Youth Pastor Panel: Why networking is important


Here is a link to a recent article published by the fine people at Called to Youth Ministry. In their questioner they asked a number of youth workers about our involvement, need, and vision for networking both personally and professionally.

In addition to this post, you can discover some great insights from other youth workers and colleagues such as Jeremy Zach, Nate Dame, and Paul Turner.


Top Ten Youth Ministry bloggers

As we close out another here I wanted to give a shout out to the youth ministry bloggers out there.

This is my own personal list, not intended to be “the” list.

For a great list of youth ministry bloggers check out the Youth Specialties link below

Top 20 youth ministry blogs of 2010

*and by the way YS, no hard feelings that this blog didn’t make your list…maybe next year (hint)

I am not sure how these numbers are calculated.  Hits to site?  Readership?  Subscriptions? Impact?  Name recognition?

Here is how I created my top ten:

People that I actually read, value, and learn from their thoughts in youth ministry.  I have chosen a few “outside of the box” writers and thinkers.  Some of these men and women you have heard of and probably read, others maybe not.  Personally I don’t care as much about the statistics of certain blogs, but more about the ideas presented.  If I can bring some new, progressive, and emerging voices into the realm of youth ministry that would be great.

Clearly there are so many great bloggers out there.  My list will look very different from Youth Specialties or your own..and that is a very good thing.  Each one of us in on a different journey, and so diverse types of thinkers and bloggers will impact us and our ministry.  Here are the thinkers, writers, practitioners, activists, and bloggers who have impacted me this past year.

Top Ten Youth Ministry Bloggers

A new kind of youth ministry–   Chris Folsmbee (author, trainer, and director of Barefoot Ministries

Youth Specialties blog– Adam Mclane and an “assortment” of other youth workers and thinkers

Rethinking Youth Ministry-Brian Kirk and Jacob Thorne (mainline/progressive youth pastors offering new perspectives)

ReYouthpastor– Jeremy Zach (trainer and innovator in youth ministry w/ XP3 students

Mike King (author and director of Immerse Journal and Youthfont)

Why is Marko– Mark Oesteicher (author, speaker, YS emergent brain child)

evolitionist– Neil Christopher (activist and progressive youth pastor in TX)

Lars Rood (author, speaker, youth pastor in TX)

pomomusing– Adam Walker Cleaveland (theologian & “postmodern” youth pastor)

Peter Waugh (progressive and creative youth pastor in Belfast, Ireland)

Now I wish I made my list top 15 or 20 because there are so many other great youth ministry blogs out there.

For more of a fuller and broader list of youth ministry bloggers that I read, please scroll down the right of the home page of Emerging Youth

and find the RSS feeds under “Who I read”. That section is my personal blogroll for youth ministry people.

*Please comment with ones that you follow and read and I will probably add a few more as well!

Happy blogging and Happy New Year

networking in Nashville…NYWC 2010

Later this week, I will be traveling to the land of BBQ and country music…Nashville, TN for the National Youth Workers Convention. NYWC 2010


I will be blogging and tweeting on a regular basis during my time there so stay tuned.

If you will be attending this year, I would love to try to connect up with you.

This will be my 10th year attending (hard to believe!), and each year I look forward to it more and more.

While the training, content, music, and speakers are all great and inspirational, what I appreciate and need more than ever is the time and space to pause, reflect, and re-connect with God and others.

NYWC does a fantastic job of allowing for and creating sacred space for these moments. Around this time of year (every year) I often get bogged down and stressed.  These few days offer an escape and chance to recharge my batteries.  Some years I attend every seminar and session offered.  Other times, I take the opportunity to find solace and peace and rediscover my passion for students.

Over the past few years, the connections, conversations, and friendships made have probably been the most important to me.  During these conventions I have had the opportunity to meet so many youth workers, writers, theologians, volunteers, etc.. and maintain regular relationships with them to this day.  These connections have lead to times of support and encouragement, not to mention opportunities to partner and collaborate on projects and ministry.

For me, youth ministry is all about relationships with 1)  our students 2) other youth workers

It’s these relationships that keep me motivated, inspired, and challenged to continue in the journey.

Please do shoot a message or send a tweet if you will be around for NYWC 2010.

Here are a few of the places you might find me meandering around at in the big room (the one with all the tables and booths set up for ministries that like to give stuff away and then get to you sign up for stuff….)

Here are a few that I have affiliation with and support their cause and vision.  There are other great organizations and ministries represented that I hope to check out and connect with as well and have provided a link at the end.

Barefoot Ministries with Chris Folmsbee

Barefoot Ministries

We Are Sparkhouse (Re:form Confirmation) with Andy Root and Tony Jones

We are Sparkhouse

XP3 Students with Jeremy Zach

XP3 students

My Broken Palace with CJ Casciotta

My broken palace

YWJ (Youth Worker Journal)

Youth Worker


Youth Ministry Today

NNYM (National Network of Youth Ministries)


Click here for a complete list of all the exhibitors

NYWC 2010 exhibitors

Updates from Nashville to be typed with BBQ sauce-dripped hands in a few days…..

FirstThird recap

I was not sure what to expect heading out to Minneapolis for the First Third conference at Luther Seminary.

JoPa productions hosted this event and did an excellent job in the planning, organization, structure, and purpose.

For starters, this conference was numerically limited intentionally, in order to foster closer community and nurture more intimate discussions.

It was also based around a fairly specific idea/purpose of theological dialogue in youth ministry.

To say it was an academic gathering would be a bit misleading, but there was certainly more focus on theology and higher education than other conferences I have been to.

The attendees were invited and encouraged to participate in the life of the seminary and interact with those students which made for a richer experience.

There were opportunities to embrace the surrounding community of the Twin Cities.

There were plenty of varied learning style included dialogue, group discussion, Q &A sessions, lecture series, worship experience, dinner groups, film study, and ministry presentations.

One could participate as much or as little as he or she choose, but additionally could actively participate via live blogging and tweets and other social media avenues.

The cost was inexpensive and covered most of the meals.

The leadership was down to earth and very approachable and accessible.

Unlike other conferences (names will not be included) there was not even a hint of superiority or celebrity status.

I was able to connect with some bloggers and like-minded youth workers and really spend quality time developing friendships.

I was also able to reconnect with mentors and inspirations such as Mike King, Andy Root, Tony Jones and feel supported and encouraged as I head back to the northeast.

Here is what I hope.

I hope that more affinity gatherings like this develop, focussed around various interests.

JoPo productions is an excellent resource for hosting an event, although I am not sure if they are limited to the Twin Cities.

JoPa productions

I hope that similar regional mini-conferences will emerge across the country.  Something like this would be perfect for the good folk in the northeast.

I hope that the big national youth ministry conferences will focus less on name appeal and attractions and more on community.

I know some have experimented and now offer break out sessions, workshops and even “affinity” groups…and these are all good starts!

First Third  was an opportunity for like-minded youth workers to intentionally meet to learn, support, encourage, converse, network, etc…

I enjoyed simply meeting up with youth pastors and thinkers in unscripted, unguided, brutally honesty and risky conversations about faith, theology, life, and the interplay of those things with our youth ministry.

*Side thought as I sit here in Starbucks at the airport.

It would be great to have some form of national gathering of emerging youth workers to meet up for a few days to connect, read, reflect, converse, smoke a cigar or two, share meals, laugh, recreate, and help guide and shape the future of youth ministry.

We don’t need a conference, we simply need to get together.    We are attempting to have very small regional meeting times here in the metro NY area, but I would love to see one day it expand to difference regions and contexts as well.

I know what Jeremy Zach and I have been conversing on attempting this informal connection via the great World Wide Web, but perhaps one day it may lead to face to face encounters and a deepened sense of connectivity and support.

First Third was a great experience that I highly recommend attending if it is held again.

If not, talk with the fine people at JoPa productions about doing something where you are at and remember there is beauty and power and support in the intentionality of relationships.

“God is Loud” book project

This week, Chris Folmsbee announced on his blog about my involvement in the God is Loud project.  To read his post, click here:

God is Loud announcement

*I would also recommend reading his two other posts on his site about this project (“Lets write a book together” parts 1 & 2)

A New Kind of Youth Ministry

I want to first thank Chris for this opportunity, as well as his support and friendship over the years.  This is truly his vision and idea, and I am glad to share his passion for it and be able to work alongside him and hopefully many of you.

I have provided some thoughts about this project and how you can be involved.  Please stay posted to this blog for updates and to leave comments as well.

Our vision for this book is to provide an inspirational, thought-provoking, and transformational book for students. This book is intended for your students…for my students.

In my opinion, there are many books out there written by and for youth leaders on spiritual formation.  These books have helped me a great deal in my journey and I attempt each week to pass on my experiences to my students through teachings and sharing life together.

However, very little has been written for students on this subject that  was not curriculum based.

Our hope is to provide students with a free downloadable resource written for them and speaking into their context, their issues, and addressing many of their thoughts and questions.

Is this task overwhelming? Yes

Is it feasible? We’ll see!

I truly believe God is behind this vision and project and have confidence that with reflection, prayer, and support, this can become something special for students around the world.

I would like to involve as many of you as possible.  Please post comments and/or email your thoughts to me.

Ideally, it would be great to get perspective from different youth workers from around the globe and be able to produce something that speaks to students across multiple contexts.

I may also contact a few of you directly for specific input.

I have already recruited Jeremy Zach to help in this process.  He is a brilliant thinker, gifted youth pastor out in CA, and a good friend.  You can read his writings by clicking the link below


The process for the God is Loud  project will go as follows:

Each theme/topic will be posted on this blog along with some initial thoughts from myself and Chris.

Please read, analyze, critique, and add additional thoughts, examples, etc in the comments.  Anything used in the book will be given credit to you, so also make sure to provide your information.

Once each section is complete (and subsequently each of the 5 chapters), they too will be posted individually for collective thoughts and revisions.

I hope this can truly be a collaborative effort on our part to provide a resource each one of us will be proud and excited to pass to our students.

It is vital that today’s teenagers understand the mission of God and their role in it.  As they journey through the process of spiritual formation and begin to understand the importance of living into the mission of God, we can see our youth groups, churches, neighborhoods, and the world change.

Thanks for your support everyone.  I am excited to begin this journey and believe this can be the first of many more collaborative efforts of  emerging youth workers from around the world.

Emerging youth pastors unite

Below is a recent post from my friend Jeremy Zach.  Youth Pastor gone mad

He lives and serves out in CA and also is the founder of a new, innovative, and progressive training resource for youth pastors.  ReYouthpastor

We have been in dialog and discussion over the past few months about the emerging trends of contextual youth ministry, as well as our common frustrations with the current trend of traditional models and approaches.  We are like-minded and share a similar passion and vision for the future of youth ministry and for the hope of spiritual formation of students (especially postmodern and “unchurched”).

We also believe there are many, many more like-minded youth pastors and youth leaders out there.

This is the post and perspective of Jeremy Zach, one of the many emerging voices….


My youth pastor blogging friend Dan Haugh over at and I have been talking about somehow uniting  progressive youth pastors across the web.

Obviously, there is a stark polarity in the brands and breeds of youth pastor bloggers.  It is not rocket science detecting what youth pastors are pressing the envelope and what youth pastors don’t have a clue.  In my assessment the progressive youth pastor population is slim.  My point is that there are very few youth pastor 3.0.

The problem is:  the youth pastor 3.0 doesn’t have healthy outlets and networks where they can contribute ideas without getting called a heretic, an emotional basket case, and an outcast.  The youth pastor 3.0 needs spaces and platforms.  Of course, we have blogging which literally turns into a brutal UFC fight and only leaves the youth pastor 3.0 more pissed off with some blood on his/her knuckles.  Trust me, I am talking from a lot of youth pastor blogger brawling experience.

Even though I like pretending to be a tough guy on the web, there needs to be arenas and avenues for unchurched youth pastors to play and articulate their heretical ideas about youth ministry.

Possible steps to obtaining a youth pastor 3.0/emerging web network:

1.  Assemble youth pastor affinity networks all across the web that represents the geological landscape of the USA youth ministry.

–  I really like what is doing.  I really wish I could go and be apart of that, but times are tough.  Firstthird is a dialogue, at Luther Seminary with Dr. Root and Dr. Kenda Dean,about theology in youth ministry.

2.  Identify and clarify who are the youth pastors 3.0 blogging on the web

–  I wrote what I think are the themes of a new emerging 3.0 youth pastors here and here .  Here is a brief list of:  average youth ministry dudes and dudettes that I think get it:

Feel free to make any recommendations…..

3.  Brainstorms what a web network would look like for emerging youth pastors.  There has to be more out there….

Back to Dan…..

We would love to hear from you and continue to progress this discussion in the months to come.  The future is bright so its time to unite (hope you like my feeble attempt at cheesy cliches!)

Long-Term youth ministry

long haul

Are you in it for the long haul?

National statistics indicate that the average term a youth pastor stays at a church is 18 months. I am not very good with math, but that appears to be more than one year and less than two.

I hate to do this, but I must ask you these questions?

Are you youth ministry  for a paycheck, for some good ministry experience, or as a “stepping stone” ministry?  Really meaning you can’t get another job as a “real pastor”…so why not youth ministry?

I have had to ask myself these same questions during my time as a youth pastor:

Did I really go into youth ministry for the right reasons?

Am I still in youth ministry for the right reasons?

And by the way…what are the “right” reasons?

Even after serving as a youth pastor at the same church for seven years, I can easily fall into complacency and comfort and stay in youth ministry because it has become “easy” for me.

However, I contend that we all should go into youth ministry (and stay in to) in order to develop real, authentic, and life-long relationships with students.

We should be more about the “youth” than the ministry!

Think about what it says to students for them to experience a new youth pastor every few years?

The statistics mentioned earlier really bother me. Especially now.

Especially since in my ministry, life-change and trust only really starting happening about five years into my time with these students. They too had experienced a number of transitional youth leaders before me.

Especially since we are facing the reality that what really matters and makes a difference to students now more than ever are relationships. The kind of relationships that are genuine, sincere, authentic, and long-lasting.

And to be brutally honest, that is kind of hard to do in a year and a half!

Now, I understand that sometimes change must take place. Often, youth pastors are forced out by external circumstances, pressures, financial worries, and a different calling from God. These can all be very valid reasons to leave.

But I think too many youth pastors use these as lame excuses to leave a difficult situation.

Because after a year or two, youth ministry was not as fun or easy as they thought it would be (they probably read that in some book)

So I say, stick with the students during the messy, confusing, and troubling times of life.

Relationships + Longevity= Transformational Ministry

Celebrate with them through the fun, joyous, and wonderful moments.

See them grow and mature from wacky, 2-minute attention span Middle school kids, to college students, husbands and wives, and future parents.

Remember, our goal should not only be to convert a 15-year-old teenager and get him or her to attend our meetings. Rather, it should be to encourage them to continue following Jesus as adults.

We aim for 40-year-old Christ followers, not just 14-year-old ones.

If you build a ministry around yourself and your personality, then its likely that we you leave, so will your ministry.  But if you build a ministry around a team, the ministry will continue on even if you leave.

David Chow in his book, No More Lone Rangers writes, “Success is more about what happens after students leave the youth ministry than what they do while they’re in the ministry.”  Rather than asking the question, “how many students are in my ministry?”, the question should be, “Where will these students be ten years from now?”

But..will we even be in their lives when they reach that age?

Again, I realize that sometimes you must leave for the betterment of the church or your family or a different calling. I may not be in my current position or church forever either. Although if my calling changes, part of me really hopes to be able to stay at my church so that I can maintain these relationships with my students for years and decades to come.

But, no matter what happens with your career and calling, please stay involved in the lives of your former students. I remember talking to a friend and colleague of mine a few years back as he was heading out to Chicago for a wedding. When I asked whose wedding it is, he informed me it was a former student from his first youth group that he and his wife had stayed in contact with over the years. He had not “officially” been her youth pastor for over 15 years, and he was still invited to her wedding.

Needless to say, that inspired me because that is what youth ministry is all about.

It’s about the youth and not the “ministry”.

So even if you don’t stay at your particular church forever, or leave the official title of youth “pastor”, you can and should always been a minister to youth…your former ones. That way, you can be in it for the long haul.

I once heard a youth ministry veteran say that youth ministry only ceases to exist when the relationship stops.

This simply means that as long as we are in relationships with students/young adults, we are still doing youth ministry.  Remember, being a youth pastor is not just a title, but a calling. I firmly believe that this calling can and should continue even when the title disappears or the position morphs into something else.

At my particular church, I think we have done a good job in student ministry up to the college years.  However, we are at a place now where we really have little for the continuing spiritual formation of 18-30 year olds.  These are young men and women who have come up through the youth ministry, but a lack of ongoing mentoring and ministry in their post-YG years can often take away and diminish the growth that occurred while they were under our leadership.

Now, some churches have great young adult pastors and there is a wonderful transition of trust between the youth pastor and young adult pastor.  But what happens when a church does not have that structure in place?  Often, the youth pastor steps in by default to continue that spiritual formation, but is extremely limited due to all the other expectations, demands, and needs of the current students.

Personally, I wrestle with this dilemma, because in my mind, I committed to the spiritual development of specific students (and that must continue well beyond their middle school and high school years).  I did not commit to “middle school students” in general.  To me, bouncing from church to church doing “youth ministry” has very little to do with ministering to actual teenagers.  If I am committed to my students (more aptly stated the students that God has entrusted me with), then I will be committed to them for as long as the relationship can continue. And in many cases ( and I think in ideal situations) these relationships will continue for decades.

What a priviledge it would be to watch your former middle school students graduate college, get married, and maybe one day perform their baby dedication as they now serve as committed members of your church body!

That vision often keeps me motivated and inspired. Just last week I attended a wake and as I looked into the tear filled eyes of one my high school girls, I prayed to God that one day I would be able to stand with her in great joy on her wedding day!  I don’t know if that will happen of course, but to me, that is youth ministry in its fullest sense.

Listen, more than likely, we will not be serving at our same church for the next 20 years. It may happen (and hopefully it is your heart’s desire and the desire of your church), but to be honest it would be rare if it did happen. I do encourage you to really move in and take root somewhere. Develop a passion for your area, community, church, and students.  You will be less likely to want to keep moving from place to place and your effectiveness in transforming teenagers and your influence on their spiritual formation will greatly increase.

u haul

But, if and when the time does come to move on, we must be prepared and have our ministries prepared.

If we truly believe in the importance of life-long relationships, then train those who will continue to be there at your church.

Develop your adult volunteers. More than likely, they are the ones who will be around the longest.

Andy Stanley writes, “One day someone else will be doing what you are doing.  Whether you have an exit strategy or not, ultimately, you will exit.”

Therefore, having this team approach benefits the ministry long-term.  Too often we worry about how many kids are coming to youth group tonight and rarely think about what shape the ministry would be in if we were no longer around due a move, career change, or other circumstance.

“If you build a ministry around yourself and your personality, then its likely that when you leave, so will your ministry.  But if you build a ministry around a team, the ministry will continue on even if you leave.”

Teach and train them to do what you would do if you could be there for 10 more years to come. That way, your students will have caring adults in their lives for the long haul, even if it is not you.  I started working towards replacing myself within the first three years I arrived.  Now, almost eight years in, I am still working hard to leave the ministry in a better place if and when I leave.  I sincerely hope that my leaders, interns, and any staff I would bring on would grow and expand the ministry well beyond what I was able to.  Now, I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon, but I still believe working towards this end is healthy and effective.

Remember, youth ministry is about them (youth) and not you (ministry).

I have included a short post by my friend Jeremy Zach offering some helpful and healthy tips about staying in youth ministry for the long haul.

The Longevity of Youth Pastors

Learning to do less…but do it well


In case you haven’t noticed, I have not been doing much writing or blogging over the past 2 months…and you know what….I feel pretty good about that.

Like most of you, my school year was extremely busy.  Productive? Yes.  But at times stressful and tiring.   Besides my full time position at church, I also coached baseball and served as a chaplain for a minor league baseball team, while at the same time reading and writing.  So summer came, and I took as much time off as possible.

 My friend Jeremy Zach (blogger @ Small town youth pastor) wrote a great article about the importance of approaching our summer months in a healthy way. I have added the link below.

Summer Youth Ministry

Now, at my church, we still had our annual mission trip and a few occasional fun outings (Six Flags, Beach Day, etc…).  We stopped Sunday school and our regular weekly meetings, and boy did it feel good!

I needed that, and to be quite honest, I actually feel refreshed, renewed, and excited for the new school year to start.  But it wasn’t always that way.

When I first arrived I wanted to impress everyone (especially the parents and elders) and so I planned jam-packed summers to keep our students busy.  We took advantage of the fact that most of them didn’t have school, homework, or jobs (and some really didn’t have a life outside of our church either!)

Almost every night I would be out with the students. We had all of our regular weekly meetings, plus a fun/social outing and outreach event at least once a week.  We did numerous mission trips, day trips, concerts, sleepovers, camping trips.  You name and we probably did it during those summers.  Now, in many ways these were highly successful summers.  Our numbers actually grew during June-August (which is rare) and we did not experience that usual summer let down.  By the time September rolled around, I didn’t need to do any promotion because all of the students were already in the swing of things.  Parents loved that there was something for their children to do because they were able to get them off their hands and out of their homes for a few hours almost every day and for many weekends throughout the summer. 

But do you know what did suffer?  

Let me put it this way:  Do you know Who suffered?…..


I was completely exhausted at the end of those summers.  My relationships were hurting. My soul was often dry and cracking. I was in need of a sabbath rest (and a nice long sabbatical) but had to get amped up for September to come and really get things moving again.  Year after year I went through this until I realized that I simply could not do it anymore.  I started to dread  the summers and resent my responsibilities. I knew that change had to happen, and as difficult as it was I slowly began to implement those necessary changes. 

Now I know that most people work just as hard in the summers as the rest of the year, unless they are teachers.  But you and I know that being in youth ministry is an entirely different ball game.  There is a huge toll: emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and even physically at times (4am on youth retreats sound familiar?)

Even after having made these transitions, it is still tempting for me to want to offer a packed summer schedule.  Especially when some youth ministries down the road are doing it and my students are either

a) going there instead or

b) complaining and asking why we are not doing all of those activities.

But, I have also seen youth pastor after youth pastor come and go.  They may have action-packed and  full summer and school calendars for a year or two, but inevitably they cannot maintain that pace or approach and they simply do not last.  So, I would rather take things off of my plate and do a little less, but do it well and do it well over a long period of time.

Which is better for students? 

Having 4 years of crazy busy activity…but with two or three different youth pastors?

Or….developing a healthy and long lasting relationship with one youth pastor/leader while experiencing real life together over that same period of time?  We can try to get them all constantly occupied and busy with “church”, but that does not necessarily reflect real life or help form them develop a mature and complete spiritual life.  In some ways, busyness is counterproductive to spiritual formation. 

I recently started running. I hate running and do not consider myself a runner. But nonetheless, I have been running about 4-5 times a week now for about one year.  I run to stay healthy and get in shape, not to impress anyone.  Therefore, I really could care less about my speed or style when I run, but I would like to build up my distance.  My goal is actually to run a half marathon some day….we’ll see!

I quickly learned that if I put all of my energy into sprinting my first mile or so, I can probably run a decent time and look good, but I  have nothing left for the rest of my journey. I would only be able to run a few miles every time before having to stop….before quitting.  

However, if I take my time and pace myself I am able to do a few things.  I can enjoy my time more and take in the beauty of my surroundings.  And secondly, I am able to run longer distances each time I run and eventually work up towards my goal.

I assume by now you are getting this analogy.

As youth pastors, don’t sprint.  You will never reach the finish line or your goals.  Take your time and take it easy.  Condition and pace yourself and enjoy the experience.

You will be healthy and ultimately a healthy youth pastor makes for a healthy youth ministry.

Perhaps reevaluate your upcoming fall schedule or at least plan to take it a bit easier next summer.

You owe it to yourself and to your students.

No need to feel guilty about doing less, if you are able to do it well and do it well for a long time.

Happy running!