Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Youth Ministry Interview with Mark Riddle

I've recently had a chance to do an interview with my good friend Mark Riddle, author of Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors. Mark's got an official blog tour going on to spread the word and answer questions about this book. This is stop number two on the tour. Here's the interview:

Dan--The first big question that comes to mind when reading your book is the title of the first chapter, “Why do you want to hire a youth pastor?” Most churches would counter with the response, “Why wouldn’t we want to hire a youth pastor?” or “Doesn’t everyone else have one?” Is it your intention to suggest that hiring a youth pastor might not always be in the best interest of a congregation? If so, why?
Mark--Hiring a youth pastor in many churches is the primary means church leaders show parents of teenagers that their kids are important to them. And yes, many church leaders simply assume it’s a high priority for staffing in their church. There are certainly many instances in which hiring a youth pastor is detrimental to the church’s ministry to teens. In fact, it’s pretty common that the spiritual formation of teens is actually harmed by the circumstances revolving around a the way in which many churches hire youth staff. This is rooted in a common lie church leaders buy into: If we find the right person to hire, they will lead us to health. When this lie is believed, it’s easy to rationalize staff turnover, because we can always say, “Well that wasn’t the right person.” We need to look harder.

Dan--In your chapter about Church A and Church B you give perspective on two common models of youth ministry organization and their opposite polarization. Can you explain to the readers here a little bit about Church A and B, and do you think there might be a Church C?
Mark--Church A believes that the responsibility of spiritual formation of teens rests on the shoulders of a youth pastor. These churches talk about volunteers, equipping and such but when the buck stops, it’s with the staff person. Church B believes that the responsibility for the spiritual formation of teens rests on the parents and the church community. Most churches talk like church B, but function like Church A. I’m sure that one day a Church C will emerge. I don’t know what that would be right now.

Dan--It’s pretty common, in my experience, for churches to hire a youth pastor straight out of the nearest bible college. That YP is there for about a year then quits out of frustration or gets fired for some reason. What do you have to say in the book about hiring/staffing practices for churches that might stem this tide?
Mark--I think it’s interesting that churches often say they highly value teens and their spiritual formation, but will hire a 24 year old to do it on their behalf. It evokes a lot of questions. What kind of understanding might a church have about spiritual formation and what it looks like that they would hire what is sociologically a late adolescent to do it? What kind of spiritual formation is a 22 year old straight out of Bible college capable of doing with a church? It’s also interesting to see the relatively brief amount of time churches spend with candidates before they come on staff compared to the amount of time the staff person spends per year with kids. Someone might ask, if youth ministry is important to these kinds of churches. I know it’s pretty normal, but normal doesn’t mean acceptable. I talk a lot about alternatives to this kind of thinking in the book.

Dan--You talk quite a bit in the second half of the book about the role of senior pastors in working along with their youth pastors. What do you have to say that might make a senior pastor want to actually read and take seriously a book published by a youth ministry company? After all, don’t you all just make jokes about us at your conventions?

Mark--Technically the book is written by Zondervan as Youth Specialties is division within Zondervan. But to answer your question. I’m not sure there’s anything I can say that might make a senior pastor read the book. I spend most of my time with Senior Pastor and other church leaders and I’m not interested in trying to convince them to take the book seriously. In this sense, the book needs to find them at the right time.
I’m not sure what do say about your last question about conventions. I’ll just soak that up and pass it along to the folks who run those conventions.

Dan--Your book is mainly written for churches that either already have a youth pastor on staff or are planning to hire one. That assumes they’re churches large enough to afford having a youth pastor on staff. What relevance does this book’s conversation have for churches that aren’t so situated?
Mark--This relates to your first question. I’m convinced that there is a need for youth pastors in churches. I’m also convinced that not every church needs to be paying a youth pastor. Most of the churches I work with don’t have a youth pastor and could go without one. They are growing kids in their faith, adults are owning the ministry, kids are bringing their friends. They do this without a staff person. What’s interesting is that a youth pastor is optional for most of these churches and that they choose to hire one anyway, for great reasons. This book is made for churches who will never have a youth pastor in my mind.

Dan--This book has discussion questions at the end of each chapter, which leads us to assume you intend for it to be read together by groups of people. This might be the senior and youth pastor together, the search committee, the volunteers, the parents, etc... Whom do you think benefits the most from reading this? And what is the best time in the youth ministry development timeline to do so?

Mark--Everyone benefits from reading this with others because it moves the congregation to engagement with youth ministry. Youth and their families benefit the most from church leaders reading this book. I think the senior pastors/ executive pastors and elders are a good starting point with a youth pastor if there is one. Involve more people as you go. Invited key volunteers and parents into the discussion as you go. It will build community, ownership of youth ministry and common understandings for this important ministry.
Dan--Is there anything else you’d like to say about your book that I haven’t asked you about?
Mark--I’d love to hear stories of individuals and communities who engage the material and see where they land.

Purchase Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors here.
Visit Mark's blog here.
Learn more about Mark's in general here.
Visit Mark's consulting firm, The Riddle Group, here.

1 comment:

jeremy said...

thanks for this interview.