hello, i’m a thumb generation minister
Friday November 09th 2007, 10:59 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth work, news

fun factoid of the week:

In Japan techno-savy teens are called “oyayubi sedai,” the thumb generation. They use their thumbs so frequently for typing into their cellphones that they now use them, rather than their index fingers, to point and to press buzzers.

(ht to ypulse)

blogging from the atlanta national youth workers convention?
Thursday November 08th 2007, 7:27 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, youth specialties, blogs, youth work

let me know if you’ll be blogging from the atlanta convention this coming week, and i’ll add you to a linked list i’ll post on thursday.

teenagers, the american dream, and where youth ministry needs to go
Thursday November 08th 2007, 12:53 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, faith, youth work, news

i’ve been noodling a bit on this since i read anastasia goodstein’s post on teenagers and the american dream, on her ypulse blog. so, here’s that to begin with:

I always thought of that the American Dream went something like this. Anyone in this country, regardless of who they are (race, class, gender, etc.), could achieve success (usually financial) in the United States if they worked hard enough. The collective knowledge of Wikipedia defines the American Dream as:

Generally refer[ing] to the idea that one’s prosperity depends upon one’s own abilities and hard work, not on a rigid class structure. For some, it is the opportunity to achieve more prosperity than they could in their countries of origin; for others, it is the opportunity for their children to grow up with an education and career opportunities; for still others, it is the opportunity to be an individual without the constraints imposed by class, caste, race, gender or ethnicity. It sometimes includes the idea of owning a home.

According to a recent Harris Poll, here’s how teenagers described the American Dream:

“Simply being happy, no matter what I do” — 47 percent

“Having a house, cars and a good job” — 38 percent

“Being able to provide for my family” — 30 percent

“Having the career of my dreams” — 27 percent

“Being rich and/or famous” — 20 percent

“Owning my own business” — 7 percent

“Being ‘the Boss’ ” — 5 percent

Fifty-eight percent say a college education is a necessity in order to achieve the dream, with 20 percent of those saying a four-year university degree is mandatory. While only 3 percent believed they could achieve the American dream on a salary of $25,000 or less, one-quarter thought a $100,000 annual income was sufficient. In addition, a whopping 71 percent believed they personally can achieve the American dream. Notice how “me”-centric the teenage version of the American Dream is…

a handful of my very random thoughts:

first, i was surprised a bit to see “being happy, no matter what i do” rank so high as a definition of the american dream. while anastasia rightly says teens’ responses are me-centric, i was encouraged that the number one response was NOT about materialism, not about “stuff”. my impression/understanding of the american dream (similar to the wikipedia definition) has to do with typical american measurements of success: owning stuff, having access to a job, owning a home.

of course, we all know that the american dream is, for many, a falicy. or, at the very least, not equally accessible. but that’s not the point of my rumination here. “being happy no matter what i do” is COUNTER to consumerism. “being happy no matter what i do” has in its wording a counter-cultural defiance, implying that i can be happy even if i do not have stuff.

that said, most of my other responses were not as positive.

part of my frustration is that i think youth ministry willingly swallowed the baited hook of the american dream promise. in other words: so much of what’s been done in the name of “youth ministry” in the past 35 years has really been about trying to get teenagers to buy into a combo-platter of the american dream and a moralism wrongly called christianity. we’ve tried to shape kids into “good church goers” and “good citizens”. and, in this context, “good” means “active and compliant”. let’s embrace the values of non-activity and non-compliance!

i also thought: if we polled teenagers in most youth groups, we probably wouldn’t get findings that are quantifiably different.

and: can we just set the concept of “the american dream” in a nice glass-covered display case and consider it an interesting relic of our history? it’s built on such a deeply flawed set of values and assumptions. everyone does not have equal access to “success”. and, then, even for those who do have access, the “success” doesn’t bring happiness or contentment. and this is where i am most concerned: that we continue to perpetuate (even if we never use the term) the notion, in our youth groups, that…
- god will bless you with a comfy, stuff-filled life if you’re a good boy or girl
- the goal of discipleship is to have good answers
- other than a few supermen and superwomen who are “called” to pastoral or missionary work, the life the rest of us normal disciples are called to is one of a daily quiet time, church attendance a couple times a week, some role in serving the church, and giving to the church. all other time and resources (and values and relationships and decisions and, well, everything) fall out of the domain of anything god gives a flying rip about.

how ’bout we swear off ever using “the american dream” (either in word or concept), and, instead, start talking about “the dream of god”. that vision of god’s from before time and creation. that dream of god’s during creation — of what this world could be, of what we could be. let’s build our ministries around walking with our kids into living in the dream of god.

wedgie-proof underwear
Thursday November 08th 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: youth ministry, humor, youth work, news

these kids get inventors of the year from the collective of bullied middle school and high school boys everywhere:

(ht to d scott miller)

st. louis NYWC, monday morning
Monday November 05th 2007, 11:40 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth specialties, personal, youth work

sitting in my room, slurping on my eggs bennie, avoiding my prep work for the closing general session.

yesterday: a mostly wonderful day, really. at one point in the evening, rich van pelt from compassion asked me how i was feeling, and the word that came to mind was “fulfilled.”

really fantastic general session yesterday morning. lots of great worship and fun and all, but what really nailed it for me was ralph winter’s talk about the power of story, the role of story in our lives, and the critical nature of darkness in good stories (which, he said, was why so much christian storytelling sucks). he read his talk, but it didn’t matter (interesting how that does matter sometimes, and doesn’t other times). he used clips from the tv show heros and the the movie x-men 3, and i think one or two others (oh, he actually started his talk with a mash-up movie trailer of “brokeback to the future” — a smash of scenes from back to the future with music and themes from brokeback mountain).

i had a nice break for a couple hours around lunch time, and actually sat in my room and did nothing. i channel-surfed on tv. it was great!

taught my seminar called “a new vision for middle school ministry” in the late afternoon and had a riot. i was low energy going in, and worried i wasn’t going to engage at all. but something kicked in, and i had a great time (i think the attendees did also — they seemed really engaged). then i had an interesting dinner: last year, i got an email (i think that’s what the contact was) from a catholic youth worker who attended one of the conventions and left in the middle feeling the event was anti-catholic. he was really frustrated — angry, even. we emailed back and forth quite a few times, as i tried to understand. i think the primary issue had been a mainstage speaker who made reference to his own story as, “i used to be catholic, before i became a christian” (or something like that). i had remembered cringing for my catholic brothers and sisters when that had been said. anyhow, i asked the guy to return this year as our guests and give it another shot, which he graciously accepted. he was having a good experience this year, which i was glad to hear. but i also enjoyed getting to know him and hearing his story. as a young 30-something retail store manager, with an offer of a promotion on the table, he heard his church was going to hire a youth pastor. he’d never been in a youth group as a teenager, never volunteered in one as an adult, had no youth ministry experience whatsoever; but sensed a nudge. after a wild confirmation from god, he applied for the job and got it. and the group had 2 kids. one girl — who was shy and wouldn’t talk — and one guy. for six months, those were the only two kids. that was five years ago. he senses now that youth ministry is a life-long calling (and the youth group has grown and is healthy).

at the evening general session, tic and i decided to further mock the cheerleading competition we’d all had to walk through saturday and sunday to get to our space in the convention center (hundreds of little girls in cheerleading outfits, with massive quantities of make-up, and freakish bow-things in their hair). some of the volunteers went out and bought outfits for us. tic had the traditional little cheerleading skirt and all. they couldn’t find a skirt they thought would fit me, so i was dressed more like a guy cheerleader, in running pants and shirt: but i pulled the waistline of the running pants up all the way over my (large) stomach, to create an absolutely horrifying visual. in a moment of gender-confusion, the volunteers put my hair in a single ponytail on top of my head (a fountain of youth, one might say). we pranced out to the stage and jumped around. i almost knocked tic to the ground when we “belly-bumped”. we did a short, irreverant cheer, and tossed to a comedian. lots of photos were taken, though i’ve yet to see one surface.

greg stier spoke last night. greg is a genuinely good guy. pure character. pure motives. pure passion. i don’t always agree with everything greg says (his passionate plea for us to preach christ and christ crucified alone was tough for me, and seems to minimize christ to only the work he did on the cross, not the work he did at creation, incarnation, living, resurrection, or other parts of the story). but i love greg’s passion, zeal and affection for teenagers and youth workers. i also got to affirm a very cool young couple in the general session last night. they have been jointly hired by the five churches in their small southwestern colorado town. get this: the churches are catholic, baptist, presbyterian, episcopalian and non-denominational. yes, you read that correctly. those five churches came together to hire one couple for youth ministry. not for 5 youth groups. but for one youth group. amazing.

ok. i have to prep for my talk.

st. louis NYWC, sunday morning
Sunday November 04th 2007, 10:08 am
Filed under: youth ministry, faith, youth specialties, family, youth work

another wonderful day yesterday, in every way.

didn’t have to get up too early, which was a great start. morning general session was good, with lynn hybels (she went a bit long, but had some really great stuff to say; and i loved her attitude). then a had a great lunch with 18 national leaders from the catholic youth ministry organization, lifeteen. we’ve been friends with lifeteen for about 6 or 7 years, and continue to love their hearts and friendship and how similar we are in our organizational values. we’ve talked about partnering for years and years, but have never really done anything. but this lunch might be a catalyst into some cool stuff.

after lunch, i had a fascinating mtg in my suite. our ys exec team pulled together a few trusted friends of ys (jim hancock, mark riddle, ginny olson, michael novelli, eric venable, scott burkes, and scott kail) to ask them to assess us a bit. i lead the discussion, asking them to share stories of ys past, then to put themselves IN the past, and talk about what ys was like, from their perspective, at that time. we moved forward and had them talk about ys now. i asked them to speak as ys present, addressing ys past, and cautioning ys past on some things to come. i asked them to complete this sentence: it’s a shame that ys has become ___________. then, we looked toward the future — not in a predictive way, but in a possible way. first, we walked down a road to a preferred future, and talked about that. then we backed up, and walked down a road to a negative potential. ouch. interesting stuff.

then, i was off to a short dinner reception for graduation seniors of youth ministry programs (who are attending the convention as part of the youth specialties academic support network). always enjoy being with that crowd: they’re energetic and optimistic. the evening session was fantastic. michelle tolentino, a compassion kid (now grown up) from the philippines shares again, and slayed everyone. i was on stage with her, and had to talk after she finished (she received a massive standing o), and i couldn’t. i started a word or two, and they stuck. weird thing to be standing in front of 3500 people and not be able to get any words out due to an emotionally-constricted throat. doug fields spoke, and brought it, big time, again. his talk was on ministry envy. during the talk, i was in a conversation back in the green room (backstage); and at one point, i noticed that max (my 9 year-old son) was sitting on a couch watching doug’s talk on the monitor we have back there. as this continued, i was surprised to see max sit throuh the entire 40 minute talk, watching and listening. i heard his phone ring at one point, and could tell it was jeannie checking on where he was. i heard him say, “yeah, i’m watching a guy talk. no, not dad. some other guy.”

after the session ended, max said to me, “i need to go ask that guy a question.” doug was out in the room, with a crowd of people around him. max went out and waited — about 15 minutes, i’d guess. i made my way out there eventually, and sat nearby waiting. max got doug’s attention at one point, but doug didn’t realize max had a question, and after saying hi to max, went on to the next person waiting to talk to him. max waited again. then, i saw doug fields bent over, having a full-on conversation with max (with about 30 more youth workers circled around, waiting to talk to doug). on the way back to our hotel, i asked max what he wanted to talk to doug about. he said, “well, he talked about how sometimes we hate people, even though they’re nice people. but hunter, in my class, i don’t like him, and he’s really mean. and i wanted to know what he thought i should do about that.” “oh,” i said (pulling him on his healies, as i walked), “did he have anything to say?” “yeah, he told me what to do. so i’m good now.” thanks, doug.


st. louis NYWC, friday night
Saturday November 03rd 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth specialties, personal, youth work

we’re off and running. had a good day yesterday, with the first half the the critical concerns course i’m co-leading with scott rubin on middle school ministry. walked the exhibit hall last evening. then jet lag overwhelmed me. so, after tweaking some media for a seminar today, i climbed in bed very early for convention: 10pm. of course, jeannie and max arrived from san diego at 11, so i was up for 45 minutes again.

today was a full day: the 2nd half of the CCC, then the opening general session, followed by the seminar i’m co-leading with mark riddle called “the expectations that killed the youth worker” (which went substantially better here than it did in SD, after we re-organized the entire thing). dinner with some old friends, then the evening general session, which just ended. chris hill was bringing it tonite, and duffy robbins did a nice job of opening the convention earier today. crowder was brilliant as usual, and flatfoot 56 and jars of clay were wonderful today.

i had a major computer issue just before my afternoon seminar. my computer would not fire up. luckily, one of zondervan’s IT dudes happens to be here (for a store software thing), and he was able to come over and help me get it fixed JUST in time for my seminar to start. but now, i’m noticing, after all of that, that various system things (like, at the moment, the title of this webpage) are in arabic. seriously. i’m getting extremely tired of having font problems with my new mac. it’s massively tainting my mac experience.

tomorrow’s a slightly lighter day for me, but not by much. less presentations. but meetings filling in the blanks.

i got a fun gift today from blogger marty estes and his wife erin. i was in the midst of my computer crisis at the moment, and kind of gave marty a brush-off (sorry, marty! i was in a panic!). he brought me a cute (dorky, jesus-junky) gift bag full of dorky jesus junk, in honor of my semi-regular “jesus junk of the month awards” here on ysmarko.com. they included a nice encouraging note also.

i also got a bit freaked tonite just before i was going to walk up on stage to introduce jerod hall (the illusionist). i very nice looking middle-aged woman came up to me and touched the sides of my head and said, “i think this is the sexiest look you’ve ever had.” i laughed nervously and backed up two or three steps. i’m sure she meant nothing by it other than to compliment me on my fabio hair; but it totally unnerved me!

loved it when, after crowder talked about having a hoe-down, chris hill (an african american) took the stage and said, “a hoe-down in my neighborhood means something completely different.”


making the most of the convention
Friday November 02nd 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth specialties, blogs, youth work

love this list from steve argue about how to make the most of the convention. very closely lines up with what i share in the opening session.

Go to a seminar you disagree with… to understand.

Sit in a different spot each session… try to see from another perspective.

Talk with someone different than you… to learn.

Seek out a youth workder half your age or twice your age… buy them coffee.

Spend time being quiet… resist perpetuating busyness in your life.

Sleep in or stay up late… jolt your natural schedule.

Support local restaurants, avoid places you could eat at from home.

Take the long way… let go of efficiency.

Summarize your notes… share them with someone when you get home.

Walk around the block. Don’t say you’ve been in St. Louis until you’ve done so.

Sing nothing during worship… listen as though you were hearing the words for the first time.

Share with someone what the Spirit was saying to you as you listened throughout the plenary gathering… avoid critiquing the message.

Embrace a quote of the day, image of the day, song of the day, surprise of the day, conversation of the day. Journal them.

Avoid at all costs saying, “When I was here last time…”


blogging from the st. louis national youth workers convention
Thursday November 01st 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth specialties, blogs, youth work

the following list are people who i exect (because they said so, or because i know they’re attending) will be blogging from the national youth workers convention in st. louis this weekend. i’ll update the list regularly.

mike king

jason raitz

andy sahl

jake bouma

lewis polzin

steve argue


mike kupferer

tash mcgill

sean meade


mark riddle

tim schmoyer

carol ann kelly

william hartz, with vlogs here, and twitter updates



brent lacy

eli roogles, and twittering

nic burleson

and, yup, me


single gender middle school classrooms
Tuesday October 30th 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth work, news

i found this article very interesting. it’s about a school that’s trying out single-gender classrooms for middle school. this sounds like such a great idea to me, i have to admit. i mean, i want kids in middle school to learn about being together with both genders also — and that’s part of why i’ve not been a huge fan of single-gender schools. but if there are still opportunities for mixed genders withing the school (like at lunch, and maybe in some elective classes), but core classes single-gender; well, that just sounds smashing to me. same principle, really, behind why i can’t imagine using anything but single-gender small groups in middle school ministry.

(sorry, the link to the article doesn’t seem to be working, and i can’t seem to locate the article)

(ht to kurt johnston)