but you’ll also have more fun and build more ministry friendships than any other youth ministry event you’ve ever attended (i am not exaggerating). the event is at SpringHill Camp in seymour, indiana (hour south of indy, hour north of louisville), october 10-12, 2014. and with this special pre-registration, you lock in an all-inclusive rate (really, accommodations and food included!) of $259 per person.
- The Summit (last year’s website) is like TED for youth workers, carefully crafted to spark your imagination and get you thinking in new ways. of this year’s event, Christy B wrote “The Summit left my mind full of new ideas to connect with my students and ways to engage them in their spiritual lives. Can’t wait for next year!” we’re moving the event to nashville for 2014. november 7 and 8. and with this special pre-registration, you lock in an almost absurd rate of $109! (seriously, that’s cheap)
both of those pre-reg deals end the second before ryan seacrest says “happy new year!”
Oh blessed coffee,
drip for us always,
that you may revive us and give us fortitude,
perk for us always,
that you may grant us alertness in this life
brew for us always,
that you may reward us with buzz.
locally roasted fair trade coffee
so sat… tis… fy… (wait for it…) ing
you fill my mug
this a; this m; this mor-ning
a dolla more
but worth every cent
to these lips
o Helix Mountain Coffee
coffee of coffees
roaster of roasters
of rich, nutty, perfect little bean
a hymn (with apologies or thanks to James M. Black)
When the steeping of the press shall end, and waiting be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the smell of beans so roasted drifts up to my nostrils flared,
And the coffee pot is brewing, I’ll be there.
When the coffee pot is brew-ing,
When the coffee pot is brew-ing,
When the coffee pot is brew-ing,
When the coffee pot is brewing I’ll be there.
From McDonald’s, Starbuck’s, Cosmos or the 7-11 stop
From the old urn that brews it down the hall
From Via packets while i’m camping to the french press I love most
When the coffee pot is brewing I’ll be there.
Set the timer before bedtime or get up and lumber down
to the perking brewing goodness that awaits
grind the beans to make it fresh and don’t destroy with flavored creams
when the coffee pot is brewing I’ll be there.