Communities, Mission, and a Shared Table

Growing up, the table was always a big deal in my house. We rarely missed dinner together around the table. My parents, usually my mom, cooked a meal while the rest of us set the table and prepared for the food about to be shared.


My friends got to experience this sacred time as we had an open table. If my friends were around, they joined in the festivities. They helped set the table, prayed with us, ate my mom’s food, shared stories, and usually read Scripture with us. Most of these friends didn’t know Jesus. They came for the food and the kindness of a family in the neighborhood. Jesus was just a part of the deal.

The Welcome of the Table

One kid in particular came to my home almost every night. His name was Mikey. He wore baseball caps everyday and liked to fight with me. I don’t mean he liked to argue. He liked to physically fight with me. He was small but I was smaller. I was probably the only kid he could wrestle to the ground.

As youth leaders, we must begin to practice hospitality. We must open up our homes and prepare or buy a meal for our students. We need to commit to take time to share the table and take the posture of one who listens and not the one who has all the answers.

Mikey spent a few years growing up around our table. He would wait on our porch until we got home just so he could break bread with us. He was with my parents so much that he eventually started referring to my dad as his dad. He wouldn’t call him Mr. Penn or Brad. He simply called him Dad. Mikey became family around the table. He became a son and a sibling and he got a mom and a dad.

Jesus was part of the table at our home. When Mikey and others ate with us they didn’t just see how a healthy family functions. They experienced the presence of Christ and the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Around the table in our home, forgiveness and grace were offered. Family was made and expanded as kids were adopted into a new kind of family belonging to a different kind of kingdom.

I shouldn’t be as surprised by the power of the shared table as I am. Sharing the table was the way of Jesus and the way he sends his disciples into the world on mission. We read in Luke 10 that Jesus sends out His disciples two by two. They are to enter a town and find a place to eat and remain there, doing ministry there. The mission the disciples are sent on is a mission around the table.

Presence Around The Table

I believe that around the table we experience the presence of Jesus in ways we don’t fully understand.

In Luke 24, two disciples walk to Emmaus with the risen Jesus. In their grief, the disciples don’t recognize Jesus—that is, until he shares a meal with them. When Jesus shares the table with these two disciples, their eyes are opened and they experience the presence of the risen Lord. Before his death, Jesus had ben present with his followers at the table countless times. At this moment around the table, his disciples experienced his presence again.

Inviting Students to the Table

When we share meals with our students we aren’t simply sharing food. We are opening space for our students to experience the presence of Christ with us. As we break bread, we are sharing in eucharistic moments that remind us of the body broken and blood shed for us. The community being formed around the table is a community formed around the person and work of Jesus. He is present with us. We must discern that presence and draw students into his presence.

The shared table isn’t static. It is a dynamic event that begins with the sacrament of communion and extends into shared tables wherever Christians gather. Theologian David Fitch writes of extending the table in this way: “around the Lord’s Table, we learn to tend to the real presence of Christ at the Table. We learn the right postures which enable us to get out of our own way, tend to what Christ is doing, and cooperate. Then, what happens here around the Lord’s Table at worship on Sunday, carries over into all our other meals in our homes, neighborhoods, third places, etc.”1

In this act of discerning and extending Christ’s presence, the table becomes a place of mission. Those who know Jesus and those who do not—both experience his presence in and through the community formed around the table. The presence of Jesus is extended into new locations as we share tables in our homes, neighborhoods, and cities.

Practice Hospitality: Share the Table

As youth leaders, we must begin to practice hospitality. We must open up our homes and prepare or buy a meal for our students. We need to commit to take time to share the table and take the posture of one who listens and not the one who has all the answers.

From this posture we can pay attention to what Jesus is up to and then encourage our students and families to extend this presence and practice into every table they find themselves at. In doing this, we take the mundane table and transform it into a location for forming communities that join God on his mission in the world.

May we be a people of the table, welcoming students and parents to shared meals, and offering the peace and reconciliation found only in God’s kingdom.

About the Author: Jeremy Penn

Jeremy PennJeremy Penn serves as the college and young adult minister at Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, FL. He earned an MA in Theological Studies from Talbot School of Theology. He is currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Fuller Theological Seminary that focuses on The Church and Post-Christendom. Jeremy and his wife, Crystal, have a daughter, Riley, and a son, Phoenix.

Getting Jesus Wrong

Getting Jesus Wrong:
Dealing with the Unknown in Youth Ministry

Mark 8:27-30

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Getting Jesus Wrong

Shhh…It’s A Secret

There’s something troubling about this little text.  Jesus’ questions get right to the heart of his identity, yet he seems to be okay with a lot people being wrong about him.  If we evaluated Jesus as a youth pastor from this passage alone, we’d probably say he’s doing it badly.  How should we deal with the unknown in youth ministry?

Christians today tend to spend a lot of time and energy telling and showing people precisely who they think Jesus is. Isn’t it strange that Jesus apparently spent a good amount of time doing exactly the opposite?

Jesus’ response to Peter’s correct confession is part of a larger theme in Mark’s Gospel, sometimes referred to as “the Messianic Secret, ”1 which has largely mystified New Testament scholars.  Readers of Marks Gospel are often struck by Jesus’ repeated commands not tell anyone about him or what he did.  We see other examples of this in 1:44 when Jesus heals a man with leprosy and promptly tells him, “See that you say nothing to anyone” (see also Mk 1:24-25; 1:43-45; 3:11-12; 4:10-12; 5:43; 7:36-37; 8:25-26; 9:9).

Who Am I?

Very often in Mark’s Gospel Jesus’ secrecy follows questions of his identity, like in the passage we began with.  Jesus appears unfazed by others misidentifying him as John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets, but responds somewhat harshly to Peter’s confession of his messianic identity.  Theories abound as to what’s going on here in Mark’s Gospel and why it doesn’t seem to show up as much, if at all, in the other Gospels.2

Christians today tend to spend a lot of time and energy telling and showing people precisely who they think Jesus is.  Isn’t it strange that Jesus apparently spent a good amount of time doing exactly the opposite? After all, if people aren’t spreading the word about who he is, how will others know what to think about him? What if they continue thinking the wrong things about him, like some of the gossip that wrongly identified him with John the Baptist, Elijah, and the prophets?

Programming People

It seems that so much of the way we teach youth (and children…and adults) in the church centers on programming correct confessions into them.  We probably (hopefully) wouldn’t articulate it that way, but our Christian education programs often have to do with passing on the proper particularities of the faith, especially for young people who already identify themselves as Christians.  We want them to be the right kind of Christians—to believe the right things about Jesus.

Whatever we think about what’s going on with Jesus’ secret identity in Mark, it is interesting to notice that Jesus was willing to let people be wrong about him and his identity.  Are we willing to let our youth be wrong about Jesus? Are we willing to let ourselves be wrong about Jesus?  (Hint: we’re wrong about Jesus all the time—we need to come to terms with that.)

Notice that Jesus only gets two lines in this brief story, both of which are questions.  Might we see this as a model for how we talk to youth about Jesus, the Bible, and all sorts of other matters of life and faith?

Knowing (About) Jesus

Perhaps we can use this text as an opportunity for listening rather than depositing what we think is the right kind of knowledge about Jesus.  Who do they say Jesus is?  Who do their peers say Jesus?  Where else are they hearing about Jesus and how does that shape their understanding of who he is?  Perhaps it’s a matter of what we hope to achieve.

Do we want little orthodoxy robots into which we program proper theological responses that they can then reproduce,3 or young people who are engaged with the biblical texts and the world around them in meaningful, even if critical and challenging, ways—even it means getting it wrong?

Our task should be to cultivate faith characterized by questions, not answers, and the humility to let ourselves and our youth get it wrong from time to time.

That’s the danger with this approach, of course: they might get it wrong more often than they get it right. But I can’t honestly say that’s not already true about me (and you).

Facing the Unknown

This week, what would it look like for you to allow a young person to “get Jesus wrong?”  How much might you be able to learn from who they say Jesus is? While it might feel scary, when we think we’ve figured God out and don’t need to deal with the unknown in youth ministry, we’ve missed the point.

Let God be bigger than you are this week, and let a young person explore who Jesus is, even if they seem to be missing the point entirely.  You may be surprised where they lead you!


1 This term was first coined by German scholar Wilhelm Wrede in 1901 and has been an enormous topic of scholarly conversation since.

2 Matthew and Luke both contain similar phrases, but typically only when they have directly borrowed a story from Mark. John has no comparable statements from Jesus.

3 This is essentially what Paolo Freire refers to as the “banking” model of education in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.


Are you interested in reading more about Marks Gospel? Check out Marks Discipleship, our five-week study guide for the Gospel of Mark!

Mark's Discipleship

About the Author: Sheldon Steen


Sheldon Steen is part-time PC(USA) pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, FL and a full-time PhD student at Florida State University studying Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature. He and his wife Mary have been married for over ten years and they have three really, really ridiculously good looking children. In his free time he is a mediocre homebrewer and a professional power napper.

Confessions of a Youth Ministry Veteran

Confessions of a Youth Ministy Veteran

I’ve been a youth minister now for ten years. A decade—wow, that feels like a long time!

Confessions of a Youth Ministry Veteran

I was at one church for eight years, and now I’ve just completed my second year at a new church. As I look back at ten years in ministry, there are too many moments of grace to count and more than a handful of very difficult learning experiences that have shaken both my wife and me to our core.

It seems hard to believe that I’ve been in full-time ministry this long, and even harder to believe that I still get nervous when speaking to new middle school students.

While many things have become easier with age and experience, some things remain as challenging as ever. Looking back through my career thus far, I’ve begun to reflect on my vocation. Despite many moments of looking for other possible careers, I have always found that youth ministry is my home, my true vocation.

Ministry Mistakes

Quite frequently over the years, I have become discouraged by what I see in myself.

More often than I’d like to admit, I have made mistakes. I’ve dropped the ball, I’ve been rude, I’ve been sarcastic and snarky in ways that hurt people. I’ve made some flat out poor decisions.

And the truth is, these moments of selfishness—when I have acted in a manner that could lead others away from Christ instead of toward Him—allow Satan in. When this happens and I listen to the lies, I immediately question my own ability to minister.

Am I called to this? Someone actually called to this ministry would be better at it. Look at those other youth ministers; they are so much more (insert how I’m feeling that day – funnier, professional, culturally relevant, better at x, y or z) than me.

And then I think of every doubt I’ve ever had, and question my own vocation. Maybe I should be a teacher.

One recent example occurred when I got caught in a bad mood, feeling overwhelmed by my agenda and life in general, and I said the wrong thing to a volunteer. Although he was a good volunteer, he had been drinking too much in his daily life, and needed to be corrected. He had just a made a few mistakes and needed true correction with patience, love, and also challenge. But in my tired and flustered state, I said too much and did so in a most insensitive manner. You’d think that after ten years, I would know better and do better. Afterwards, I spent many nights up late, praying, frustrated, unable to sleep, simply because I was relying on myself instead of on God’s grace.

Remembering God’s Power

In light of this situation, my spiritual director asked me to reflect on the words of St. John Paul II: “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures. We are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

I was snuffing out my true calling by God to serve the church through my inability to rely on God’s grace.

In reflecting on this, I realized that I had allowed the griphooks of fear and doubt to sink into my soul and eat away at my confidence in my God-given vocation. I was snuffing out my true calling by God to serve the church through my inability to rely on God’s grace. And that inability sprang from my lack of humility.

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, God tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God wants to capacitate us—for salvation and for ministry. How easy it is to feel like I can do it myself, to over-trust in my talents and abilities or experience, and forget that it is God’s work I am doing and not my own. But the continual reminder is always there—my humanity. And God’s grace, sufficient and powerful, is ready to spring to life precisely through my weakness, if only I would humble myself and let him work.

…God’s grace, sufficient and powerful, is ready to spring to life precisely through my weakness, if only I would humble myself and let him work.

Ten years feels good. But one of the most important things experience has taught me is that I am human, sinful, flawed, and it is when we recognize and admit our sickness that the Great Physician can do his job. Then—and only then—grace can empower us to do ours.

About the Author: Mike Buckler

Mike graduated from the University of Florida with a BA in History and received the Master of Divinity degree from the University of Notre Dame. Currently, he serves as Director of Youth Ministry at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. Mike has over fifteen years of experience in youth ministry, including ten years in full time ministry, and has taught youth ministry training courses for youth leaders around the state of Florida. He, his wife, and four children live in the greater Tampa area.

YM in a Post-Christian World

Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

Two Corinthians

In the 2016 presidential primary race Donald Trump bungled the name of a book of the Bible. I heard the story over the radio in my car. It began with the quote “Two Corinthians 3:17…that’s the whole ball game…” I was alone and I laughed out loud. The follow-up to the story was an explanation of why evangelical voters would notice the gaffe. The commentator did not assume his audience would hear the difference between “second” and “two.” He laid it all out. We should be more like him.

Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

Preaching Was Easy in My Day!

I once heard a preacher at a Pentecostal revival explain how it was so easy to lead people to Christ when he was younger. He talked about how they already knew the Bible and had a sense of how to live, they were just running from their “default-Christian position.” He went on to about how now when someone comes to Christ their lives are a wreck and they have no sense of who God is or how to have relationship with God. That was in 1997, you can only imagine how that guy feels now.

But one thing is for sure: if American culture was ever Christian, it is no longer… America is in a post-Christian age.

I hear him, I get what he was trying to say. But I also doubt its veracity.  I mean, really, I’ve seen Mad Men…they weren’t all that holy. Just how Christian we were in the past, or what it means for a whole culture or country to be Christian—these are ideas worth exploring. But one thing is for sure: if American culture was ever Christian, it is no longer. Newsweek told us about it, The Washington Post agreed and National Geographic affirmed that the rise of “No Religion” is a world wide trend. The Christian press began wringing their hands and dreaming of new strategies in light of the stats. No one is arguing this fact, it’s just true: America is in a post-Christian age.

1) The Harvest Is Plentiful

You have to have a strategy for evangelism. You can’t just open the doors to the church and read the Bible. You are ministering to a generation raised by parents who started our monumental cultural shift away from a default-Christian faith. How exciting is that? You have the opportunity to reach students who aren’t burdened with all of the complex and morally murky trappings of cultural Christianity.

If you are doing ministry with teenagers, You are a missionary. Even if you’re in the South. Even if your kids have parents who come to church every week. Especially if you live in a city. You are surrounded by kids who have no concept of relationship with God, kids whom God loves deeply, kids who are being drawn in by the power of the Spirit, kids who have no language to talk about faith and no sense of their place in the grand biblical story. That is exciting!

You are ministering to a generation raised by parents who started our monumental cultural shift away from a default-Christian faith. How exciting is that? You have the opportunity to reach students who aren’t burdened with all of the complex and morally murky trappings of cultural Christianity.

2) Watch Your Language

Back to “Two Corinthians.” You would do well to shake loose the technical and loaded language the church has grown so accustomed to. You’ll need to work a little harder, but if you do you’ll communicate more clearly. Grace, Redemption, Sin, Fellowship, Accountability—these words are important to us, but you’re speaking to a generation who has been raised without ever hearing them. Explain the concepts clearly, and they’ll pay attention. Although they may not understand the words, they’ll recognize the concepts.

Quick Case Study:

If you step up in front of kids and say, “Turn to 1 John 4:16” then you are about to talk about a really great and beautiful passage. But if you immediately read the passage you have invariably lost some kids in your group. While it might sound like a silly question, ask yourself: is anyone turning? Or are they all holding phones? If they are turning, are you helping them get there?

While it may seem cumbersome, adding some simple instructions (e.g., “1 John is near the very end of the Bible, page 1,335 in this Blue Bible we are using,” or, “If you are using a smartphone just search ‘First John,’ then go to chapter 4.”) can really help young people to track with you.

3) Don’t ASSume

We shouldn’t assume kids share our common language of “Christian-ese.” We also shouldn’t count on them knowing Bible stories or theological concepts if we don’t help bring them along. When I write talks for students, I only use one or two Scripture references and I refer back to them repeatedly through the talk. This isn’t because I don’t love the Bible, but because I don’t think students keep pace the way mature Christians do. For those of us who have heard most Scriptures hundreds of times, we can hear a reference, plug it in, and keep moving. “Post-Christian” teenagers will need some time and work to get there. So go deep, using fewer stories and references.

4) Rise To the Occasion!

It’s not a value judgment to recognize that our teens are living in a post-Christian culture. It’s just a statement of fact. We have the opportunity to teach theological ideas, from the ground up. If it’s true that kids are mostly unfamiliar with the Bible, we have the opportunity to make them familiar. We are at the front lines with brilliant students, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

That Pentecostal preacher in 1997 was a fool to complain about his lot in ministry. He should have been celebrating the opportunity to live and preach the Gospel to a generation who does not take it for granted. That is our lot, let’s celebrate and get to work!

About the Author: Tyler Fuller

tyler fuller

The only job I have ever pursued is vocational ministry. I spent over a decade doing 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!)

How Should We Think About Young People? - Wes Ellis

Video: How Should We Think About Young People?

In this video, Zach Gurick of Kindred talks with Wes Ellis about how we as youth pastors should think about young people.


Zach Gurick: Alright so we’re here with Wes Ellis, just finished up the Flagler youth ministry forum, we have these amazing people all gathered together, so we had to take the opportunity to hear from Wes who is somewhat of an expert of bringing together youth ministry and theology, studying for your Ph.D. at Aberdeen right now. Maybe you could tell us a little about, how should we as youth workers think about young people? We call them youth, kids, teens, adolescents; tell us about that because you’re one of the leading experts on this.

Wes Ellis: Haha well thank (you). First of all I don’t know if I’m a leading expert but yeah there is… there has been, always been this debate about, what should be call kids? Obviously a bias right there, but how should we think about young people, what we call them and does that matter. I think it matters because I think there’s a sort of an impulse in youth ministry to think about young people as sort of potential adults, and that’s sort of what adolescence is all about, what adolescence means.

How Should We Think About Young People? - Wes EllisThat has been, kind of the running theme and the strongest paradigm in how to think about young people in youth ministry, and it’s been helpful to us in so many ways, but I also think that when youth ministry is about developing young people, developing adolescents, into mature Christian adults, what tends to happen, is we as youth workers feel like we failed when our young people in our churches aren’t developing the way we think they should. Also, we tend to leave behind those young people who aren’t developing the way we think they should.

So we elevate the kids who fit our paradigm, the kids who model those things in the present that we look like what we want to exist in the future. And, as youth workers with limited time having to choose where to invest that time, we tend to leave some kids behind.young people - kindred youth ministry - 1

And I think it would be powerful for us to begin to think about young people not as adolescents in a stage of development toward adulthood, but actually to think about them as human beings who are engaging in a practice, in a social practice of youth, and teaching the church some things about the way God is working in their lives. The fact is, the God who’s working in the lives of young people is not a junior Holy Spirit, this is not… this is the same God who is working in you and me, is working in 13 and 15 year olds, and we have some profound things to learn from that.

So youth ministers can think of young people as people, as human beings, and expect to find not just a ball of clay to be molded into an adult, but someone who can actually reveal to us something that God is doing in the church.

Zach: That is a fantastic paradigm shift for us, and I think that as you are talking I’m thinking about kids in my mind that I have learned so much from by doing this and I’m getting just as much out of it as I’m giving to them.

Wes: Yeah it’s a two way street like we are…

Zach: … God is revealing to us through them as well and us.

Wes: Absolutely, we always sort of co-mentoring each other. And the church, we can think about all the ways youth people can transform and give energy, we don’t even know all the potential for what they can teach us because I think we’ve been so set on what the path of development should look like. So maybe let’s just get out of this… let’s stop thinking about a path of development and start thinking about ministry. And I think there is a difference.

young people - kindred youth ministry - 2

Zach: Yeah. That’s fantastic, I think that’s an amazing overview of who you are and what you’re working on and I can’t wait for more to come.

Wes: Cool. Thank You.

How should we think about young people in youth ministry?

About the Author: Wes Ellis

Wes Ellis is the Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Toms River in New Jersey. He earned an M.Div. and an M.A. in Christian Education from Princeton Theological Seminary. He’s a husband, a father, and a youth worker.

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.

Rethinking the Mission Trip - Kindred Youth Ministry

VIDEO: Rethinking the Missions Trip – Interview

In this video, our own Zach Gurick talks to regular Kindred author, Tyler Fuller, about how we approach the missions trip as youth pastors.

This interview took place after Tyler’s presentation at the Flagler Forum on Youth Ministry at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. We’ll be releasing the video of Tyler’s full presentation, also titled Rethinking the Mission Trip, here on Kindred Youth Ministry in the coming weeks.

Zach Gurick: Hey! We are sitting here with Tyler Fuller. You have been doing youth ministry for coming up on 20 years. We are at the Flagler Youth Ministry Conference and you just spoke about rethinking the missions trip, or how can we think about mission trips differently. Why don’t you, you’re a missions pastor, you have done this for 20-25 years and  you have been going to mission trip since you were 15 years old-

Tyler Fuller: That’s right.

Zach: Why don’t you tell us what comes to your mind when you’re trying to plan out a missions trip and your thinking about a mission trip, what are the things that you look for and think about?

Rethinking the Mission Trip - Kindred Youth Ministry

Tyler: Some of the principles that guide us when we’re thinking about how we should do missions are: thinking about what it is that our groups has to offer? What skills and gifts do we have? And then thinking on the same thing about the field we go. What is it that they do well? What is God gifted them with? And trying to find a fit where we are doing on what we’re good at a place where what we’re good at is needed. And so, instead of bringing kids to do construction work who don’t know how to do construction work, we are trying to bring kids who have good energy and good relationships in the places to build look term relationships.

So we try to start with what it is we have to offer? What the field needs? And we try to do it relationally – where we are building long term relationships, and taking the lead from the folks that are out in the field.

Zach: Yeah, cause we have all been in the trips before where, almost taking the work away from and devaluing and not honoring the people who are not in place there.

Tyler: Exactly, I think that when we do for folks that have abilities within themselves, what we are telling them is that, they are not capable and that is not the gospel message, that is not what we believe about how God built us. And so, we believe that when we honor the gifts of the folks in the field and we are realistic about the gifts we offer, that we are honoring who God built us both to be.Rethinking the Missions Trip - Kindred Youth Ministry

Zach: You talked little bit about one-way giving, and you also talked about asset based community development. Tell us a little about how you think about those things.

Tyler: Yeah, when we think about it – if the goal of our mission projects is to build meaningful relationships, I think the best way to say it is that, we believe that one way giving complicates relationships. When we find the need and then we meet it within our resources with no buy-in and no sense of reciprocity then we are creating a power dynamic that plays against our relationship. Where we had friends who call us in need and we bailed them out, and I think we have all that experience where we know that, moving forward we’ve done damage to the relationship, even if we’ve met the need.

We believe that when we honor the gifts of the folks in the field and we are realistic about the gifts we offer, that we are honoring who God built us both to be.

So I think the best way to say this is we don’t want the people not to give, but we want to the people to think about how they give and how its gonna work long term in affecting relationships.

Zach: That’s fantastic, so if you’re talking to 2,000-3,000 youth workers right now on this video, what are some resources or something you would have them, “hey here’s some great ideas to get you started in this direction”?

Tyler: Yeah, so if you wanted to go deeper, I think you could google “asset based community development,” you could google “healthy or unhealthy giving.” There’s tons of research out there on this right now. And if you wanted to start thinking about foreign missions, I love Food for the Hungry – that’s I also love the 410 Bridge, They’re doing this sort of thing in foreign fields. And I ultimately believe that you yourselves can do it locally by identifying partners in your community doing great work, finding out what they need, and coming alongside them. So I think that would be a good start.

Zach: Well thanks so much for sharing with us today! You’re doing amazing job and amazing work. And also, if you want to, you could probably just call Tyler and he’d probably help you!

Tyler: That’s right.

Zach: So look him up.

Rethinking the Missions Trip - Kindred Youth Ministry



About 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!)
the worst youth pastor ever

The Worst Youth Pastor Ever

I used to think I was the worst youth pastor ever.

the worst youth pastor ever

When I was a young youth worker, fresh out of college, a small church took a chance and hired me as their Director of Youth Ministry. But about two years into the job, I started to feel burnout.

I began to feel like I just wasn’t doing a good job. Though I tried my darnedest, the young people at my church just weren’t developing the way I wanted them to. They didn’t really know a lot about the Bible, they weren’t into doing their “morning devotionals,” and no form of bribery could coerce them into praying out loud. It seemed like all the youth pastors at other churches had young people in their groups who had the Bible memorized and sang Hillsong music in the shower.

But no matter what I did, my group just wasn’t changing into the super Christians I saw at the other churches. I figured it was mostly my fault. If I was a better youth pastor, I’d be influencing these kids to become better Christians. So, under the weight of my own standards and under the pressure of what I thought was the “goal” of youth ministry, I was being worn down.

When I was beginning to question my calling to youth ministry, I picked up a book called Relationships Unfiltered by Andrew Root. I can distinctly remember how deeply Root’s story resonated with me.

He wrote of being a youth worker reared in a tradition that saw influence as the end-goal of youth ministry, desperately trying to influence young people toward participation in the church and its faith. “I didn’t blink twice at the expectation,” Root writes, “…[but] I was clearly failing to get them to commit themselves to the importance of the church and (more significantly) the faith” (p. 14).

What’s the Point?

Root’s big question in the book turned out to be my question: “What is the point of our relationships with kids?”

I’d been trained and educated to believe that the point of relational youth ministry is to influence young people, to develop Christian maturity in them, to make them into better Christians. I thought success in youth ministry was measured by how well young people know the bible, how eager they are to pray, how enthusiastically they engage in evangelism.  In other words, I thought the point of youth ministry was to influence, to get something out of young people. But through deep theological reflection, Root opened a new possibility. Taking his cues from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Root suggests that the point of a relationship… is the relationship.

It is in relationship for the sake of the relationship that we discover God and learn the heart of God’s ministry. Grounding relational ministry in the incarnation itself, Root suggests that

“…a more honest theological understanding of the incarnation is to assert that God entered our foreign world not to convince or save it but to love it even to the point of death… In this perspective salvation is not being convinced of a certain perspective, but coming to recognize that we have been deeply loved and so are given the power to live as children of God… This means relational youth ministry is not about convincing adolescents by influencing them; rather, it is about loving them by being with them in the messiness of their lives. It is about suffering with them.” (p. 41)

It is in relationship for the sake of the relationship that we discover God and learn the heart of God’s ministry.

A Weight Lifted from my Shoulders

As I read these words in my burnout, I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. I remembered the faces of the young people in my group… those same young people who just wouldn’t become the super Christians I thought I was supposed to make them.

I remembered the faces of the young people in my group… those same young people who just wouldn’t become the super Christians I thought I was supposed to make them.

I remembered Eric, a young man who was tossed about in the foster system, separated from his sister who’d been adopted without him.

I remembered Samantha, a seventh grader who was cutting and struggling with suicidal thoughts.

I remembered Chris, a bright and clean high school senior who got all the best grades but suffered the stress of believing his life’s value was in what he could achieve.

I remembered Harper, a high school sophomore who came out to me that same summer but confessed she could not come out to her conservative parents for fear that they would reject her.

I remembered all the suffering of the young people in my group. I remembered the hard questions, temptations, and fears they faced. And I remembered all the times I’d sat with them in those questions, temptations, and fears. I remembered honest conversations we’d had, stories I’d been told, and I began to imagine a new “goal” for my ministry.

Perhaps what made me a good youth pastor was not my ability to create mature Christians but my patience and willingness to sit, to “place-share,” with young people just as they are, in “the messiness of their lives.” Perhaps what made me a good youth pastor wasn’t the change I could conjure, but the love that I could give.

All of a sudden, I began to think that, just maybe, I could keep going. Perhaps I wasn’t the worst youth pastor ever.


About the Author: Wes Ellis

Wes Ellis is the Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Toms River in New Jersey. He earned an M.Div. and an M.A. in Christian Education from Princeton Theological Seminary. He’s a husband, a father, and a youth worker.