Let me say this up front: Youth Ministry 3.0, by Mark (Marko) Oestreicher, is not only a manifesto for youth ministry but for the church.  And not for only the church as a building or site for programs and events, but for our essential, ecclesial understanding of what it means to be the people of God together.  YM3.0 challenges our notions of ministry as event/party planning and, instead, offers a compelling vision of missional (participating in the mission of God in the world), communional (the life of Christ being celebrated and formed in us, in community) ministry for and with youth.

Several people have commented on the brevity of YM3.0 — which, for most of us with our feet on the ground of ministry with young people, is definitely a good thing.  YM3.0 is hardly a puff piece, though — Marko’s words throughout the book have a certain weight to them, not because of any grammatical gymnastics (although Marko is certainly capable of impressing us with his prose) but, rather, because of the honesty, heart, humility and hope contained therein (and, just in case you’re preaching on any of this, feel free to use those four H’s).

YM3.0 is deeply theological, yet engaging and relatable (no small feat, in itself) — Marko’s heart as a parent, volunteer youth worker, friend and co-conspirator comes through.  As the president of Youth Specialities, Marko has a unique vantage point from which to view today’s youth ministry landscape.  However, instead of issuing decrees from on high, Marko is very much engaged in the reality of young people’s lives and what youth ministry looks like for everyday folks, not just flagship churches featuring best practices and takeaways.  YM3.0 feels like a genuine dialogue because of the input Marko solicited from youth workers through his blog duing the writing process, unlike many ministry-oriented books that have sidebars written by the author or other well-published folks (I am humbled and grateful to have contributed even a small part to the YM3.0 conversation).  Marko’s affirmation of the many youth workers who are “faithfully operating under the radar” in the epilogue definitely encouraged me.

YM3.0 requires great courage, even risking the venture itself in the process for the sake of seeing Christ formed in the lives of students (see pp.72, 82).  Marko embodies this risk by acknowledging that he has been a significant contributor to the program-driven YM2.0 model while trying to move forward into the future.  YM3.0 draws on what is noble and good in our calling to serve and shepherd youth (self-sacrifice, love, risk) and filters out what can go wrong (colonialism, placing programs above people — esp. p.83).

Although there is no handy “copy this” section at the end, one of the most practical things YM3.0 does is theological — refining our understanding of what a youth worker really is (p.72):

Party planners, programming experts, youth preaching obsessors, growth and measurement gurus,and lowest common denominator systemizers are no longer needed.  What’s needed are cultural anthropologists with relational passion.

This calling to contextualization — or, incarnation — moves the question youth workers ask from, “How can I get them to like me?” or “How do I get them through the front door?” to “How can I enter their world?” — and this regardless of the cost or how long it takes.

As someone who has been invested in Asian American youth ministry for over ten years, I welcome the inclusion of diversity as an important part of the YM3.0 conversation.  Contextualization/incarnation resists the notion of forcing everyone to conform to the same culture, or even believing that is a worthy goal.  I have a feeling that this book could have powerful implications for AA youth ministries around the country (hopefully, I can post some of these thoughts soon).

I join those who have already recommended YM3.0 to youth workers — from those who are just starting out to those who have been here for years.  If you can tear yourself away from playing Word Challenge for awhile, you can join the YM3.0 conversation on FacebookYM3.0 gives a voice to many of us who have been feeling the ground under our feet shift for awhile now.  In a way, this section felt a bit like a benediction to me:

One thing I’m sure of: Tweaking things won’t get us there.  Youth Ministry 3.0 isn’t about making a subtle modification in one of your programs or adding the words communion and mission to your youth ministry’s core values.  Real change is absolutely messy.  Always.  But which is better: Messy substantive change or useless mini-alterations?