curb your exuberance
Monday October 16th 2006, 3:12 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, church, youth work

bob carlton has a fantastic post today about exuberance. an excerpt:


n 1: joyful enthusiasm 2: overflowing with enthusiasm

For me, the exuberance embargo is particularly hard. I have an almost genetic predisposition towards enthusiasm. Years of therapy have taught me its limitations, but I still love nothing more than to give myself over to (often times irrational) exuberance, the (re)discovered enthusiasm for an idea, a person or a thing.

The source of the word enthusiasm is the Greek enthousiasmos, which ultimately comes from the adjective entheos, “having the god within,” formed from en, “in, within,” and theos, “god.” Over time the meaning of enthusiasm became extended to “rapturous inspiration like that caused by a god” to “an overly confident or delusory belief that one is inspired by God,” to “ill-regulated religious fervor, religious extremism,” and eventually to the familiar sense “craze, excitement, strong liking for something.”

i especially loved a quote and a graphic he posted, from a post by kathy sierra about exuberance in the workplace. the quote:

If you knock out exuberance, you knock out curiosity, and curiosity is the single most important attribute in a world that requires continuous learning and unlearning just to keep up. If we knock out their exuberance, we’ve also killed their desire to learn, grow, adapt, innovate, and care.


the graphic:

looking at this graphic during our convention season, when i have a hightened amount of contact with living, breathing youth workers (as opposed to emailing youth workers, who are living and breathing in some other time zone), i’m quickly struck by how this applies to churches and youth workers. the “what churches SAY they want” and “what churches ACTUALLY want” seems to me to be the primary rub in the ongoing tension and firing and relational distance and stiff-arming and relegating and slaughtering of youth pastors. (i’ve had an uncommonly high number of these stories come to me in the past 30 days, so i’m a bit tender about it.)

i’m not saying youth pastors bear no responsibility. i’ve said this before, that we need to own up to our collective immaturity and the role it plays in all of this crud.

but i have a couple random thoughts here:

first, i think the gap between what churches SAY they want in a paid youth worker, and what they ACTUALLY want (and likely haven’t even expressed to themselves) is the primary source of youth worker failure and youth worker vs. church (senior pastor, board, parents, whatever) tension. this has implications for churches and youth workers. churches need to do a much more thorough job of defining what they want in a youth worker. ultimately, this is a theological question. and, i believe, many churches could really use some outside help in this process (which is why ys is launching a consulting group — more on that later). but i also think youth workers considering roles in churches need to learn how to be much more proactive in discerning what the truth is behind the “we love your energy and that you like teenagers” front.

second, i think this little graphic and this little truth could become a starting point for conversations between senior pastors and youth workers who are experiencing tension. this would need to be done carefully and humbly, of course — not in an arrogant way (tossing the graphic on a senior pastor’s desk and saying “this is what we need to talk about — i’m not your freakin’ robot!”). but to start a conversation about the difference between “what i thought i heard when you hired me” and “what the realities seem to be” — with a curious, exploratory perspective — could be very helpful.

third, i have a hunch that exuberance IS actually wanted in youth workers. but some of the regular and apparently normal tension is connected to a question of the focus of that exuberance. or the implications of that exuberance. for instance, i think most senior pastors and church boards would contend that they DO actually want a youth worker who is exuberant about teenagers. and most youth workers (especially during the hiring process!) would hold to that. but for most youth workers, exuberance about teenagers means (for example) actually hanging out with teenagers — away from the church. but for some senior pastors and boards, exuberance for teenagers might mean (for example) putting in the office hours necessary to run a nifty and well-administrated program for those teenagers. enter: rub.

exuberance.jpgfor more on exuberance, read the book , by kay redfield jamison . here’s my short review of it.




9 Comments so far
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Freaking awesome post! I think you are on to something with this. What churches SAY they want, and what they ACTUALLY want is an interesting dynamic. I wonder if it can be more subtle than that though. I think most church leaders, parents and pastor want what you and I would call “healthy” youth ministries. But because of several factors, health is sacrificed on the alter of ill-conceived infrastructures, poor leadership systems, obscure expectations, dysfunctional job descriptions and the simple fact that most pastors/church leaders/and parents repeat the kind of youth ministries they experienced as kids, and few have the prophetic imagination to develop expectations, congregational habits and structures that will accomplish what they ACTUALLY want. The result? Under the surface all these things sit under the surface like landmines, which the youth pastor has to negotiate to be succussful. Often, it’s the expectations NOT EXPRESSED that are the most volitile. Some youth workers are successful, not because of call, or faithfullness, or devotion to kids, but because of finesse and an intuitive ability to identify landmines and massage the organization. And you’re right, it doesn’t have to be this way.

I really like this post bro.

Comment by riddle 10.16.06 @ 3:36 pm

I am stoked about the idea of a YS consulting group. I look forward to hearing more. Is it going to charge the average consulting price, or what most churches can afford, or somewhere in between?

Comment by Pastor Paul 10.16.06 @ 4:32 pm

this resonated deeply with me too and i almost sent it to you - but knew you read bob already.

the metaphor that i tried to explain to the leadership at our last church was that you can either be the anchor on the boat or the one holding the kite string - the boat can only travel so far while anchored - all you’ll get is a tiny circle of influence. but a kite has altitude and influence on so many levels. if you need to tug the string you still have that right and ability - but you are not stifling creativity or dampening enthusiasm.

i think a church hire (especially a youth pastor hire) is almost like marriage when the things that draw us in are the same things that end up driving us crazy about each other. we both long for those things in each other that draw us more closely to the center of where we long to be - the youth pastor passionate about the church and the church needing the exhuberance of the youth pastor - but it is those very same things that grate and stretch and so sadly in the long run break and ruin much of the time.

Comment by bobbie 10.16.06 @ 4:42 pm

we’re still working all that out, paul — more to come before the end of the year, i hope.

Comment by marko 10.16.06 @ 4:43 pm

careful - you seem sorta worked up about this


her zombie head grid was spot

Comment by bob c 10.16.06 @ 5:07 pm

Here’s what I want. I want parents who’s kids love the youth group and are involved and connected to make phone calls and let senior pastors know that. I want to have people who are happy express that happiness. Instead we have people who are not happy expressing their unhappiness. That’s what I want which is different from what happens. I know that’s not what your post was about but it does have something to do with expectations. I expect people from both sides to make their thoughts known. Too bad it doesn’t happen.

Comment by Lars Rood 10.16.06 @ 8:11 pm

Greetings from Ireland! Great Blog Mark and a resounding YES! on this post. From what I’ve seen and experienced in this part of the world, often there is a big difference between what churches SAY they want and what they ACTUALLY want. Very often churches haven’t thought through why they want or need a youth worker, and what it is actually going to mean for them - in the worst cases it is some attempt to stop the exodus of young people out of the church, “we’ll hire this enthusiastic youth worker to ‘keep’ the youth for us”… it won’t say that on the job discription but that is the unspoken expectation. Such a mindset means the church can ease its conscience about failling its young people and avoid asking deep penetrating questions in regard to it’s relevancy and how it is actually ‘being’ the church and reaching the world. Youth workers are crushed by this overwhelming pressure to deliver the impossible and the exhuberance is knocked out of them. I’m certain your consulting group will help churches navigate through these issues and develop realistic expectations of youth ministry and youth workers, and ease the fear of that dreaded word: ‘change’

Comment by Paul 10.17.06 @ 7:12 am

[…] in resonse to my post the other day about exuberance and the disconnect between what churches say they want in a youth worker and what they really want, marty estes has cooked up a little variation on the graphic from that post. hilarious: […]

Pingback by ysmarko 10.18.06 @ 11:19 am

The recent Group article compares popular pereception of what a youth worker should be to what youth said they wanted in response to specific questions - so not the church in general but the youth specifically.


Comment by Nick P. 10.18.06 @ 1:12 pm

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