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Date: Wednesday, 16 Apr 2014 11:00

i have a genderalization i sometimes throw out in parenting seminars:

teenage girls make friends and find their place in their world through talking; teenage boys make friends and find their place in their world through doing stuff together.

sure, there a plenty of exceptions. and this doesn’t mean that girls don’t learn from doing stuff, or that guys don’t need verbalization. it’s simply a basic tendency. it’s why teenage girls can share an intimate moment of verbal sharing and instantly be BFFs. it’s why a teenage guy can play video games with another guy, pretty much not talk about anything (at least not anything intimate or vulnerable) and consider that the perfect foundation for a friendship.

we youth workers know the importance of getting teenagers talking. i’ve been really challenged in this area by the work and words of amanda drury, who The Youth Cartel had speak at a couple events in 2012 and 2013. it has caused me to say such questionably strong statements as:

for teenage faith development, verbalization of faith is more important than accuracy.

but what about guys and doing stuff?

i have, on more than one occasion, challenged a father (more than one father) who’s troubled by how he and his son seem to be disengaging. i’ve challenged these dads with a simple, but radical, idea: splurge and take your son on a BIG TIME international adventure trip. do something and go somewhere you would never do on a “family vacation.” do something where you’re pushed, both to being personally stretched, and to relying on one another.

i’m saddened by how few (none?) of these dads have ever exercised the will and courage to take me up on my suggestion.

that’s part of why i LOVED this short film by casey neistat. admitedly, casey is an adventurer. so he’s more accustomed to these things. but his son owen wasn’t an adventurer. really, this is very much worth the 20 minutes to watch (both for the story itself, and for the principles you can see at work).

dads? what sort of shared adventures are you willing to embark on with your son?

youth workers? amidst the critical value of creating space and an environment for verbalization, how can we embrace the importance of getting guys to do stuff (and maybe verbalizing in the middle of that)?

Author: "marko" Tags: "church, faith, family, youth ministry, y..."
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Date: Monday, 14 Apr 2014 18:48

i’m starting a new series of occasional posts with this one. i’ll probably post about one per week or so. but these will be a random tidbit of input for parents of pre-teens and young teens. if you’re a youth worker, feel free to copy and paste these into a parent newsletter or email (though i’d appreciate a credit line), for forward them a link.

young teen doubt 1Welcome to the World of Doubts

A nervous set of parents met with me. Tears came quickly. Judy, the mom, spoke in-between honks into her tissue: “Johnny, our 7th grader… [honk!]… he’s always been such a good boy. And he’s always loved Jesus.”

The dad nodded.

Judy continued: “But the other night at dinner… [honk!]… Johnny said, ‘I’m not sure I want to be a Christian anymore.’” [honk!]

A big smile broke out across my face.

Their faces made it obvious they were somewhere between confused and offended by my grin. So I explained:

Questioning and examining (usually called “doubting”) Mom and Dad’s faith system, or her own childhood faith system, is a necessary part of early teen faith development.

Did you catch that? Parents (and plenty of youth workers) are usually threatened, even frightened, by their kids’ doubts. But teenagers who don’t go through this process will reach their early 20s with a stunted (childish) faith!

Let me back up and explain a bit more fully.

The Task of Discovery

Stephen Glenn, a psychologist who published a bunch in the 70s and 80s, developed a helpful little timeline (I’m modifying the ages Glenn suggests to account for our current context). He said the first few years of life are all about “discovery”. The next few years (4 – 7, roughly) are all about “testing”. And the years from 8 – 10 are focused on “concluding.”

Then a shift of seismic proportions–-usually called puberty–-comes along like massive storm waves crashing against a sea wall made of chalk or sandstone. Wave after wave, erosion takes place–erosion of all those nice pre-teen conclusions. And the cycle begins again: 11 – 14 are years of “discovery”; 15 to 20 year-olds tend to focus on “testing”; and those in their 20something years (now called “emerging adults”) shift to forming conclusions.

Can’t you see that in your young teen? They’re in the midst of a massive adventure of discovery. That’s why they want to try everything–four sports, three clubs, five friendship groups, a new hobby or collection each month. They’re trying to gather data about the world, about how people interact, about values, about reactions. And, about what it means to be a Christ-follower.

So wrestling with “what do I believe?” becomes a wonderful question for young teens to ask. That doesn’t mean we fan the flames of their doubts (“I can’t believe you still believe that!”). It means we come alongside them in their doubts, rather than interpreting those questions (that data collection) as a real rejection of faith.

How Should Parents Respond?

Don’t freak out. When you hear doubts squeaking out, take a deep breath. Thank God that your budding teenager is still willing to verbalize this kind of thing with you. A strong negative reaction will teach your child that she shouldn’t share in the future.

Exercise curiosity. Young teens rarely have the self-awareness to verbalize their doubts in helpful and constructive ways. We have to look beyond the presenting evidence for the question(s) forming in the background. And we have to ask.

Encourage verbalization. In other words, talk about it! Healthy dialogue is often all that’s needed. Ask questions, rather than preaching.

Share in first-person. Your pre-teen or young teen will “catch” more from your life than from your words. When you do choose to share words, try not to be too prescriptive (“Johnny, what you need to do is this….”). Instead, share from your own life. Respond to doubts with your own story, including your own doubts (past or present).

Pray. Isn’t that one obvious? Your child is going through the most formative and tender years in faith development. Talk to God constantly!


Mark Oestreicher is a partner in The Youth Cartel, a veteran youth worker, and a parent of a 20 year-old daughter and 16 year-old son. He speaks frequently to parents, and is the author or co-author of six books for parents, including A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Guys, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Girls, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains, A Parents Guide to Understanding Social Media, A Parents Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating, and Understanding Your Young Teen. With his own “apprentice adults,” he co-authored a book for teenagers: 99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents.

Author: "marko" Tags: "faith, family, adolescent faith developm..."
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Date: Wednesday, 09 Apr 2014 11:00

a publisher asked me to write a short parenting book yesterday. and my teenage son is out of town this week on a class trip (and my 20 year-old daughter is away at college): so we’re getting a taste of empty nest. those factors mashed up to bring to the surface some thoughts i’ve had percolating for a while.

A Rant:

holy cow, so many parents have absorbed, like sponges, the misguided idea that the goal of parenting a teenager is for the teen to be happy.

happywith that goal in mind, they become obligated to parent with a set of behaviors and practices that misfire and don’t get them to their (misguided) goal:

  • “sure, i’m your parent; but i really want to be your friend!”
  • “i want to protect you and keep you safe, free from any scratches or dangers.”
  • “unless it’s in an area where your exploration will give you happiness, then i want you to have that.”
  • “oh, you made a really bad choice? i don’t like that you made that choice, but i’ll remove the consequences, because they would make you unhappy.”
  • “you’re too young for responsibility. you can think about that stuff when you’re an adult. i’m sure you’ll magically become responsible at that point.”

A Concession:

but i have compassion for parents of teenagers. and, as a parent of a teenager and a 20 year-old (who i refuse to consider a teenager), i hope you’ll have compassion on me.

i am regularly bombarded (as are all parents of teenagers) with the message that my teen’s happiness should be my goal. i’m told that my teenager’s happiness is my measure of success. i’m told that i’m a BAD PARENT if:

  • i don’t remove consequences to bad choices.
  • i don’t give my teenager everything s/he wants.
  • i give him or her meaningful responsibility and expectation.

really, it has become downright COUNTERCULTURAL to parent teenagers with any goal other than an obsession with their happiness.

i’m convinced that a big part of this is because the american dream has changed.

Why the Shift?

for centuries, the american dream has promised that if you work hard, you can possess the good life. this dream has morphed, to be sure, in its definition. the shift is located in our collective desire of what we want to possess. even as recently as thirty or forty years ago, the good life was primarily about property ownership, with a side helping of possessing relationships. that might be a little snarky, but the image of a poor immigrant, dreaming of one day owning a piece of land, or a home, and raising a family while applying oneself to “a good day’s work” was as clear as a norman rockwell painting.

my paternal grandparents lived this dream. maria and rudy separately left germany in their middle teenage years, steaming toward the american dream on a ship. both headed for detroit, where each had cousins or siblings who had recently put down roots. eventually meeting and marrying, they lived the life one can imagine them dreaming of as they had one foot on the gangplank and one foot on the ship leaving europe.

rudy spent his life as an electrician for detroit edison (now called DTE energy). they had a simple but comfortable home, raising a family of three children (my father included) in ann arbor, michigan. at retirement age, they did what retirees were supposed to do in those days, moving to clearwater, florida, and a massive retirement community where she could fill her days with ceramics classes, and he could fill his with golf.

by 20th century standards, they lived the american dream.

but the 21st century has a different set of values. today’s american dream is about possessing happiness, not property. material things are still a major part of the picture (maybe more than ever), since the assumption for many is that “stuff” will provide happiness.

but increasingly, today’s young adults, and thirty- and forty-somethings, are less interested in property possession and raising a family, and are more interested in a variety of other perceived happiness producers: fun, travel, adventure, meaning or significance, community, and freedom (not freedom to own things, but freedom from being anchored to anything).

The Result:

how’s this parenting approaching working out for us, by the way?

teen languagelet’s see… i’d suggest these results:

  • adolesence is extending faster than pinocchio’s nose. young adults don’t know how to take responsbility for themselves because they’ve never been given responsibility.
  • teenagers and young adults are increasingly being treated like children. this certainly does damage, and is darn close to abusive.
  • teenagers are no happier than they were a decade or two ago (prior to this absurd pendulum swing).
  • parents are not experiencing more satisfaction in their roles. in fact, more parents feel like failures than ever.
  • basically: everyone loses. no one is getting what they actually want.

time to take stock and consider a redirect, i’d say.

The Better Goal:

i believe the goal of parenting a teenager is independence. in other words, i’m more interested in raising adults than “raising kids.” sure, we’re not ultimately made for independence; god made us in his own image, wired for interdependence. but the dependence children have on their parents needs to shift during and after the teen years, with young adults both moving into interdependence with other people and their parents. so: i’m sticking with “independence” as a parenting teenagers goal: my kids have to experience healthy independence from me (and my wife) before they can choose another alternative.

to that end, i continue to wrestle my own internal insecurities, pressure from our culture, and fear of failure, to practice these commitments:

  • i will not treat my daughter or son like children. i will view them and think of them and treat them as apprentice adults rather than living the last few years of childhood.
  • i will be err on the side of giving freedom for decision making (which is not the same thing as disengaging, or abdicating). i will create clearly articulated boundaries within which glorious amounts of freedom and decision making can be exercised.
  • i will not remove the consequences of bad choices, even if the consequences will be challenging and a threat to happiness (and even if the consequences are a major inconvenience to me).
  • i totally dig my daughter and son, and love spending time with them; but i will neither fool myself into thinking i’m their peer, nor expect them to include me as a peer.

i’d love for my daughter and son to be happy (in case you thought i was suggesting the opposite). and i think they generally are happy. it’s just not the goal of my parenting. and it shouldn’t be yours, if you want to see your teenagers grow into healthy adults.

ok. who’s with me?


Mark Oestreicher is a partner in The Youth Cartel, a veteran youth worker, and a parent of a 20 year-old daughter and 16 year-old son. He speaks frequently to parents, and is the author or co-author of six books for parents, including A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Guys, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Girls, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains, A Parents Guide to Understanding Social Media, A Parents Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating, and Understanding Your Young Teen. With his own “apprentice adults,” he co-authored a book for teenagers: 99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents.

Author: "marko" Tags: "family, personal, happiness, parenting, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 11:00

One of the things I like most about my friend Kurt Johnston (Saddleback’s youth pastor) is that he’s an idea machine! Granted, not all of his ideas are good ones but I love the fact that he just keeps swinging away knowing he’ll strike out a lot and hit a home run or two along the way. His latest idea could be one of those “home run” type of ideas. It’s certainly creative.

YWDlogo

Youthworkerdiscounts.com is what Kurt is calling “A movement of generosity” to help fund small youth groups. The vast majority of youth groups are small, underfunded, and led by awesome adults lacking the time and money it takes to get training and resources and youthworkerdiscounts.com is one way the rest of us can help.

Here’s how it works:

  • You pay an annual membership fee of $20.
  • In return, $10 of your membership fee goes directly into the pot to buy resources for small youth groups.
  • And, you get access to thousands of discounts on all sorts of stuff like hotels, restaurants, movie tickets, etc. PLUS 30% off every order from our friends at simplyyouthministry.com

It’s actually a terrible business model because there’s nothing left for Kurt! When I pointed this out to him his response was, “Well, that’s because it’s not a business. It’s just an idea I had to help small youth groups.” Touché, Kurt. That was dangerously close to a Jesus Juke.

A “home run” idea? I suppose that remains to be seen. But it’s a pretty good one, and his heart behind it is why I wanted to share it with the rest of you.

Check it.

Author: "marko" Tags: "youth ministry, youth work, kurt johnsto..."
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Date: Friday, 04 Apr 2014 11:00

ymcp leafhere’s an update on the Youth Ministry Coaching Program

we now have four full cohorts going (each have met at least one time so far). three are “closed” groups for denominations: south carolina UMC, western north carolina UMC, and pittsburgh presbytery of the PC(USA). the fourth is our “women in youth ministry” cohort led by april diaz (meeting in orange county, CA, and online).

but we have three other options at this time:

2014 Nashville Cohort

this cohort is off and running in the lead up to a first meeting in august. we’re just now starting to schedule that meeting and deal with other preliminary administrative details. but, while the cohort has its allotted 10 spots filled, i’ve started taking an 11th person in most cohorts. this is primarily in case someone has to back out; but i’ve done a few cohort with 11 people in them now, and have found they’ve been fine. so, if anyone is interested in grabbing that 11th spot in the nashville cohort, it’s first-come, first-served.

2014 San Diego Cohort

filling this cohort has been a challenge. we only need 8 to make this one work. and for two years, since the 2nd San Diego cohort finished, we’ve added people and lost people. we were at 5, and added two awesome people in the last month; but then two of the people who had been waiting forever had to pull out. so we’re back to 5. i’d sure love to see this one make it. there are awesome people in the mix already, but we need 3 more. if you’re interested, jump in!

2014 SoCal/Hawaii Synod of the PC(USA) Cohort

this presbyterian synod approved, last week, funding for a full cohort. participants will only be responsible for $500 of the program cost, plus their incidental expenses (travel, books). the location is still being finalized, but it will definitely be in either LA, Orange County, or San Diego. obviously, in order to qualify for this cohort, you have to be an employed youth worker in a PC(USA) church in the SoCal/Hawaii synod. we’re opening an application period for the month of april. we may or may not have spaces remaining after that period; but if you want in, you need to jump on it (as it will likely fill during the application period). to get an application for this cohort, email rocky supinger (rsupinger@claremontpres.org), the YMCP grad who had the vision for this and worked the proposal through approval by the synod.

we’re so excited about how YMCP continues to grow and impact lives!

Author: "marko" Tags: "the youth cartel, youth ministry, youth ..."
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Date: Wednesday, 02 Apr 2014 17:58

8bithymnal3first, i have to provide you with this FREE bit of total awesomeness i found a few minutes ago: a free album download of 8-bit easter hymns by a creative dude named tyler larson, available on noisetrade.com. totally fun. can see using this in youth ministry. note that tyler offers two other free albums of similar music (both free); one is christmas music, and one is just a collection of hymns (but all in that 8-bit video game sound). really fun.

and…

The Youth Cartel (the feisty little engine that could) now has a pretty cool suite of easter resources that you should know about!

viva-passionfirst up (and, the newest release) is VIVA! Passion. yeah, weird name if you’ve never heard of it. VIVA! is our very new downloadable curriculum resource that you really should know about. each month we’ll release a set of four new lessons. you can get individual lessons for a buck-ninety-nine, or the four-pack series for a save-your-budget price of $5.99.

the Passion set of VIVA! includes these four sessions:

  • The Entry – Jesus begins his final week of life by riding into Jerusalem during Passover and announcing his reign as King… on a donkey. How did Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem show him to be far more than just a humble man willing to ride on a donkey, but as a King who was subverting the expectations of the powerful and peasant alike?
  • The Temple – This lesson will explore the temple culture, Jesus’s reaction to it and how we can allow him to “turn things over” in our lives.
  • The Curtain – This lesson will continue our look at the last week of Christ’s life and specifically key in on the tearing of the temple curtain after his death. The temple, and more specifically the Holy of Holies, was where God dwelled, where heaven met earth. The curtain separating us from God came down so we all can experience and participate in heaven meeting earth without barrier.
  • The Mission – Betrayal, violence, death and disappointment. What a way for the last week of Jesus’s life to wrap up. But then Jesus comes back- with more power and authority than ever. This lesson will look at how the resurrected Jesus chose not to confront his enemies, but to spend the time to find his followers, put his arm around them and bring them back into his mission. The same mission we get to participate in today.

(the first set of VIVA!, by the way, is Viva! Genesis, and includes:

  • The Poetry of Creation
  • The Story of Adam and Eve
  • The Story of Noah
  • The Story of Abraham

and there’s a free download sample of that second lesson.

then, CUATRO MAS!

stations-cover-finalStations of the Cross: 13 Dramatic Stories of Jesus’ Last Hours

from the freakishly creative mind of steve case, this downloadable resource is totally something you could use as a series, or pull creative bits from for other teaching and programming at this time of year (or any other time of year).

Stations of the Cross is a book of thirteen creative and dramatic lessons that will take participants into the last moments of Jesus’ life. Those who venture into these words will smell the sweat. They will feel the blood roll down his back. They will be taken to the dark place within their own souls and be invited to leave all that baggage behind in the tomb.

Utilizing scripture, dramatic readings, and thought provoking questions, Steve Case provides a unique approach to curriculum that can easily be customized for individual or group use.

Product includes PDF and editable word files of sessions, plus PowerPoint backgrounds and other graphic files for use in group settings or teaching contexts.

9780988741331-front-1000God Parties: Learning from Jewish Feasts and Festivals

this is a fairly new downloadable resource — just came out a month or two ago. it’s not like anything else you’ve seen in youth ministry curriculum.

God Parties takes these big concepts and breaks them down into lessons that incorporate ancient traditions with relevant application for today’s teens. In many ways the protestant church has lost connection with its Jewish heritage. God Parties shows how the festivals point us to Jesus. It helps students better grasp the Hebraic backdrop of Jesus’ world by giving the leader teachable background and historical insights.

For the youth worker teaching week in and week out, it can be difficult to come up with creative ways to involve students so they’re not simply listening to a message. God Parties offers leaders 3 months of opportunities to involve students in the preparation, teaching and learning roles, and connects biblical concepts with food, object lessons and activities that reinforce learning and application–all designed to be repeated each year as God prescribed.

btw, God Parties comes with leader’s guides and student handouts, as well as a bunch of short videos from the author speaking to you (the leader) about what’s most important to focus on in this session. i love how jeff (the author) connects these ancient jewish feasts and festivals to jesus (really, i learned a ton of stuff when we were developing this resource!) and helps apply it to our lives today. for easter, specifically, there’s a full passover seder experience and instructions. as usual, there’s a free downloadable sample on the product page.

two more, quickly:

good-news-in-the-neighborhood-squareGood News in the Neighborhood: a 6-Week Curriculum for Groups

this award-winning downloadable curriculum (i made up the award-winning part; but it SHOULD be) has gotten such overwhelmingly positive responses from those who’ve used it. it was originally conceived to align with pentecost, but can really be used at any time of the year. includes all sorts of goodies, like intro videos, graphics, and more.

This 6-week series will deep dive your students into the practical realities of a radical life with Jesus. Built around six themes of community life, students will gain an understanding of their role in their community and be challenged by a series of simple experiments they can try. More than a series that teaches your students about being Good News in their community, Good News in the Neighborhood offers practical application based on the life of Jesus and the 1st century Church. Our hope is that your students begin to see how God has called them to become good news in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods.

9780988741317-front-smalland, finally, our award-winning (yeah, not true once again) devotional journal…
Lent: A Journey of Discovery by Addition, Subtraction and Introspection

our second-best selling title ever, in the long history of The Youth Cartel, because it’s so splenderific.

but, alas, you’re too late for this year. stock is gone and we’re not reprinting it until some time closer to Lent 2015. we just want to make sure this is on your radar, so you can continue to be the well-informed and wise youth worker that you are.

Author: "marko" Tags: "books, church, the youth cartel, youth m..."
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Date: Monday, 31 Mar 2014 18:42

i’ve been a really lousy reader so far this year. other than books published by The Youth Cartel or manuscripts i’ve been asked to endorse, i think i’ve only read one book this year, which i just finished yesterday: malcolm gladwell’s david and goliath. it was great, by the way. but i’m annoyed by how passively i read it — a few pages at a time. the irony of my snail’s pace is that i’ve spent SO much time on planes these past 3 months. over the last few years, sitting on planes has been my #1 reading spot, unquestionably. i’ve flown 55,000 miles in these past three months, but read one book! and that bugs me.

i want to learn.

i want to grow.

i want to think.

i want to dream and create.

and i believe that reading is essential to all of these. so i’m jumping back in. enough binge-watching dexter on my ipad when flying. i have a one-night trip to birmingham, alabama this friday/saturday. it’s a long way to go for one night; but that means lots of reading time in airplanes!

here’s what on my current stack of books:

brainstormBrainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel MD
why it’s on the stack:
research about teenage brains has shifted from “limits” to “potential,” and i want to stay on top of that shift that aligns with my belief in teenagers.

brainwashed-coverBrainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld
why it’s on the stack:
my long-term suspicion of the underlying assumptions of popular reporting on teenage brain discoveries, and their alignment with culture’s general dismissal (fear?) of teenagers is finding purchase in books like this one.

finding the space to leadFinding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership, by Janice Marturano
why it’s on the stack:
heard good things about this one, and suspect it might have some “outside our tribe” value for church leaders, as well as for the ebook i keep threatening to write about leading without power.

it's complicatedIt’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by danah boyd
why it’s on the stack:
danah boyd is brilliant. very few people have the intellect, research cred, insight, and communication skills to do what she does. i’ve been waiting for this book (it just came out last week).

jesus feministJesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women, by Sarah Bessey
why it’s on the stack:
i want to be a better feminist. and i’m intrigued by sarah bessey (and considering her as an event speaker).

bank of bobThe International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time, by Bob Harris
why it’s on the stack:
i love micro loans as a development approach. and my wife read this for a book club and really enjoyed it.

one more thingOne More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, by B. J. Novak.
why it’s on the stack:
b. j. novak totally cracks me up. no question: this book is on the stack for the same reason i got cold stone ice cream the other night (sweet cream ice cream with pistachios and heath bar).

serpent of veniceThe Serpent of Venice: A Novel, by Christopher Moore
why it’s on the stack:
chris moore is my naughty literary indulgence. i read every single book he publishes. i laugh out loud, and i marvel at his creativity (both in plot and word).

and this handful of books that have been sent to me, which i’ll likely give a quick read:

Youth Ministry: What’s Gone Wrong and How to Get It Right, by David Olshine

Flimsy Ministry: Is the Foundation of Your Youth Ministry on Rock or Sand?, by Brian Seidel

Critical Connection: A Practical Guide to Parenting Young Teens, by Andy Kerckhoff

Letters to God: Diary of an Unsilenced Generation, by Cassandra Smith

Losing Your Religion: Moving from Superficial Routine to Authentic Faith, by Chuck Bomar

Can I Ask That?: 8 Hard Questions about God & Faith [Sticky Faith Curriculum], by Jim Candy, Brad Griffin, and Kara Powell

Author: "marko" Tags: "books"
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Date: Wednesday, 19 Mar 2014 11:00

yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve had one of these.

someone’s going to get ticked at this one, i’m guessing. just know that i’m not suggesting that jesus didn’t walk on water! there. geez (us).

9780991005024-front-1000but, really, i’m all a-twitter (in the old meaning of that word) with anticipation for what weirdness and wonder you’ll come up with. need a prize to prompt ya? fine. how about a copy of morgan schmidt’s MUST READ new book, Woo: Awakening Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus. it officially released this week. here’s what kenda dean said 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.

so there. youth worker, if you ever asked yourself WWKD? the answer is clear: she would read this book.

winner gits one.

ok — whatcha got for this beauty, sent to me by an old friend and former middle school ministry volunteer, dr. matt carlson? (click on this bad boy for a much larger image.)

jesus walking on water, kinda

CONTENDERS

Jesus clearly brings out a large quantity of comments, both here and on facebook. here’s the best of the best, from my admittedly subjective and skewed perspective:

Othy
…and this was the scene in which you could tell that the producers spared no expense for the special effects in the “Son of God” movie.

Dave Wollan
Oh you of little hands

Cash
“During your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints,
That was when I made you carry me
So that I could walk on water
And you could learn your lesson.”

David Hanson
Ancient “Chicken Fighting.”

Dan Jones
Miracle Whipped.

Josh Jones
The lesser known, 13th disciple – Aquaman

Lauren Christian
“Oops. Wrong lake.”

Jason Buchan
the disciples practicing their human video for their next outreach in Galilee.

Klint Bitter
“Jesus, dude, two words: under. Wear.”

and the winner is…

i have to admit, i was hoping for a good Son of God movie line. so i’m givin’ it to Othy, for “…and this was the scene in which you could tell that the producers spared no expense for the special effects in the “Son of God” movie.”

congrats, Othy — a copy of Woo is coming your way!

Author: "marko" Tags: "church, faith, humor, jesus walking on t..."
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Date: Monday, 17 Mar 2014 11:00

i’ve had a book about Hope percolating in me for almost five years. i’ve had a publishing contract for the book since last summer. i finished a draft of it about 6 weeks ago and sent it off to 6 readers (including two “theological readers”). last week i spent 3 days in the desert making corrections and tweaks based on feedback from the readers. and on saturday, i sent it off to the publisher. even if the book only sells three copies (me, my wife and my mom), this was a major deal for me, writing a book that expresses something deep from my soul, and not just my head.

here’s a tiny snippet from the last chapter…

The Best Life

The age-old existential question that has haunted philosophers and college sophomores for a very long time, is some version of “Why am I here?” Jesus gives us some fodder for consideration in what has become my favorite Bible verse:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b)

Remember: When Jesus says “they” in this verse, he’s talking about you.

Contrary to what one might assume by observing Christians in America, Jesus did not say:

  • I have come that you may get into heaven.
  • I have come that you may leave this lousy place one day in the future.
  • I have come that you may get serious about religion, finally.
  • I have come that you may experience your ship coming in.
  • I have come that you may know who’s “in” and who’s “out.”
  • I have come that you may stop disgusting me so much.

It’s a pretty revolutionary promise, really. Jesus wants you to experience a full life. That’s his verbatim explanation for his time on earth.

Why are you here? To have a full life.

So, what’s a full life, then?

I’m convinced, from scripture, observation of hopeful people, and my own experience, that a fullness of life burns most hot when I follow in the footsteps of Jesus and give my life away, bringing Hope to the hopeless.

As my more self-focused longings are filled with the pigment of Hope, they start to shift. Since Hope and longing are dancing the Tango, a shift in one shifts the other. My Hope increases, and my longings turn outward. My longings shift and my Hope needs a power boost.

This is the full life. This is the life we were invented for. This is God’s dream for you, a continual broadening of your longings and increase of Hope, put into action.

Author: "marko" Tags: "books, faith, personal, hope, the best l..."
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Date: Thursday, 13 Mar 2014 11:00

about three years ago, chris folmsbee of barefoot ministries asked me to develop some training for his organization, targeting volunteer youth workers. the idea was that i would speak at a small handful of saturday training days geared for volunteers (which sorta happened, at that time). and the original plan was that each attendee would get three short ebooks as a bonus. i wrote the three books; but there were some complications, and they weren’t ready for the training days.

so, now, all this time later, they’ve actually been published and are available! sorta fun, as i didn’t even think they were going to see the light of day! all three are short and practical — great for handing out to volunteer leaders on your team.

volunteer youth worker.small groupsA Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Leading a Small Group

A lot of churches and youth ministries have given up on the idea of small groups, writing them off as too tedious, too difficult to manage, too hard to find volunteers for, too expensive to provide materials or curriculum for, or any other number of reasons. In A Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Leading a Small Group, Mark Oestreicher argues a different perspective. Marko insists that small groups promote safe spaces to grow, consistency in teenagers’ emotionally tumultuous lives, and repetition that instills in them the importance of trust and tradition. The Guide to Leading a Small Group is perfect for anyone feeling disenchanted with the concept of small groups, and after Marko succeeds in changing your mind in the first few pages, he’ll use the rest of the book to help you restructure and rethink your small-group programming so you don’t get burned out again. Marko is leading the charge in reviving small groups, and you can join him today.

volunteer youth worker.understanding teensA Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Understanding Today’s Teenagers

Many parents have taken a defeatist approach toward understanding their teens, and not without good reason; it does often seem hopeless, after all. But that’s where you, the volunteer youth worker, come in. Mark Oestreicher shows that Understanding Today’s Teenager is both possible and rewarding, if one has the right tools. Marko explores the dimensions of nature vs. nurture, brain activity, culture, biology, and emotional development, all of which lead teenagers to do the wacky things they do that adults don’t understand and often can’t remember having done themselves. Marko also reminds us that adolescent development doesn’t end at the age of 18 just because United States law says it does. A Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Understanding Today’s Teenager uses a combination of science, logic, and compassion to help bring us back from the cliff edge and remember why we started working with teens in the first place. Use this book as a jumping-off point to re-ignite your passion for teens.

volunteer youth workers.parentsA Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Resourcing Parents

Every youth leader, volunteer, or pastor has failed at some point in their communication or interaction with their teenagers’ parents. It’s inevitable. We are human, most youth workers are still pretty young themselves, and most parents are guarded and protective of their kids. These factors combine to create a minefield, of sorts, for parents and youth workers to navigate. In fact, youth ministry mogul Mark Oestreicher starts off A Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Resourcing Parents by admitting some of his own failures in his interactions with students’ parents. But then Marko uses the rest of the book to explore the importance and deep significance of being intentional with parent contact and interaction, and not letting family ministry slip through the cracks in favor of teenager-only ministry. If you’ve had some discouraging interactions with parents lately, this book might help provide a new perspective, allowing you to show some grace, both to yourself and the parents you’re trying to minister to. Let Marko guide you in seeking the best balance in your ministry efforts in order to maximize and equip one of your greatest youth ministry resources.

to be clear: i didn’t write those descriptions, and didn’t even see them until they’d been out for a few months. i’m cracking up that they called me a “youth ministry mogul.” apparently The Youth Cartel sounds bigger and more menacing than it is (two guys working out of their homes)!

knowing that lead youth workers might want to get these in bulk for their leaders, we’ve priced them in a way that makes that extremely possible:

  • 1-4 copies: $7.49 (Save $.50 off retail)
  • 5-9 copies: $6.79 (15% off retail)
  • 10-19 copies: $5.99 (25% off retail)
  • 20+: $5.19 (35% off retail)

or, you can get the pack of all three books for a nifty $19.99!

volunteer youth worker.pack

Author: "marko" Tags: "books, youth ministry, youth work, youth..."
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Date: Tuesday, 11 Mar 2014 11:00

the just-about-to-turn-14 year-old daughter of a friend of mine was in the audience at a large youth retreat i spoke at recently. she and i met very briefly. and i was super encouraged when my friend told me that the weekend had a big impact on her and she spoke quite a bit about what i’d shared. but then he asked if i would write her a letter, as part of a collection of letters he was pulling together for her 14th birthday. i have to say that i haven’t written many letters to 14 year-old girls i don’t know; and that’s probably a practice i should continue! but, for what it’s worth, here’s what i wrote to her!

Bekah,

Yeah, it’s a little weird to get a letter from some old bearded dude in California who you don’t really know but only heard speak at a camp with 1000 other teenagers. Creepy, even. Except that, you know, the creepy old bearded camp speaker dude happens to be friends with your dad. So, hopefully, that lowers the creepiness factor.

3 words of advice/encouragement to you:

Risk. You were not made for a boring and safe and mundane, punch the clock and eat dinner in front of reality TV, find a vice and stick with it, become who others expect you to be life. Nope. You were made (really – God’s dream for you) for an adventurous life in the active and present Kingdom of God. But that requires a bit of risk on our parts. Try things. Get uncomfortable. Explore. All the while: listening to God and paying attention to his direction.

Exercise Curiosity. Healthy people are curious and constantly asking “Why”? The best leaders are always wondering and noodling and dreaming and probing and seeking. The best friends (and maybe the best enemies, really—those who are good for sharpening us) are those who are curious about the motive behind behaviors. I believe that developing curiosity will serve you in life more than just about any other skill set or practice; and I’m pretty sure we make God smile when we put curiosity into practice.

Breathe. Relax and slow down. Don’t give in to the pressure to live your life at 1,000 miles per hour, constantly rushing to the next thing. Don’t measure your value by how much you can get done, or by how many plates you can keep spinning. Don’t bow to the idol of productivity. Instead: rest in the knowledge of God’s perfect and unchangeable love for you and acceptance of you. Soak in the experience of a peace that can only come from healthy relationships with God, self, others, and all of creation.

May a big ol’ heapin’ helping of God’s blessings be on your head, Bekah!

Marko sig

Author: "marko" Tags: "youth ministry, youth work"
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Date: Friday, 07 Mar 2014 12:00

my family attended an amazing, joy-filled Zydedo Mass eucharist service tuesday night with some friends, at st. paul’s episcopal church in san diego. it was an absolutely beautiful and unique worship experience. i captured some of it in short videos and photos. here’s a taste:

my family and a friend (not a video):
IMG_3919

the processional

reading of scripture:

reading of the gospel (not a video):
IMG_3931

“dance your offerings to the front”:

eucharist/communion:

the washboard player was one of the only people who didn’t seem amused; but he was awesome in his own curmudgeonly way (not a video):
IMG_3936

the recessional:

experiential, joy-filled worship, man. couldn’t all our churches use a bit more of that!?

Author: "marko" Tags: "church, faith, family, mardi gras, worsh..."
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Date: Wednesday, 05 Mar 2014 22:28

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.

EMAIL MARKO ABOUT YMCP

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.

Brandi Manes

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.

Brian Mateer

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.

Christopher Dinnell

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.

Bethany Butterfield

ymcp.nashville

Author: "marko" Tags: "the youth cartel, youth ministry, youth ..."
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Date: Monday, 03 Mar 2014 12:00

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.

commitment

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?

Author: "marko" Tags: "leadership, personal commitments, person..."
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Date: Wednesday, 19 Feb 2014 12:00

9780991005024-front-1000since 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…)

Mark Oestreicher
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

Author: "marko" Tags: "books, the youth cartel, youth ministry,..."
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Date: Monday, 17 Feb 2014 12:00

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.”

crowdlaughingAn invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.

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.

Author: "marko" Tags: "humor, bad jokes"
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Date: Monday, 10 Feb 2014 12:00

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.

achilles heelmy 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?

Author: "marko" Tags: "youth ministry, youth work, fear of cult..."
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Date: Wednesday, 05 Feb 2014 17:03

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.

jean valjeanMy 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.

Author: "marko" Tags: "books, faith, grace, hope, jean valjean,..."
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Date: Monday, 03 Feb 2014 12:00

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.

khaki shortsmaybe 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.

thoughts?

Author: "marko" Tags: "church, thinking..., youth ministry, you..."
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Date: Thursday, 30 Jan 2014 22:15

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.

lent-instagramFellow 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
Author: "marko" Tags: "books, the youth cartel, youth ministry,..."
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