Live from Shift: Broken Ministry
Mark Yaconelli makes the case that broken and empty is better.

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?

April 09, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 11 comments


November 24, 2008  10:07pm

I'm a little late commenting here, but I though it worth while. I have a small youth ministry that tries to do exactly what Mark is talking about. It isn't an accident. It is proving to be very unique and the teens involved are loving it. I don't think this would work in many situations though. The biggest need for this to be successful is having permission of the church, and especially the sr. pastor, to do this. I can't say enough good Mark and his ideas. I previously served at a fairly big, program driven church and youth ministry. It definitely would not have worked there.

Report Abuse

Bee Vang

April 10, 2008  8:02am

I was so refreshed and encouraged by what Mark said. It is amazing to see how God speaks to us and those around us through other people. My leaders were very blessed by knowing the encouragement and invitation to be broken by God. Thank you Mark. Your words will speak volumes into our leadership team!

Report Abuse


April 09, 2008  11:51pm

I thought this talk was so great! I've never heard Mark before, but instantly connected with what he was saying. He gave us the permission/freedom to live within the reality of how our ministries are now. It's hard not to compare it to the "perfect" plan we have in our minds of what ministry *should* look like. God is in control, and just being reminded of that does remind me of the freedom found in just letting God work. Thanks Mark! May God continue to bless you!

Report Abuse

aaron peternel

April 09, 2008  11:14pm

Thanks Mike - this hit home. I'd really appreciate listening to this several more times.

Report Abuse


April 09, 2008  6:28pm

When Mark was speaking of success in youth ministry and said that if you had 12 kids in your youth program, all vying for your attention, one of them you hated and you were pretty sure one of them wanted to kill you, then God was working in your ministry...I thought, "Sweet! That's me!" I'm brand new to youth ministry, and when I got to the church, there were two high schoolers coming to the group. (And it's a church of 5-600.) Since I've started I've been working tirelessly to create programs and to plan fun activities/events, and have fallen into the temptation to measure my success by how many come to my youth group on more than a few occasions. Mark's message was affirming of so much that God has been putting in my heart but has been so difficult to sink into my heart: that God uses me, uses this ministry, but that loving these kids and remaining open and broken before God is the most important thing. I also loved the talk about "ungrieved grief" and the need for us to sit in our suffering rather than always search for the 'quick fix' . I teared up, as many did, I'm sure, with the story about the youth who came back from a rehab center to be the one to truly incarnate Christ that night at youth group to the youth who was struggling with deep wounds...and he did it through presence and love, not with justification or clever theological argument. I think that understanding that grief in our youth, feeling that grief ourselves and allowing it to penetrate us... all of that is desperately needed in our churches and world, let alone our youth groups. We're so scared of grief.... and we shouldn't be, b/c it's a part of life, and when we deny our grief, we force our dark places into the corners of our souls, then into boxes, then into safe-deposit boxes... and we become shells of humanity, no longer allowed to feel....while the unfelt pain becomes a cancer to us. When we feel pain, we share in the sufferings of Christ, and Christ shares in our sufferings. Suffering drives us to prayer. And as Richard Moore said, suffering and prayer are the two ways that we are transformed. All the sessions were phenomenal today, I must say.

Report Abuse


April 09, 2008  4:56pm

I surveyed my middle school/high school students this sunday and only 1 out of 26 said they would definitely want a mentor. i wonder why this is. would they be willing to meet with a mentor if there was an adult they respected to fill that role? is it a matter of being spiritually ready for a mentor?

Report Abuse

Larry Baden

April 09, 2008  4:26pm

So 67% aren't being mentored? That means a third are. That's probably high, compared to the general population of the church. The problem is an important one, but it's far more extensive than young folks. And it would be interesting to know why they aren't being mentored. Are there no mentors available, or is there simply no interest in being mentored? I was in a church where the "young folks" (30-ish) were pretty open with their opinion that older generations had little to teach them.

Report Abuse


April 09, 2008  2:15pm

I liked this session quite a bit. Wasn't too hokey and hit home. Takes a little pressure off of youth pastors to always "hit the mark" and do everything we can to "save" our students - because we can't do that at all. Mark had some great things to say - I'm really looking forward to Shane Claiborne. I'm reading his book "Jesus for President" right now and it's really resonating with me. Alright, back to the show.

Report Abuse


April 09, 2008  2:06pm

mark brings a wonderful message and timely. knowing him i can speak to his character, he isn't just giving lip service to sabbath or trust in God. if you get to talk with him, he receives so very well. which i feel reflects on how he knows himself and his work with God. the Youth Ministry Spirituality Project was one of the best things for the student ministry world in the last 10 years. hands down!

Report Abuse

Jonathan Brink

April 09, 2008  1:56pm

I was at a pastor's conference last year and the speaker asked how many pastor's or leaders were simply burnt out. In a crowd of 2,000, at least 1,500 hands went up. I think Mark gets it. The question is then will we get it.

Report Abuse
  • Seeing God on the Silver Screen
    An interview with Kevin Harvey on how engaging pop culture might be the best way to share the gospel.
  • Have Stethoscope, Will Travel
    Nurse Kelly Sites talks about her experience battling Ebola overseas
  • Actively Seeking Change
    Daniel Ryan Day talks to us about his attempt to live intentionally different
  • Digging For Truth
    Josh McDowell on the Bible's truthworthiness, the internet, and the future of the church