Youth workers who pretend that they have the Christian life all figured out are boring! Let’s face it, none of us want to follow someone who thinks they have anything all figured out – we want to learn from people who are on the same journey we’re on, a journey of messiness and incompleteness, of bumps and turns and twists and surprises. In short, we want to learn from people who live with veracity – people who live out the truth of their own journey in front of us.
For you to be a youth worker who lives with veracity, and for me to be a youth worker who lives with veracity, we have to live, speak and act boldly – whether that means a boldness of knowing or a boldness of unknowing. See, veracity and passion are closely linked. And when I live in truth (the truth of my real story with God), I live a passionate life, and veracity naturally leaks out in my interactions with students. When I do this, I become more “attractive” to real students (unfortunately, not more physically attractive! The truth of Jesus alive in my life is attractive!).
i’m thrilled with the continued development and organic growth of The Youth Cartel’s Youth Ministry Coaching Program. really, it’s our oldest initiative, now entering its 4th year (it actually started before The Youth Cartel officially existed). cohorts who have completed their year-long journey:
- San Diego 2010
- Nashville 2010
- San Diego 2011
- Nashville 2011
- NC UMC 2012
- TX Episcopalians 2012
- YMCPv (online) West 2012
- YMCPv East 2012
- Ward Church (custom cohort) 2012
- Calgary 2012
- Nashville 2013
one of the really cool things about these cohorts is that each of them is an ongoing “private club” of safety and support. they interact all the time on private facebook groups, and most of them have had 2-day working reunions (Nashville 2011 has even had 2 reunions!). at this moment, i have 2 online cohorts nearing the end of their program (YMCPv Central 2013 and YMCPv East 2013).
this past week was a stellar week for YMCP:
- i launched the new SC UMC cohort
- april diaz’s “women in youth ministry” cohort filled up (it will launch in the next few months)
- i’m scheduling meetings for the new NC UMC cohort that’s full and launches in january
- funding came through for two additional denominationally focused cohorts — a 3rd NC UMC cohort, and one for Presbys in the Pittsburgh area
here’s what’s currently open:
- i’ve just started forming the next nashville cohort. 4 of the 10 spots are filled. and i have another 8 to 10 who are seriously considering it (which usually means they’re asking their churches for funding!). if you’re interested in this cohort, or even have questions about it, shoot me an email (email@example.com), and i’ll send you the overview doc and answer your questions.
- the next san diego cohort has been a tough one to fill. the honest truth is that i’ve been trying to fill it for a year and a half. i only need 8 in san diego; but each time we get to 6 or 7 committed, one or two are no longer able to do it and we drop back to 5. that’s where we’re at now — 5 committed. if we can get 3 more, we’ll go for it! anyone interested? you could do worse than a year of growth in san diego!
i doubt i’ll be able to launch any online (YMCPv) cohorts this coming year, as i’ll have so many full cohorts going. and since each person gets one-on-one coaching from me in addition to our regular meetings, i’ll be working with about 40 – 50 youth workers individually this next year as it is. my hope for a few years has been to expand YMCP, offering some cohorts with other coaches. i tried that in the past, and they didn’t fill up (this is one of the reasons i’m so pleased april’s cohort filled up). but maybe we’ll take a swing at that again this year. adam and i are meeting next week for a couple days of looking at The Youth Cartel in 2014 and beyond, and i’m sure this will be one of our topics.
such good stuff! let me know if you’re interested in the Nashville or San Diego cohorts.
actually, i co-wrote it. with my good friend brooklyn lindsey.
we both completely dig junior highers/middle schoolers/young teens. really: i’ve been working with them for 33 years, brooklyn for lots of years also (she’s clearly not as old as me). i wrote another one of these a year ago with my own two niños (99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents), and thought it was a blast to write. so we were pretty pumped when Simply Youth Ministry said yes to our idea of adding this book to their 99 Thoughts line.
if you’re familiar with the 99 Thoughts line, you might be surprised by this: even though we wrote for young teens, the “thoughts” are longer than most of the books in this series (in fact, we turned in a manuscript that was almost exactly twice as long as requested!). there’s depth to this book, even though it cover a LOT of ground in a limited amount of space.
we broke the 99 Thoughts into 11 “chapters” (really, subject groupings):
- Who Am I? – Understanding Yourself
- What’s Happening to Me? – Everything About You Is Changing
- You and God
- The Low-Down on Church
- How Do I Figure Out What I Believe?
- Future Matters
- What’s Most Important? – Figuring Out Priorities
- Your Crazy Life
- Girls and Guys
each chapter also has a “Story from Junior High Marko” or “Junior High Brooklyn.” they’re true stories from our own young teen years, thematically connected to the chapter, and told from our perspective as if we were junior highers. a little weird, but fun.
here’s the back cover copy:
Life for a typical junior higher is awesome. And hard. And fun. And exciting. And boring. And crazy, right? Basically, it’s a blur of all those things—and more!
Junior high truly is a season of ups and downs, of possibilities and confusion, of amazing memories and embarrassing moments. To survive it all, you sometimes just need a little help—or 99 bite-sized bits of help!
Mark Oestreicher and Brooklyn Lindsey—youth pastors who’ve worked with people your age for a long, long time—have teamed up to create this insider’s guide for this wild ride.
They’ll help as you examine the changes in your life, figure out what you believe, see where God and church fit into the picture, choose how to interact with family and friends, and decide what matters most in life. And you’ll read some true stories about the authors’ own junior high years!
99 Thoughts for Junior Highers will entertain, engage, and encourage you during this crazy season of life!
we really hope that youth workers and parents will get it for their 11 – 14 year-olds. it’s a great stocking stuffer, mom & dad. it’s a fun small group christmas gift (which you could totally use in small groups come january). check it out or buy it here!
and, for a bit of oddity, here’s a li’l promo video i shot in my hotel room at o’hare airport last night when i got stuck there on my way home…
each year i’ve posted an expanding list of “the worst nativity sets.” but i have to be honest with you and write that i can’t really label all of these “worst” anymore. for starters, i’ve grown fond of some of them over time. then, as the list has grown, i’ve stumbled on some that i think are absolutely brilliant in one way or another. so there’s no question about it: some are horrible and tacky. some are weird and freakish. some are merely meh. and some, well, rock.
but you’ll have to be the judge, i suppose.
i have one primary rule for inclusion (which i break a couple times because i can’t help myself): i only include nativities that were made as nativities. in other words, i haven’t included photos of the dozens of lego nativities, superhero nativities, star wars figurines nativities, barbie doll nativities, coke can nativities, alcohol bottle nativities, and others i’ve received. however, alert reader “joan from the detroit ‘burbs” pointed me to a website with these kinds of nativities, and i just have to include one or two of them, because they made me laugh out loud (proving that i cannot effectively draw the line).
and a quick word to my christian brothers and sisters (i am one of you!): i believe that the One who created laughter and humor and mouths that involuntarily curl into a smile loves laughter. i don’t believe this list detracts from what i believe to be one of the most significant moments in human history, when God became a human. if anything, this is a roundabout way of drawing attention to Emmanuel, God with us (albeit, in a strange way!).
enough pre-amble. let’s get to it! merry christmas all, and enjoy or be horrified by this weird collection of nativity oddness.
this isn’t a whole nativity set, but there are other pieces available. this mouse drummer boy is just about as confusing as a bit of kitschmas junk can get.
lotsa santa nativity sets and pieces out there, but this one is a bit disorienting. is the holy family IN santa’s bag? or does santa have an nice applique of the holy family on his bag of gifts? and, what can the letters in santa be re-arranged to spell?
this nativity — well, i just don’t even know how to describe it. clowns? modern art? the baby jesus seriously looks like something out of a circus or a john waters movie.
oh, the animals. i suppose, while i think the dog nativity and cat nativity are somehow explainable as something people WAY too “into” those particular animals might display, this chicken nativity is just a bit beyond my comprehension as a purchasable — nay, displayable — holiday trinket.
you know those people who have those geese on their porch? yeah, them. and they put a cute little goosey costume on their porch-goose to mark every season? yeah, those people. this costume set is made for those people. or, to clarify, for those who actually have TWO of those geese already. sigh. i’m guessing the rubber ducky baby is “not supplied” (not to mention zoologically impossible).
the cupcake topper nativity. holy and yummy all at once!
the mary-and-josesph-as-kids nativity. this one is mildly disturbing, particularly in light of rampant infantalization of teenagers in our culture and the dropping age in puberty (though i’m sure that’s not what the creators of this had in mind).
in keeping with our current cultural fascination with all things zombie, i give you the etsy craftiness of: the zombie nativity. full disclosure: after this collection blew up online two years ago, my business partner, adam mclane, bought me this one as a christmas gift. it now sits proudly in my home. and my interactions with the creators were just lovely (they “get it”).
the shotgun shell nativity. what a blast (get it!?). perfect for your redneck christmas, i suppose.
the peg doll nativity. other than collecting some larger figures and one smaller one, and telling me it’s a nativity, this one doesn’t exactly scream “manger”.
the mice nativity. say goodbye to the cookies you left out for santa.
um, the official description is “folk nativity“. but i’m pretty sure that’s a small 7 eleven frozen burrito with a face on it, along with two new age tree fairies, or something (btw: i had interaction with the creators of this gem last year, and they’re good people).
from a nice reader in the UK (thanks, mary!) who bothered to email this pic…
the soggy jesus nativity. i’m sure there are plenty of nativities in a snow globe, were all three (or more) characters are IN the globe. but this freakish thing just has jesus in there, with mary and joe staring at their baby-in-a-fishbowl. too weird and hilarious.
honestly, this one — the mexican mermaid family nativity — is some pretty beautiful art work, even if it is fairly strange. thanks to karen on flickr for allowing me to post this one.
as you might imagine, this annual list has generated hundreds of additional nativity suggestions, both in blog comments, and via email. many i’d seen before. many were just ok. some were truly inspiring. and most of ‘em violate my “must be made as a nativity, not just pulled together into a nativity” rule. this one breaks that rule, but it’s so whip-smart. i just had to post for its creativity. sent to me by David Lober, the ‘arranger’ and photographer. the humor takes a few seconds to start setting in…
yeah, this one probably crosses some line. sent to me by the creators, i give you the halloween/christmas mash-up nativity.
more animals! this time, it’s meerkats! hakuna matata.
not to be left out of the animal kingdom nativities, the frog nativity:
ok. if i had a line, i’ve probably crossed it by now. i hesitated on this one, but it was suggested SO many times last year, and it’s from a crafty little website called tamponcrafts.com (really). yup: it’s the tampon nativity:
more animals! this time its moose (meese? mooses?).
robin, the creator of this soap nativity, sent it to me. i suppose the birth of christ has something to do with getting us all squeeky clean.
i love this one: three wise-men cheers for the color nativity!
new to the list this year!
what’s more fun that a puzzle? i’ll tell you what: little puzzles made out of eraser stuff. and then–in case that wasn’t fun enough!–make ‘em a puzzle eraser nativity set! obvious, right, since baby Jesus came to erase your sins!?
take, eat, this is the body of Christ MADE IN CHOCOLATE FOR YOU, nomnomnomnomnom.
a quick google image search will turn up a wide variety of nativity-themed nesting dolls. but i got a little chuckle out of the idea of the sheep being inside baby J on this one (alert reader Alison pointed out that “maybe that’s the ‘lamb of God’!”):
really, how did this list of wild and weird and wonderful and horrible nativities get to this ripe old age and NOT have a gingerbread nativity?? just like the nesting dolls, there are hundreds (homemade and not) in a quick google image search. here’s one of ‘em:
speaking of gingerbread… just in case you’re hoping to communicate “WE ARE SO CUTE YOU MUST LOVE US” to your neighbors, here’s a gingerbread yard art nativity (i’m sure the word “art” is used merely for reference in that description):
what can i say: the world thanks etsy artist thepinkkoala for finally building a bridge of peace, ending the rancor brought on by the scopes monkey trial. now christians and darwinists can hold hands whilst viewing this monkey nativity set:
i’m salivating as i post this one, the fondant nativity, from etsy wonder craft rosy. jesus and dessert: two of my favorite things!
and my favorite two new additions this year:
you saw the snow globe nativity above with only baby jesus in the globe, right? well, a lovely and alert reader sent me a photo of this fantastic piece of awesomeness she saw at a thrift shop. yup, this time the snow globe is only on mary’s head. it’s like a space helmet! HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.
and here i have to confess: this nativity is amazing. i want. i already have one on the list called the “minimalist nativity,” so i’m going to be forced to call this the “minimalist balls nativity.” seriously, this bit-o-brilliance makes it pretty clear that the nativity is iconic (btw: here are step-by-step instructions for making this one):
check out bohemian rhapsody re-written as “bethlehemian rhapsody” (so totally fun!).
ah, let’s have some chuckles today. in the spirit of my insane quantity of travel this month, i thought this photo was worthy of the honor. and let’s see if you can do better than “adam drives marko to the airport.” since The Youth Cartel is giving away a free copy of our new devotional ADVENT free with any purchase through midnight friday, i’ll up the ante and give away a 3-pack (so you can use it with a couple students!) to the winner…
New sidecar for Daisy the Chihuahua.
That’s what mom gets for asking her 35-year-old man-child to pick her up from the airport.
If Adam says anything about me “flying Southwest next time” he’s gonna get slapped.
(marko comment: ooh, jon’s paying attention to cartel dynamics!)
“They see me rollin’…they hatin’…”
Marion Zoot McClure
Well we are off to fix the Obamacare website, wish us luck
John and Pam really should have bought a car after they had their first baby.
(marko comment: omg!)
Just when I think you couldn’t get any dumber, you go and pull something like this….and totally redeem yourself!
Brandi Smith Manes
We gotta hurry over to Marko’s blog! I got a suitcase full of captions!
(marko comment: brandi brilliantly skewering my whining these last couple days as FB peeps didn’t follow the rules and click through to leave their comment on the blog!)
and the winner is…
tough call. but the one that made me laugh the most (maybe it was more of a GASP) was Nathan Peterson’s “John and Pam really should have bought a car after they had their first baby.” and i’m giving an honorable mention or second place (doesn’t really matter, since there’s not a prize for second place!) to Marion Zoot McClure’s “Well we are off to fix the Obamacare website, wish us luck.”
the brou-ha-ha over the last couple weeks about the under-representation of female voices at christian ministry events (see here for starters, but there’s lots more) has had me thinking a bit about women in youth ministry. i know that, for a segment of the church, this is mostly a non-issue. their traditions have long viewed women as equally gifted for and called to ministry. but i also know that so many of my sisters in ministry continue to be viewed as “limited” in what they can or should do, and what roles they can or should embody. and for those women, there’s an additional layer of complexity in that it’s often not safe for them to talk about it.
this made me think of two particular women in youth ministry that i’m partnering with these days (two of many, to be clear): gina abbas, a wonderfully gifted youth minister, newly the JH Pastor at mars hill bible church, and currently writing a book for The Youth Cartel for women in youth ministry; and april diaz, a very longtime friend of mine who is one of the most gifted leaders of any gender i’ve ever met (who, coincidentally, also wrote a book for The Youth Cartel!).
that made me remember a lament april wrote for me a couple years ago. i was working on a large multi-author project, and specifically asked april to write a lament to god about the place of women in church leadership. i asked april because i know her to be gracious to peoples’ stories and not demanding or rude in how she talks about these issues. april wrote this wonderful “prayer” based on psalm 40:
Lament for Psalm 40
Waiting. No one likes waiting. Maybe me least of all. I’ve waited my entire life to see your Church reflect your heart to see men and women lead your people. Equally. “With skillful hands and integrity of heart” (Psalm 78:72). I’ve waited for your Church to wake up and get it that we have as much to contribute to the Kingdom as men do. I wish your Word were painfully clear about our contribution equality.
Too many times I’ve seen women in the pit of despair because they have not been allowed to use their voices, their gifts, their experiences, their calling to build the Kingdom. You have not stopped them from leading and teaching, Lord; your people have.
My sisters and I have cried when we’ve been told “no”, “be quiet”, “this is not your place”. We need your rescue, God. We desperately need you to bring good news in places where we are pushed down, snuffed out, and negotiated around. Your Kingdom suffers when we are relegated to roles and ministries and places where we are not gifted or passionate. How long?
You are solid and steady and trustworthy. When your Church fails me, I can still be amazed by who you are. I will find my hope in you, not in an outcome – a promotion or a platform or power. I will receive a new song that you give me and sing to the rooftops of who you are and what you’ve done. I will serve you fully and contribute my best to your Kingdom, even in the midst of broken systems. Give me the courage I need to be faithful today.
How long will we sing this song? When I grieve for what your Church is not yet, I must remember that you are a God of justice and have called ordinary people like me to bring justice on earth as it is in heaven. Help me not be afraid to speak out and speak for those who do not have a voice, but to do so with humility and love.
You have written your calling upon my heart and I will not forsake you. I will take joy in following you no matter what anyone else says. Help me listen to you more and more and follow you obediently. Thank you for my calling, even if it’s not honored among others.
and here’s the killer, that points out the problem and almost caused me to pull out of the whole project: we weren’t allowed to use this piece, because a major, conservative, christian bookstore chain would not carry the project if april’s lament was included. april was as gracious about the whole thing as one can possibly imagine.
and this is one of a hundred reasons i’m glad april will be leading a cohort of my youth ministry coaching program for women in youth ministry. the women in all my other coaching cohorts have been equal in every way, and have added so tremendously to each group. but some, i realize, would particularly benefit from being a part of a cohort that allows them a sisterhood, a place that’s truly safe to not only think about youth ministry and leadership, but also to lean on each other. april’s cohort will be a modified version — 2 face to face meetings of two days, and 4 shorter online meetings. we’re limiting it to 8 participants, 5 of whom are already committed. april’s really hoping to get the remaining spots filled in the next few weeks, so the cohort can look for an early-2014 launch date. if you’re interested and would like more information, please email april directly, as April.Diaz@newsong.net. april has blogged about this cohort here and here and here.
When we present the Bible to our youth as a collection of guidelines, principles, and stories, we rob them of the opportunity to see the grand arc of God’s Big Story – the single, unified, awe-inspiring story God is unfolding from before the creation of time and space, to well beyond our understanding in the future.
One of my greatest joys in youth ministry in recent years has been helping students understand how their stories can intersect with God’s Big Story, and that God invites them to be an active participant in His unfolding story of creation, grace, love and restoration!
- the stewardship of neuron winnowing that takes place in the years following puberty, leading to what the world’s leading adolescent brain specialist calls “the hard wiring” of the brain.
- various readings of and talks by christian smith and kenda dean and kara powell.
- mandy drury’s talk, based on her PhD research, at The Summit 2012, on the critical role of “testimony” in faith formation.
- and, frankly, my unscientific and anecdotal work with my middle school guys small group every week.
here’s the soft conclusion, which i toss out like a grenade, fully expecting some will consider this an overstatement:
for teenage faith formation, verbalization of belief is more important than the accuracy of the beliefs.
it’s not that i think “accuracy” is bad. it’s a question of priority in the role of faith formation.
for the past 9 months, The Youth Cartel has worked with the Youth Mobilization team at World Vision to create a new program for youth groups.
World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine is a flagship youth ministry program, engaging a few hundred thousand teenagers each year in learning about and making a tangible difference in hunger. if you’re not familiar with 30 Hour Famine, or have never tried it (or haven’t tried it in a long time), i highly encourage you to check it out. the FREE materials are re-created every year, and it’s really a stellar program. (by the way, The Youth Cartel also helps with the 30 Hour Famine blog, and it has fantastic posts from a variety of youth workers every week — you should check it out and follow.)
but in my consulting work with the Youth Mobilization team, we continued to return to the idea that World Vision does so much great work in additional areas of global need than hunger. human trafficking, clean water, malaria, AIDS, micro development, and so many other issues are strongly in World Vision’s wheelhouse, and they have effective and robust work all over the globe in every one of those. combine that with the fact that youth workers and teenagers are so much more aware, these days, of these other global issues. it just made sense for us to serve youth workers with a program in some of these other areas.
introducing: Childhood Lost, a FREE youth group program focused on child slavery
Childhood Lost is a 15 hour experience for your youth ministry (ideally, overnight friday or saturday). its aim is to make a tangible difference in the lives of children who are at risk of being trafficked. for our first year of Childhood Lost, we’re focusing on vulnerable children in bangladesh, as it’s one of the world’s hotspots for both children being trafficked into multiple forms of child slavery: sexual slavery, as well as forced labor.
Childhood Lost is fashioned in a unique way: it’s a combination of 2 hour experiential learning chunks, broken up by 1 hour vigils, where teenagers have an opportunity to “stand with” vulnerable children and those who have already been trafficked (there are a couple short periods of sleep built into the night as well; but those periods of sleep will be interrupted, much in the same way that a child’s sleep in a vulnerable context would be interrupted). the whole program is meticulously crafted and highly interactive, and i’m SUPER stoked about how well it turned out.
we’ve worked closely with the staff at World Vision who focus on vulnerable children, as well as with World Vision Bangladesh, to ensure that we’re serving real needs and representing the issues accurately. this first year, we have a fundraising goal of $300,000. those funds have a specific purpose: funding plans already created by World Vision Bangladesh (but not yet funded). our funds will go to help establish 11 “child friendly spaces,” which are something more than a drop-in center for children in highly vulnerable contexts (one of these, for example, is on the same street as several brothels, and offers a place for children to learn about their value and experience safety and peace outside of the walls of the brothels where they live with their mothers).
really, Childhood Lost is such a great opportunity to engage your teenagers in a real-life problem. they’ll learn. they’ll feel. they’ll be part of a solution.
check it out here, and sign up today! (did i mention it’s FREE?). also, stay up to date by liking the Childhood Lost facebook page (facebook.com/wvchildhoodlost), and following the Childhood Lost twitter feed (@WVChildhoodLost).
when chris’ record label asked if i’d like to give a few away, i figured there were plenty of youth workers who’d like to get their hands on this baby!
so: i’ve chosen 3 random numbers between 1 and 40. comments who match those numbers win! (don’t try to cheat! one comment per person, please!) you don’t have to guess a number; just leave a comment.
here’s a trailer for the DVD:
bam. we have our winners. i wrote down 3 numbers on a little sticky pad — 5, 24, 38. then i looked at the corresponding comments. winners are:
congrats, guys! thanks, everyone, for playing!
8th grade guy: For Halloween, I decided to wear the best costume of all time.
(btw, i don’t even remember what the costume was — it didn’t strike me as all that awesome.)
8th grade guy: In basketball the other day, I swear I was Mickey Mantle.
another 8th grade guy: wait, wasn’t Mickey Mantle baseball?
first 8th grade guy: (look of confusion)
(during one guy’s sharing of highs and lows–or “happy/crappy,” as we’ve come to call it–he interrupted himself, then forgot what he’d been saying…)
another 8th grade guy: I’ve never seen somebody distract himself before.
8th grade guy: That would take SO much self control, which I have none of.
(i don’t remember what this comment was related to, but it cracked me up. and props for self-awareness!)
(we were talking about a commitment to ‘confidentiality’ as an important part of our group…)
8th grade guy: yeah, like, it’s bad to gypsy.
8th grade guy: i said ‘gossip.’
three 8th grade guys in unison: you said gypsy!
8th grade guy: Pinterest is tumblr for moms
(i was attempting to unpack the idea of confidentiality. we’d talked about not gossipping. and we’d defined confidentiality and why it’s important. then this happened.)
me: it’s sort of like, this room needs to be Vegas.
8th grade guy: does that mean we’re going to come home from small group with herpes?
this last weekend, Adam and i were in paris for The Youth Cartel‘s event called Open Paris. these “Open” events have been adam’s birth-baby, shaped by this short manifesto of vision. but each Open event is completely unique, since there’s a high level of ownership given away to the local organizing team.
i’ll admit something here: while i thought the vision of doing one of these in paris was fun, i was a tad skeptical that it would actually work.
but i was wrong. 100%.
50 youth workers from 7 or 8 countries came. by most event planning metrics, that’s not a win. for this event, it was totally a win. the event had a relational dynamic as a result. we learned from each other; but we also hung out together. like: i have new youth worker friends now who live in germany and holland and england and france.
so, Open Paris in 5 words: LOCATION WAS HARD TO BEAT
Open Paris in 4 words: OUR HOST WAS AMAZING
Open Paris in 3 words: FELLOWSHIP TRUMPS PROGRAM
Open Paris in 2 words: CURIOSITY WINS
Open Paris in 1 word: LIMINAL*
* a thin place, often used to describe a spiritual thin place. in this case, a place where the kingdom of god and the world of humans overlapped.
my most recent epilogue column for Youthwork Magazine (UK) came out recently. here’s what i wrote!
I get insanely annoyed by the judgmentalism within the Christian church. I’m not just talking about judgmentalism within a single church, but that judgmentalism that dismisses or diminishes entire movements and tribes within the bride of Christ. That judgmentalism that shows up as ministry leaders who spend so much time and effort deciding (for God, it seems) who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s “in” and who’s “out.” But, I can’t deny the beam in my own eye on this one.
That makes me think of a quote my wife shared with me sometime ago. It’s a quote about Gandhi (not by Gandhi), from the book “The Root of This Longing”:
Gandhi always brings you back to yourself–the beam in your own eye, the discrepancy between your own actions and the ideals you profess. He insists that you look beyond the headlines for the root causes of each new horror, and always the trail leads back to forces in consciousness, like envy and fear and the lust for power, and always you have to recognize those same forces in yourself.
Shoot. I would much prefer the point out others’ annoying judgmentalism than face my own.
Half a dozen years ago, the leadership team of ministry I was a part of was sitting in the living room of a beach house in beach town in California, on retreat. And we were getting worked. Our consultant was in the process of inverting all the dimensions of reality as we knew it. At one point, during discussion, I noticed a co-worker getting defensive. This particular co-worker was pretty transparent when about his defensiveness, so it’s not that I was being perceptive: his body tensed up and he fidgeted like crazy, his voice raised a half-octave, and his answers become a series of “uh-huh’s”.
In the spirit of the truthfulness we were trying to foster, I decided it should be called out — “for the good of the team.” I did, at least attempt to speak with gentleness, even though I was calling him out. I said, “Hey, can I interrupt? You’ve suddenly gotten really defensive.” And here’s where I completely blew it: in the insecurity of that moment (thinking I was doing a good thing), I turned to the rest of the room to back me up: “Am I alone in this? Do the rest of you see this?”
Before the defensive guy could respond, the consultant turned to me, and with uncharacteristic directness and push-back, completely unveiled what I had just done: that I had attempted to gang up on my coworker; that I had tried to manipulate everyone in the room to my opinion in order to corner my friend. Just as the tingly nature of being publicly exposed and realizing he right started to set in, the consultant re-directed again. He said something like: I’m calling this out for a very specific reason. If you five are going to be effective, you have to learn the skill of being curious.
He used the situation that had just been unveiled as a case-study: if I notice that my coworker seems to be getting defensive, and if I really want the best for him as a human being, as an image-of-God bearer, than I should be more interested in what his “positive intent” is (what’s driving the defensiveness, in this case), than in embarrassing him or making myself look like the hero of group dynamics and herald of truth.
This concept of “being curious” profoundly shaped that leadership team over the next couple years. We exercised it all the time with each other, and it — more than anything else, I think — changed the tone of our meetings.
I found the concept of being curious (particularly about someone’s “positive intent”) has spilled over into other areas of my life. And I think it might offer us some particular value in our overwhelming place of judgmentalism in the church.
If judgmentalism is the venom currently coursing it’s way through the veins of the church, I’m thinking the anti-venom, the serum, isn’t what we’ve thought it to be. It’s not more truth or more clearly defining what we mean or retreating.
Curiosity. Loving, “I want the best for you” curiosity. I think that’s the serum.
To the church or ministry leader who seems overly concerned with criticizing others, or with who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s “in” and who’s “out,” I ask, gently: What are your fears? What are you feeling, and what’s driving those feelings?
And to myself, when I catch myself in the midst of judgmentalism, I ask, gently: Wait, Marko, what’s going on here? What’s driving this judgment or attitude? What’s the positive intent behind this — how are you hoping to benefit from this? What’s another way to think about this?
our third annual Middle School Ministry Campference was this past weekend. and it just doesn’t do it justice to say that it was a blast. there’s something so completely unique about this event and the vibe we share that makes it very, very different than other youth ministry events (even the good ones!).
as i told the group in my “camp rules” during the first session, those who have been before know that the really great breakouts and seminars and main sessions aren’t the best thing about the event. even though they’re really great, lots of youth ministry events have great breakouts and seminars and main sessions. the best part of campference is doing life together with 100+ people who love middle schoolers. it’s the long conversations around meals. it’s the laughter during breaks. it’s the 30 people running into buffalo wild wings. it’s the group of people making s’mores around the fire pit while another group are screaming their heads off on nighttime zipline runs. it’s speakers who are player/coaches, present the entire weekend and more accessible than anywhere else. it’s the slight irreverence. it’s the lack of a “plane” between “the stage” and “the audience.” it’s praying for one another.
here’s a little sampling of photos from my iphone (adam will have much more lovely photos from his good camera):
this moment, saturday night during free time (really, the whole event is free time!) captured some of the essence of this event for me. at one table, kenny & elle campbell were leading a discussion about marriage & ministry; and at the next table, there was a texas hold ‘em game getting going.
each year we invite two keynote speakers who are a little outside the middle school ministry tribe. this year those were dave rahn and amanda drury. both were uh-maze-ing, not just in their main session talks, but in the way they were present to people all weekend long. mandy talked about the role of doubt in her main session talk, and this moment was brilliant. she used the balloons to represent doubts, and the bowling ball to represent faith. she summarized with “one grain of faith is more powerful than all the doubts in the world.”
the campference is also about relationships and friendships, new and old. this is me with tim mauriello. tim is a 40-something middle school pastor in indiana. AND, he was a junior higher in my first church!
really, i’m going to make this up right now. ’cause i gots me a little burst o’ passion that i think will translate to twittery bits (ooh, “twittery bits” probably used to mean something very different). so here we go… i’m gonna wing this!
new school year, and my middle school guys’ small group has resumed! this year, they’re 8th graders. and this year, we split into two groups (each group still has 7 or 8 guys). so i might miss out on 50% of the amazing things said, since they’ll be said in the other group!
but here’s what i got so far:
whatever logic may have existed that was a guiding force in the following conversational bit was completely lost on me!
8th grade guy: marko, you weren’t here last week, and we named our group the swag muffins.
another 8th grade guy: But we wrote it in legit Chinese
third 8th grade guy: Kim Jon Il. I mean Kim Jon Un.
me: He’s Korean, not Chinese
third 8th grade guy: Yeah, but he’s cute
this was the first time in my life that i’ve ever uttered the following phrase.
me: oh, my gosh, please put your nipple away!
me: What does it mean to be consistent at something?
8th grade boy: Jesus
8th grade guy: you’re lucky you have a brother closer to your age. Mine is like a man.
another 8th grade guy: my sister’s like a man.
8th grade guy (with a comment that had NOTHING to do with what we were talking about!): I wonder if you fart when they jump start your heart
another 8th grade guy: you void your bowels
third 8th grade guy: what if you died on the toilet?
back to the 2nd guy: that’s what Elvis did.
me: What’s worldly wisdom?
8th grade guy: It’s like common sayings and things people believe, like “don’t trust people with big noses”
8th grade guy: My high this week was that I got taken out of school to go surfing today because the surf was so good
another 8th grade guy, incredulously: What kind of family do you have?
first 8th grade guy, quietly: A surfing family
erik willits really created a fantastic 40-day devotional journey. amazing, really. and the response was fantastic. of course, sales of that one have sorta tapered off at the moment (hopefully people will think of using it in their ministries again in the new year). but we asked erik to write another one, this time for advent. using our creative book titling powers, we decided to name this one ADVENT.
we’re a youth ministry organization, and erik’s a youth pastor. so let’s call it a youth ministry product. but, really, it’s not limited to youth ministry use (in fact, erik’s entire church used the LENT devotional last year). ADVENT can be used with any age, and erik wrote it with that in mind.
as erik writes in the intro:
The idea for this guide to Advent and Christmastide is that you will enter into this journey with your church, youth group, small group or family. The journey of learning to wait, prepare and hope shouldn’t be done alone. Ultimately, it should stir in you the desire to help the poor and give to those in need. It should encourage you to walk and not run and pray instead of purchase. Having people with you on the journey will help you to do all these things well.
you can download a longer sample here. but here’s a random entry i grabbed:
PREPARE // DAY 9
READING :: Luke 3:1-18
John the Baptist is our Advent portrait of preparation! He’s our icon, if you will—the image that points us to the greater reality God is leading us into.
In Matthew’s account, John is painted as a peculiar prophet, wearing a camel hair coat with a sweet leather belt to complete his outfit. He dines on bugs and wild honey—exotic, right? Now, don’t worry, the takeaway from the life of John the Baptist isn’t to eat exotic bugs and wear fur coats and leather belts (unless you want to). What we learn from John the Baptist is that living a life prepared for the Messiah means looking a little peculiar to the culture around you.
Do we as Christians look any different in the way we participate in Advent and prepare for the birth of Christ than the rest of our culture? In my observation, many times those who believe in Jesus and those who don’t participate in Advent in a similar way—by hanging lots of lights and buying lots of gifts. In fact, the majority of Christians I know prepare for Christmas, which means participating in Advent, by preparing to give and receive presents and have Christmas parties. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Christmas party as much as the next guy, but I don’t want that to be primary marker of my Advent experience.
This is why the way of John the Baptist and the Advent he lives is so radical and counter-cultural. As we authentically engage the Advent portrayed by John the Baptist, our response should be the same as those who listened to him in Luke 3: “What should we do?” And John tells us. “If you have two coats, give one away and do the same with your food.” He then talks to different people with different influences and abilities and helps each of them with a practical way to prepare for the coming of the Christ and His Kingdom.
Why not take a moment and evaluate your gifts, abilities, possessions and circles of influence? Bring a friend, parent or pastor into the conversation and come up with a “John the Baptist” approach. Meaning, if John were to look at your life, what kind of practical challenge would he give you this Advent, as you prepare for the coming of Jesus in His birth, His return and in the coming of His Kingdom on earth?
How would John the Baptist challenge you to prepare for Jesus this Advent?
we’ve really priced this one for group usage. it’s just $9.99 each; but order 20 or more copies and you can get them for $6.49 each. of course, check out the the downloadable sample here. such a great way to have a focus other than ski trips or presents or ugly sweaters!
yesterday, i posted about one of the most significant youth ministry books of the year, april diaz’s Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker. and i told the story of how it came to be. really, the story of brock morgan’s brand new book, Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World, is the same. and it’s also one of the most significant youth ministry books of the year.
in 2012, i was aware of the ministry challenges brock was facing. i’ve known him well for a dozen years; and i was very much paying attention to whether his move to new england, after a youth ministry lifetime on the west coast, would end quickly or not. we chatted somewhere along the way, and i saw how brock was learning more new stuff than he’d likely learned in the previous five years combined (it helps that he’s a humble learner).
so we asked him to speak at The Summit that fall on the assigned topic, “Reaching Teenagers Who Don’t See a Need for Jesus.” like april, brock hit it out of the park. it was one of the talks that people were buzzing about. it was one of the talks that convinced me and adam that The Summit was the right event for the right sort of youth worker (one who’s interested in thinking in new ways). minutes after brock finished speaking, i asked him if he would consider writing the talk as a book. less than a year later, here we are, and the book — Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World — released this week.
here’s a few paragraphs from the first chapter (but you can download a longer sample here):
Stuart Murray defines post-Christianity (or “post-Christendom”) as “The culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence.”
The Christian faith losing coherence? Check.
Christian institutions declining in influence? Check.
It’s a difficult shift to perceive when all the people you hang out with think just like you do. But if you get outside the bubble and really listen, you’ll discover that things really have changed in the world, and they continue to change. You see, a post-Christian world is one in which Christianity is no longer the dominant religion or even the dominant mindset. An evolution has occurred over the past 50-plus years. Slowly and gradually over time, our society has begun to assume values, cultures, and worldviews that aren’t Judeo-Christian. At that youth workers’ conference 20 years ago, I was told this was going to happen. But I didn’t listen. And now that time is upon us.
America is in the midst of this transition from a Judeo-Christian value system into a post-Christian mindset. Oh, you can bet the church is doing a lot of kicking and screaming right now. That’s what happens when the top dog is no longer the top dog. It’s called a power struggle. And when something that’s been dominant within a culture starts to lose its voice, power, and influence…well, it can get pretty ugly. Watch the news and you’ll see that it’s not just ugly; it’s downright toxic.
Some of you might be thinking, No way, Brock! You’re wrong. I’ve read the stats and I’ve seen the research. The majority of people in America and around the world are Christians.
To that I say, “Really? That’s what you think?”
here’s just a sampling of the amazing endorsements that came in for this book:
After reading the draft manuscript I contacted the folks at The Youth Cartel and pre-ordered 25 copies! No joke. Brock’s insight into post-Christian culture and ministry to teens within such a culture are inspiring and refreshing. His optimism for the future burns brightly which makes for a helpful resource that not only deconstructs the current reality but also faithfully constructs a new way forward. This book will undoubtedly assist any youth worker in their pursuit of guiding teens into spiritual formation for the mission of God in a post-Christian culture.
Chris Folmsbee, Author of A New Kind of Youth Ministry and Pastor of Group Life Ministry at Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS
Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World is, above all, a story of honesty and hope. There’s not a youth worker alive who won’t resonate with Brock Morgan’s unassuming self-portrait of a ministry (and a youth minister) coming to terms with America’s first explicitly “post-Christian” decades. I felt like I knew the youth in these pages; I groaned with recognition at Morgan’s failures and smiled at God’s grace-giving surprises. Above all, Morgan gives teenagers–and those who love them–what we are desperate for: permission to trust in a God who is far bigger than the moment before us. If you’re looking for another program manual of youth ministry how-to’s and free advice, keep looking. But if you need a friend in the trenches, whose journey will make you feel a little less alone, then this is your next read.
Kenda Creasy Dean, Professor of Youth, Church and Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary, Author of Almost Christian and Practicing Passion
What you’re going to hear in this book is the passionate heart of a thoughtful youth worker who is unwilling to let standard youth ministry operating procedure get in the away of authentic, vital ministry. You won’t have to agree with everything Brock says to recognize that he’s asking important questions. This isn’t just hand-wringing. Particularly in the last few chapters there are some helpful, practical steps for the way forward. Well-worth a read!
Dr. Duffy Robbins, Professor of Youth Ministry, Eastern University, St Davids, PA
at last year’s Summit, april diaz gave a talk on a topic i’d asked her to focus on: Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker. i knew she would do great. but i didn’t know she’d be THAT great (like, one of the best talks at the event). instantly, i knew it had to become a book.
now, slightly less than a year later, april’s book of that same title has released this week! i’m going on record and saying that every youth worker has to read this book (yeah, i know i’m the publisher, and we benefit if you believe me — but that’s not the reason i wrote that sentence!).
here are a few paragraphs from the end of chapter 1 (actually, you can download a longer sample here):
May I begin this book with a confession? In my church context, we were fairly content with being insane. We knew we weren’t operating at full capacity, but students were still showing up. It’s not like we’d totally destructed. We were tweaking things here and there, yet we still weren’t seeing tangible results. I felt a holy discontent that things were not as they should be, and that discontent would not let me go. The catalyst for us in reimagining the role of the youth worker was a staffing transition that presented an opportunity for real change. But honestly, the catalyst should have been the names and stories of graduated teenagers who were deeply struggling in their faith or no longer walking with Jesus.
In each of the first three Gospels where Jesus discusses fasting, he speaks some haunting words, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved” (Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-38 NLT). I wonder why Jesus declares these words in a discussion on fasting? What do fasting, prayer, and wine have to do with each other? My hunch is that Jesus was hinting at the ancient truth that with any necessary change and maturing growth, a period of fasting and reflection must come.
What we are considering requires more than fancy programmatic tweaks or human ingenuity. We require something new, given to us by the Divine Creator. To be given new wine and a new wineskin is beyond us, beyond our human knowledge or finite experience. Jesus hints that this need to fast—a need to create space in which to evaluate the old—contains deep, yet difficult wisdom that will transform our very souls and then impact our leadership and the teenagers we love.
May we begin our reimagining with the humility to confess we’ve messed up a few things along the way—despite our good intentions—and we are in need of the Great Sommelier to make some new wine for us to drink from a new vessel.
and here are JUST A HANDFUL of the long list of people who have agreed with me that you have to read this book:
In Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker, April Diaz invites us on a journey of ministry reformation, as she translates the findings of the Sticky Faith research project into a model that actually works in the real-life trenches of youth ministry. There is little doubt that now is the time for bold experimentation around the dream of building student ministries that actually build life-long faith in the next generation, and April is one of the early cartographers of the future landscape of youth ministry.
Mark DeVries, Author of Family-Based Youth Ministry, founder of Ministry Architects
I read this book immediately after wrestling with some Youth For Christ veterans about needed shifts in a ministry leader’s job description and just prior to interviewing candidates for my church’s open position in youth ministry. The timing was perfect, bringing sweet clarity to my own gnawing convictions. As a bonus, the book reads like a caffeinated conversation with your spunky, irrepressible and street-wise friend. April and Newsong Church are onto a really important course correction for God’s people and I’m grateful that she’s made the effort to share her insights with us all.
Dr. Dave Rahn, Sr VP, Chief Ministry Officer, Youth for Christ/USA, Director, Huntington University’s MA in Youth Ministry Leadership
For years many of us have known that something wasn’t quite right with how we’ve been ministering to students all these years. In Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker, April Diaz has taken us one step closer to providing us with a clear and compelling vision for a desperately needed new vision for youth ministry. April’s extensive history and experience, keen mind, and love for kids, families and the church all combine to help the new-comer or most seasoned veteran take the leap into a more theological, long-term and practical world of our ministry to our young.
Chap Clark, PhD, Author, Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture, Fuller Seminary
April passionately reminds us of the heart of our work–relationships with and within the Body of Christ. Her steps toward redefining the role of the youth worker are echoed in the words of others who have also experienced similar “holy discontent” with status quo youth ministry. If you’re hungry for more…see a link that might be missing…are frustrated in the way the church and youth ministry segregate…then you’ve found an exceptional place to begin, right here, with April.
Brooklyn Lindsey, Youth Pastor, Highland Park Church of the Nazarene, Lakeland, Florida
so, go here. download the sample. order your copy or five or twenty (ok, that was the publisher part of me talking there).
I can’t stand it when I see youth workers trying to be hip, trying to be cool, so students will like them. And part of why this bugs me so much is that I used to be like that! I tried so hard to be the kind of cool adult I thought students wanted.
But somewhere along the road of youth ministry, I discovered that my uniquenesses–the things about me that make me different than you–are a massive strength in my ability to connect with teenagers. And I saw this in other effective youth workers as well.
One of the best youth workers I ever worked with was a total geek. He was studying for a doctorate in theoretical chemistry, wore horribly geeky clothes and awful glasses, and was a world-class nerd. But teenagers loved him! And it wasn’t only the future geeky chemists who loved him; the students loved that he was real and authentic, and not ashamed of who he was.
I was reminded of this again last night when speaking at a youth event in Greenville, SC, and I ran into “Mr. Jerry,” and 87 year-old youth worker who’s youth pastor told me, “He’s the best volunteer I have.” Mr. Jerry cannot possibly pass as hip and cool. Maybe “cool for his age,” at best. But Mr. Jerry “gets” this–he’s brings his authentic self to teenagers and they love him.
Embrace your oddity!