The Greg Stier Youth ministry Podcast
episode 14 | April 2022
Getting Jesus Back Into The Lives Of Students With Mark Matlock
In this episode, Greg sits down with former Executive Director of Youth Specialties and the founder of WisdomWorks Ministries, Mark Matlock. They discuss Greg’s new e-book The Failure of Youth Ministry… and how to fix it and go into depth on how trends have led us to where we are now. Greg and Mark also speak with youth leader, Chris Bartley, to follow up on the discussion.
Mark was the former Executive Director of Youth Specialties and the founder of WisdomWorks Ministries. He is an ordained minister and youth pastor who lives in Dallas. He co-authored the book Dirty Faith with Audio Adrenaline. He also wrote Freshman: The College Student’s Guide to Developing Wisdom. Mark has served as an advisor and consultant to many global youth ministries and has been a partner of Dare 2 Share for many years. He is currently serving as Interim CEO for Movement.org.
0:00:06.9 Greg Stier: Hi, 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. It is time for a revolution in Youth Ministry that will result in every teen everywhere hearing the gospel from a friend.
0:00:32.2 GS: This is a special kind of mini-series we’re doing around my short book, ‘The Failure of Youth Ministry and How to Fix It, and we’re gonna talk about the failure of youth ministry and what are the steps biblically we can take… We should take to transform the way Youth Ministry is done. I just wanna make it clear right up front, everyone on this podcast today believes in Youth Ministry. So we’re pro-Youth Ministry, but we all understand and believe that something needs to change and shift. So for this episode, we have a guest returning, one of my great friends and one of the great friends of Youth Ministry, Mark Matlock. Mark’s been working with youth pastors, students and parents for more than two decades. He’s a former executive director of Youth Specialties, the founder of WisdomWorks, which helps churches and faith-based organizations leverage their collective wisdom and insight to innovate and adapt in changing times.
0:01:28.7 GS: He’s authored more than 20 books for teens, including ‘Faith for Exiles’. If you don’t have that, get it. ‘Five Ways For a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon’, which he co-authored with David Kinnaman. Mark has initiated next-gen related research project with Barna. He’s just wicked smart in the words of my cousins from Boston. And he really is, and he’s humble, and he’s strategic and he’s helped us at Dare 2 Share, as a strategic consultant. He’s also just helped me as a friend, and he’s just somebody I can just pick up the phone and call. And we’ll put up his cell phone at the end of this, so you could pick up the phone and call him any time. I’m just joking. He’s no Bob Goff, he doesn’t give his cell phone out, but he is amazing, and right now…
0:02:17.3 Mark Matlock: I’ve had the same cell phone number, always.
0:02:18.1 GS: That’s right, that’s right. So Mark, welcome to the podcast. Welcome back.
0:02:23.5 MM: Hey, thanks Greg, really glad to be here.
0:02:25.0 GS: Yeah, this is gonna be fun. Tell us a little bit about your background. I know you’ve got some interesting things happening right now. Tell us a little bit what… Give us a little update.
0:02:37.7 MM: Yeah, well, when I left Youth Specialties back in 2017, God just opened up all kinds of interesting projects for me, and one of them was starting to work with a group called movement.org of New York. And their ministry reaches all over the world, but they… Kind of an outgrowth of a program called Movement Day, in New York, where they started bringing marketplace leaders, church leaders and nonprofit leaders together in a room to say, “How can the gospel impact the city?” And they had a vision to see the number of Christians in New York grow by 10% in New York city. Grow by 10%. And so it was a partnership with City to City and Redeemer, the Church, Tim Keller pastors, and the New York City Leadership Project, which was hosted by Mac… Started by Mac Pier. And so they saw their church planting efforts, their outreach, their service projects all make an impact in the city.
0:03:49.2 MM: And people started seeing that as a model for cities all over the world. So I was asked by the board to be their interim CEO while they’re going through some transition times, and it’s just been awesome to kind of step back into the CEO seat. I haven’t been in that seat in a long time. I’m starting to realize why I stepped out of it. [laughter] I really enjoyed doing the strategic consulting for different groups and working with Barna, but yeah, this is what I’ve got in the near future, and I’m really excited about it. Just awesome. I had a meeting this morning with about 85 global leaders today, just talking about how the gospel is influencing their city, how prayer movements are doing that. It’s just incredible…
0:04:33.0 GS: That’s awesome.
0:04:33.4 MM: To see what God’s doing all over the world.
0:04:34.1 GS: Well, it’s cool. And I know, I met Adam Durso… I don’t know… It was probably 15 years ago, I preached at a thing he did called Bizarro in Brooklyn, and it was an outreach event. I don’t know if you remember that? And…
0:04:47.2 MM: Yeah, I sure do.
0:04:48.5 GS: Yeah, it was really good. He’s got a heart for youth and I really believe… It’s interesting. I talk to pastors sometime and I tell them, “Listen, if you miss youth, you miss the movement.” And if your city-wide strategies don’t include youth as a major emphasis, you’re gonna miss the movement, ’cause as you know, teens come to Christ quicker, can spread the gospel faster and farther than adults. And that’s why I think it’s really important we shift to this conversation because I don’t believe we’re maximizing the potential of not just teens, but Youth Ministry. And so, why do you think this is an important conversation?
0:05:30.3 MM: Well, something happened in the ’90s that few people talk about, but we went on a big church planting boom. People were seeing churches like Willow Creek, like Saddleback, their incredible influence through purpose-driven and seeker-sensitive church. Even Jim Cymbala in New York, at a Brooklyn Tab. And there were a lot of youth pastors that decided, “You know what? Rather than serve in a church, I’m gonna kinda jump… And as a youth pastor, I’m gonna jump and plant a church.” Maybe that sounded more maybe promising, and so we lost in the Youth Ministry, just a huge swath of talent during the ’90s and that church planting revolution that took place. And a lot of those church plants failed, and sadly a lot of those pastors got so burnt out, fried, they… Some aren’t even in ministry anymore. And a lot of good things happened too, during that time. I’m not criticizing it, but youth ministry suffered most, because we had a gap in talent. And we had some people that have been serving for a very long time, but what we started seeing was just not a lot of innovation, not a lot of fresh responses to the culture.
0:06:54.7 MM: And so there was a period of stagnation that happened there where it was really more just like, “What do we need to get the job done,” versus, “How are we really advancing the Gospel to this next generation?” At the same time, we had emerging in the ’90s, the millennials, and now GenZ, that have a really different frame for looking at the world and thinking about it than generations prior. And so, they were kind of left somewhat abandoned during that process. And so we’re kind of dealing with this systemic change issue in the Church related to youth ministry. And I think we’re now starting to realize, we need to get our act together and figure out how to help this generation know Christ, because we are literally losing young people at an unparalleled pace, than we have in the past. And people say, “Oh, generations have always kind of faded a little bit after high school graduation.” But the reality is, adulthood has changed, and so people aren’t starting… Getting married, starting families, really landing in their careers until their late 20s, early 30s, so they’ve had a longer period of time to go without the church, and make it not a part of their life.
0:08:11.9 MM: So as this rise of the nuns is happening, people are growing up in a culture that’s just less Christian to begin with. So you have people that are just saying, “Boy, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other about Jesus Christ. Nobody has really ever told me much about him.” I mean, when I’m in New York and I’m talking to my kids’ friends, ’cause both my children live in New York, and we’re talking about Christ, or religion, or anything like that… They’re always curious about what I do. Most of the time they just go, “I don’t really have any thoughts at all about it. I really don’t know anything. I assume you voted for Trump.” That literally might be the only comment that they make, connecting my Christianity to something that they might know about. So that’s literally been just really eye-opening to me, has been seeing just, kind of, the cumulative effect of all of this.
0:09:05.5 GS: There’s so much packed in there, Mark. I think the advantage is… That we have an advantage is, we have a blanker slate to paint upon. Right? We can express Christianity…
0:09:16.6 MM: We absolutely do.
0:09:18.6 GS: As the meta-narrative, the beautiful story from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. And it’s… I’ll never forget… I don’t know if you were at that Y-Mac, 22 years ago, when Mark or Mike… Mits… What’s his name? Mike Mitsler, Mitz… I don’t know, he talked about, we have to change the way we present our gospel presentations to be the whole story, not starting in Genesis 3, but Genesis 1. That had a huge impact on me, and we adjusted it, and we use an acrostic to train the gospel story, but now we pitch it as telling the whole story of the gospel from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. And really took cues from… I don’t know if you remember, New Tribes Missions, but their Ee-Taow video, the chronological method really packed into that gospel acrostic, is that philosophy, how do we tell an unreached people group? ‘Cause if this is where the generation is going, we need to be ready with the full gospel. And I don’t mean… And full gospel, not in the four square Pentecostal way. I mean the full gospel in the, tell the whole story of the Bible, from beginning to end. And the other thing…
0:10:25.8 MM: Well, we are in a post-literate culture, so there’s a whole new way of thinking about post-literacy that’s kind of just… Kind of emerging and that storing which is actually ancient, is kind of becoming relevant again.
0:10:41.0 GS: Yeah.
0:10:41.8 MM: You know, and that chronological Bible storing is literally helping the gospel explode all over the globe, but it’s also finding its home in post-literate cultures as well.
0:10:54.6 GS: So the other thing you were talking about was when it comes to a youth ministry… And I fully agree. I think church planting has become kind of the sexy thing to do out of seminary, and let’s just plant a church. My philosophy is this… And I’ve seen this lived out, is if you come right out and plant a church, usually it’s gonna fail. It’s better to learn in the system, to do time as a youth leader, to learn to… If you could communicate… Somebody once said, “If you can communicate to 20 middle schoolers, you can preach… ” Effectively… You could preach at any church in America. Because they’re gonna really help test your communication skills. And to learn how to say “Yes, sir,” to the system, and learn to operate within that, kind of see what you like, what you don’t, and then you come out stronger. I think the other advantage is… I would say is you can get out of youth ministry, but once youth ministry gets into you, you always are a youth leader. So Mark, you’re out of youth ministry, but you’re a youth leader. You’ll always have that drive for young people.
0:12:06.0 MM: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
0:12:09.1 GS: And we get more church planting…
0:12:10.4 MM: I don’t really know if I’m out of youth ministry. I mean, many of the things that I’m leading are still about reaching…
0:12:15.1 GS: Youth focused.
0:12:15.6 MM: And impacting youth. And so it’s just in a different layer. It’s a different tier of that work. But you know what you’re saying, Greg, is so important, because… We just did our pastor’s prayer Summit in New York as part of movement.org. We gather 300 pastors from the Greater New York area there… Metro area and A. R. Bernard, who has just really become a pastor and a man that I just really think a lot of, he was talking to the older pastors in the room and he just said, “Look, these younger pastors can accomplish so much faster what we could when we were their age, 10x, at least.” He goes, “The problem is, is that what they’re lacking is the wisdom of the process that we went through to get there.” And so their capacity is greater than their character and that’s why they’re falling apart. And I think that’s what we saw a lot during that whole timeframe. I even see it happening in youth ministry where you’ll see people launching curriculums or youth ministry blogs or whatever. They’re more interesting in their brand than they are anything else. And I think we have to adopt this idea of kingdom over brand.
0:13:40.9 GS: Yeah.
0:13:41.5 MM: I heard somebody on a global call mention that from Australia yesterday, that we’ve gotten sucked in by the zeitgeist of social media and having a brand and developing a personal brand and all this stuff that we’ve forgotten what it means to have the kingdom brand and to wear that every day…
0:14:03.4 GS: Hold on.
0:14:04.3 MM: Because that’s so…
0:14:04.5 GS: Hey, Siri, look up “zeitgeist.”
0:14:12.5 GS: Oh, she did.
0:14:15.3 MM: It’s the spirit of the day, Greg. It’s the spirit of the day.
0:14:21.3 GS: No, I’m good.
0:14:26.5 GS: Spirit of the day.
0:14:27.4 MM: So anyway. All I have to say…
0:14:28.3 GS: You could’ve just said spirit of the day. Did you forget who you’re talking to? Forget who you’re talking to?
0:14:35.0 MM: All that we’ve gotta do is we’ve gotta really go back, I think, to the cross. We’ve gotta go back to the fundamentals of helping people understand how to follow in the way of Jesus. So one of the cool projects I’m involved in right now is we’re taking Pete Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Discipleship material, which is emotionally healthy spirituality, emotionally healthy relationships. And so it’s kind of the love God, love others of that. And we’re doing that for teens.
0:15:06.0 GS: Love it.
0:15:06.4 MM: ‘Cause one of the things that I think has really come out over the pandemic is that our programs were not enough to make disciples and to form them. We weren’t catechizing young people to the faith. And so I think we need to really look at what that’s all about, but it really comes down to, “Am I trusting in Jesus?” That is the one thing that youth ministry is about for a teenager that no other influence in their life is encouraging them to do is to put all of their trust, to lean all of their life weight into their relationship with Christ.
0:15:43.5 GS: I love that and I…
0:15:44.5 MM: And know that they’re not…
0:15:45.5 GS: And I think that whole concept… And again, I’m gonna tie it back to evangelism. There’s something about evangelism that is cathartic and transformative. We do a full-week training in the summer called Lead the Cause and I had a girl come up to me. She’s like, “I’ve never been to something like this.” And I go, “Okay.” She goes, “No, I’ve been to camps.” She goes, “Every camp I do is about me and my hurts and my needs. This is the one time where you guys talked about those, but you’re really focused on Christ and his cause.” And she goes, “And you know in the process, I feel healthier.” And I go, “Well… ” I said, “I think that is what it means to be a disciple.” Not that you avoid those issues, you deal with those issues, but you also are getting these kids Christ-focused. You’re getting them grounded in the word to catechize. You’re getting them on mission. And it really ties in with all these important things that teens need. And I think part of…
0:16:42.3 MM: Well, when somebody is a truly formed disciple, they can’t help but evangelize. It oozes out of them. They can’t have a conversation and not somehow bring in their relationship with Jesus Christ and to see that in there. And one of the challenges that I know you have done a masterful job working through in raising the flag of evangelism is helping people be formed so that they’re sharing from their life. They’re not just sharing a message that they’re not connected to. And I think that’s… When people hear evangelism [0:17:25.5] ____ that’s what they think is, “Oh, you’re gonna teach me a system. You’re gonna teach me a way of doing things.” And I’ve just loved watching the way you’ve progressed as you’ve actually done this with people and walked alongside them and youth pastors to help them become gospel advancing in their work, is that it’s not a thin gospel, it’s a formed gospel in their life. And I love that about what Dare 2 Share is trying to accomplish.
0:17:54.3 GS: Well, it’s exciting. And I say this all the time, you fall in love with evangelism, you’ll fizzle out, you fall in love with Jesus, you’ll always evangelize ’cause he just… And like you said, he just oozes out of you. You can’t help but bring him up, right? And…
0:18:09.0 MM: Yeah. It just comes out. Jesus brings people to you.
0:18:12.3 GS: Yeah, that’s right.
0:18:16.0 MM: You sit down next to somebody on an airplane or on the bus or at a restaurant or whatever and the server, the waiter, somehow it will come up. God will just do that when you trust in him. It’s amazing. But people need to know how to take advantage of that moment too.
0:18:33.5 GS: Yeah, they need training.
0:18:33.8 MM: And I’ve been working with my own children because they’re realizing that Jesus inside of them is showing up to people and they’re not necessarily knowing how to…
0:18:45.1 GS: How to take the turn.
0:18:46.3 MM: Take that moment and cultivate it. And that’s the beauty of everything that you’ve been about.
0:18:51.5 GS: Yeah. We need to get those youth leaders in New York, man. Let’s train them and equip them and mobilize them ’cause they could… I’m telling you, I think…
0:19:00.0 MM: Oh, man, you want to talk about on fire group of people, that’s the youth ministers in New York.
0:19:07.5 GS: I remember training a group of youth leaders in Queens and it was no-nonsense. Most of them were volunteering part-time. They took notes on everything, asked questions, unlike… Some of the suburban, it’s more like going to a buffet. “I’ll take a little of this, take a little of that.” They were just saying, “We’re gonna take this, we’re gonna download it. The situation is urgent and we’re gonna mobilize this generation.” I’m like, “Oh, man.” I love New York City youth leaders. They’re all about it. Let’s make a shift to this book, this small book, The Failure of Youth Ministry, and how to fix it, just to ask honestly, what did you agree with or disagree with? How would you shape some of the ways that that was communicated? Or would you fully agree or partially disagree? What do you think?
0:20:00.9 MM: Well, I think it’s really important that we ask ourselves the question how are we doing that we take a little pulse, I think that’s a healthy thing for us to do as a collective network of people that are trying to help young people follow Jesus, and put their trust in Him. And so I love things like this. It reminded me back in the early 2000s, I did a project for Youth Specialties. And I did a futuring project, looking at what are the future scenarios for youth ministry, and one of them, one of the scenarios was youth ministry is proven to be a failure. And that ultimately we figure out everything that we’ve built doesn’t work. And it’s been interesting to watch over time, where people have either said, “Yep, it’s a failure,” and they’ve [0:21:00.9] ____ or they have said, “You know, what, if we keep doing things the way we are, yeah it is not going to work. But if we modify, if we adapt, if we learn from what we’re doing.” And one of the challenges I’ve always found in youth ministry, because people graduate out of youth ministry, at some point in time they either aged out or whatever.
0:21:24.7 MM: Sometimes youth ministry suffers from not being able to build off the wisdom of those who’ve come before. We’re hyper-localized, we’re inside of our church, we’re narrowly focused on the students that we have. And there’s this collective wisdom out there in the community. And that’s why I love podcasts like this, I love conferences like Youth Specialties where we can come together. And we can learn from those who are older and wiser. We can learn from others that are going through the same experiences where we are, and we can collect that knowledge and grow. But I’ve noticed lately that a lot of people haven’t been interested in leveraging that collective wisdom that exists within our community, and everybody’s trying to solve for their own conclusion. And therefore, we’re repeating the same things over and over again, we’re not progressing. We’re not standing on the shoulders of those who’ve come before us and learned the lessons, taking it to new places. And so that’s what I love about a book written by a sage kind of guy like you, Greg, is that you’re really evaluating this.
0:22:37.0 MM: But what I love is the byline on it too, and how we can fix it. You didn’t just… And this is what happened during the time that I was writing this stuff. People were just trying to critique youth ministry and say that it was bad, it didn’t work, whatever. But very few people were really offering solutions, a new framework, a new model. And so what happened during that time is a lot of people got disillusioned. And we lost models, things like purpose-driven. You were a part of the project with Chet Clark, looking at different models of youth ministry. And I thought that was a really important book because I found that a lot of people were just making it up as they went. They had no theory of change. They had no perspective on, What am I trying to do here with these young people? Where am I trying to take them, and that creates a crisis. I just… Listening tour where I traveled like twenty-something cities, would wake up in the morning, no agenda would show up with a roomful of youth pastors, we would make an agenda and just have conversations all day. And the one thing that I found was just that it seemed like youth ministers were just lost, they didn’t really know who to look to or who to guide them.
0:23:53.1 GS: I think of, youth leaders, need leading, and I feel like youth ministry needs led and not by a person, per se, but by a biblical framework for effectively doing youth ministry. And I think a lot of people jumped up with that confusion and said, “Okay, here’s the answer, family ministry. Youth Ministry is wrong. It’s mom and dad’s responsibility.” I remember preaching at a D6 Conference, which they’re great, but I said, “If it’s just mom and dad, then what do you do with a guy like me, who I actually led my mom to Christ, and discipled her when I was 15 years old?” I did not have Christian parents, I had no father and my mom was an unbeliever, and I’m raised in this violent family. And I think more and more teens, the teens that we’re trying to reach, don’t have Christian moms and dads, and even a lot of the ones that do have Christians moms, their spirituality is not formed, let alone being able to form their own kids. So it makes the case and I believe in family ministry, and I love D6, but I feel like it’s got to work in…
0:25:10.8 MM: Thank you. ‘Cause I helped them get started. So…
0:25:14.6 GS: Oh good, perfect. I’m glad. The zeitgeist on that. Was that? No, that’s not the right, proper usage. But the whole concept of that working with the system of youth ministry, again, I think it’s what you say is modify, and how do we adjust how do we learn and grow and go?
0:25:32.1 MM: Yeah, well, we have to look at the lifecycle. Obviously, this is a great theological question. And I think the church in the last couple of decades, maybe 15 years, has basically said, “Hey, look, parents are the primary disciple-makers of their children.” And I would say no, parents who are a part of the church are the primary disciple-makers of their children. But the reality is the church is the primary disciple-makers, period. Right? The church is the one who is responsible for making disciples, and if I’m a parent, I then have a responsibility. But I think it was Mark DeVries who said, sometimes when we say that parents are the primary, we assume that parents are more sanctified than they are, and we have Biblical models of parents giving their children over to be spiritually mentored by others.
0:26:34.8 MM: You know what I mean? That’s not an un-Biblical model. If you as a parent aren’t capable of raising your child, then they should be in a community or they should be in somebody’s care who can take care of that. And I remember some speaker saying, Look, we outsource our kids athletic coaching, we outsource their education, we outsource their this, we outsource… And they go, but we cannot outsource their spiritual development, and I’m like, “Why not? If somebody could help my child grow closer to the Lord better than me, I would absolutely outsource that job.”
0:27:15.4 GS: Well and I think… It’s ’cause I do think… I’ve said this before, my son has been exposed to some great leaders at Dare 2 Share, Zane Black, Jerrod Gunter others, and I love the fact that he looks up to them and that they have helped shape his spiritual growth, because as you and I well know and any parent who’s a parent of teenager or above knows it’s a team sport, discipleship is a team sport, it’s not…
0:27:47.6 MM: It absolutely is, well. Think about the hero’s journey, right? That our kids are on. They’re foolish. They get a call to adventure. Then they usually meet a mentor, so if you got Spider-Man, he gets a bit by, or Luke Skywalker, he…
0:28:08.5 GS: Wait, hold on, Spider-Man got bit by Luke Skywalker? I did not see that one…
0:28:14.1 MM: Sorry, sorry. Go back to Luke Skywalker. Let’s use Luke Skywalker as an example. So Luke Skywalker, he gets this call from this princess to get invited into a bigger story than he’s living as a moisture farmer on tatooine. His uncle says No, all of a sudden he’s… He’s aunt and uncle get killed, and he finds a mentor, and what’s interesting is in all of the hero stories, like the parents die, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man’s living with his aunt and uncle, Harry Potter’s living with his aunt and uncle, all of these stories, Cinderella dad’s dead, has got the evil step mother, all of our heroes, their parents are dead. Why? Because that is literally the symbolic moment of maturity, and if you are alive while your kids are going through adolescence, you know that you are symbolically dead.
0:29:08.2 GS: Yeah, dead to me, you’re right.
0:29:11.4 MM: It’s like you can have… I was helping write the youth group curriculum when my kids were teens, I was like, “Please don’t tell my kids I had anything to do with this.” Because they’ll reject it, but they’ll listen to these others, and I was so thankful for the men and women in my church that were able to come along side my kids during that phase of life, because I saw my kids accelerate their growth by being a part of the youth ministry, their spiritual growth, by having these other adults in their life that were saying the same things that maybe I would have told them. But they were listening to them.
0:29:46.6 GS: Yeah.
0:29:47.1 MM: And that is why I think youth ministry is so important. We always say, Boy, if parents would just get their act together, things would be okay. That might be true. But it’s probably never going to happen. So as a body of faith, we have to own that. Yes, challenge Christian parents to raise their kids and their friends kids in the Lord, but at the same time, Hey, let’s as a church realize that we have responsibility for making disciples in our communities, that’s why gospel advancing is so important.
0:30:20.9 GS: Mark, this… I’m kinda checking out my questions ’cause I think this conversation has taken a trajectory of its own, and I think it’s good because I do think people that read the failure of youth ministry gonna get our idea for a solution, which is the Gospel advancing a philosophy. I do think you bring up a bigger picture question about youth ministry in general and how parents interact with that, but I’m very hopeful, I just wanna… We’re gonna invite Chris and one youth leader in just a few minutes, but I’m very hopeful about the future of youth ministry. I preached last week to about 1500 youth leaders in Orlando at the youth pastor Summit, about 100 or so in a breakout session at youth pastor Summit in Dallas this week, and people ask me, how do they respond?
0:31:19.7 GS: I go, I think down deep inside of every youth leader worth his or her salt, there is a hunger for a transformation, there’s a hunger for gospel advancing, there’s a hunger to change, they know something’s off, and they wanna see it fixed, and they’re looking for that leadership, they’re looking for that pathway, and it’s what we call a radical paradigm is 2000 years old, it’s the ancient path, the creed and the cause and Christ and the church and the family, and just working together to mobilize these teenagers. So I’m hopeful for the future of youth ministry in spite of the challenges.
0:32:00.2 MM: And I’m hopeful too. I actually don’t believe that there has maybe ever been such a great moment for teenagers as right now, now we in the church have to get our act together and figure out what we’re really about, are we about wanting to be the star on the stage, or are we about making disciples. And I think that’s the hard questions that we’ve gotta ask ourselves as leaders. Why am I getting into this? I always told people that we’re trying to… Hey, got this idea for a great youth ministry product or a great youth ministry resource, and we think it’s gonna crush, and I’m like, Look, if you’re trying to make money in youth ministry resources, you’re already starting in the wrong space like people have done it, but by accident, rarely by design, so it’s like, just follow the kingdom, follow.
0:32:51.6 MM: Follow, reaching kids, loving them, helping reach them and any of that influence will follow you. But focus on that, don’t be thinking about how to build all that. And I agree, I think this… Youth pastors around the country, it’s hard to step back and think about this, every week you’re faced with several Mack Trucks of Sunday, Wednesday trips that are facing you and it’s like, as soon as you dodge one, there’s another one coming at you in seven more days. So, it is hard to stop and reflect. So I applaud anybody who’s listening to podcasts, who’s taking time to go out and just stop. And maybe that’s one of the best things you can do is, ask your pastor just to give you three or four days just to stop and do a retreat. Spend some time with the Lord, with his word, and just think about, “What am I doing right now?” And how do I think this works, ’cause it only comes down to one thing, “Jesus, will you make a difference in the lives of the teens around me?”
0:33:55.7 GS: Yeah. Amen. Amen.
0:33:56.4 MM: Now, how do I introduce these people to Jesus?
0:33:58.0 GS: Yeah, how do we do that?
0:34:00.4 MM: It’s the only way, it is the only way.
0:34:00.5 GS: And Mark, that’s… I’m gonna make a segue to bring in Chris. That’s why I wrote “The Failure of Youth Ministry” and that’s why it’s such a blatant title. I wanted to get youth leaders attention. I want them to pause and reflect and think about it, and reconsider the path that they’re going in. And one of those youth leaders that is just rockin it is Chris Bartley. He’s a discipleship pastor, youth pastor at New Beginnings Fellowship and church in Pikeville, Kentucky and he writes in his bio, “Go Cats.” I don’t know what that means, but I’m sure that’s an awesome thing. He’s married to Billy who’s a gospelizing machine, I can testify to that. And together they have three kids. He’s been in youth ministry in one form or another since 1998 in Pikeville, Kentucky. Love seeing students lead others to Christ. Chris, welcome to the podcast.
0:34:51.9 Chris Bartley: Yes, thank you. Man, this is awesome.
0:34:54.5 GS: Yeah. So, Chris…
0:34:56.4 CB: It looks like at class, I love that. You know?
0:35:01.4 GS: [laughter] Yeah.
0:35:01.5 MM: This is just an average conversation for Greg and I, he’ll call me all the time. And if I can, I will always take Greg’s call.
0:35:09.0 GS: I love talking to Mark, I learn so much every time. And so Chris, what are some of your insights, thoughts, questions based on this conversation?
0:35:16.9 CB: Well, you know, I was going down one way and then it shifted. So I’ll start at the first. I’m gonna backup. I agree, the pandemic exposed a lot of our programs. And so like as a youth pastor, talked to a lot of my friends, not just here but all over the country, and students were dropping off of the Zoom calls or the online things. And just in conversation, we realized that our programs were designed to gather and not to multiply. And it was simply a programme, you know? And so when Jesus calls his disciples to be sent, and really youth ministry had been designed to gather. And some of the ways I realised that, just even listening right now is, a lot of the things that I’ve been to, simply youth ministry used to do the national youth pastors conference and all those things. Most of the leading questions of new people that we would meet would be, “How many students do you have?” And so, one of the shifts I’ve made, especially since the pandemic is when somebody asked me that I say, “Let me tell you about Andrew, he’s a student in our ministry and here’s what he’s doing.”
0:36:40.5 MM: You didn’t tell him that Andrew was the only student you have in your ministry?
0:36:42.4 CB: No, no. [chuckle]
0:36:44.2 GS: Yeah. Yeah.
0:36:44.4 CB: But you know, Andrew is a disciple making machine and he’s… Anytime at school, even the football coach is like, “Andrew, will you pray for us before we go on the field?”
0:36:55.2 GS: That’s awesome.
0:36:56.7 CB: And so that’s one student of have several who are doing that, that I get to work with. Now I can tell them, you know, “We’ve got this big youth ministry and we’re doing this, and we’re doing that.” But really, whenever there’s a heart that’s been ignited for Christ, it changes the whole community.
0:37:18.0 MM: It’s the real measure, yeah.
0:37:19.3 CB: Exactly.
0:37:20.4 MM: I love that, Chris, I love that so much. And I can’t agree with you more, the pandemic exposed so many things about what we’re doing. I think people realize, “Oh, my congregation doesn’t know how to read the Bible on their own, how to pray on their own, how to… ” Like, “They’re more dependent on us than we thought.” Maybe there are a lot of people that were just coming that weren’t really participating. And I think what scares me about it, as things are kind of bouncing back to normal, is that people are trying to return to the old ways rather than realizing God has given us a tremendous opportunity to leave some things at the curb, and make space for some new things. And in some ways, just making some space too.
0:38:14.2 MM: But there’s this desire to rush back in, and I think we’re going to be very disappointed as we do that, and we’re gonna miss this really beautiful opportunity. Churches, organizations that have been around for a while, they collect a lot of stuff. And it’s like we have this opportunity to do a garage sale [chuckle] and figure out what’s really worth keeping. And I just hope that we don’t rush back to fill up our spaces with the same things, but we make some space for something new ways of thinking and doing things. I think it’s really, really important.
0:38:48.2 GS: Good stuff.
0:38:49.4 MM: That’s awesome that you guys had that opportunity.
0:38:52.3 CB: Yeah, and my wife, I stole the line from her. I heard her discipling a girl and she said, “Invite somebody to Jesus, and they’ll find a church.” And so that’s been a real focus as we kind of relaunched. And you’re right, our calendars look different. Our programming reflects our priorities because so many times, as a youth pastor, you come in and you inherit a program and, “Well, we do it this way.” But there’s never been a… Like Greg said during this interview, there’s never been a more blank canvas that we’ve ever had to make it very biblically-based, and our measurements don’t have to be how many do you have coming to your weekly gathering, but how many people are being transformed, and what does that look like in a real and relevant way in the community and in the schools.
0:39:45.4 GS: So Chris, I’m gonna just interrupt real quick because you’re bringing up a point. I think I’ve realized that the whole gospel advancing thing and talking to youth leaders for the last several years, that really a key to implement in this gospel advancing philosophy is a student leadership team that are on fire for the gospel, that are set in the pace, ’cause a lot of youth leaders say like, “Where do I start?” Well, start praying. Start sharing the gospel, train your students. I think a real tactical step is find those kids and are ready to go all in and pour all into them. And I just wanted to get your response to that because it feels like this is a time where that shift in youth leaders thinking can really happen and really build strong student leadership teams that set the pace for the whole group.
0:40:33.4 CB: Oh, yeah, and we’re very intentional on… I’m pouring into as many students as we can, obviously, but there’s also those who you could just see making a difference. And some of our most impactful times, like one of the things that happens here is after youth ministry is over, we end around 7:30, so 7:45 where everybody’s leaving, six or eight kids, maybe 10 kids, sometimes would say, “Can we come to your house and your wife make donuts?” She makes the best homemade donuts. So they come and we’re sitting around the table and they’re asking real questions, real life questions about… Just a few weeks ago, we had another faith move into our community, and they were out in the yard and they were talking to a couple of kids about what their faith belief is. And so they were asking me all these questions, “Well, what do they really believe about this?” And so these are things they’re not gonna ask when you’re standing in front of a group of 30 or 40 or even others, but you have to break down that wall to where they feel open to be able to ask you these questions.
0:41:48.1 CB: And then, something I’ve learned is you’ve gotta be able to answer those questions, which means maybe you don’t answer right that second, maybe you have to do some research, but the discipleship is happening around the table. I tell them, I say, “Energy happens in the rows,” so in the big crowd, we build energy, but growth happens in circles, in small groups, and you can really pour in and get those true real life questions. One of our things that here at the church that our pastor keeps saying is we gotta make Jesus known in a real and relevant way. And it kinda leads to what Mark was saying, like if people don’t… It’s easy to tell people they need to know Jesus, and deep down they know that there’s something there, but to… Like this Sunday we’re going… Or next to Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, we’re going to the local baseball field and we’re gonna mow the grass, we gonna paint the dugouts, we’re gonna do those things, and we’ve invited the coaches and the players to come and be a part of that. And so it’s gonna be real and relevant. How is Jesus making a difference, not just in a vocal thing, but in a real sense? And how are we making a difference in the community? And so…
0:43:09.3 MM: Chris, I think that’s really brilliant. One of the first ways that Greg and I met was over some research that we had done on teens and evangelism. And one of the things that we discovered was that a lot of non-Christian teens, when we asked them like, “Here’s a bunch of activities you could get to be invited to do. What would you be most likely to say yes to?” And we had concerts, hear a talk, go to amusement park, see a magician, all the stuff, and the one thing that came up was, do a service project for the community. And a lot of times we don’t… We think about, “Well, okay, we’re gonna take the youth group to go serve,” but I love this idea of inviting another group or others to come and serve alongside you, ’cause there’s something really powerful when we make things together, when we do things together, we really get a chance to unpack the gospel.
0:44:03.4 MM: That’s just brilliant. I just wanna highlight that in case anybody missed that and just thought, “Oh, I’m just hearing of a project they’re doing.” No, there’s something really powerful. It can be replicated in a thousand different ways that so… Even the making donuts thing, we had a woman in our church who would teach the teenagers how to cook, ’cause most of them didn’t know how to really cook. And that became this huge just moment as they would come together and prepare meals that they were then eat, but they were learning how to cook, and they just talk about things and life would come up in the process of doing that, and all of a sudden faith is being shared. If there’s an end to it, if there’s an outcome, I wanna make sure these people understand who we are and what we’re about. But anyway, I think that’s really great.
0:44:50.3 CB: Yeah, and kind of what…
0:44:51.7 GS: Just… Go ahead.
0:44:52.8 CB: Kind of what I’ve learned in doing these projects like that is in doing the projects all the get to know yous is taken care of, and you get to jump straight into the chase. You build credibility and you build vulnerability, and so, while you’re raking the field the grass or you’re painting something, or you’re cleaning or whatever it is the project is that we’ve experienced, they say, “Well, what do you think about this?” And you’re able to interject the Gospel, and they ask you the question, you don’t have to say, “Have you ever thought about… ” And so, they start asking the questions.
0:45:35.1 GS: So I’m hearing two really practical things, it’s organic evangelism in the midst of a service project, but also organic discipleship around a table, and I do think creating room for that, for that hang out time, but intentional discussion, and food, fun. But not just playing games, not just filling time, but having those conversations, ’cause what… We used to teach a strategy called Alternative Teaching, ALT, ask, listen, teach. Well, that can happen in a youth room, but it can happen around a table. You ask questions, you listen deeply, and then you show them what the Word of God says. It’s a little bit more dangerous because they’re gonna ask you questions that are tough, questions about hell, and the reliability of scripture and LGBTQ and gender issues, all that stuff is gonna come up, but you look how Jesus discipled His disciples, it was usually not in a teaching format, it was on the way, by the way, by a fig tree, by a lake, catching fish. It was in real life. And that is great. I know we’re wrapping up here, but do you guys have any final thoughts or encouragements?
0:46:48.5 CB: I tell you the other thing that Mark said that really shook me was when he was talking about the parents, I mean the church being responsible for making the disciples, because so many times I’ve said, “They pay to get their laundry done, they pay for the dry cleaning, they pay to get their house cleaned, so they’re paying me to give them Jesus”, and I’ve almost took that as an insult, but for the youth leaders listening today, man, grab hold of that. I mean, Mark really made me think about that in just these few minutes, is that maybe that’s the best alternative. It’s better for them to send their kids go learn about Jesus than to be at home and get some kind of false narrative about who Jesus is, and so seize that moment. That was good. Because… And then what happens is the multiplications, because students control a lot of the resources from the house. We take them to baseball, we pay for lessons and those things, so they’re controlling a lot of the money and a lot of the time of the parents, and so we as youth leaders can seize that moment, that was great. I mean, that was great.
0:47:55.0 GS: I think it was great, and I would just add to that, to buffer to that, obviously the best scenario is gonna be that plus fully engaged mom and dad that are on fire for Christ discipling their kids. You got that, that’s a double barrel shotgun of transformation.
0:48:10.0 MM: Oh yeah. You just… You can’t guarantee that. Just like your situation, right? Like if you got it, awesome.
0:48:15.0 GS: And if you don’t…
0:48:15.8 MM: Hey, Greg, remember, you did the ask, listen, teach… You had another one that started with appreciate…
0:48:22.6 GS: Oh, you mean the evangelism? It is ask, admire, admit. So, it’s how we start, ask questions, admire what you can about what they believe, admit the reason you’re a Christian is… You need to use that.
0:48:33.5 MM: I use that, I can never remember the exact… Alliteration doesn’t work real well with me, but I remember the steps. And I just want you to know that I even used that just last week, I was in Pebble Beach, and I met some new friends, and I use that all the time. I think that that is such a great structure.
0:48:54.5 GS: That’s great.
0:48:57.0 MM: To start talking to people about things and then to appreciate, and I always love to appreciate something spiritual about what they’re asking or what their questions are, and then… And it’s such a good… Man, it’s worked really well with people that really didn’t know they were walking into a Gospel conversation.
0:49:16.0 GS: Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, I know we gotta wrap up here, but Chris, thank you for being a part of this, thank you for being a on-fire, gospel-advancing, discipling, multiplying youth leader.
0:49:25.0 MM: Great to meet you, Chris.
0:49:27.2 CB: I’m a long time fan. It was good for me to be here.
0:49:31.2 GS: And Mark, thanks again, brother, for being a part of this.
0:49:35.6 MM: Any time.
0:49:36.5 GS: And I appreciate you, we’ll be praying for you with movement.org that God gives you wisdom as that interim CEO to make a maximum impact, so… And I just wanna tell youth leaders, hey, take this stuff, get the Word out, create the conversation, and remember, if you want a thriving youth ministry, build a gospel-advancing youth ministry for the glory of God. Thanks for tuning in.
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