Archives for category: youth ministry

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?

At the gracious invitation of Jim Hancock and Marko, this week I was able to sit in on (and, hopefully, contribute something meaningful to) a small gathering to put some framework to the Big Room gatherings at DCLA 09.

It was a joy and privilege to sit with such a talented, experienced group of youth ministry veterans, thinkers and leaders. Being able to dive into, as Marko put it, the stories of God and the story of God for two days together was life-giving and life-stirring.

While I’m still wrapping my head around terms like liminality and perichoresis, it was a pleasure to sweep through the broad narrative of Scripture and imagine ourselves and thousands of students, somehow, in the midst of God’s story, along for the ride and, mysteriously, called to participate in the mission of God in the world. For a nice summary of this gathering, you can check out Marko’s post dcla big room.

On a side note, Marko accused me of blogging too infrequently (although I suspect many readers have just cried out, No! Please!). Perhaps these couple of intensive days will kickstart my thinking (or, if I’m lucky, my heart).

Marko’s new book about the future of youth ministry, Youth Ministry 3.0: A Manifesto of Where We’ve Been, Where We Are & Where We Need to Go will be released soon. He outlined some of the broad concepts during the closing message at last year’s National Youth Workers Convention and graciously included several preview chapters for discussion and comment on his blog a little while back.

In those preview chapters, Marko urges us to move beyond “building community” from a programmatic, pragmatic perspective and towards communion. He coined a great term to describe this shift: communional. Here’s a brief description of what becoming communional would look like:

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Six students at a local high school that several of our youth group students attend were suspended last week for hacking into the school’s computer system to change their grades and access upcoming test material. This probably would have been a newsworthy blurb on its own and a conversation about cheating and technological security, but the emotional response of the assistant principal of the school has pushed this story to another level.

The assistant principal called this, “Our (worst) technological nightmare” and said, “This case is unique in its depth of complexity and depravity.” Now, of course cheating is wrong, but this response sounds a tad melodramatic. Does the high-tech nature of this cheating make it any worse than old-fashioned cheating (e.g., students writing answers on their palms)?

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Becoming a dad is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me. It has forced me to come to terms with my (massive) shortcomings, humbles me every single day and has brought me greater joy than I could have imagined. It seems like an eternity ago, but we used to catch our daughter singing the Blue’s Clues theme song to herself in her mirror, dancing and smiling, using whatever toy she happened to find as her mic. In fact, tonight, as we sat together to worship, we caught her watching herself in that same mirror, dancing and smiling, as we sang a praise song together.

Jason Evans wrote a great post awhile back, Making Lunch, in which he talks about how the everyday act of making lunch for his children has become an integral, fulfilling spiritual discipline in his life. J’s words remind me not only of the kind of community I’d like to be a part of, but the kind of father I hope to become:

I am now the father, the teacher of these two little ones. I often tell new parents, “Your children are your greatest disciples… Don’t forget that this is your calling, to disciple these children in the way of Jesus.”

It’s tempting to farm out this responsibility to the professionals at the church. Who hasn’t had a really long week at work and wouldn’t want to drop off the kids for a couple of hours for some me-time? Is it too much to ask youth pastors to perform a quick two-hour extreme makeover on our prodigal kids — after all, what do we pay them for anyways? However, the formation of the resurrected life of Christ in us is a much longer and slower journey, and requires the patient, loving, everyday guidance of those who were first entrusted with these children.

Maybe it starts with helping parents to see that following Jesus around is a worthwhile, fulfilling, honorable endeavor. For those who feel “unqualified” I am reminded of Eugene Peterson’s words, “Everyone is a beginner in this business. There are no experts… Spiritual formation is not something we master.”

When I see how our daughter is growing everyday in brightness and love for God, I am amazed — and deeply grateful — that my failures do not prevent Christ being formed in her. Her life reminds me of this high and holy calling to lead her, in the ordinary and in-between, on the path of following Jesus. When I struggle with the heavy weight of discouragement, I know that I need to reconnect with God, to pursue the life that makes me feel fully alive in Christ so that instead of having a tired, irritable grouch stomping around the place, our daughter can see me following Jesus through the mess, and His life (slowly) being formed in me and — hopefully — she will want to follow Him as well.