The second session at Shift began with a plea from Bo Boshers, the Executive Director of Youth Ministries for the Willow Creek Association. He shared that a survey of this conference's attendees showed that 67% of the youth leaders and students are not being mentored. "Folks, we've got to get this one right!" he said. It seems that the need for one-on-one relationships in youth ministry is one of the shifts the conference organizers are concerned with.
Mark Yaconelli, who just finished speaking, pointed out another major shift he believes must happen. Through a wide-ranging talk Mark kept coming back to his theme of emptiness and brokenness. Given the many resources, curriculum, and programs available at the conference, it was almost ironic to hear Mark tell youth pastors, "You don't need anything. You need less. You can come to a conference and get so overwhelmed that you forget you already have everything you need. Your love of your kids and your desire to love God is enough."
UPDATE. Here are some video highlights from this session.
Mark began his session by reading Luke 5:1-11. He pointed out that Jesus' first would-be disciple only had empty boats and their time to offer. Mark contrasted this passage with a fictional story of a youth pastor who decides to put on an event for his youth group on Cinco de Mayo called "Cinco de Jesus." As he humorously described this frantic leader making preparations and inviting students to the event, it was evident from the audience's laughter that they understood this scenario. The guy behind me muttered, "I've been there," when Mark finished his story by saying that only two kids showed up to this spectacular event.
It is the tension between the desire to do big things and the reality of our brokenness that Mark kept returning to. Youth leaders first enter the ministry because they desire to serve as spiritual guides to students. According to Mark, the demands of church ministry quickly can distract from that initial simple calling.
The calling gets switched when you get into a church. The calling was to be a spiritual guide, a spiritual leader. Which feels different than what the church and families are asking us to do. To be a spiritual guide you have to spend time in the Spirit, and when we spend time in the Spirit we realize God is asking us to be broken- to be free of our own plans and agendas.
Has this been the case for you? Does your initial calling into ministry seem different than what you actually spend your time on? Do you agree with Mark that your calling is primarily to be a spiritual guide?
It was clear from this session that Mark does not think a large youth ministry is the same as a successful youth ministry. In fact, ministry that is small and challenging may actually be what God has in mind for a leader.
What if our youth ministry is our spiritual discipline? All our weaknesses are exposed in youth ministry. Thank God for those kids who are bringing out those things that are unhealed in us, the broken things. Without them you might think you didn't need God, that you didn't need to pray.
While I love what Mark is getting at, I wonder how it would "work" in a local church. Let's hear from you. Is it possible to have a youth ministry that regularly allows room for brokenness and emptiness? How grateful are you for the types of weaknesses that are exposed in you because of your ministry? Finally, are you able to take a regular Sabbath break that might allow for an awareness of the brokenness Mark described as essential for ministry?