from mcsweeney’s lists:
BY NATHAN PATTON
He keeps talking about his Phonebook profile.
He wears jeans that are neither skinny nor sagging.
He is very excited about the relationship between Conway West and Kim Cardigan.
He claims to smoke the finest hashtag.
He asks a stranger to take his selfie.
He tries to buy an instagram of cocaine.
He watches TV shows when they actually air.
He arms himself with aerosol cans, and wonders where the Huffington Post is.
He texts ROFL when he’s “running out for lunch”.
He still has a Myspace page.
something significant changed in the world of christian music the day the David Crowder Band released their first album. i’m not even completely sure how to describe that change. but i’ll try with this: the line between “worship music” and “totally fantastic music i want to listen to all the time” was suddenly blurred.
in fact, i remember very clearly the first time i heard the band live. it was at the NYWC in… actually, i have no idea what year. it was a long time ago. hardly anyone had heard of them. but we were experimenting with a musical style shift at the NYWC after many years with the same worship leader at every convention. and that year we discovered we were going to have to turn away about 1000 people from the san diego location — unless we came up with something very creative. the solution was to run two main sessions concurrently. the main ballroom (set for something like 2500 people, with a massive stage and all the technology would expect) had the older, “contemporary” worship leader. then there was this funky “overflow” stage in a much smaller ballroom. people who registered later, once we expanded the size limit on the event, “had” to attend the main sessions in that ballroom. the speaker’s talk was going to be on a big screen (hey! we were a video venue church before it was such a stupid fad!), but the band was going to be live in both locations.
uh, we had a problem.
during the music parts, the big/main ballroom was empty-ish; and the smaller/ancillary ballroom was pack to overflowing with youth workers who were ignoring our silly little differently-colored armbands or whatever was supposed to designate their assigned space (what? youth workers ignoring the rules?).
somewhere over the years, i got to become friends with david, jack, jeremy (bwack), hogan, and mike d. i even went on a tour with them once for a week or so. and now that they’re two bands, i’ve remained in contact with all of them.
but i’m still a fan.
to me, these songs represent something not many else have come close to approaching: songs i simply never tire of hearing or singing.
so, yeah, i was pretty stoked when i found out a new “best of” album was releasing (it actually releases today, and you can find it on tunes here). someone up the record distribution food chain was nice enough to give me access to listen to it online, starting a couple weeks ago. needless to say, if digital streams could get worn out grooves like vinyl back in the day, these tracks would already be trashed. the songs hold up. and they take me back. both. at the same time. as a bonus, there’s a couple new tracks, and a handful of fun remixes (i particularly got a kick out of the family force five remix of shadows).
ok, this is fun. david’s record peeps are allowing me to give away 5 autographed copies of the CD. here’s how we’re gonna do it: respond with a reasonably short comment about the first time you heard the band, or a funny story from a time you heard them live, or anything else that you think would make me choose you. in other words: convince me to pick you. and just writing “ooh, pick me” ain’t gonna do it. i’ll just give the CDs to my 7th grade guys small group if that’s the best i get!
this isn’t a race. so i’ll give you a couple days, and i’ll pick a winner on thursday or friday.
(oh! and one more thing! did you know that david crowder is one of the 18 presenters speaking at The Summit? yup: he’s not coming as a performer. he’s going to speak to us about “the process of creativity.”)
YMCP has become one of the primary ways i spend my time. and i love it. i’ve spent a good amount of blog real estate explaining why, and the impact; so i won’t do that again here.
i just wanted to communicate a “where it’s at” (thanks, beck), so i have a place to point people for info on the current sitch.
today i started my fourth concurrent online group. these groups have 5 participants plus myself, and meet for 3 hours every month for 9 months. the “curriculum” has some similarities to the full program, but is significantly condensed. these groups are going well, but i highly doubt i’ll be able to start any more of them during this calendar year. i’ll probably start a couple more early in 2014.
YMCP – full cohorts
the full program of YMCP consists of cohorts of 8 – 10 youth workers meeting for 2 days every other month over a year (6 meetings). of course, this is substantially more robust than the online groups. and you’d be hard pressed to find one of the 80 or so graduates who would tell you it wasn’t worth every dime and all the hassle of travel and such.
i have two cohorts meeting at this point — one in nashville, and one that i co-lead with matt wilks in calgary.
the western NC conference of the UMC has pulled together funding for a 2nd cohort (i completed a cohort there last year), which i expect to start in august or september. and the SC conference of the UMC is in the final stages of filling a cohort also. if you’re a UMC youth worker in south carolina, and would like to consider being a part of that cohort, please let me know (email@example.com), and i’ll put you in contact with the point person.
i have a handful of other “closed” cohorts in the wind: the EPC (evangelical presbyterian church) is trying to fill a cohort, and has about 4 or 5 committed so far. if you’re an EPC youth worker who’s interested, let me know. and there’s another group of UMCers in TX talking about starting a cohort. again, contact me if you’re interested in that one.
the cohort i’m really hoping to fill at this point is the next san diego (SoCal) cohort. i have 5 committed to it at this point, and only need 8 to launch here (since i don’t have travel costs). i’ve had a hard time filling this one this time around; but i sure would love to get it going in the late summer or early fall. if you have any interest in this SoCal cohort (you don’t have to be from SoCal – i’ve had plenty of participants from other parts of the country in the past two SoCal cohorts), please shoot me an email (again, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org).
that’s the skinny at this point. anyone interested?
recently in one of my coaching groups, we were talking about our propensity to try to control. i see this in so many of our youth ministry approaches: an attempt to control the outcomes.
one of the participants asked me for a definition of control, and i responded with this: minimizing variables and maximizing efficiencies for predictable outcomes.
yup: i’m so prone to doing that in my life. and it’s pervasive in american church culture.
today in the mail the latest copy of youthwork magazine arrived from the UK. and i’d forgotten that i’d written my last “epilogue” column (which they call Mark: My Words. ha! get it?) on this same subject. here’s what i wrote:
A month ago I was struggling–obsessing, really–with my income. Being self-employed can have that impact. In my three and a half years of self-employment, I’ve yet to have a significant financial problem; but that doesn’t keep me from freaking out from time to time. I look at my little tracking spreadsheet, and my mind starts to wander down completely useless and unhelpful pathways.
I’m not going to have enough money.
How will I pay my daughter’s university fees?
What if this is the beginning of the end?
We’re going to be living in the gutter soon!
But here I am, a month later, realizing that God provided, yet again. It wasn’t one of those dramatic stories I’ve often heard of an anonymous envelope of cash in the post. Instead, it was through the most regular and mundane of provisions: some projects I’d been working on came together.
And I was reminded of a connection that I’ve learned many times. I’ve been speaking and writing a bit on the subject of biblical hope lately. And one of the points I always make is that hope isn’t something we can make. I can’t bear down and try harder and suddenly have more hope.
Instead, hope (not optimism!) is a gift from God. Hope comes to me, usually in the midst of suffering, dissatisfaction with the way things are, and an honest cry out to God.
When I talk to teenagers about the fruit of the Spirit, I try to make a similar point. we don’t choose to be fruity. Fruit is a result of a life connected to the Spirit. It’s a gift, really. And our all the effort in the world, even with the correct leverage, won’t suddenly result in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Effort might give me hemorrhoids, but not much else.
There’s so much I try to control. Finances, hope, and spiritual fruit are only three of a very, very long list. And I think I’m learning that my open hands toward God–a position of release and request–is the stance that ultimately gives me what I truly long for.
This is true in every aspect of youth work also. So many of our youth work efforts are about control. We try to control the behavior of teenagers. We position ourselves in an attempt to control church leader’s opinions of us and our work. We control programs like lab scientists, as if the perfect mix of this and that will necessarily result in engagement, attendance, compliance and spiritual growth.
But, ultimately, we all know that it’s God who brings about transformation in the lives of teenagers, not our crafty talks or hipster songs or The Best Game Ever.
So then: what role do I play? I mean: I’m supposed to do something, right? Whether in my own interior life or my family’s well being or the spiritual formation of the teenagers in my ministry: I’m not just supposed to sit and wait, believing that God will do something, right?
That’s the tension there for me. Part of me believes that a little more sitting and waiting on God is exactly what’s called for, and just might be the antidote to my ongoing forays into control and manipulation.
But I also believe that God invites me to play an active role. I get to participate!
I need to be reminded that my active participation with God looks like me being the kid with the weird lunch at the miraculous feeding of the 5000.
Could Jesus have fed the crowd without the kid’s participation? Sure.
Was the kid necessary for the will of God to happen that day? Not really.
Would the miracle have happened were it not for the kid’s involvement? We don’t know.
But we can be confident about this: that kid would never have been the same. You know he told that story to his grandkids.
My personal finances. The hope in my heart. The fruit of the Spirit in my life. The spiritual growth of the teenagers in my charge. They all beckon with the same invitation: Step up, open up your hands, release control, and give your “lunch.”
only a san diego 7th grade guy would ask: what’s a snowblower?
we were doing a lesson on how god is a dreamer. and, since we’re created in the image of god, we should have that “dreamer” character in us also. after looking at the characteristic of god, i wanted to get the guys dreaming (in a silly way, to start). so i divided them into three teams, and told them they had 5 minutes to dream up an imaginary country. they had to name it, give it a motto, choose a national sport, write 2 or 3 laws, and list 3 subjects taught in school.
uh. right. 7th grade guys.
these are the actual results (you can TOTALLY see the in-between-ness of middle schoolers here — still children, already stepping into young adulthood):
our new country name: swistachia
the motto on our country’s seal: jesus, jesus, jesus and more jesus. p.s. jesuuus
the national sport: kangaroo racing
2 or 3 laws:
- chairs are outlawed
- nothing for food but glue
- obey The Great Leader
3 subjects taught in school:
- alligator wrestling
- kangaroo anatomy
- how to be a ninja
our new country name: mordor
the motto on our country’s seal: “no frodos allowed”
the national sport: shuffle board
2 or 3 laws:
- The Ring is not allowed near Mt Doom
- all hobbits are subject to random inspection
3 subjects taught in school:
- ring searching
- hobbit eating
our new country name: youranus
the motto on our country’s seal: west coast rachets
the national sport: bar fighting
2 or 3 laws:
- shoes and shirts, no service
- stupid people are good at math
- paul blart is cool
3 subjects taught in school:
- shooting bears
- how to work at wallmart
(if responses like these are the youth ministry world you live and thrive in, you really should join us at the tribal gathering known as the middle school ministry campference this october)
in about 2000, i found a strange little stack of black and white cardstock photos in ireland, designed to be used for conversation and sharing. they were out of print, but had been published by a mainstream publisher. i loved them, but saw how they could be amazing when connected with spiritual reflection and meditation (and a new set of photos, as the ones i found were dated and odd on many ways).
so i set out to create a resource that hit lots of resistances along the road to development. it was fairly outside the every day scope of production people at a publishing company to think of creating a box with a small leaders guide and a stack of photos. but we got passed that, and Every Picture Tells a Story released in 2002 (11 years ago!). thanks to the good friends and brilliant minds who created the YS “Core” or “NRS” or “One Day” (as it was variously called), Every Picture Tells a Story got demonstrated multiple times over the years to thousands of youth workers; and as a result, it sold really well, and was used by tons of people.
the response, frankly, blew me away. really, i stopped counting how many youth workers have told me that EPTAS is their all-time favorite youth ministry resource. i stopped counting how many have told me they have used it over and over and over again. and i love hearing stories about how it’s truly not just a youth ministry resource, but can be used with just about any age.
the product went out of print quite a few years ago when the publisher just couldn’t justify the printing costs anymore. and, with the rights reverted to me, i started selling a scanned copy of the leader’s guide along with digital version of the photos (thought there’s a copy of the original on sale at amazon for $700!). but i’ve been thinking for some time that it needed a facelift. adam (the other half of The Youth Cartel) strongly agreed. but it wasn’t until i worked with a dozen photographers to pull together the hundreds of black and white photos in The Way bible that i saw a feasible way of revising Every Picture Tells a Story.
all that to say: i’m completely stoked to release, today, the revised 2013 edition of Every Picture Tells a Story. the leader’s guide is mostly the same, though i re-edited it and updated a few things (and adam created an all-new beautiful layout for it!); but the photos are all new. and they’re awesome.
here’s the product description, in case you’re wondering what the heck i’m talking about:
Using the powerful force of 48 black-and-white photographs to open doorways into students’ souls.
A complete revision (with all new photos) of the groundbreaking and popular 2002 resource, Every Picture Tells a Story draws on the undeniable evocative force of black-and-white photography to elicit reactions and reflections at deep levels in the observers. Using the 18 activities described in the leader’s guide included, groups will:
- Choose photos that are reflections of their walks with God
- Pray and journal about their thoughts, dreams, hopes, and experiences
- Share with each other in a wide variety of “state of the soul” exercises
- Use photos as springboards to describe their families, their friendships, and their inner lives.
Ideally designed for small group use, Every Picture Tells a Story can easily be used by individuals as well as groups of 100 or more. Tested with students internationally, this resource opens new doorways into the souls and hearts of students.
- Will bring about reaction and reflection
- Easy to use–no prep necessary
- Can be used over and over again and still remain fresh
- Can be used in a wide variety of settings–small groups, large groups, leadership teams, missions trips, retreats, even with adults
- The 48 photos can by printed multiple times, or used on screens.
we’re offering a special deal on this for the first couple weeks only (i think this is only through may): if you get it now (click here), we’ll include the original set of 48 photos also.
anyhow: i’m looking forward to hearing more stories of how this funky little resource opened up insight into the hearts and souls of teenagers, how teenagers sensed that god was speaking to them, and how youth workers had some of their best spiritual discussions ever.
most people reading this blog would already know that i co-lead a little pot-stirring youth ministry organization called The Youth Cartel. and most would know that one of our most focused chances to stir is our event The Summit. if you’re familiar with TED talks, then you have an idea of what this event is like: 18 carefully selected, unique and brilliant presenters bringing laser-focused 12 – 15 minute talks specifically designed to spark your youth ministry imagination. in the spirit of TED (and, very much in the spirit of the wonderful and fun little book, The Medici Effect), The Summit includes presenters you’ve mostly never heard of offering provocative ideas or suggestions or challenges or prophetic words that are intended to help you dream big dreams; new dreams, even.
there are 50 or 100 uniqunesses about this event that get me pumped about it. i’m not alone in that; and it’s not only because i’m hosting this baby. in fact, those reasons are probably why april diaz, a seasoned youth ministry veteran who’s been to her share of national youth ministry events wrote this about last year’s event:
The best “youth ministry” conference I’ve ever been to! The format was provocative. The content was challenging. The community high caliber. Just incredible.
Loved the variety of voices, the challenges, the opportunity to dream, vision and create new concepts moving forward. This isn’t a conference where you will walk away with something you can use on Wednesday but a chance to discern how to re-image ministry. Such a gift!
a few months ago, my friend efrem smith shared an image on facebook that showed how little progress we seem to have made on reflecting the diversity of youth ministry leaders when it comes to the “stage” and “page.” in other words, we haven’t been intentional enough about finding and raising up both women and non-white youth workers. now: i’m a white dude. add to that: i turn 50 a week from friday — so in the youth ministry world, i easily qualify as an “old white guy.” i still have something to say, and i don’t want to be sidelined because of my skin color or age.
but i’ve really come to see that the church (particularly the evangelical wing of the church) doesn’t have much of a “farm team” system for raising up speakers and writers who aren’t white dudes. i wouldn’t be speaking and writing today, honestly, if i hadn’t given a whole lot of mediocre talks and written some “just ok” stuff when i was younger.
my interactions with efrem about that post (we had a fantastic four hour lunch, and a bunch of emails) convicted me that The Youth Cartel’s value of finding new voices simply must include those who are often marginalized. and in the spirit of The Summit, the best new thinking often comes from the margins. (i have also been reminded of my interactions with dr. soong-chan rah from north park university, who challenged me and mentored me years ago in this area.)
i’ve had an interesting a-ha. when our criteria for finding presenters isn’t “who’s really well known? who will be good for our marketing efforts?” the process of finding diverse presenters who will bring significant contribution gets reframed. it’s still work. but it’s not an almost-impossible task.
as a result: while the topics planned for presentations at this year’s Summit have me totally stoked, the mix of presenters has me even more so.
we currently have 14 of our 18 presenters locked in. there are only 5 white dudes in that mix (and only two of us — me and mark devries — would qualify as “old white dudes”). there are 6 women. there are 5 non-white presenters. we’re actively pursuing 5 more presenters this week (with the ideal of landing 4 of them), and those 5 include 3 women. those 5 include 3 people of color.
this effort (and success!) is much more than some sort of a politically-correct marketing ploy. this is core to the DNA of The Youth Cartel. and it’s core to The Summit being an event where you still truly have your imagination sparked. and it’s why you won’t hear a bunch of ideas or thoughts that you’ve already heard in one variation or another sixteen times before.
it was a very happy moment for me at last year’s event when, as Anne Jackson was getting ready to go up on stage, she whispered to me, “i just realized that of the 6 presenters in this session, i’m the only white person!” yeah: and that session totally rocked it.
we hope you’ll join us at The Summit. but we also hope you’ll join us in looking to the margins. it’s pretty rare that fresh stuff comes from the middle.
(oh, and by the way: if you register for The Summit before June 1, you get a VERY sweet bonus. you call ALL the audio and video of this year’s event for FREE!)
7th grade guy: my house is sold and gone
other 7th grade guy: you mean, it’s gone gone?
7th grade guy: my high this week is that my mom is going to get me hot pink spray paint to paint my crutches
7th grade guy: in school we’re reading “hear my cry”
other 7th grade guy: isn’t that about the ax and the tree?
third 7th grade guy: dude, that’s johnny appleseed
7th grade guy: we got a new trailer, and the wheels are bigger than my dad’s truck
other 7th grade guy: wait, bigger than the entire truck?
7th grade guy: i’ve learned from experience that i can soothe women
this last one takes a little set-up explanation:
we started using my old “Wild Truth Bible Lessons: Picture of God” curriculum for the remaining weeks of this school year. i was leading the guys in a lesson on how “God is a Listener.” those lessons all have embedded in them the idea that, since this attribute is part of god’s character, and we’re made in the image of god, we should be able to develop that characteristic also. in this sense, we were talking about how the guys could be better listeners. i had them pair up, and instructed person “a” in each pair to describe a recent family vacation while person “b” listened. as i was describing this, i thought to myself, “shoot, some of these guys have had amazing vacations, and some have never left their homes.” so i added, “it doesn’t hvae to be your last vacation — it can be any vacation.” i thought, “that still doesn’t do it.” so i added, “really, it doesn’t even have to be a real vacation — you can describe an imaginary vacation if you want!”
yeah, adjusting on the fly.
when i said “go,” my co-leader and i surprised them by instantly making ridiculous amounts of noise and acting in distracting ways. and we only gave them about 30 seconds for the task; so some of them never got to any story at all, speaking or listening. they were merely disoriented and trying to adjust.
but when i asked if any of the listeners could recount the vacation story of their partner, i got this:
he went on the journey of the epic of birth. he came out in an explosion of slime, like on nickelodeon
my friend (and YMCP participant) gavin richardson sent me a link to a report on a fascinating new brain study (read the summary of findings here).
the researchers did MRI brain scans of a group of 10 year olds (pre-pubescent), and again, on the same kids, when they were 13. while the scans were taking place, the researchers asked them a series of questions: some were particularly focused on self-perception and identity issues (and, even more particularly, on identity issues connected to social interaction), while other questions merely focused on knowledge.
they found no significant difference in brain function on the knowledge questions. BUT, they found a significant difference in brain activity (focused in part of the pre-frontal cortex) with the self-perception and identity questions.
1. i find this to be a wonderful scientific confirmation of the reality that after puberty, young teens begin the trek into the new world of abstract thinking; and a big part of abstract thinking is the new possibility of third-person perspective. in other words, young teens, unlike their pre-teen counterparts, have the ability (if not practice) to view themselves, and other people and objects and issues, from another’s perspective. this new third-person thinking is rocket fuel to the adolescent task of identity formation. without self-perception and some sense of how others view me, it’s difficult to form an active identity.
2. the part of the brain that was really firing–the part where the difference showed up–was the pre-frontal cortex. this is a big deal. on one hand, it makes complete sense that it was that part of the brain, since it’s that part of the brain that’s responsible for higher-order thought (and third-person perspective, including self-perception, is complex stuff). but here’s what’s significant about that: the pre-frontal cortex (or frontal lobes) is also the part of the brain that we’ve heard so much about in adolescents over the last 10 years. MRIs have shown us that the frontal lobes of teenagers are significantly underdeveloped, something we didn’t know until MRIs helped us look at live, healthy teenage brains in action. the reality of underdeveloped frontal lobes (responsible for all sorts of important things, like wisdom, prioritization, impulse control, decision making, and other critical thinking skills) has become, wrongly in my opinion, cause for assuming that teenagers are not capable of these thought processes. this study confirms for me: sure, teenagers (and particularly young teens) are limited in their decision-making, prioritization, impulse control and so on; BUT they are NOT incapable.
parents and youth workers: let’s get those pre-frontal cortexes firing. i’m convinced that, other than the mysterious transforming work of God, frontal lobe development is about the most critical aspect of both faith formation and the move to adulthood.
my latest middle school ministry column for youthworker journal is online. i wrote about the importance and value of fun. and while it’s a middle school ministry column, the application, i believe, is broader than that.
Because the theme of this issue of YouthWorker is Best Games, I thought I’d use this space to address the issue of fun. It’s pretty much impossible to stay in young teen ministry for more than a few weeks without having at least some willingness to have fun. The most serious and Bible-focused middle school leader needs to add some fun as a value.
Fun is a God thing. God is the Inventor of fun, the One who designed the sensation of the tickle and created our mouths to turn up into smiles involuntarily. One might say, with some theological accuracy, God invented the “accidentally blowing Cherry Coke through your nostrils when caught off guard by something hilarious” response.
We often unintentionally teach a heresy about fun: that it’s all well and good, but isn’t actually spiritual. Fun is our non-formal curriculum when we say, “OK, we played that game, and it was fun; but now it’s time to get serious and turn to the Word of God.”
Fun is one of the last words most people would use to describe Christ-followers. It’s probably fair to say fun would be a weak ministry value if it were your only one; but let’s all stop apologizing and add fun with theological conviction to the vibe we desire in our youth ministries.
I have to believe Jesus and His boys laughed their heads off at times, especially after Andrew snorted and shot goat’s milk out his nose.
Fun is a cultural value and youth culture value. There’s no question that having fun is a high value to teenagers. We’re called as missionaries to bring a contextualized gospel to the world of teens. Because fun isn’t a value that’s antithetical to the gospel, let’s at least start with the assumption that it’s morally neutral, effectively used for good or evil, and can be experienced in a way that aligns with or diminishes God’s intent for our lives.
Of course, there are plenty of ways fun can be destructive. All lesser-funs are a bastardization of fun, resulting in the diminishment of a person God dearly loves.
When we don’t embrace fun as a value, middle schoolers subconsciously think, “This place doesn’t line up with what is normal and valuable to me; so this place isn’t a good fit for me.”
Fun engages teenagers. We can’t hope to play a role in connecting middle schoolers with the love of Jesus unless we first engage them. You don’t shape a young teen’s life simply by being in the same room.
Great engagement comes in lots of forms: offering genuine belonging, listening, asking questions, connecting with various senses. However, fun is at least one of those engagement tools in our kit. Attempted fun or forced fun can be lame; so there’s clearly a fine line to walk here. Fun can provide an avenue for engagement when the most proactive conversational approach falls flat in a pile of good intent.
Fun lowers defenses. You know you have middle schoolers who are naturally defensive to connecting with you or your middle school ministry program. That’s particularly true if they’re visitors, or for some other reason don’t feel a sense of connection and identification with the group.
Fun, though (particularly laughter) unfolds the arms, relaxes the tensed muscles and helps a defensive posture melt away. This really is a physical issue—defensiveness is a mindset with an accompanying muscle tightening. Fun, when it’s only observed, can cause a mindset change that naturally results in forgetting to hold the muscles clenched.
Fun fosters community. One can have fun when alone, but the best fun is usually a shared experience. That sort of concurrent fun amplifies the fun for all involved and plants seeds of community.
When you boil it down, community begins and is sustained by shared experiences. Allow fun to be a regular aspect of communal life. A word of caution: Community-building fun must be inclusive; carefully guard against exclusive fun that leaves some out.
Fun creates memories. A major part of any community (and the identity formation that comes with it) is shared memories. Those communal remembrances are major fodder for sustained life together.
Of course, it’s great if some of those memories are of tender times, times of overcoming adversity or of an intense shared experience of God. Shared memories of fun can fill in the gaps to create a full portfolio of stories worth retelling, stories that say something about who we are together.
Fun decreases differences. I suppose this reality is complementary to the “fun fosters community” reality, but in our current context, youth culture has splintered into hundreds or thousands of cultures (new in the past 10 to 15 years). That means every youth ministry is a multi-cultural (unless your youth group is three home-schoolers from the same family).
One of our greatest goals in youth ministry should be the creation of a new kingdom culture that supersedes the many cultures represented in the population of your middle school ministry. I’ve found three things that act as kerosene on the fire of decreasing cultural differences: serving together, worshipping together and having fun together. We tend to elevate the first two above the latter as they seem more spiritual, but remember: Fun is a God thing.
getting caught up on book reviews. i allow myself two sentences: one for summary and one for my review.
Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life, by Jeff Goins
how coming to the end of yourself is essential for the good life. fantastic writing and insight, this book needs to be assigned reading for anyone 17 – 40.
*full disclosure: i was the literary agent for this book.
Only God: Change Your Story, Change the World, by Dwight Mason
how to lean into a full life of adventure, alignment and purposefulness. i didn’t think i was going to like this book, but i liked it more and more as i read; a nice practical counterpart to donald miller’s A Millions Miles in a Thousand Years.
Static Jedi: The art of hearing the quiet whisper of God, by Eric Timm (book cover not available yet*)
learning to move beyond the static (noise, clutter, distractions) in our lives.
the official endorsement i wrote for this book: Weird title/awesome book. Quirky author/insightful thinker. Unique style/fresh ideas.
*note: this book releases in early september
Church & Ministry
Cultivate: A Youth Worker’s Guide to Establishing Healthy Relationships, by Matt Wilks
advice for managing the many relationships in the world of a youth worker. worth the read, for sure, for paid youth workers who want to be more proactive in the complexities and nuances of the myriad relational contexts where they need a win.
Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, by Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley
a look at the missional church movement through the experience of a particular experiment in san diego. helpful and interesting, and easy to read, but occasionally too focused on the context of the central case study.
Criticism Bites: Dealing With, Responding To, and Learning From Your Critics, by Brian Berry
brilliant, practical advice for handling criticism for ministry leaders. written for a youth worker, this book is must reading for anyone in any church leadership role.
Taking Theology to Youth Ministry, by Andrew Root
the first in a series of four short books exploring theology in youth ministry, sometimes using the fictionalized story of a youth worker in theological crisis. the content is amazing, but the jumping in and out of the fable occasionally frustrated me.
Everybody’s Urban: Understanding the Survival Mindset of the Next Generation, by Leneita Fix and Jeffrey Wallace
reframing “urban” as teenagers in survival mode. while i wasn’t sure i completely agreed with 100% of this book, it completely made me think in new ways.
Youth Ministry from the Outside In: How Relationships and Stories Shape Identity, by Brandon K. McKoy
a radically different way of thinking about teenage identity formation and youth ministry.
the official endorsement i wrote for this book: My brain is swimming with questions and ideas, conviction and possibility after reading Youth Ministry from the Outside In. McKoy turns our ministry inside out, actually–moving our focus from isolated individuals assembled together, toward an ecosystem of living and breathing people-in-relationship. Read this book carefully–it may take more than one pass–and watch how it worms its way into your thinking and practice.
*note: this book releases in early october
A Faith of Their Own: Understanding the Common Cry of Preteens, by Chris Folmsbee
a non-fluffy look into the faith development of pre-teens.
the official endorsement i wrote for this book: In my over 30 years of ministry with young teens, I have noticed that many parents don’t start thinking about teenage faith development until their children are well into their teen years. This book provides parents an entré into engaging the faith formation of their preteens and young teens before their children have mostly separated into a faith of their own. Deeply theological while still easily readable and practical, Folmsbee gives parents a greatly needed gift.
*note: this book releases on july 1
getting caught up on book reviews. i allow myself two sentences: one for summary and one for my review.
Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, by Alex Stone
fascinating memoir of a young magician learning his craft and trying to earn the respect of his peers. a truly interesting look into both the hidden world of illusionists and the ruthless dedication needed to excel.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond
epic unpacking of from-the-beginnings-of-time reasons why some cultures are powerful and others not. interesting, to a point, but so dang long.
Assholes: A Theory, by Aaron James
a philosopher develops a theory on why some people are that way. sometimes interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes fluff to fill a book.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, by Susannah Cahalan
autobiographical story of the author’s short slide into crazy-land, due to a then-undiagnosed illness that impacted her brain. great story with a journalist’s flare.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling
mindy kaling’s combination of humorous observational essays and personal story. it’s hard not to compare to tina fey’s 5-star book, since they’re so similar; but it’s still a fun, inconsequential read.
Seven Years with Banksy, by Robert Clarke
autobiographical story of the author and the time he spent with the world’s most elusive artist. i’m fascinated with banksy, so found this fun, even though the writing is really weak.
Debating Emerging Adulthood: Stage or Process?, by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Marion Kloep, Leo B. Hendry, and Jennifer L. Tanner
a debate-format book with two teams of writer/experts. i couldn’t finish it, as i found it boring (even though the subject matter is one that interests me).
A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, by Edwin H. Friedman
a revolutionary book about what’s missing in all forms of leadership. my second read of this difficult and challenging book, worth the challenge for its stunning insights.
getting caught up on book reviews. i allow myself two sentences: one for summary and one for my review.
Young Adult Fiction
That’s Not a Feeling, by Dan Josefson
a teenage boy is sent to a residential school for troubled teens, where the strange systems and burned-out staff do little to help him. good characters and a unique setting, but it would have been nice if one or two of the adults weren’t idiots.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini
post-suicide attempt, a high school boy learns about himself while spending a week in an adult psych ward. insightful and honest, a rare gem of a book for teenage readers.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
fantasy about a boarding school for strangely gifted children who exist in some sort of parallel space. fun and quirky reading, even though it’s not particularly life-changing.
Notes from the Blender, by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin
a metalhead outsider and a popular girl become step-siblings. surprising mediocrity from one of my previously favorite authors (halpin, when he wrote adult fiction). *note: a church youth group factors in, though.
Colin Fischer, by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz
a high school boy with asburger’s syndrome finds his way through being mainstreamed in a public school, while using his unique thinking to solve a crime. one of the best young adult fiction books i’ve read in a couple years (i would give this to any teenager who reads).
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
the gentle and believable love story of two teenage misfits. i don’t know that i’ve ever read a teenage love story with such insight into the world of teenagers.
Gone Girl: A Novel, by Gillian Flynn
a formerly blissful married couple systematically dismantel each other with deception, spite and calculation. brilliantly written and often surprising, this personal saga hides around the next page waiting to pounce.
The Time Keeper, by Mitch Albom
the first keeper of time is chained to millennia of listening to others’ relentless cries for more or less time, culminating in an opportunity at redemption connected to two modern day time-worriers. almost whimsical at times, an insightful and reflective story with rich commentary on our time obsessions.
Illustrated Books and Graphic Novels
Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began, by Art Spiegelman
part 2 of the author’s father’s story of auchwitz, illustrated with animals. an important and unique contribution to both the worlds of illustrated books and holocaust stories.
The Book of Revelation, by Matt Dorff (Adapter), Chris Koelle (Illustrator), Mark B. Arey (Translator), and Philemon D. Sevastiades (Translator)
vividly illustrated book of revelation, with text straight from scripture. it’s weird, just like the actual bible book, which got a little old at points, even though the illustration style is unique and way beyond most christian stuff like this.
The Walking Dead: Something To Fear, Vol. 17, by Robert Kirkman (Author), Charlie Adlard (Illustrator), and Cliff Rathburn (Illustrator)
the next one in the series. i love these, but always wish they were longer and more frequent.
ok, i’ve been a good boy and posted a bunch of meatier blog content in the last two weeks. so it’s time for some frivolity.
with spring strongly present here in san diego, and my friends in other parts of the country still dealing with late spring snow storms, let’s go with this little fella.
best caption gets a download of The Youth Cartel resource of your choice!
many others made me smile; but these are the official runners-up:
Even now, as an adult with a family of his own, Morris still looks for his lost mittens…
The snow is always whiter on the other side…
The Cat replied:
“when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”
Having mastered standing on his hind legs mittens was now preparing to write his name in the snow for the very first time.
and the winner is…
tough call, but i like that todd didn’t even reference the stupid cat. so i’m calling Todd Tolson the winner, for “The snow is always whiter on the other side…”
Todd, you win a download of The Youth Cartel product of your choice! email me.
i wrote a feature-length article for the current issue of Group Magazine. in fact, they chose to make it the cover article; and they shot this photo of me in a suit at SYMC. i’m not sure how i feel about it (“Fun!” “Look, a whale in a suit!”). but i’m also honored — blown away, really — to be on the cover of Group. it’s a little surreal. i posted the cover on facebook yesterday, and a few of the comments would have made me blow milk out my nose, had i been drinking milk at the time:
- steve knight wrote: “you know what they say, sex sells”
- mike pitts said i looked like a college coach
- adam, my partner in The Youth Cartel, text me, “I’m hoping to be on the swimsuit issue of Group next year.”
anyhow: they put the article online. here are the first couple sections:
Fear Only Fear
I’ve been fired two times from ministry positions.
Well, that’s not fair. I was fired once, and I was laid-off once. But the fearsome inner dialogue that erupted within me—despite 20 years separating the two terminations—was eerily similar. I’d grown and matured in significant ways over those two decades, so my intense reaction to the latest bombshell meant:
A. My interior self hadn’t grown as much as I would’ve hoped, or
B. My experience, while deeply personal, is not uncommon to anyone who’s ever been told, “We don’t want you anymore.”
After walking alongside several fired youth workers over the last few years, my gut tells me both are probably true.
But the focus of this article is not about coping with getting fired. Losing my job was simply the most intense personal experience I’ve had of ongoing and pervasive fear. And the voice of fear has often been the primary tool the evil one has used to keep me frozen—exasperatingly short of the fully transformed life God has dreamed of for me.
In both terminations, I saw it coming. I grasped and positioned and politicked and even begged. I tightened my grip, hoping I could somehow control the situation and distract the approaching monster of loss. Once my control was taken away, I entered a very brief stage of disorientation mixed with relief. The waiting was over. My exerted effort to control (which is tiring!) was no longer necessary.
But quickly on the heels of that moment, the voice of fear started to whisper, then insinuate, then sneer…
“No one will hire you after this.”
“You’ll never again impact the Kingdom.”
“Your family is going to starve.” (Yeah, the voice of fear isn’t always rational.)
◊ ◊ ◊
My second termination was less than four years ago, so it’s fresh in my memory. It’s very easy for me to re-live the volcanic emotions of those unendurable months. Sure, I had other strong feelings: anger, sadness, and even something I can only call curiosity. But the struggle that almost undid me was unequivocally an MMA match with my inner voice of fear.
My youth ministry coaching program (for a video introduction to the program, go to theyouthcartel.com/coaching-2/) has given me a cautious invitation into the deepest places of struggle in the lives of youth workers. And I’ve found, over and over again, that somewhere around half of youth workers struggle with debilitating fear. They might hide it well, even from themselves, but it colors their interactions, nudges their decisions in one direction or another, and limits their freedom and ability to truly be themselves.
I’ll go a step further—we youth workers nurture a collective self-image of fearlessness (“Rawr! I’m a wild one! Get out of my way, ’cause I’m a bundle of Jesus-y action and energy!”). When that vocational stereotype (which is both thrust on us and self-selected) is combined with the spotlight of ministry leadership, it misleads us, telling us that our experiences of fear are not “normal.” And that’s a killer lie.
(the rest of the article unpacks a model for change, voices of resistance, what to do with your fear, and has a sidebar excerpt of my “fear journal” from a few years ago when i lost my job. read it here!)
yesterday at my church, the worship pastor preached on the idea of unity through diversity (based on 1 corinthians 12:12-20). it was probably about the best sermon i’ve heard in the last six months (partially, to be sure, because the preacher is really an artist, not an orator or expositor; so it had a wonderfully different feel from most sermons i hear). (you can hear the sermon here.)
in the middle of the sermon, he used this video (viewed over 10 million times on youtube, so you have likely already seen it!) as a way of talking about the difference between unity in diversity and unity through diversity. anyhow, i just found myself totally suppressing tears while watching it. what a great metaphor for what the church is invited, called, created to be.
(part 1 of this series explored the need for most of us, despite the desire to be innovators, to stay connected to our organizations via the gravitational pull of orbiting. part 2 looked at forces that corrode innovation.)
Two Essential Thrusters for Sustaining Orbit
Spaceships and Large Ocean Vessels share a technology that helps them make minor directional adjustments without firing up their engines: thrusters. On a boat, bow thrusters move the front of the ship left or right. On a spacecraft, they provide short bursts of propulsion to move in any direction.
In order for us to stay in the sweet spot between a useless trajectory of our own and getting mired in the disabling affect of the hairball, we need two thrusters.
Anyone with healthy or unhealthy resistance to change (most of us have this) need a dose of courage from time to time to push us in the direction of innovation. Here’s what I have learned: I cannot make myself have courage anymore than I can make myself have the fruit of the Spirit. Spiritual courage comes from the Holy Spirit.
The etymology of the word itself tells us this. The root of courage (“cour”) means “heart”; and courage literally means “to have a full heart.” Excitement and praise and rewards and potential can partially fill my heart. But they’re not sustainable. My heart can only be truly topped off in the face of significant risk by the fuel of the Holy Spirit.
I’m done being an arrogant risk-taker. I want no part of innovation born out of my own hubris. Instead, I long to experience a life of humility. Humility can keep me from believing my innovations are sure-fire. Humility can keep me from steamrolling people. Humility can prevent me from dismissing others, made in the image of God, who do not agree with my inventions.
I long to experience a life of Jesus-y courage tempered by Jesus-y humility.
I long for a tribe of youth workers who will fire up their thrusters of courage and humility, overcome their fears and insecurities, and move into orbit together, not disdaining the hairball, but exerting our own gravitational pull on it while it reciprocates with us.
(part 1 of this series explored the need for most of us, despite the desire to be innovators, to stay connected to our organizations via the gravitational pull of orbiting.)
The Love of New
I have a short attention span, and am constantly drawn to the next new thing (whether it’s a youth ministry idea or a smart phone). Whatever good or broken thing in me drives this has to be stabled from time to time.
New for the sake of new causes all kinds of problems. When I live this way, and think this way, I hurt people. I get more interested in the new thing than in people. I both reflect and add to our cultural obsession with acquiring new things and discarding (potentially good) old things. I set myself up to miss out on the beauty of stillness and unchanging. I get ruthlessly dismissive about what was good. I have, in the name of new, tossed many an archetypal baby out with bathwater that was hurl-worthy.
My Own Insecurities
I can be a bull in a china shop, to be sure; but sometimes only because I like being perceived as the kind of guy who’s willing to be that bull.
In my desire to be innovative, my insecurities work against me in two ways:
First, my insecurities and desire for approval fuel me to innovate merely so I will be perceived as an innovator. Seriously, how lame is that? Surely, any innovation born out of that motivation will be short-lived at best, or hollow and hurtful at the worst.
On the other side of the equation, my insecurities work against me to curb innovation. The thinking that lurks in my subconscious says, “In this case, it would be easier and safer to retreat to the majority way or the old way where tried and true measures of success are more predictable.
A Desire for Security
The professionalization of youth ministry brought some undeniable changes. But, in many ways, it’s the worst thing that ever happened to youth ministry. When we are—when I am—being paid to do youth ministry, our innovation muscles are unavoidably restrained.
I find this a tension regularly in my work with The Youth Cartel. I deeply desire for us to “instigate a revolution in youth ministry.” But I also need to figure out how to pay my mortgage, and pay my daughter’s upcoming college tuition. There’s great job security in not being a boat rocker.
Fear of Being Marginalized
I’ve been confronted with my fears at a much more visceral level since I lost my job at Youth Specialties more than three and a half years ago. My fears sort of sicken me; but as I’ve identified them, they’ve played a wonderful role in my pursuit of humility.
I know I have an almost insatiable desire to live larger-than-life. The squiggly thing under the rock is my fear of being forgotten, marginalized, lacking influence. It’s a counter-productive fear, and it stunts my creativity.
You might not share this exact same fear (though I think it’s common to the majority of youth pastors). But, what I’ve so strongly found in the coaching and consulting work I do these days is that every organization and every leader carries with them fears that are more than willing to stifle creativity and innovation, truncate risk, and derail deep transformation. Being honest about your fears, when it comes to change and risk, is a critical component of maintaining orbit around the hairball.
next up, in part 3: Two Essential Thrusters for Sustaining Orbit
Here’s a tension I live with: I’m passionate about innovation in youth ministry, but—if I’m really honest—I’m not a true entrepreneur.
I want to stir up change. I love hearing about bold and risky youth workers who are experimenting. I often scramble up on my little soapbox and rant about this or that perspective or approach that needs to be dismantled. Heck, I even started a fledgling organization called The Youth Cartel (not a safe name, to be sure), with the tagline: Instigating a Revolution in Youth Ministry.
But I also have all these internal and external forces—fear, complacency, expediency—that pull me back to the way it’s always been done. I’ll speak to a group of youth workers on a weekend about the need for change, write a ranty blog post on Monday, encourage a youth worker in my Youth Ministry Coaching Program to take a huge risk on Tuesday, then fall back into what’s easiest with my middle school small group on Wednesday night.
At times, I think I’m just a wannabe innovator.
Maybe that’s why I find such great encouragement in one of the strangest and most wonderful little books I’ve ever read, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by the late Gordon MacKenzie. MacKenzie tells weird stories and gleans principles from his decades-long working life at Hallmark, the bastion of greeting cards. The author constantly struggled with the bureaucracy, red tape, naysayers, and compliance-demanding systems of his workplace. But, through a bit of luck and a big dose of creativity, he shaped himself into a sort of corporate shaman with the absurdist job title: Creative Paradox (really, that was his job title).
There are dozens of gems in the book; but my primary, ongoing takeaway (I’ve read it about five times) is in the metaphor of the title. While the world needs eccentric and whatever-the-cost entrepreneurs (the world of youth ministry surely needs these people), most of us live our vocational lives in organizations, with hairballs that exert significant gravitational pull. If we want to have an impact on the organization (in our case, our churches), we have to avoid two extremes: we have to find ways to protect ourselves from getting sucked into the hairball while not shooting off into our own trajectory. We have to orbit, staying in the gravitational pull of the hairball without succumbing to it.
A true youth ministry entrepreneur would say, “I’m going to do this a new way, no matter what happens: whether I keep my job or lose it; whether I impact the church or have to do this outside the church.” We need those people; but I’m realizing that’s not me. I’m called to the orbit. And I think most church-based youth workers–shoot, really, anyone who isn’t self-employed!–is called to the orbit.
coming up in the next two posts…
in part 2: Forces that Corrode Innovation
in part 3: Two Essential Thrusters for Sustaining Orbit