The Greg Stier Youth ministry Podcast
episode 11 | January 2022
Is Youth Ministry a Failure? A conversation with Dave Rahn
In this episode, Greg Stier sits down with author and youth ministry researcher, Dave Rahn. They discuss Greg’s new e-book, The Failure of Youth Ministry and How to Fix it, as well as the importance of training and preparing today’s teenagers. Greg and Dave also speak with youth leader, Eric Groezinger, to follow up on the discussion.
Dave Rahn is a youth ministry researcher, author, futurist and missional leadership strategist. After beginning his ministry with Fort Wayne Area YFC in 1972, he joined the faculty of Huntington University in 1985 and served there full-time for 22 years before rejoining the mission of Youth for Christ/USA in 2007.
0:00:06.9 Greg: Alright. Welcome to The Greg Stier Youth Ministry podcast. I believe in the power of the Gospel and the potential of teens, and I also believe that the best way to get teens to grow is to get them to go. I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast, rate it, review it, help us spread the word to youth leaders at this time for our revolution in Youth Ministry that will result in every teen everywhere hearing the Gospel from their friends. So, for the next four episodes, we’re gonna be hosting a mini-series around my brand new e-book, The Failure of Youth Ministry and How to Fix It, my subtly titled ebook, The Failure of Youth Ministry and How to Fix It.
0:00:43.7 Greg: For decades, many ministries, churches, and parachurch organizations have sensed that the typical way we’ve been doing Youth Ministry is not working, it’s failing to ignite students with a passion for Jesus and to capture the next generation, failing to make disciples who make disciples. So, for the next few months, we plan on bringing this conversation to the forefront by talking with four Youth Ministry experts and practitioners who have been… Who have excellent insights into this whole world. And it’s exciting, exciting for me to bring our very first guest, who is a personal friend of mine, a guy I really look up to.
0:01:17.5 Greg: His name is Dave Rahn. Dave Rahn has got his PhD, which means he’s wicked smart, and he really is. And he loves the Lord. He began working with Youth for Christ in 1972 before joining Huntington university faculty in 1985, where he taught for 30 plus years. He’s published more than 100 articles, essays, and books collaborates widely to unleash adolescent influence. He’s convinced that when captivated by Christ, once aimless teens, can turn the tide of culture. Oh, I love that. I’m gonna put that in my bumper sticker. His most recent co-authored book is Disrupting Teens with Joy. Dave retired from Youth for Christ, USA in 2020. He’s now actively writing, consulting, and enjoying grandpa life. He currently lives with his wife, Susie, of nearly 45 years in Middlebury, Indiana, and he’s a senior research consultant for both the Arbor Research Group and Fuller Youth Institute, where he’s especially engaged in the TENx10 Collaboration. And we’ll talk more about that. Dave, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for being a part of it.
0:02:29.1 Dave Rahn: Thank you. If it’s okay, I’d like to take a nap because that was an exhausting review of my past. I was just like, Why am I… I’m just retired.
0:02:42.6 Greg: I’m so glad that you’re part of it. I mean, you have a long list of credentials, but you are also a guy who loves teenagers and loves youth ministry and very… You have your ear close to the ground, not just with research articles, but with actual youth leaders that you’ve trained over the years, and with Youth for Christ, which gets you right in the grid. So really, tell us a little bit more about your background, of why you’re so passionate about reaching young people, why that moniker, do you wanna see teens… When teens are captivated by Christ, once aimless teens can turn the tide of culture, I love that. Tell us a little bit more about your background.
0:03:24.9 DR: Yeah, so I was an aimless kid. That’s part of it. I was not raised in a church home, and it was a pretty clean… Like March 6th, 1970, I’m a sophomore in high school, and my friend… I’m kinda lonely, too, I just don’t know where I fit anymore, high school was huge. And from the middle school to high school, I just got lost. I wasn’t strong enough or big enough to play football, that’s where everybody… All the cool guys were doing, and I was just kind of hanging out and lost. And anyway, a buddy of mine asked me to spend the night at his house for the weekend, and I measured that against the social economy that I needed like, “Oh, that’s my… He’s a cool guy, and he’s asking me to spend… That is great. This is gonna be… I got a friend coming,” right? And so, he kind of mumbled on the side about something at the event at his church, which I didn’t even… I didn’t know his dad was a pastor, I didn’t know they live right next door to the church. It was gonna be an outreach event weekend. I have no idea. When you’re not a church kid, you don’t know, you’re not afraid of the church.
0:04:27.0 DR: Yeah, right? It’s… I don’t even… I haven’t even formed any image of what to be afraid of, so yeah, yeah, yeah, fine, fine, I’m spending the night at your house. But that’s the night that I heard that I could have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and it was just like, “Well, yeah, why wouldn’t I?” But I didn’t… In my… And this is why I love you, Greg, and I love the… I love the way the platform and the urgency of your message, because it’s my story. Sometimes there’s a bunch of people that just… They just need to know. And I didn’t know, and all that happened that night was all of a sudden I know and I go, “Yes, I’m saying yes.” Now, I had to figure out what I said yes to for a few minutes. It took a minute there. But the bottom line is, before I left high school, I was already feeling like I was then called into reaching my friend. In my first semester in my senior year, I’d seen 18 of my friends come to Christ. And part of it was just I was just very involved in young life, very involved in Youth for Christ. We invented our own little thing, we had to call Maranatha. Unfortunately, we didn’t brand it or anything like… But it’s just like it was… I just know that I was captivated, and the only question was, how to get… In 1972, what’s the pathway to become full-time in this work and to give my life to it, and…
0:05:56.2 DR: Yeah. So, the rest of it is kind of just an unusual journey. I wouldn’t have plotted that I was gonna be a professor or a researcher or a writer, that kind of stuff, but I think that’s part of how God kinda shapes us and steers us and gets us a little bit over that, over this horizon, so he can show us the next one, yeah.
0:06:16.5 Greg: That’s great. I… So, you are coming to Christ, sharing the Gospel right away out of the gates, I mean, you’re kinda… You’re kind of living out that Dare 2 Share dream that’s in our hearts, to see these kids come to Christ and share their faith. We always say that if you really wanna get your teens to grow, you gotta get them to go, so I’m sure you know that more than anybody because sharing your faith forces you to depend on God, study scripture, pray, and accelerates your spiritual growth.
0:06:52.4 DR: Yeah, and I don’t know, I’ll just confess on behalf of both you and me, Greg, when we’ve been so deeply and richly and profoundly formed by such an experience, it’s hard for me to be open-minded to anybody who has a contrary opinion about… About the value of just being engaged with people in those kind of conversations where you… I had a friend in high school, his name is Vedat Bilgata, he was from Turkey. The first thing we ever did as his buddies was he actually showed up that night at that same event. And from that point forward, it felt like it was game on, we started arguing about religion, he was Muslim, I was Christian, and frankly, he wasn’t even a practicing Muslim, but he dug in and I dug in, but I had such rich conversations with him, I don’t think I ever had… I’ve never encountered an opposing, challenging position or question that I didn’t first hear from my buddy as a 17-year-old, just kind of arguing about stuff all the time.
0:08:06.2 Greg: You know, it’s interesting, Dave, I tell people… ‘Cause we went out, we did Friday night, soul winning. Every Friday night, I was reached by an independent fundamentalist church, it was an evangelism, it was soul winning. But I tell people, by the time I was 15, I had already encountered every argument that you would get in your Philosophy 101 secular university. Evangelism really prepare us teenagers, not just spiritually, but intellectually, for what lies ahead. It really helps them answer those fundamental questions early on.
0:08:42.2 DR: It’s a stretch. And that’s what… You and I have talked about this, Greg. There’s a whole host of people who believe in evangelism, but they imagine that they have to do a discipleship formation threshold to get kids to a place where they’re going to be adequate in evangelism, as opposed to the formational side of evangelism. One of the books I used to lay on my undergrads in Huntington when I was teaching was written in 1964 called Dedication And Leadership by Douglas Hyde. And he was representing the contrast between communism formation and training and formation as a Christian. And one of the things he said is once you’ve, immediately once you’ve become a communist, we’re gonna stick you on a corner in a busy intersection and have you pass out communist propaganda, and when you go, Why was it… It’s partly because you get into the mix and you start to understand, you either believe or you don’t believe, you either show up and dig in deep or not. And actually, there’s social attribution theory that would suggest that once I sort of…
0:09:53.2 DR: My brain, when I see myself act in a certain way, my attitudes start to catch up with what I’m doing. So, it might almost be an explanation for why Billy Graham used to say, “Get out of your seats. Come forward,” right? Hey, as you’re going forward, think about the interaction your brain has with your feet, like, “What am I doing here? Why are you going? Why is this going on?” This must be important. This must be important, and there you go, you start to act your way into a kind of a value set that is sustainable.
0:10:25.7 Greg: So, it’s called a social interaction theory? I’m writing this down.
0:10:29.7 DR: Social attribution theory, yeah.
0:10:29.9 Greg: Attribution theory?
0:10:34.1 DR: Yeah, yeah, attribution, yeah.
0:10:34.9 Greg: I’m telling you, man, okay, that’s great. So, let me… Let’s kinda switch the conversation to Youth Ministry. We’re gonna… The subtly-titled book, the Failure of Youth Ministry and How to Fix It, would you agree that this is an important conversation whether or not youth ministry is working, and why?
0:11:02.8 DR: Yeah, yeah, it is an important conversation, and I will tell you right away, I tell it, I just wanna… I’m glad for this opportunity to confess that at some level as a Youth Ministry thought leader for 40 something years now, maybe close to 50, I gotta stand next to this body of work, and frankly, I’m in repentance. There’s something about the way I’ve been and the influence that I’ve done that hasn’t been good enough, and I’ll just own that and go, I’m grateful that I’m… I’m following Moses’ developmental pattern where I don’t hit my stride until 80. [laughter] So, I still get to… Still get to get after it. But I’m telling you, it’s one of those… It’s what still drives me, it’s what gives me heartburn and joy at the same time to get up every morning as a retired dude, ’cause I feel like I’m not done swinging here.
0:12:06.8 Greg: Well, Dave, let me just say this. I appreciate your posture toward this, but you have… It’s been a lot of the stuff that you’ve written. I think specifically of Contagious Faith, that I think you and Terry Linhart put together years ago. There’s a new name now, it got updated, was it…
0:12:24.4 DR: Yeah, Evangelism Remixed right there, kind of over my shoulder here.
0:12:30.5 Greg: Evangelism Remix, there you go, there you go. But that really early on in my ministry at Dare 2 Share, that, I felt like, okay, there’s some smart people that agree with this, and I didn’t know how to articulate all the stuff that you guys were articulating, but it gave me confidence with Dare 2 Share that, hey, we’re headed down the right path, and here’s some statistical proof that kids that are actively sharing their faith are growing more in their faith, and those youth groups are more healthy. So, I think you’ve been one of those voices for me as a Dare 2 Share guy that I can depend on for a strong research-based evidence that, you know, the gospel does change everything, we gotta get our kids sharing it.
0:13:16.2 Greg: So, let’s dive a little bit into the whole concept of youth ministry. You’ve done a lot of research on youth ministry, its effectiveness over the years. Would you agree that youth ministry is broken? And why, or why not, would you… And maybe we’ve already talked about it being broken, but why do you think some of those factors are into making youth ministry what it is today?
0:13:47.4 DR: Yes, I believe it’s broken. Yes I… And I don’t… That’s part of it is, I can’t look at the outcomes that have taken place among young people and are still taking place among young people that… And feel good about the strengthening or the invigoration of a healthier church. And if you go, “What’s the purpose of youth ministry?” It’s like tagging a lion in the wild, I wanna follow it and find out how it grows, what it develops, how it ends up, and in part, you wanna study it to see if it’s… If we’re doing… What we’re doing now helps in a meaningful way. And the arc of this is a theological question, not a sociological or empirical question, the arc of this is about what Jesus’ vision is for the church, and youth ministries gotta figure out how we fit. And the host of youth ministry, for the most part, has settled into a space, it’s not even chasing that question in a big way. We’re just… And some of that’s on youth ministers, and some of that’s on those of us who train youth ministries, because we’ve been so infatuated, especially here in America, with how to, that we don’t linger in why, and we don’t linger in what, and we certainly don’t linger in the depths and the beauty of Jesus Christ our Lord as revealed in the Scripture.
0:15:20.0 DR: We don’t do that. But I wanna give youth ministers a little bit of a pass, too. Part of it is that they’re also getting hired into jobs in churches that aren’t doing that, and so the entirety of the church, it’s… Youth ministry is broken because church is broken, if you ask me. And we’re… And then all the forces related to a broken church, including parents that are sort of sideways and wangly and don’t know how to respond to cultural challenges, and on and on and on it goes, all of that is at work in this mix. So, it’s not as simple as… And it’s certainly not anything like, “Let’s just change the way you program on Wednesday nights or Sunday mornings or whatever,” it’s all together, it’s multi-factored, but it’s without a clear vision, without a clear vision, we’re gonna be… We won’t be able to repair this.
0:16:16.2 Greg: Yeah, and I sent out a tweet yesterday, I don’t know why it just… I remember going to Austria and seeing… I was staying at a farm house with my family, I was preaching at Torchbearers in Austria, Tauernhof and Schladming, Austria. And at this farm, they were like, “Hey, do you wanna help milk the cows every morning and lead them to pasture?” I’m like, “Heck, yeah.” So, me and the kids went down every morning, my wife said, “Knock yourself out.” But when we were leading to the pasture, there was always one cow with a bell on it, and the cow with the bell on it led the way, and what I didn’t realize is whatever cow was walking, was jumping, they were excited like, “Whoo, I got the bell, cow bell, more cow bell.” And I’m like, “What in the world… ” Well, it’s the same thing with sheep, and the sheep that leads the way, they’re called the bellwether. So, I sent out a tweet the other day that youth ministry is the bellwether of the church at large, and we’ve seen that with a lot of the music, you even think about Willow Creek, which just started as a youth ministry kind of deal, radical Jesus movement, that led to transforming, really the beginning of youth ministry in a lot of ways.
0:17:27.2 Greg: And the Christian music industry. If we can… My hope is that if youth ministry, we can begin to see these changes happen in youth ministry, on the other side, it’ll begin to trickle into the church at large, because there’s not a Christian grandparent I know that doesn’t get jacked up when their grandkids are on fire for Christ, and get convicted. There’s not a parent that I know of when their kids are really serving the Lord, that aren’t thrilled and convicted. And so if we can see these changes happen in youth ministry, I think we can see those trickle throughout the whole church. What are some of the… Oh yeah, go for it.
0:18:07.8 DR: I’m with you there. That’s my… I was just gonna say, that’s why I still believe that my investment at this target group is as strategic and wise as anything, it’s what I know best, but it’s also like, it’s the way forward that I’m gonna shove all my Bitcoin into.
0:18:33.0 Greg: That’s great, I love it. So, the little e-book, it’s a short book, an e-book in parenthesis ’cause it’s pretty short. So, as you went through that, what would you say, in the Failure of Youth Ministry, you really resonated with? What did you question? Maybe there were some things you disagreed with or things you would phrase differently?
0:19:00.1 DR: Yeah, first of all, I love it. And as a side note, this is important for the context. To me, what I have been drawn to ever since I first met you, Greg, is your Christ first obsession. You’re the one who introduced me to the Spurgeon quote, “Make a beeline to Jesus.” And I’m kinda… I kinda think about that, not just for sermons, I think about that for research, I think about that for everything I’m doing, make a beeline to Jesus. Where is Jesus in this mix? Make a beeline to Jesus. Having said that, I think there are assumptions still about youth ministries’ practice that may need even a deeper dive. I think you flagged the concern really well, and I think you… In that book… And I think you start to get into it and wrangle with it, and if people don’t come away a little bit unsettled, that’s probably a miss because the book, that’s what the book is best at.
0:20:08.4 DR: I’m not convinced that we’ve gotten to what I’ll call the meta-change, so there’s change, and then there’s that change about the change, and…
0:20:21.8 Greg: Yeah, systemic change of youth ministry, yeah.
0:20:25.7 DR: But that’s the hardest thing. Yeah, yeah, ’cause it’s a whole different… If it’s a whole different way of thinking, the closest I’ve gotten to reading something about that recently, and it wasn’t a recent book, but it was Skye Jethani’s book, The Divine Commodity, and he basically says we’re formed by a consumer culture, so why would we not think that the way we do ministry is consumeristic? And then he starts to unpack that, you’re going, “Oh my goodness, he’s right, he’s right, he’s right. This is part of the labor.” So, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get after that, what when you invoke some visions about practice, some of those are spot on in terms of the answers, I think, because let’s get into a habitual way of being, and habits are different than catalytic experiences.
0:21:18.8 DR: So, you used to do… You used to host the big old blow-out weekends. And I love it in your book that you talked about your St. Louis conversation, right? It’s a… And where you pushed back with some people who had been gathered, and just said, “Do you think that I don’t care enough?” I think we have to have that same sort of conversation, all of us gathered in the room, and God’s hosting it, Jesus is hosting that conversation where Jesus is saying, “Do you think I don’t care about Youth Ministry? Come on.” So, there’s something next level there, and man, that’s why… You said this. Conversation, this is a conversation. That’s why I think I love this. This needs to happen.
0:22:00.3 Greg: Yeah, and I do think I came to the limit of what I know when I wrote that book, it’s like, okay, now let’s get the big brains wrapped around it and let’s get… I love that, let’s get to the meta-change. And I feel like we’re driving toward this cliff, and I was like, “Okay, I think my job is not to get us necessarily completely to the destination, but I would wanna jerk the steering wheel like, “Guys, like, let’s take a look at the… Is this thing working? Let’s be very honest, and then let’s get in the process of re-thinking systems, and structures, and philosophy, and mindset, and then get to the models of what that actually looks like. So, I’m hoping and praying again that this leads to more conversation and impact.
0:22:55.5 DR: Well, and you introduced me, and rightly so, for a long time I thought I might get a brand as research boy in Youth Ministry or something like that, and I didn’t know if I liked that or not, but I was… But it is fair, there’s a body of work and research that I’ve contributed, and I’ve thought about a lot about this because this is… So whether it’s the TENx10 Collaboration, referenced by the great opportunity and ignited that way, where there was a research storyline sort of lighting a fire. You’re talking about there’s a storyline that we should feel the urgency of.
0:23:33.4 DR: I’ve got a client that I’m sort of working with through Arbor Research, where we’re… Where they’re asking for something that… The research role is to catalyze movement, and there’s a part of me that is going, “Wait a minute, something’s wrong here,” and I didn’t… And only maybe in preparation for this time with you did I feel like I got some like pithy things to say to this. In 1991, I started the Link Institute for faithful and effective youth ministry. Fifteen years later, I was… Unrelated to this, but I was signing my emails, faithfulness is enough.
0:24:16.6 DR: So, what happened here? Effectiveness, how… Does this work? How does it work? How well does it work? That is the territory that I wanna just pull research in right and left. I wanna get insights that way. But why is it that I’m now at a place, and this is true, I think now I’m at a place where I’m going, “Wait a minute. Faithfulness with Jesus is it… Is absolutely enough.” And so what I wrote, and I wanna get this right, ’cause this felt like one of those old man dream dreams kind of moments here. So, unless a heart drawn in by research becomes our heart all in with Jesus, we’re gonna be disqualified from helping with the mission, and that’s significant because I’ve been curious about like, “Wait a minute, you’ve been pounding the drum about a way of being with Christ that includes evangelism, includes going, includes getting in people’s world and sharing the Christ that we come to know and love,” and now… Oh, by the way, it’ll get a boost if it has some research data behind it. Doggone it, if that’s the case, I just wanna spit and curse, because that just feels like it’s, Hey, we don’t need John the Baptist, we got research.
0:25:47.4 DR: Research is gonna ignite you. Well, people who are ignited by research are not gonna be people who are qualified for the job, we got a Gideon moment here, we’re gonna whittle the army down to those whose hearts are all in, and it’s because you’re all in with Jesus, and you’re captivated by Jesus. Now, once you get that right, research has a great contribution that it can make to the how or the what, the exposure, the insights, what’s missing, what’s not missing, but man, there’s no such thing as a why that’s driven by research that I wanna get connected to.
0:26:22.3 Greg: Yeah, I love that. And I think… One of the things that I try to say to youths here all the time is if you fall in love with evangelism, you’ll fizzle out, if you fall in love with Jesus, you will always evangelize, because you can’t help but talk about him.
0:26:39.2 DR: Perfect.
0:26:39.9 Greg: And I think keeping Christ at the center of everything that we do is so important. I think that the challenge is that faithfulness is enough, is it depends on if you’re talking about faithfulness to Christ or faithfulness to work in the same system over and over again. You know what they say, insanity is doing the same things and expecting a different outcome.
0:27:00.4 DR: Yeah.
0:27:00.6 Greg: When you talk about faithful is enough, you’re saying keeping your eyes on Christ, His mission, keep him close to Him, and then systems change, everything else will erupt out of that.
0:27:10.5 DR: Well, and that’s exactly… That’s where I’m all in right now, because I’ve been convinced that… In the book we just wrote, Disrupting Teens with Joy, we use a metaphor about Youth Ministry, we basically say the Youth Ministry engages aimless teens on the surface of the water, and when we splash about with them, and sometimes that’s all there is to it, we just splash, we’re connected with them, we got so many people who attended, and it was fun. Some Youth Ministry is… A lot of Youth Ministry is… Lands in the snorkel zone, like we help kids have snorkeling experiences, look into the deepest, and this is great, we can get snorkel depth, it’s about usefulness, helping your kid become a good Christian boy, a good Christian girl, be acceptable, all that kind of stuff. But none of that is identity-forming and identity-transforming. That is a scuba gear depth, and Jesus wants scuba gear depth. He wants to get into our grill in a total life transformation. And if youth pastors and adults who love young people don’t know how to scuba, we ain’t gonna take kids into that depth. There’s no way. And so the first agenda is like, man… And it was joy, it was the notion of saying, “Wait a minute, scripture says I should be able to rejoice always. There’s a resiliency to joy. How do I get there?”
0:28:37.0 DR: Well, you don’t get it by pursuing joy, you get it because you found Jesus who the giver of joy, in his constant companionship, you can get there. So, I have confidence that Jesus is gonna disrupt stuff. In other words, when I’m all in with Jesus, all the time with Jesus, I’m not at my window with sort of monastic chance in the background, and this kind of serene, never engaging… I mean, Jesus, if you don’t believe that Jesus wants to take me into the marketplace toe to toe with people, then you don’t know my Jesus. I don’t know who you’re studying.
0:29:18.9 Greg: Well, He’s the great disruptor. I mean, He’s the one that flips tables at the beginning of his ministry and the end, and in between, he’s touching lepers, yelling at Pharisees, walking through crowds that are trying to kill him, seeing prostitutes transformed, it’s like even with tax collectors and sinners, He is the great disruptor. I’m hoping, with that thought in mind, with Christ at the center, I’m hoping that this, the failure of Youth Ministry is part of that great disruption, even if it’s just in a handful of youth leaders’ lives. But I’m praying that leads to a bigger discussion because I feel like we need to have those bigger minds around this subject, and we should be tackling this together and figuring this out. Maybe say a word about that TENx10 Collaboration, just for youth leaders who aren’t familiar with that, ’cause I think this is part of that big, big conversation.
0:30:16.4 DR: Yeah, it is. And I love the stirring that’s going on. And frankly, as a really old guy, I came to Christ during a youth’s movement.
0:30:27.1 Greg: Vintage. We would say vintage. Vintage guy.
0:30:29.6 DR: [laughter] I love it. I have a friend who said, “You’re an original gangster, Dave.” I’ll take that, too. [chuckle] But the notion of God being on the move and being up to something, I feel like I benefited from that as a Jesus Movement bred Christian in some way, and I didn’t know anything about the Jesus Movement, but that we were experiencing that. I think there’s something afoot right now, I want people to be encouraged. I think the Lord is stirring and He’s stirring hearts and he’s getting people to pay closer attention to things that are most significant, and I think this TENx10 Collaboration feels like it’s got that muster to it, there was hosted conversations, they’ve been largely polite, largely well-managed conversations, but the interest of funding agencies and influential thought leaders and people who have the keys to different organizational entities like denominations and parachurch organizations have come together. There’s a convergence, and I think that the convergence is absolutely fascinating. The vision is like 10 million kids engaged in just next-level discipleship over a 10-year period. And more significant to me than even that number, which is fantastic, is, can a 100,000 local ministries, local churches collaborate on that agenda?
0:32:00.1 Greg: Yeah.
0:32:02.0 DR: That’s, to me, even more bodacious, because we don’t collaborate. I don’t know what you mean by collaborate exactly, and that’s the work to be done, to come together, and in that space, to come together around a really robust thing. So, that’s the… The official launch time of the TENx10 Collaboration, I think it’s next fall, but there’s been this quiet campaign of a bunch of thought leaders kind of wrangling, you and I have had a chance to be in the mix and to have some conversations with Kara Powell in the Fuller Youth Institute, who… We’re just getting our organizational feet on the ground for what this looks like, but it’s fascinating to try to lay in our organization down, when everybody’s looking at each other and going, “This needs to be a movement of God.” And so, we’re going, okay. I think that if we preserve that tension and insist on the movement of God, that’s all about walking into… I’d rather be walking into the temple court with Jesus, helping him kick tables over than being at a Youth Ministry table, getting kicked over. And I think there’s a possibility that I… That there’s some of us who are manning our tables here, so.
0:33:12.7 Greg: To use that analogy, he made a whip, which is interesting. And The Failure of Youth Ministry book is a little bit of a whip to kind of get things going. So, how would youth leaders find out more information about you and about TENx10 Collaboration?
0:33:34.2 DR: Yeah, so the TENx10 Collaboration is a really simple website, that’s a great way to poke into that. Spell the word ten, put the X and then write out the number 10.org, so tenx10.org will take you right into the website, and it’ll start to introduce you to this, and I, again… Aware of what this aspiration is, so I still have a little bit of a foothold that’s gonna go away real quick with the academy, with people who are professors of youth ministry through an organization I helped to establish about 26 years ago, Association of Youth Ministry Educators.
0:34:13.2 DR: I’m privileged to lead their gathering in San Diego next October, and I’m all in about the TENx10 Collaboration sort of driving this agenda, because I just realized, Hey, Youth Ministry professors, people in the academy, if 100,000 local churches and youth ministries are agreeing to go one direction, we don’t wanna sit this one out, we don’t wanna be on the sidelines. What do we get to do? How do we contribute? What’s our role? ‘Cause there’s a good chance, there’s a possible chance, you’ve seen it and I’ve seen it, that academic fingers can be wet blanket instead of accelerants, and I don’t wanna be that.
0:34:56.6 Greg: Yeah, so Dave, and I wanna just encourage you. I’m an evangelist, and I know sometimes, spams like in trailer trash evangelist that I am. I was raised in trailers and I did eat spam. You can be discounted and marginalized, which is fine, but God has given you the credentials, you and a handful of others, that are passionate about the gospel, and as you know even though evangelism is a key part of the TENx10 Collaboration, which I’m so thankful for, that can be…
0:35:27.6 DR: Amen.
0:35:28.1 Greg: It can be shuffled to the bottom of the deck, it can be relegated to a come-and-see approach, an outreach meeting. I know God’s gonna use you to keep that as a top of conversation, strategic importance, and so I’m grateful that you’re in that space and to keep that…
0:35:46.3 DR: I pray, yeah, I pray. Your prayers and the prayers of all your listeners that I might be able to steward that assignment very well, too. I feel its… I feel its weight and the joy of that assignment, yeah.
0:36:00.1 Greg: I’m grateful for that. Well, listen, I wanna bring in a youth leader to talk about this and to maybe ask you questions or comment on some of the things that you said. His name is Eric Groezinger, he’s a friend. He’s served in Youth Ministry as a volunteer full-time for at least 25 years. He served two churches in the suburb of Chicago. He’s currently at Faith Bible Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He has a passion, helping to raise up, train, and equip students as gospel-centered disciple makers. He’s got a passion for equipping all other local youth leaders to build gospel-advancing ministries and networks. He first got connected with Dare 2 Share back in 2008 at a Survive Conference, and he’s been bringing students to Dare 2 Share events ever since. He’s part of our gospel-advancing roundtable, where we, every month, bounce ideas, get input, share visions, and just collaborate together for the cause. So, Eric, thanks so much for being a part of the podcast.
0:36:58.0 Eric Groezinger: Hey, thanks for having me. I’ve enjoyed the conversation listening in. I appreciate it very much.
0:37:03.1 Greg: Yeah, so what are some of the things that maybe popped to you, or questions that you may have for Dave, or comments, or things you agree with, or disagree with?
0:37:10.8 EG: Yeah. Man, first of all, Dave, I just really appreciate your humility. At the outset of the conversation, when Greg is talking about the book that he wrote, the humility you had, and owning as someone who has been in ministry, helping lead the church and teach and bring up others, just your acknowledgement that there has been some failure there, and I just really respected your honesty on that, you owning that, but also being willing to help bring about some of the changes that we’ve been talking about, that this book brings up, but also the need for that.
0:37:52.3 EG: Dave, I think your story is a little bit like mine. When I was in high school, I was raised in the church, but really felt a sense of belonging and of purpose more when I was introduced to the role that I can play in leading my friends to Christ. So, I was brought into a Youth Ministry where I was given the tools and actually started a Friday night outreach event at our church, with the support of our youth pastor and our student ministry, because of a situation in a conference I attended when I was a freshman at Indiana University over the summertime, I was a freshman, I went to this conference, and really had a burden that was kind of planted in me of, what do I need to do? What is my role in sharing the Gospel with my friends? And my youth pastor came alongside me and equipped me and provided the resources to make that happen.
0:38:47.3 EG: And then all throughout the rest of my high school career, really really getting that foundation of what does it mean to be an owner of my student ministry, not just a participant? Your comment about consumer culture, my hope was not just to be a consumer, but a contributor, and transforming that when I was just a student, and now obviously as a youth pastor, that’s my heart as well. So, I just really appreciated that. But I would say one of the things that you guys have been talking about that just kinda continued to come in was this theme of being all in.
0:39:23.3 EG: And Greg, you shared this stat with me years ago, and it has stuck with me. If you can get 10% of your group to be 100% all in, you can transform the culture, you can transform the mindset and the trajectory of where you’re going. And I just came back to that a lot, and I wrote that as I was reading through your book here, Greg, and I was writing that in my notes, and this is you guys have been talking, how powerful that can be if you can get 10% of your students to be 100% all in to the mission of Jesus, you’re not gonna fizzle out, and you’re gonna begin to see that transformation that I believe is gonna bring about a more robust but God-honoring youth ministry in the process.
0:40:09.8 Greg: You know, Eric, just a comment on that. I’m more and more convinced of… If you have got a core of your students that set the bar and set the pace for evangelism and discipleship, going, in Dave’s word, scuba dive in their relationship with Christ, they’re not snorkeling, they’re scuba, and they’re setting the pace for evangelism, that becomes the… Even if you don’t call it out, that’s the bar. And one of the things that shocks me is how many youth leaders I talk to that don’t have a student leadership group, they don’t have a core group of students, and that I’m like, “What in the world? You’re just running events then?” Dave, what do you think of that? The whole concept of really getting that core of student leaders that are… The importance of that.
0:41:05.3 DR: Yeah, I think it’s absolutely important in the scripture. And probably, if I were to pull back from all kinds of… All the research I’ve done, I favor some way of doing some research that sort of locks in on the role of exemplars and models to get us to where we wanna go. My PhD from Purdue is in Educational Psychology, the big question of Ed Psych is “How do people learn and grow?” I can’t get past the role of modeling and dynamics like that as a formational agenda. It’s clear in Scripture, it’s what Jesus did strategy-wise, it’s what Paul advised them to do. And so in Evangelism Remixed, we call out… When a kid sees a friend lead their friends to Christ, they are gonna be exponentially more effective themselves, and by the way, next level, when they happen to see their parents do that, so nobody… That’s like the biggest thing. It’s just like, I need to see this, what this looks like. I need to see it because my brain doesn’t work that way, otherwise.
0:42:16.4 DR: So, that’s why I think your 10% is… It’s just brilliant and it’s crucial. And frankly, I think it’s also embedded in Jesus’ strategy, what’s… By many measures, common youth group measures, you’ve got this zenith of an experience with Jesus, 5000 people, “Hey, I can’t wait for that event to be… ” But he whittled it down, and there’s 120 in an upper room. There’s 120. But that’s the 120 he chose to leverage for the sake of you and me to change the world. The vision was change the world, and it took 120 well-formed persons to do that.
0:42:58.4 Greg: Well, and if you do… Just for fun, if you look at the 12 disciples as the 10 percenters of the 120, you can kind of see that same unit.
0:43:05.8 DR: There you go. Nice.
0:43:08.0 Greg: It kinda works out. So it’s really cool. What else, Eric? Any other thoughts or comments?
0:43:12.5 EG: Yeah. I was just gonna say I feel like once you introduce your students, and you have that 10% who are really all in with the mission and the motives of Jesus, there’s a depth there, as you were saying, Dave, with the joy, but you really resonate, I think, with, they understand who they are, what their purpose and their role is in the community that they do it with? The 10 percenters. And I kinda echo back to Kara Powell’s podcast interview that you had, Greg, where students are asking three big questions. Who am I? What is my identity? What is my… Where do I belong? And what is my purpose? And man, you can’t come up with a better answer to that than the person of Jesus. And if you can find your identity, and your belonging, and your purpose, first and foremost, in him, then that joy in the heart of Jesus is gonna rub off on you, and now it’s gonna transform that culture of your friends, and you’re gonna be unstoppable. It’s gonna be contagious.
0:44:21.9 EG: And I’ve seen that in my own student ministry. I’m a product of that. As a high schooler, going to STEM, when I was a student and I was gonna lead the cause, our student… Our youth pastor trained us on identifying five students that we wanna pray for, care for, and share with. And it was exciting for me to see a couple of those kids come to Christ while I was in high school. That fired me up. And the contagious-ness of that continues to this day as I seek to train, and equip, and mobilize our students to do the same thing, and take them to lead the cause, and walk them through those steps to find out “Your identity is in Christ. You belong in this group of people who can support to you, but your calling is to go and make disciples.”
0:45:08.3 Greg: I love that. You know, it’s interesting, I’m gonna be speaking in Mobile, Alabama this weekend to a group of teens, and I’m gonna do a talk on Friday night, Gospel Urgency, then Saturday morning, Gospel Fluency, and then Saturday night, Gospel Strategy. And in the Gospel Fluency, I go through the Gospel acrostic. And the L is life with Jesus starts now and lasts forever. I made three little additions underneath as bullet points, life as, life with, and life for. So, this life, eternal life, is life as a child of God, a new identity that we get. Life with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have a new family. And life for, so the mission of God. So your identity is a child of God, your belonging is the family of God, and your purpose is the mission of God.
0:46:02.0 Greg: And those answer the fundamental questions again, every… I think back… I wrote that book, Unlikely Fighter, about my growing up years, and really, it deals with those three fundamental questions, how the Gospel changes everything, and so praise God for that. And Dave, we’re wrapping up here, but thank you so much for being a part of this. Do you have any last comments or encouragements for youth leaders?
0:46:28.4 DR: Yeah, I do. The word that we camped on in the book that we published last year included grit, and we’re trying to under… When I look at the social science meaning of grit, to me, it looks exactly like what Jesus meant by faith and belief, it’s like you will be all in on this one thing, nothing else. First of all, clarity about the object of grit, and then that leads to persistence, and innovation, and doing whatever it takes. And that, by the way, is why I’m all in with… We recommend four habits. One of them is testify, just like, every day, go out and say the name of Jesus to somebody. Just say it out loud, and watch what happens as you start to practice just saying his name out loud. And it doesn’t count if you will only say it to your mom every day at breakfast. You gotta say it to somebody everyday. Just push yourself. But it’s because it extends to the grit of just clinging to Jesus like… Anyway, great clarity is what pulls us there into that deep stuff. I appreciate this. This is a very heartening conversation. Thank you, guys.
0:47:39.3 Greg: Yeah, Dave, I appreciate you being a part of it. Eric, you did great. Thanks for all your insights and input. Thanks for your grit, man, you are grinding it out, building Gospel, advancing that work, Students Leading the Way. So praise the Lord. Again, youth leaders, you go to Amazon and just look up Dave Rahn, R-A-H-N. You’ll see Disrupting Teens With Joy, Evangelism Remixed, Contagious Faith, all sorts of other stuff, get to know him and his body of research, and let’s activate. He’s got so much good stuff that we just need to be able to put into practice. Pray for Dave that God would give him wisdom as he leads the way with The Voice of Evangelism and youth ministry with the TENx10 Collaboration and others. And let’s just pray, and with the youth ministry professors, let’s pray that God gives him strategic wisdom and favor to really play his role well in transforming the face of youth ministry and bringing it right at the feet of Jesus. Alright, thanks so much for being a part of it. And remember, youth leaders, that a thriving youth ministry is a gospel advancing one, so start advancing the gospel. Thanks for tuning in.
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