Posts

Sleep, Science, and Sabbath

In 1965 seventeen-year-old Randy Gardner set a world record by going without sleep for eleven days.  Though others have attempted and claimed to accomplish similar feats since Gardner, Gardner’s case stands out because of Gardner’s youth and because of the extent to which his condition was monitored throughout his sleeplessness. Among those keeping watch was Stanford sleep scientist William C. Dement, who chronicled the effects of Gardner’s self-induced insomnia.

[Gardner] became irritable, forgetful, nauseous, and, to no one’s surprise, unbelievably tired. Five days into his experiment, Randy began to suffer from what could pass for Alzheimer’s disease.  He was actively hallucinating, severely disoriented, and paranoid.  He thought a local radio host was out to get him because of changes in his memory.  In the last four days of his experiment, he lost motor function, his fingers trembling and his speech slurred.[1]

Gardner survived and recovered, but the trauma of sleeplessness and the fear of what could happen during future record-setting attempts ultimately led the Guinness Book of World Records to cease tracking duration of sleeplessness as a record.  An exceptionally rare genetic disorder suggests the Guinness Book made a wise choice.  Fatal Familial Insomnia affects only about twenty families worldwide.  It typically manifests itself in adults in their thirties, and the condition makes it impossible for its victims to sleep.  Its symptoms include fevers, tremors, profuse sweating, uncontrollable muscular jerks and tics, feelings of crushing anxiety and depression, and psychosis.  “Finally, mercifully, the patient slips into a coma and dies.”[2]

The facts that a genetic disorder causes Fatal Familial Insomnia and that Randy Gardner ultimately recovered from his self-induced insomnia may lead us to the popular conclusion that sleep deprivation is a bit like middle school: inconvenient, but not fatal, and most recover.  The science of sleeplessness suggests otherwise. 

Consider, for example, the influence of fatigue on driving. “[F]atigue-related crashes account for 1.2 million accidents and 500,000 injuries annually – including 60,000 debilitating injuries and 8,000 fatalities,” and young people are disproportionately likely to drive drowsy.[3]  Furthermore, inadequate rest among young people has been associated with obesity, anxiety, physical distress, problems with memory consolidation, ADHD, and mental illness. This should give us pause. Sleep and rest – according to developmental and sleep science – are matters of life and death. Yet the broader culture shrugs its collective shoulders, and young people find themselves caught in the crosshairs.

Does youth ministry have any sense of what’s at stake when it comes to rest? Youth group lock-ins suggest not. Another tradition deep in the Judeo-Christian theological tradition suggests maybe so.

Sabbath: We’re Incomplete without It

Though theologians, pastors, and youth ministries frequently overlook it, the very first saga in Scripture features rest at its apex. Swiss theologian Karl Barth (rhymes with tart) looks to the seven days of creation in Genesis for vital clues about the identity of God, creation, and the nature of the relationship between the two. Barth insists that God’s goal and purpose for creation is to make possible the covenant relationship between God and humanity in Jesus Christ.[4] God creates the heavens and the earth so that God can be in relationship with creation, and with humankind in particular. The first six days already reveal the initial contours of this relationship, yet as Barth turns the page to the seventh day, he writes, “Creation is finished, but the history of creation is not yet concluded.”[5]

Does youth ministry have any sense of what’s at stake when it comes to rest?

There is more to the story than the first six days.  While Barth clearly did not use the NRSV in his study of the seventh day, the NRSV translation of these verses lifts up a dimension of the text which Barth emphasizes.  Note the confusing use of the word “finished”: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done” (Genesis 2:1-2). The first use of “finished” appears to point backward to the work of the first six days. That work is finished.  And yet, on the seventh day, God “finished” the work that God had done.  How do we make sense of this?  How is it possible that on the seventh day God both finished and rested from all the work that God had done?

Barth insists the finishing and the resting cannot be separated.  This, however, does not mean that God continues creative activity similar to the first six days. Rather, it means that on the seventh day, it is God’s very rest that brings the whole creation – and humankind as part of that creation – to completion. Imagine. It is no material thing that finishes creation. Rather, it is God’s Sabbath rest and the implied invitation to all of creation to join in that rest. On this read, we remain incomplete and unfinished apart from Sabbath rest.

Now What?

The sleep science and the Sabbath do not say exactly the same thing, but they do surely raise common questions. Faith and science converge on questions of rest, sleep, and young people. They converge to ask, what if it is true? What if Sabbath and sleep science both echo a deep and mysterious truth about what it means to be human? What if our very lives and even the whole of creation remain unfinished and incomplete apart from regular and sufficient rest? How would this change our young people? How would it change our ministries, our teaching, our parenting, or our relationships to work and technology? How would it change us?

Though vibrant and relevant answers to these questions require input from those closest to us and our ministries, I’ll offer here a few ideas to get the ball rolling.

Mandatory Naps

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. I know a youth pastor who scheduled mandatory nap time into all the retreats and trips she led for her youth group. It took some time for the tradition to take root, but it wasn’t long before the youth named nap-time as one of the primary reasons to go on youth trips. When new youth come along, they sometimes scoff, yet the youth who know the grace of the naps quickly defend the quiet time. The napping tradition echoes the theological conviction of the seventh day of creation: rest is integral to our identity. It’s just part of who we are.

Silence

In 1859, nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale wrote, “Unnecessary noise is the most cruel abuse of care which can be inflicted on either the sick or the well.” Contemporary science suggests Nightingale had it right, but do we ever give our young people the gift of silence? Or are we more likely to frantically fill every moment with noise (talking, music, videos, earbuds, etc.)? Just this week, I spoke with a youth pastor who works in an affluent community in Florida. She incorporates extended times of silence into prayer with her junior highers. At the end of a recent gathering, she gave them the choice of ending a bit early or doing silent prayer. They chose silent prayer. How might we regularly include silence into the rhythms of our ministries?

Slow Food (not what you think)

For many of us, quick meals at fast food joints while traveling from one place to another are part and parcel of our youth ministries. We have to get to the retreat by 8:00 Friday night; we left right after school; we stop in a hurry; “Everybody eat as quickly as you can so we can get on the road!”

What would it look like to orchestrate meals with our youth that are intentionally slow? In Genesis 1, the description of the sixth day includes explicit mention of food. God provides food for all creation (Genesis 1:29-30). Then comes Day Seven. It implies there may have been some slow dining on that first Sabbath. When God provides manna in the wilderness for the Israelites, the Sabbath instruction forbids gathering manna but commands eating (Exodus 16:25). What if a slow meal sensitizes us to God’s presence and provision?

Worship

I’m on tricky ground here because many who lead youth ministries also take the lead when it comes to worship. That may not feel like rest. It may not be rest. Yet vast swaths of the Judeo-Christian tradition have included and continue to include worship of God (prayers, song, teaching, sacraments) within their Sabbath keeping. At some level, we might even argue that worship is the whole point. At its best, our worship of God reminds us that human achievement, status, and accomplishment have never been enough to bring us to life or save us from ourselves or others. God alone brings life and salvation. Both Sabbath and worship point to this. Maybe we can thoughtfully put them together. Even if leading worship is part of our job, at the least we can teach young people how worship at its best embodies holy rest.

A Word of Caution

I’d like to think all of this sounds enticing – like a delectable multi-course meal. Through the Sabbath, God does offer an extraordinary invitation. Yet if we’re addicted to noise, productivity, and fast everything like I think we are, then we should be prepared for a real struggle. The Sabbath challenges identities rooted in ceaseless motion or getting stuff done. It calls for their passing. If your journey is anything like mine, this means that the Sabbath journey will go through anxiety and death, not around it.

Thankfully, we serve a resurrection God who would never lead us through the death of any identity unless a truer, more faithful identity was already prepared. The hope is that in the end we may hear God’s stunning affirmation: “You are my beloved child.”

May it be so.

This blog is excerpted and adapted from Disorienting Grace: Youth, Sabbath, and the Hope of a Grace-Rooted Identity by Nathan T. Stucky, William B. Eerdmans Publishing, forthcoming.

[1] As reported by John Medina.  John Medina, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (Seattle: Pear Press, 2008), 151-2.

[2] Medina, Brain Rules, 152.

[3] Richard T. Moore, Rachel Kaprielian, and John Auerbach, “Asleep at the Wheel: Report of the Special Commission on Drowsy Driving” February 2009, available at https://sleep.med.harvard.edu/file_download/103.

[4] Ibid, 42ff.

[5] Barth, CD, III/1, 213.

This article was made possible by Science for Youth Ministry in association with Luther Seminary and the John Templeton Foundation. Learn more at www.scienceym.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/scienceforYM.


About the Author: Nathan T. Stucky

The Rev. Nathan T. Stucky, Ph.D., hails from Kansas but lives in Princeton, NJ, where he serves as Director of the Farminary Project at Princeton Theological Seminary. An ordained Mennonite (Mennonite Church USA), Nate’s work with the Farminary integrates theological education with small-scale, sustainable agriculture at Princeton Seminary’s 21-acre farm. He has a special interest in the role of community formation and Sabbath in the education of pastors, church leaders, youth ministers, parents, and young people.  A musician, frequent retreat speaker, and farmer, Nate holds a B.A. in music from Bethel College (Kansas), and a M.Div. from Princeton Seminary.  Before coming to Princeton Seminary, Nate worked in youth ministry and farming.  He and his wife, Janel, are the happy parents of Joshua (11), Jenna (8) and Isaac (5).

From Fear to Hope: The Yuck of Youth Ministry

What If We’re Wrong?

One of the most generous, most visionary, most loving, and most successful people I know in ministry has a recurring fear. Every time the ministry is about to launch something, even if it’s just launching the Sunday School year for the hundredth time, she has nightmares that no one will show up. She worries that all of our planning, all of our hard work, all of our faithfulness will be for nothing.

 

The Yuck of YM

I do not think that she’s the only minister to have these fears. And it’s not just a fear of failure or of looming disappointment, though these fears are certainly there. Rather, it’s the fear that, despite our faithfulness, something will go wrong. It’s the fear that, though we have done everything we’re supposed to do, life will intervene or it won’t be enough. It’s the fear that, maybe, just maybe, God isn’t real and God’s promises don’t mean a thing. It’s the fear that God has abandoned us, or, maybe, we’ve abandoned God. Maybe we’re on the wrong path. Maybe what we thought was right, wasn’t. Or maybe we’re inadequate for the task. Maybe what we thought was a call, wasn’t.

But sometimes, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, God is calling us to stay in the messiness of failure, disappointment, inadequacy and the just plain “yuck” of life because in that very “yuck” lies something very, very good.

The truth, of course, is that life does intervene. And sometimes our best efforts are not good enough. That vital volunteer gets sick. A beloved kid who seemed to have everything together overdoses on painkillers. The weather turns ugly on the very day we were going to hold a big outdoor kickoff event.

Stay in ministry long enough—stay alive long enough—and, despite our best efforts, despite our faithfulness, something will go wrong. 

Life’s Surprises…

I imagine this is how Joseph felt when he learned about Mary’s pregnancy. We do not know much about Joseph. In fact, while Mary has a conversation with an angel and sings a prophetic song of redemption, Joseph never says a word.

We mainly know Joseph through his actions and through a brief description of him, here in Matthew 1: “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Because Joseph was faithful to the law. Joseph was faithful. Not only to the law, but also to his soon-to-be wife. He could have shamed her publicly, could have even called for her death by stoning. He would have been within legal rights. But he chose to “divorce her quietly.” Joseph was faithful.

And yet, despite his faithfulness, his soon-to-be wife was pregnant and the child was not his. The dreams he had for their life together were derailed. So he wanted to end it quietly. Walk away and pretend nothing had happened.

…Lead to God’s Deliverance

But God wanted him to go further. God wanted him to stay in the midst of the disappointment, in the midst of the confusion, in the midst of the messiness. God wanted him to trust that, just on the other side of this impossible situation, a hope beyond his imagining was waiting.

Unlike the unexpected birth of Jesus, I do not think that God causes some of these wrong situations. I do not think a young person overdosing is something conceived by the Holy Spirit. I do not think that God puts horrible things in our lives or derails our ministries with failures. But I do believe that God’s promises for hope often come not in spite of, but in the midst of these very wretched situations. And sometimes, it is in these impossibly messy moments that God is, in fact, birthing something new.

God Redeems the Yuck

Sometimes it might be healthy to leave a bad situation, especially if that situation is abusive—for instance, an abusive staff relationship in a church. But sometimes, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, God is calling us to stay in the messiness of failure, disappointment, inadequacy and the just plain “yuck” of life because in that very “yuck” lies something very, very good.

Paul must have experienced this at some point. He writes this to the church in Rome about hope:

“I consider  that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:18–25)

Hope from Within the Yuck

Indeed, we cling to that patience in this Advent season, this season of waiting in which our knowledge of Jesus’ coming in the flesh all those years ago is run ragged through the reality that it’s been two thousand years since he rose and we’re still waiting for everything to be made right. But it is that very enfleshment, that very incarnation, that gives us something Joseph never had.

We know, or at least we deeply desire to believe, that even death cannot contain our God. Even a criminal’s crucifixion could not stop the hope that arrived like a thunderbolt in a clear blue sky in the person of Jesus Christ.  And so with Paul, and with Joseph, we wait, in the midst of the “yuck,” in active hope, and proclaim what we barely dare to trust:

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)


About the Author: Marcus Hong

Marcus Hong

Marcus A. Hong is a child of God. He’s also the Director of Field Education and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a PhD Candidate in Christian Education and Formation at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a cultivator of worship who has served in congregations, college chapels, and youth groups for over fifteen years. Marcus loves movies, fantasy literature, poetry and songwriting, and, alongside his brilliant wife Sarah, has his hands blessedly full raising two precocious children.

Burn the Boats: Embracing Ministry Transition

This summer we made a significant move from a place I’d lived longer than any time in my life. It was not an easy decision to leave both people and careers that had been firmly established.

As we listened for God’s voice in our decision we sensed being led to this new place where we live and serve now. A gut wrenching surrender was required of us – one that I could not and have not fully absorbed yet. I would vulnerably confess that I am still in a season of grieving the move, and I am also celebrating this new place we’ve been planted.

Burn the Boats

This new place, while so thankfully familiar, is also brand new to us as we learn how to negotiate our life here with teenagers and rebooting ourselves in familiar forms of ministry. I am a Christian Counselor launching a new counseling practice in this new city. My wife is the Young Life Area Director still wrapping her arms around this amazing ministry. Even though she has 20 years of experience on the Young Life staff, this is a really big job.

Validating Grief

A friend of mine recently validated my grief. He described that he did not know many other people who were as deeply integrated into the life of our former city as I was. While I could argue whether or not that is accurate, he put his finger on something that resonates deeply. I am/was integrated into our community in some lovely ways that I will miss deeply.

I’ll spare you the details of all the many dimensions of integration but trust me when I say that I was fortunate to have been engaged so deeply with a diverse community of activists, entrepreneurs, artists, creatives, counselors, spiritual directors, pastors and priests. My wife grew up in that city and her parents were also deeply integrated in many forms of service, both professionally and civically.

Just last week I was back officiating a wedding when a couple in the same outdoors store struck up a conversation. They instantly knew my father in law from some business they had done together.

So we sailed away from the familiarity of our shoreline there, away from our “known world”. We pointed our vessel perpendicular to the coastline for the oldest city in the United States.

Our arrival was marked by celebrations with new and familiar friends. I took a much-needed sabbatical. Ruth Ann cannonballed into her work here while our kids spent the summer navigating the penetrating heat playing in both sand and surf.

We worked so hard to get here. What a gift to have this time over the summer to rest our way into the fall. And then the kids went back to school and my days are not as full. I’m more aware of the white space in my calendar than ever.

Then it hits me. We’re not on vacation. This is our new home.

No Turning Back

“Burn the boats” is a phrase I’ve overheard for years when referencing how to make a successful transition. The reference is to the French navy who, when arriving to the shoreline of a battle, would burn the boats to illustrate to their fleets that retreat was not an option.

This morning, in worship, we sang “No Turning Back”. And without warning, this past week, as the new signage went up in front of my counseling practice, a friend texted me, “no turning back, no turning back.”

Tears come forward as a refreshing reminder of what was and is a special place to have been given these last 13 years. And they honor what is happening as we attempt to open ourselves up to what God might do here in this new place, in each of us, in our family, in our respective ministries of evangelism, discipleship, spiritual formation and counseling.

Establishing a New Foundation

There are a handful of things that are helping us get grounded as we transition in this new place and we highly recommend them to you as well;

1. Cultivate a local community around you

For some this is dialing in your involvement in a local church while for others this may look like inviting an intentional group to get together, kids and all, for scheduled community time (pray, eat, laugh, play, sabbath, sing, commune).

2. Grieve well

Just like I allowed the tears to come forward, we can catch ourselves feeling the pain of what we’ve left or lost. Honor the pain and seek out someone to help you process the pain. For me, it has been immeasurably helpful to sit with a seasoned therapist who I’ve known for a couple decades. We’ve never met for this reason until recently but her willingness to sit with me as an attentive listener is helping. Tears are your friend as they will tell on you when you won’t tell on yourself.

3. Take self-care seriously

I shared this last week with a friend as I shared that I’ve experienced some evidence of depression in the transition. “I would say that self care is both to get outside yourself while remaining attentive to the inside of yourself.”

A great book by Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak masters the tension of these. Parker describes a clinical depression that he experienced and that may be helpful.

He describes going on outward bound at 40 in the middle of the depression. They went repelling in Maine and as he started his descent he got stuck … like froze on the cliff and could not move another inch. The guide yelled to him “you ok Parker?” He describes that a childlike voice spoke back “I don’t want to talk about it.” After a pause, the guide said something that helped unlock his brain…”Remember, if you can’t get out of it, get into it.”

That was the password apparently for hyper leaping his brain and making the remainder of the scary descent. He did not write about his depression for a decade just because it had been so painful and deep. “If you can’t get out of it, get into it!”

There is no bypassing hard, so don’t avoid it…embrace it!

Embrace the Pain of New

So, whatever transition you find yourself in (new job, new city, new baby, new marriage, new ministry…), I would encourage you to embrace the pain of new. One of my friend’s mentors and spiritual directors invites people to answer the question, “In all of your gaining, what’s been lost?”

Maybe honoring what’s been gained demands us to honor what’s been lost. Many people will discourage you to see only the gains but I would invite you to allow yourself to honor both.

So, in all of your gaining, what’s been lost? Or in all of your loss, what’s been gained?


About the Author: Hayne Steen

Hayne Steen - Kindred Youth MinistryHayne Steen is the Director of Counseling and Care at The SoulCare Project as well as a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice with Elbow Tree Christian Counseling. Hayne grew up on surfing on the northeast Florida coast where met his wife Ruth Ann while attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL where they were both students and Young Life leaders together. Since then they both have been serving in full time ministry with Young Life and the local church all over the state of Florida, in Atlanta and most recently serving on the ministry staff of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church and the Chattanooga Youth Network. Hayne and his wife continue to live on Signal Mountain with their three children where they enjoy living, playing and worshipping in an amazing community of family and friends.

The Pain We Carry

The Pain We Carry:
7 Strategies for Supporting Hurting Teens

Kids, Concrete, and Care

Ten years ago, while on church staff, I helped to initiate and co-lead a $4 million building program to build a state of the art youth ministry wing. One of the key aspects of the final design was a stained concrete floor.

Once the building construction was underway, I eagerly anticipated the day when the concrete floor would finally receive that deep mocha stain. Painters initially arrived with sand blasters and not paint rollers. For the next two full days they blasted every square inch of concrete.

The Pain We Carry

When a surface is placed under that kind of dynamic intensity it becomes unbelievably porous. Whatever is poured onto the surface of the concrete sinks in and fuses deeply.

Let’s play with this metaphor for a minute.

Humans are incredibly porous. We have a dynamic capacity for absorbing the hurt and trauma of others.  When we enter into the mix with hurting teenagers and their families who have experienced trauma, we can expect to carry it with us.

Being needed is very seductive. Don’t be fooled by an abyss of opportunity to respond to hurting people in crisis. It is not your job to fulfill every need.

The more intense and enduring the trauma we enter into, the more deeply we can expect it to sink into us.

If we are not careful we can get awfully lost in the trauma of those we seek to serve. Their trauma can quickly become our trauma.

I would like to suggest 7 strategies that have been helpful as my wife and I have walked with deeply hurting individuals for the last 20 years together.

Strategy #1: Show Up

There really is no need to think through helpful strategies for entering into human pain if you are not actually showing up in the life of someone who is hurting.

When you show up, be fully there. Enter into the messiness.

Practice the lost art of listening. Sit down. Relax. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. Lean in with an open posture. Make eye contact and reflect back what you hear and understand people are sharing with you.

So, be gentle. Be warm. Be curious. Be near. But be there.

Strategy #2: Move Slowly

When you orient your life toward those who are stuck in pain, move in slowly. More than likely, trust has been compromised in the life of the hurting individual. We honor their pain well by not spooking them by need to be needed.

Ease into relationships with hurting people at a pace that your own life can handle. There will be moments of overwhelm when we overestimate our capacity. We are served well when we pay attention to those feelings and make adjustments accordingly.

Don’t over-program. It’s easy to sell your soul to the devil of busyness.  Hurting people need men and women who are grounded.

“Slow” is the only way forward.

Strategy #3: Practice Saying NO

Believe it or not, it’s not cruel to tell someone NO. In fact, it may be the most loving thing they have ever been offered when it flows from a healthy heart.

Strategy #4: Don’t Go Alone

Build an infrastructure of others who will help you discern when to say NO. Invite people in around you who care more about your flourishing than what you can produce.

Cultivate a network of highly specialized clinicians skilled at entering into trauma in an ethical and competent manner. Ask other therapists who they respect in this arena.

Read. There is a wealth of wisdom available now in the area of trauma. We’ve learned so much about how the body heals. Adopt a spirit of teachability and receptivity in this area. Don’t just externalize it. Allow it to form you as well.

Strategy #5: Take Self-Care Seriously

Self-care is not selfish. It’s good stewardship. If you destroy your “self” then you really have nothing to offer.

Before jumping into the hurt of another, be willing to dive into your own. Meet with a counselor. Have lunch with a spiritual director. Seek out silent spaces for quiet reflection. Go on a soul care retreat. Hang out with monks. Incorporate play. Live!

Strategy #6: Cultivate Healthy Boundaries

Being needed is very seductive. Don’t be fooled by an abyss of opportunity to respond to hurting people in crisis. It is not your job to fulfill every need.

My brother in law says, “You have to teach people how to treat you.” My therapist told me, “No one will value your time more than you.”

Become unavailable to need. Practice sabbath keeping. Isn’t it interesting that of all the commandments God handed down to us, “Remember the Sabbath” is the only one that includes the word “remember”? God knew we would ignore this one.

Strategy #7: Prepare Yourself for Feelings of Inadequacy

It is inevitable that you are signing up for intense feelings of inadequacy. You will let people down. Accept that you can’t fix it. It simply comes with the territory of working with hurting and wounded people…which could be you or me on any given day.

We Are Called to Deal with Pain

As caregivers, we need to be surrounded by a healthy community of wise men and women who are not so impressed by us that they forfeit concern for the well being of our souls.

Over the course of the last twenty years, kindred friendships have sustained us as we have entered into the depths of pain with students and their families. Sometimes these friendships have cheered us on as we have taken those necessary risks to really be there with kids. Other times those same friends have confronted us to let go of our need to be there.

The reality is that “being there” and “not being there” are both really hard. Lingering in pain or leaving pain is the tension that we live in as those called to care for others.

Who are a handful of people who really know you and care for YOU more than your work?


About the Author: Hayne Steen

Hayne Steen - Kindred Youth MinistryHayne Steen is the Director of Counseling and Care at The SoulCare Project as well as a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice with Elbow Tree Christian Counseling. Hayne grew up on surfing on the northeast Florida coast where met his wife Ruth Ann while attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL where they were both students and Young Life leaders together. Since then they both have been serving in full time ministry with Young Life and the local church all over the state of Florida, in Atlanta and most recently serving on the ministry staff of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church and the Chattanooga Youth Network. Hayne and his wife continue to live on Signal Mountain with their three children where they enjoy living, playing and worshipping in an amazing community of family and friends.

Mentor

One Thing Every Youth Worker Desperately Needs

The Value of a Mentor

You’d think as youth leaders, we would know firsthand the necessity of a mentor—someone slightly further along the path of life that we can emulate and learn from. After  all, the entire occupation of youth ministry is built upon the value of mentoring! But far too often, we spend all our time and energy being the mentor and role model for young people. And instead of investing in our own spiritual walk, we stagnate. You need a mentor!

Mentor

This mentor can be a spiritual director, a counselor, a pastor, a church member, a business person in your town, or a parent of a student you know. Or contact our friends at PRYME, and get connected with a veteran youth worker in your town. It all depends on what you need. Let’s be clear, though—you need this person in your life! If you aren’t growing personally, your life and ministry will, without question, eventually reflect this.  As youth leaders, we are constantly pouring ourselves out. We desperately need to find people that are going to invest in us if we are going to continue to give ourselves away in ministry!

My mentor’s wisdom, counsel, advice, and affirmation help to dispel the false narratives that are trapped deep in the recesses of my mind, and replace those with narratives that allow me to become more of my true self.

Finding Your Mentor

So how do you find a mentor? About ten years ago I was challenged to make a list of the top five people I would ask to mentor me if I could ask anyone. I wrote down the list, mustered up some courage, and typed in the phone number I’d received from a friend for the person at the very top of my list. I’d only briefly met him once before and didn’t think he’d even remember me. A few minutes later, I had a new mentor. Come to find out, people with a lot of wisdom are often looking for ways to share it, and younger people to invest into… A few days later, I showed up at my new mentor’s house and found out that many years before, he’d been mentored by an older, wiser man who was a little further down the road than he was, and it had been one of the most meaningful relationships of his life.

To this day, my mentor speaks life into me. He affirms the gifts and talents he sees in me, and encourages me every time we meet. We talk about the spiritual disciplines and just by asking about my spiritual life, he holds me accountable. If I have a major life decision to make, I want his input, and I trust his voice in my life. His wisdom, counsel, advice, and affirmation help to dispel the false narratives that are trapped deep in the recesses of my mind, and replace those with narratives that allow me to become more of my true self. Because of my friendship with my mentor, I have so much more to offer to those that I lead.  He is a close confidante, he has walked with me through some very trying and difficult times, and celebrated many joyous occasions as well. When we meet, we mostly talk about Jesus, life, and what we’re learning. Sound familiar? Kind of like what you and I do with students all the time!

Who’s Your Mentor?

So, my friends, why not sit down now a make a list of five people that you know of that you could ask to mentor you? I’d be willing to bet that you will be pleasantly surprised after making a couple phone calls just as I was!

My friends and I here at KYM put together an entire e-book of ideas, tips, and tricks like this called “11 Hacks for Youth Ministry.” I hope you’ll download it today at kindredyouthministry.com, and continue to invest in yourself, so you can continue to invest in others. We hope it’s helpful for you and your ministry!

We also want to invite you to join a Kindred Coaching Cohort! Find a sense of community.  Learn practical skills like time management, team building, leader recruitment and training, and how to delegate. Have your entire year planned including all the curriculum and resources you need to make it happen provided by leading scholars and practitioners!

You are not alone! Set yourself up to thrive in the work of youth ministry and in life!  


About the Author: Zach Gurick

Zach Gurick

Zach started in youth ministry in 2001 and has developed ministries for middle school, high school, and college aged students in cities throughout the state of Florida. He’s also the co-founder of Kindred Youth Ministry. He loves to study theology, leadership development, and is especially interested in spiritual formation. Click here to read more about Zach.

 

9 Ways to cultivate community

9 Ways to Cultivate Community

Is it possible to have a team that cares deeply for one another, shares life together, encourages and supports each other, and loves each other so well that ministry naturally flows out from within?

That’s a tall order, but one that we should all strive to make a reality amongst the teams we work with.

9 Ways to cultivate community

What if our big goal was that kids, other leaders, church members and the community around us would all say about our teams, “Look at the way they love each other, I want to be a part of that!” Loving our team well, and putting into practice with one another what we’re asking students to do may be the best witness we have to offer!

So, how can we work to cultivate missional community on our team? Here are nine very practical things you can start doing now that will move you and your team in that direction.

1. Share life stories.

Over the course of a month, semester, or year, depending on the size of your team, start off every meeting by giving team members a chance to share their story. Take 15 minutes to do this—ten minutes of sharing followed by five minutes of questions. It’s helpful to set a timer at the nine minute mark so people know to wrap it up soon. Be the first to go to set the standard of how you want people to share.

This will allow everyone on your team to have deeper insight and understanding into one another’s lives. It allows for grace and understanding about choices, actions, and motivations that team members bring to the table.

2. Get away together for an overnight.

Just do this. Spending time doing an overnight retreat can dramatically strengthen a team. The best parts are the unscheduled, late-night conversations. Plan some time to celebrate what God has done or is doing in your ministry. Play a game or two, or make up a new team tradition like a corn-hole tournament or whiffle ball game.

A team that can play together will grow deeper as a missional community. Plan some time for strategizing and planning the year together as well, of course…

Loving our team well, and putting into practice with one another what we’re asking students to do may be the best witness we have to offer!

3. Have them over for a meal.

There’s real power in breaking bread together. Great conversations happen around a table. Practice hospitality when you do this and show your team what it means to invite people into your life. Break out the good dishes, prepare some good food, and go all out to make it a great time together.

4. Start every meeting with five minutes of silent, centering prayer.

This is a great way to practice praying together. For starters it allows you and your teammates to be more present in the meeting by letting go of all the distractions and things you’ve had on your minds leading up to the meeting. It also reminds you all that you’re God’s beloved, chosen and called according to His purposes, and teaches you to listen for His one voice to speak to all of you collectively. I’ve found that even in silence God draws us together as one in Him, sometimes moreso than when we’re speaking.

5. Encourage one another on a regular basis in your team meetings.

Every couple meetings, take five minutes towards the beginning of the meeting and ask team members to share ways they’ve seen God at work in and through one another. Doing this will help to cultivate a culture of encouragement and gratitude on your team. Team members will be empowered and uplifted as this becomes a regular practice. Encourage team members to do this outside of meetings as well.

6. Read The Following Article Together

Read Henri Nouwen’s article, “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry,” together and discuss it as a team.

This short article outlines a template for how ministry should naturally flow, starting with our internal, loving union with Jesus. Through our solitude with Jesus we should be naturally driven to long for and move towards community and fellowship with others. Out of community and fellowship, ministry should naturally flow. Read this together and teach your team to live in this way!

7. Start and end every meeting by circling up and holding hands or grabbing a shoulder in prayer.

Our physical posture points to and represents what we want to simulate or create internally or emotionally. If we are physically joined together this will help us think of ourselves as one unit, one body, working together. I’ve done this with groups of as few as three or four, and with groups of as many as 150—it’s always a powerful picture of what we are really after. It’s so simple, just make it a point and give it a try!

8. Lead in transparency and vulnerability.

Have time in your team meetings to share what’s happening in your lives and lead that off by being honest, transparent, and vulnerable about real struggles and joys that you are experiencing. Invite your teammates into the realities of your life and ask them to do the same. We are after authentic relationships and authentic ministry. You have to lead this with your team to make it okay for others to do the same. Create a space that welcomes vulnerability and honesty.

9. Have a giant late-night nacho party after an event!

Cover a table with nacho chips and pile on the cheese and toppings, then invite your team to share stories, laugh, and play games as you try to take down the whole table of nachos. Be creative and create fun memories of warmth, hospitality, and authentic friendship.

Summary

These are nine practical things you can start doing today! Go try at least one of these ideas and see how God brings your team together so ministry can naturally flow out of community. Add a comment to the section below about your experience with one of these nine tips! Also, we’d love to start a dialogue below about other ways you’ve cultivated community. Let these nine tips be just a starting point for a conversation and add your own ideas to the comments section below. Let’s see how many ideas we can come up with collectively to spur on missional community for the Kingdom!


About the Author: Zach Gurick

Zach Gurick

Zach started in youth ministry in 2001 and has developed ministries for middle school, high school, and college aged students in cities throughout the state of Florida. He’s also the co-founder of Kindred Youth Ministry. He loves to study theology, leadership development, and is especially interested in spiritual formation. Click here to read more about Zach.

11 Books to Read

11 Books Every Youth Leader Should Read

Every once in a while, the team from Kindred Youth Ministry wants to point out great resources available for youth workers. So, we have decided to put together a list of books we think every youth leader should read.

11 Books to Read

Now, if you know me personally, you know it was challenging to keep this list short. In fact, I’ve decided to do another post in the future about books we should all read that aren’t specifically about youth ministry, but are incredibly helpful. This list is short – only 11 books! And that means we won’t cover everything, but instead will offer a great list of books we think are really important.

The kids we love and serve deserve our best. They deserve pastors, leaders, and mentors who are thinking critically about life, culture, and ministry.

They deserve to have voices in their lives who have done the work trying to understand how to speak faithfully about the Lord, the Kingdom of God, and their lives.

Reading might be one of the best way to cultivate that kind of leadership in our ministries. We must be students of scripture, always pointing back to the work of Jesus, to the love of God, and to big ideas like creation, sin, justification and many more.

We must also be students of culture, able to offer developed thought on how to see the work of God in the world, how to discern what is happening through our own lived experience, and what it means to be faithful witnesses in and through our lives.

Reading great books and working through them, together, might be one of the most accessible ways to do this work. What if you picked one of these books each month and read them with other youth pastors? What if you read them with your volunteers, staff, and leadership teams? We don’t promise you will agree with everything mentioned in each of these books below. That simply isn’t the point of reading.

Somehow, Christians seem to have fallen into a trap where we believe we have to agree 100% with an author in order to learn from their work. This seems foolish to me. I imagine it keeps many of us from reading authors who might challenge our presuppositions, push us to think through our commitments, or simply read a book from another perspective.

The Plan

So here is the plan… I am going to offer these 11 books as resources I think we should all struggle with. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means. I haven’t covered every perspective or theological background and my biases will show, I’m sure. But… I think these books are great gifts to the larger church. Over the next few months, we will release in depth blog posts on each of these books in order to further invite you into the work of these authors. We hope to interview some of the authors as well.

So, in no particular order, here are 11 great books!


Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry:

From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation 

by Andrew Root

Revisiting Relational Youth MinistryThis book is a must read. Andrew Root invites the reader to reconsider what it means to be in relationship with kids. Helping us understand a theology of the Incarnation; Root rejects influence as the primary goal of ministry, as often seen in relational approaches to ministry, and helps us move towards a more faithful vision of what it means to be with and for kids. This book was convicting, helpful, and is a graduate level piece of work on theology and youth ministry.


Practicing Passion: 

Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church

by Kenda Creasy Dean

Practicing PassionWe could probably make a top 10 list of books just by Kenda Dean, but this one has to be included here. Dean is convinced that the church has lost its first love – a deep theological understanding of Jesus – and settled for educational approaches to working with kids. The problem is that kids are wondering if there is anything out there worth living for, and not experiencing that in the church. Dean helps us learn how to recover the art of cultivating this passion in the lives of the kids we so dearly love.


Sustainable Youth Ministry: 

Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It

by Mark DeVries

Sustainable Youth MinistryThis book is a must read if you want to do ministry for more than just a few years. Mark DeVries is the founder of Ministry Architects and brings a wealth of insight into the long-term health of a youth ministry. This book is simple, straightforward, and incredibly helpful not just for a youth minister, but their supervisor as well. If you want to stick around for any length of time, read this book.


Amplifying Our Witness:

Giving Voice to Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities

by Benjamin Conner

Amplifying Our WitnessAlmost 20% of adolescents have some sort of developmental disability, and I would say youth ministry, in large part, is failing these kids. We can do better. These kids, and their families, have so many great gifts to offer the church, belong in the church, and are sadly rarely even seen. Conner offers this excellent book that helps us re-imagine what it could mean to be a church that offers hospitality and friendship to every kid out there. This book has changed my own personal experience of youth ministry and church; I can’t recommend it enough!


Almost Christian: 

What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church

by Kenda Creasy Dean

Almost ChristianGrounded in the largest study on adolescents to date, Dean takes the data and gives us a front row seat to the kids we know and love. Taking a hard look at the apathetic faith lives of kids, Dean exposes “do-good, feel-good spirituality”. The scary thing about this book is Kenda suggests kids are doing exactly what we, the church, have shown them! This phenomenal books helps us recover an accessible yet deeply theological response to this crisis of youth ministry today.


Contemplative Youth Ministry: 

Practicing the Presence of Jesus

by Mark Yaconelli

Contemplative Youth MinistryThis book is a must read for those of us trying to invite kids into a deeper relationship with Christ. Yaconelli helps us move beyond a consumer model of youth ministry and goes further than a content model focused on a transfer of information. He, instead, suggests we should invite kids to walk with us as we experience and follow Jesus. This is an excellent book.


Beyond the Screen: 

Youth Ministry for the Connected But Alone Generation

by Andrew Zirschky

Beyond the ScreenAs we try to figure out what it means to faithfully minister to millennials, we must learn to engage with technology, social media, and the ultra-connected world that we live in. Zirschky does the work of theological reflection and cultural engagement, showing us a way forward that offers more than the run of the mill frustration about cell phones. This is an important and timely book for today’s youth minister.


Presence Centered Youth Ministry: 

Guiding Students into Spiritual Formation

by Mike King

Presence-Centered Youth MinistryPlacing the presence of God at the center of all things Youth Ministry, Mike King helps us reframe the work of the youth minster. Knowing and being known by God replaces the typical obsession with frantic busyness and programs. I think this is good news for youth ministry! King suggests a return to the ancient spiritual practices of the church and shows us how to carry this out.


Hurt 2.0: 

Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers

by Chap Clark

Hurt 2.0Grounded in his sociological tool-belt, Chap Clark shows us that todays adolescents have been systematically abandoned by society, the church, and their parents. Left to figure life out on their own, kids develop two worlds- the world they share and the world beneath where real life happens. This book is a helpful introduction to the reality of kids today, offering a framework for how we can better understand their lives and how we as youth ministers can relate.


Sticky Faith, Youth Worker Edition:

Practical Ideas to Nurture Long-Term Faith in Teenagers

by Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and Cheryl Crawford

Sticky FaithPowell, Griffin, and Crawford face off with the challenge every youth minister and parent wrestles with… what happens when our kids leave high school and head off to college. The terrifying number of kids who abandon their faith and fellowship warrant a read of this book for sure. Sticky Faith looks to invite parents and youth ministers to partner in more faithful practices to address these issues.


Family Based Youth Ministry

by Mark DeVries

Family-Based Youth MinistryMark DeVries wrote this book out of his own experience raising kids and ministering to hundreds of kids over the years. Here is the big idea… get more adults involved in your kids lives and embrace a larger view of family as grounded in the family of God. With an “extended family” point of view, DeVries invites us to surround our kids with people who will love them, support them, and point them to Christ.


Ok, there you have it! 11 books that are important, helpful, and easily accessible by all. Now pick a few, and get started!

But first… a question… what did I miss? Which books have been most helpful for you and your ministry? Tell us why and lets all keep the conversation going… Thanks!


About the Author: Justin Forbes

Justin Forbes - Kindred Youth MinistryJustin serves as the director of the Youth Ministry program at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL and has been involved in youth ministry since 1998. He’s also a co-founder of Kindred Youth Ministry. His passion is teaching and mentoring youth ministers. Click here to read more about Justin.

Everyone is an interim

Everyone Is an Interim: Sustainable Youth Ministry

Sustainable Youth MinistryMark DeVries’ book, Sustainable Youth Ministry, is a classic in the field. If you haven’t read it by now, and you’re involved in some way, shape, or form with youth ministry, I encourage you to go pick it up. Sensible, practical, pastoral, full of evocative examples and imagery, this is a deceptively simple book that’s also a must-have. Let me whet your appetite with what I consider to be not only the practical, but also the theological core of DeVries’ argument: “Everyone is an interim” (p. 92).

That’s right. Every single person in ministry is an interim. No one is permanent. Or, as the Psalmist might put it: “As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more” (Psalm 103:15–16).

Everyone is An Interim

Nobody Stays Forever

I don’t particularly like this insight. I don’t like to think about the fact that, some day, I will be gone. But it’s true. At some point in time, I will no longer exist. In an even shorter amount of time, the ministry I care about so much will probably no longer be under my care. And, truth be told, even the longest serving ministers only stay with one ministry for a few decades.

The majority of ministers hang around for even less time. “The average youth minister,” writes DeVries, “serves a single church for 3.9 years,” or, put another way, the span of seeing one cohort of young people through the four years of high school (p. 92). Now, DeVries was writing a decade ago. Perhaps youth ministers stay longer than that nowadays. But even if a youth minister stays in one place for a decade, eventually, one day, she will leave.

But even if a youth minister stays in one place for a decade, eventually, one day, she will leave.

But, as DeVries goes on to argue, this is the point. If we actually come to grips with the interim nature of our particular participation in a particular ministry, “Those of us in ministry might free ourselves just a bit from the tantalizing illusion of our own indispensability” (p. 93). And so, indeed, might those alongside whom we are serving.

In fact, hopefully, this realization will help us direct ministry toward God and toward the world, instead of centering it on ourselves. “Maybe,” DeVries encourages us, “that interim title would help churches and search committees come to grips with the fact that they are never searching for the youth director but for someone who can, for a season, steward a vision much larger than themselves” (p. 93).

Playing Our Role in God’s Story

This insight changes the entire character of ministry. Interims, DeVries suggests, “proactively prepare the way for a future that does not include them. Interims are midwives, not mothers” (p. 92).

This is the theological and practical core of Sustainable Youth Ministry. If we’re no longer searching for the person, but paying attention to what God is doing and the structures that enable us to participate in what God is doing, we just might catch a glimpse of this larger vision and make steps to participate in it over the long haul. This makes our ministries “sustainable,” not in the sense that even the ministries will exist forever, but that, by taking part in what God is doing, they take part in something lasting. Again, as the psalmist would say, “The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children” (Psalm 103:17).

The Work of God

These kinds of ministries are also sustainable because they rely less on our effort and more on God. If we switch from the Psalms to the prophets, we might be reminded of Isaiah 40. The prophet echoes the psalmist: “Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:7–8). The prophet is told to cry out in order to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain” (Isaiah 40:3–4).

This is the structural work that DeVries calls for: leveling the “dance floor,” so that ministry can proceed with grace—even if that’s a messy grace (p. 52)! In this way, ministry might even be seen as less about what we do than what we don’t do. How do we clear the way for God to work? How can ministry be about getting out of God’s way?

How do we clear the way for God to work? How can ministry be about getting out of God’s way?

In doing so, we learn to cast ourselves upon the one who “does not faint or grow weary,” but who “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless” (Isaiah 40:29). After all, “Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30–31).

Sustain Youth Ministry

There’s a reason we understand God as a Sustainer—God is the one who creates and preserves all life. Ultimately, the youth ministry in which we serve is not ours to sustain, but God’s. So take Isaiah 40 seriously. Remember that the youth ministry work we do is always interim work, in which we play second fiddle to the work God has been doing, is doing, and will continue doing long after we leave.

Let us sustain youth ministry by giving it back over, fully and completely, to the Lord who began the good work.May it be so in our ministries and in our lives.


About the Author: Marcus Hong

Marcus HongMarcus A. Hong is a child of God. He’s also the Director of Field Education and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a PhD Candidate in Christian Education and Formation at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a cultivator of worship who has served in congregations, college chapels, and youth groups for over fifteen years. Marcus loves movies, fantasy literature, poetry and songwriting, and, alongside his brilliant wife Sarah, has his hands blessedly full raising two precocious children.

4 Tools Ministry Priorities

4 Tools to Reveal Your Ministry Priorities

I recently wrote about my brief stint as a vegetarian (link to food waste blog). During that time I organized dozens of youth events where food would be served. Every single one of those events featured meat. Why? Because people love meat, and they expect to have it when meals are served. Vegetarianism is important to me, and kids knew about it, but it wasn’t the hill I was going to die on. It wasn’t one of the theological rocks of my ministry.

4 Tools Ministry Priorities

Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand

Here is your talk for next Sunday, if you haven’t already used it:
Your life (or your ministry area, or marriage, or whatever) is an aquarium/vase/clear jar. There are a million types of things that can go in it, but they can’t all go in it.

Before program, grab some large rocks, some pebbles, and some sand, measured out so that when you put in the rocks, then the pebbles, then the sand, it all fits—barely. Show your young people each of the objects, and explain that some things carry weight and occupy real space—rocks. Other things are flexible and fleeting—pebbles and sand.

Begin to fill the aquarium with sand, then pebbles. Try to put the rocks in, and point out that when you start with the small stuff, you will not have room for the rocks. Take all the stuff out, and try again, starting with the rocks. Show your young people that when you start with the rocks, the other stuff can fit. You have to start with the rocks, and build around them, like what Jesus said (Matthew 7:24-27). And then you give the benediction and everyone goes home and sorts out their lives.

How is God going to use my gifts, and the gifts of my team, in my context? You’re not the youth minister down the street, and your church is not the church of the guy in the video. How do you do ministry, how do you live out your calling?

Knowing your theological rocks, your non-negotiables, is imperative to crafting a healthy and thriving ministry. When you build your ministry calendar, do you spend the most time doing the things that are most important? When you look at your budget, is it aimed towards your priorities?

Do you know what your priorities are? 

You need to. Here’s four steps you can use to find out:

1) Theology

Start here. What do you believe about God and the Scriptures? Consider the faith tradition you grew up in, talk to people who are smarter than you. Put in some hours, take a class, go to a Flagler Youth Ministry Seminar. You need to boil your theology down to your non-negotiable in two ways:

A: What are my core beliefs about God, humanity, sin, grace, Scripture, salvation, and church?

B: What are theological beliefs I ascribe to that are secondary (important to me, but not core to my ministry)?

Here’s one example of how it looks for me:

Core: God created a good world

Secondary: The power of the Holy Spirit makes living in perfect love possible

Implication: I won’t teach in a way that creates a good/evil dichotomy between “the world” and “us” even though I believe we are capable of living in a way that looks wildly different than people around us.

Pro Tip: Don’t major on the minors. You may REALLY care about a truly biblical issue—that doesn’t necessarily make it an imperative part of your ministry.

2) Ministry Style

What am I trying to accomplish in my youth ministry? What has God called me to? How is God going to use my gifts, and the gifts of my team, in my context? You’re not the youth minister down the street, and your church is not the church of the guy in the video.

How do you do ministry, how do you live out your calling? If we know what we believe (step one) and have a sense of how we do ministry (step two) we will be well on our way to a sound strategy.

How it looks for me:

Core Belief: Kids move towards Christ on a continuum (not an on-off switch)

Implication One: Don’t balk when “almost Christians” or “baby Christians” make bad decisions.

Implication Two: Programs should have varied opportunities where kids from different places in the continuum can relate.

Pro Tip: Don’t figure this out alone. You are on a team. You (probably) have a boss. You (God willing) have volunteers. You definitely have teens’ parents. Listen well to them and build a solid ministry structure—together.

3) Personal

You need a well developed sense of who you are in order to survive in ministry. Know your personality and your gifts. Be aware of your shortfalls and your own context: how and where you were raised, what you were taught. With this knowledge, discern what the non-negotiables are for your life in ministry. Need help discovering this? Ask a lifelong friend, talk to family members, see a counselor for a few sessions.

How it looks for me:

Core Belief: Good, clear boundaries make relationships healthy and sustainable

Implication One: I know when I am at work, and when I am not. If I am not at work, I won’t do work.

Implication Two: My family is usually happy with my life balance, church folks are sometimes frustrated or let-down by my (lack of) availability.

4) Reverse Engineer

In the last three steps, I have essentially asked you to search your soul and find the biggest chunks of the most important parts of your being. That’s a tall order.

If this is too much for you, try this: examine what you already do or don’t do. Search your personal and ministry calendars, as well as your personal and ministry budgets. Look back at the talks you’ve given over the last year. You’ll see what you care about and what you believe. (Unless “ease of use” is one of your ministry style rocks, in which case you’ll just discover which curriculums were hot last year.)

Anyway—discover where your time, energy, money, and passion go. Then look at those things with a critical eye, discern which ones snuck in and which are actually your core-values. Once you’ve discovered them, adjust your life, time, and money towards them.

How this looks for me:

I did middle school ministry for many years. Every year I would spend 1-3 weeks addressing healthy and holy sexuality from the stage. In those talk series I never once talked from the stage about same-sex attraction. If I were to reverse engineer that ministry decision I would discover that addressing matters of sexuality is important to me, but addressing same-sex attraction is not a non-negotiable—it’s not a rock for me—especially in the context of middle school ministry.

Maybe you disagree with this non-negotiable. That’s fine; I’m not trying to convince you one way or the other. I’m just trying to show you what it may look like to reflect on your ministry practices to discover your non-negotiables.

We have a comment section—what are your non-negotiables? I’d love to see some!


 About the Author: Tyler Fuller
The only job I have ever pursued is vocational ministry. I spent over a decade doingtyler fuller Young Life and church Youth Ministry. I am now the Missions Pastor at a mega church in the panhandle of Florida (who still gets to work with youth every day!)
11 Books to Read

11 Books Every Youth Leader Should Read

Every once in a while, the team from Kindred Youth Ministry wants to point out great resources available for youth workers. Today, we have decided to put together a list of books we think every youth leader should read.

11 Books to Read

Now, if you know me personally, you know it was challenging to keep this list short. In fact, I’ve decided to do another post in the future about books we should all read that aren’t specifically about youth ministry, but are incredibly helpful. This list is short – only 11 books! And that means we won’t cover everything, but instead will offer a great list of books we think are really important.

The kids we love and serve deserve our best. They deserve pastors, leaders, and mentors who are thinking critically about life, culture, and ministry.

They deserve to have voices in their lives who have done the work trying to understand how to speak faithfully about the Lord, the Kingdom of God, and their lives.

Reading might be one of the best way to cultivate that kind of leadership in our ministries. We must be students of scripture, always pointing back to the work of Jesus, to the love of God, and to big ideas like creation, sin, justification and many more.

We must also be students of culture, able to offer developed thought on how to see the work of God in the world, how to discern what is happening through our own lived experience, and what it means to be faithful witnesses in and through our lives.

Reading great books and working through them, together, might be one of the most accessible ways to do this work. What if you picked one of these books each month and read them with other youth pastors? What if you read them with your volunteers, staff, and leadership teams? We don’t promise you will agree with everything mentioned in each of these books below. That simply isn’t the point of reading.

Somehow, Christians seem to have fallen into a trap where we believe we have to agree 100% with an author in order to learn from their work. This seems foolish to me. I imagine it keeps many of us from reading authors who might challenge our presuppositions, push us to think through our commitments, or simply read a book from another perspective.

The Plan

So here is the plan… I am going to offer these 11 books as resources I think we should all struggle with. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means. I haven’t covered every perspective or theological background and my biases will show, I’m sure. But… I think these books are great gifts to the larger church. Over the next few months, we will release in depth blog posts on each of these books in order to further invite you into the work of these authors. We hope to interview some of the authors as well.

So, in no particular order, here are 11 great books!


Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry:

From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation 

by Andrew Root

Revisiting Relational Youth MinistryThis book is a must read. Andrew Root invites the reader to reconsider what it means to be in relationship with kids. Helping us understand a theology of the Incarnation; Root rejects influence as the primary goal of ministry, as often seen in relational approaches to ministry, and helps us move towards a more faithful vision of what it means to be with and for kids. This book was convicting, helpful, and is a graduate level piece of work on theology and youth ministry.


Practicing Passion: 

Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church

by Kenda Creasy Dean

Practicing PassionWe could probably make a top 10 list of books just by Kenda Dean, but this one has to be included here. Dean is convinced that the church has lost its first love – a deep theological understanding of Jesus – and settled for educational approaches to working with kids. The problem is that kids are wondering if there is anything out there worth living for, and not experiencing that in the church. Dean helps us learn how to recover the art of cultivating this passion in the lives of the kids we so dearly love.


Sustainable Youth Ministry: 

Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It

by Mark DeVries

Sustainable Youth MinistryThis book is a must read if you want to do ministry for more than just a few years. Mark DeVries is the founder of Ministry Architects and brings a wealth of insight into the long-term health of a youth ministry. This book is simple, straightforward, and incredibly helpful not just for a youth minister, but their supervisor as well. If you want to stick around for any length of time, read this book.


Amplifying Our Witness:

Giving Voice to Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities

by Benjamin Conner

Amplifying Our WitnessAlmost 20% of adolescents have some sort of developmental disability, and I would say youth ministry, in large part, is failing these kids. We can do better. These kids, and their families, have so many great gifts to offer the church, belong in the church, and are sadly rarely even seen. Conner offers this excellent book that helps us re-imagine what it could mean to be a church that offers hospitality and friendship to every kid out there. This book has changed my own personal experience of youth ministry and church; I can’t recommend it enough!


Almost Christian: 

What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church

by Kenda Creasy Dean

Almost ChristianGrounded in the largest study on adolescents to date, Dean takes the data and gives us a front row seat to the kids we know and love. Taking a hard look at the apathetic faith lives of kids, Dean exposes “do-good, feel-good spirituality”. The scary thing about this book is Kenda suggests kids are doing exactly what we, the church, have shown them! This phenomenal books helps us recover an accessible yet deeply theological response to this crisis of youth ministry today.


Contemplative Youth Ministry: 

Practicing the Presence of Jesus

by Mark Yaconelli

Contemplative Youth MinistryThis book is a must read for those of us trying to invite kids into a deeper relationship with Christ. Yaconelli helps us move beyond a consumer model of youth ministry and goes further than a content model focused on a transfer of information. He, instead, suggests we should invite kids to walk with us as we experience and follow Jesus. This is an excellent book.


Beyond the Screen: 

Youth Ministry for the Connected But Alone Generation

by Andrew Zirschky

Beyond the ScreenAs we try to figure out what it means to faithfully minister to millennials, we must learn to engage with technology, social media, and the ultra-connected world that we live in. Zirschky does the work of theological reflection and cultural engagement, showing us a way forward that offers more than the run of the mill frustration about cell phones. This is an important and timely book for today’s youth minister.


Presence Centered Youth Ministry: 

Guiding Students into Spiritual Formation

by Mike King

Presence-Centered Youth MinistryPlacing the presence of God at the center of all things Youth Ministry, Mike King helps us reframe the work of the youth minster. Knowing and being known by God replaces the typical obsession with frantic busyness and programs. I think this is good news for youth ministry! King suggests a return to the ancient spiritual practices of the church and shows us how to carry this out.


Hurt 2.0: 

Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers

by Chap Clark

Hurt 2.0Grounded in his sociological tool-belt, Chap Clark shows us that todays adolescents have been systematically abandoned by society, the church, and their parents. Left to figure life out on their own, kids develop two worlds- the world they share and the world beneath where real life happens. This book is a helpful introduction to the reality of kids today, offering a framework for how we can better understand their lives and how we as youth ministers can relate.


Sticky Faith, Youth Worker Edition:

Practical Ideas to Nurture Long-Term Faith in Teenagers

by Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and Cheryl Crawford

Sticky FaithPowell, Griffin, and Crawford face off with the challenge every youth minister and parent wrestles with… what happens when our kids leave high school and head off to college. The terrifying number of kids who abandon their faith and fellowship warrant a read of this book for sure. Sticky Faith looks to invite parents and youth ministers to partner in more faithful practices to address these issues.


Family Based Youth Ministry

by Mark DeVries

Family-Based Youth MinistryMark DeVries wrote this book out of his own experience raising kids and ministering to hundreds of kids over the years. Here is the big idea… get more adults involved in your kids lives and embrace a larger view of family as grounded in the family of God. With an “extended family” point of view, DeVries invites us to surround our kids with people who will love them, support them, and point them to Christ.


Ok, there you have it! 11 books that are important, helpful, and easily accessible by all. Now pick a few, and get started!

But first… a question… what did I miss? Which books have been most helpful for you and your ministry? Tell us why and lets all keep the conversation going… Thanks!


About the Author: Justin Forbes

Justin Forbes - Kindred Youth MinistryJustin serves as the director of the Youth Ministry program at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL and has been involved in youth ministry since 1998. He’s also a co-founder of Kindred Youth Ministry. His passion is teaching and mentoring youth ministers. Click here to read more about Justin.