Great Interview with Mark Riddle – Youth Ministry, Staffing, Church A & B

Ok, so a couple of weeks back, I posted a review of Mark Riddle‘s book, Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors. You can read that review here.

Part #2 was Mark graciously agreeing to answer some additional questions that I had around the book. There’s a blog tour on – you can find the details over here.

ED. I really really encourage you to get a hold of this book – it’s worth it.

So – here’s the interview!

1. So what does a ministry/church consultant really do? I guess it’s a bit self-promoting, but what do you think a church can gain from engaging with a consultant like yourself, in this hiring business?

Tash, thanks for having me visit your blog. This is officially my first kiwi interview. I’m looking forward to hearing your friends.

To your question, People generally hire a ministry consultant because they want a future different from their past and they recognize that the tools, perspectives, answers and responses to situations they’ve used in the past will only continue to lead them back in to past results. Sometimes this means the church approaching me is in crisis other times church leaders want to maintain a growing edge. My experience has been that the church leaders who invite me alongside their churches are smarter than I am, more experienced than I am, and very competent leaders, however they see the need to have an outside perspective and encouragement as they are working through a variety of situations. I can’t speak for them, but I hope that churches who work with The Riddle Group (the organization I lead) experience all of these positive things.

What’s been a great success story for your work?

I love this question. I think success is measured by the stories we tell. In brief, churches that invite us to partner with them begin to see themselves as responsible for the church in every way shape and form. I think about First Christian Church in small stable rural community who took 14 to take inventory of their youth ministry and the revolving door of their youth pastor position. They thought it was dodgy to outsource the spiritual formation of their children and youth to a staff person. They did ultimately hired someone, but the church still owns every bit of the youth ministry. The Youth Pastor’s job is to invest in the 5 people on a leadership team, spend time with kids and spend time with God. The people of the church take care of everything. There are a lot stories like that from around the states in all kinds of churches. Lots of stories of freeing the church to be the church, and staff to be themselves. It’s exciting to be a part of.


2. You talk about unwritten/unspoken expectations of youth pastors from churches. On the flipside – what are some of the most common inner motivations going on for youth pastors, and their misguided expectations of church communities? For example, a lot of younger youth pastors go into ministry with some unrealistic expectations about what ministry entails… and often don’t think that the admin & reporting aspect of what they do really matters as much as spending time with kids. Are those motivations & expectations something we can work out with each other? How should I go about challenging a youthworker about their own motivations and expectations?

Such an interesting question. It seems that how people spend their time in ministry is an expression of a mixture of what they feel is important, what they are good at, and what they love to do. There are a lot of youth pastors who get into youth ministry to relive or continue a positive experience they personally had. These are generally folks who have only seen or experienced the products of youth ministry above the surface. Few have experienced the kind of administrative load it takes to make youth ministry happen. A young youth pastor never had to write a bulletin announcement, make a budget, communicate with a volunteer team, run a program, engage parents in meaningful ways, or develop a system that can support healthy youth ministry. Of course that’s something of a generalization. I will add that there aren’t many folks are as predictable and detailed oriented to communicate well to a church and then be spontaneous and relational with kids. Youth ministry that revolves around an individual is destined to struggle or not be sustainable. As per the expectations of youth workers who only want to spend time with kids. We’ve spent the last 15 years of youth ministry really talking up relationships with kids, which has been interpreted by many youth pastors as their responsibility.

If I can say it bluntly. I don’t think most churches should pay people to spend time with kids or to be the primary voice in their lives on anything. Youth workers who only want to hang out with kids, without empowering the church to love kids are doing a disservice to the students they are leading. Most of these youth workers will say they can’t get the church to be involved. In 99% of the cases I’ve experience the problem hasn’t been the congregation, but the youth pastor unintentionally excluding the church from the ministry. There are some exceptions to this. My advice: Don’t live like you are one of them.

3. There can be huge amounts of security involved in why churches employ youthworkers – they want someone to assign trust, responsibility, accountability and someone with whom, the buck can stop. Often, those are not things church boards are willing to entrust a volunteer, because there’s still an element of ‘out of our hands’ about it. Sometimes this is motivated by wanting to “first do no harm”. But, how does a church or volunteer work through this with church leadership so that the kind of healthy youth ministry you describe in the book, can exist and be birthed?

I’ve seen this tendency too.

First, I think it’s an illusion to think that paying someone gives people more control over people. If it does, it’s not the kind of control you want to have.
Second, it’s naïve to think that hiring a staff person to lead a youth ministry will “do no harm”. In systems thinking we say that cause and effect can be separate form each other in time and space. That’s is to say that it’s very difficult to connect the dots between the decisions we make as church leaders and the consequences of those decisions months and years later outside of our perception. In this instance I’d ask, could it be that hiring a youth pastor is the most harmful thing we can do as church leaders?

Third, there a huge assumption behind this kind of behavior as well. If I am motivated to “do no harm” and want strict accountability for youth ministry in a church I am inherently limiting ministry in unintentional ways. It’s the kind of question churches ask when they believe that their youth ministry is completely wrapped up in a few programs and activities. We call this youth ministry. But this isn’t youth ministry. These are only small expressions of youth ministry is a healthy church. Great churches see youth ministry as something that is everybody’s job. It simply can’t be controlled. Parent’s are inviting friends to disciple their children. Men are inviting teens to play golf with them, maybe teaching them how. Ministry to teens is always happening. It’s messy. It’s random. It’s spontaneous. It’s intentional. Youth ministry is the job of the church, all the time. When we seclude it to a program, we are no longer doing youth ministry. We are doing something else, in the name of ministry.

4. Seems like there is a fine line between developing healthy mentoring relationship within a staff team and a youth pastor simply being an extension of the senior pastor’s hands and feet in many churches. How can a youth pastor actively foster healthy relationship with their senior, in such a way that they can grow into peer relationship? Or is this an issue that goes back to the core of how we view church staffing? What perspectives do we need to shift in how we train and prepare pastors for staffing & leadership requirements?

As with any relationship it takes two people who want a relationship to begin with. Most youth pastors hope for a relationship with their senior pastor, but seniors often don’t understand this. I suppose it helps if you like each other. If you don’t like the person you work for, it tends to reinforce isolation in unhealthy ways. I think it’s important that the staff likes each other. I also think that the way many churches hire prevent staff from seeing if there is a good chemistry before a new staff person comes on board.
I think we give too much responsibility too quickly to young inexperience youth pastors and it’s often problematic for churches and the staff. I’d like to see internships in churches for young leaders who are under 25 before they are cut loose in ministry. I’d like to see churches own the ministry before they hire youth staff. I’d like to see senior pastors be more strategically invested in youth ministry personally.

5. If there was a top five health check you could think of for both seniors/leadership boards to consider in regards to their view of youth ministry/pastors – what would it be?

1. How much pressure to do you feel to have a youth pastor in your church? If you’re your pastor left today, what would you feel and where would it come from? If you would feel something significant would stop because the staff person left, then it’s a sign that something’s not right. A church doesn’t need a youth pastor to do great youth ministry. To the extent that it suffers when a youth pastor is absent is a way of knowing how much your church is really engaged. If a church loses a youth pastor, but can go for 18 months and continue to do great ministry, without burning out the congregation, I’d say you have something very healthy.
2. For boards and staff: How many youth do you know? Really know. Their stories, what they are hoping for, what they are struggling with, etc? If your first response to that question as a board member is, “I don’t have any kids that age any more” then it’s a sign that some things wrong. It’s a disconnect. If they feel a distance between themselves and the youth ministry, it makes sense that they’d hire someone to deal with it, because the see themselves as either unqualified, or not responsible. If the board members overwhelming response are stories of kids they personally know (not just family) then it’s a sign of health.
3. When a first time guest walks into a church on a Sunday morning. Do I feel like everything is taken care of for me and that youth/children’s ministry is something that is done for them so that they can do whatever they want to do? Do I feel like no forethought has gone into greeting them and their children? Both of these are unhealthy responses. A parent who perceives their kids are an afterthought will not feel welcomed. A parent who is shown that everything is taken care of and that they aren’t needed, or expected to be involved in ministry to youth will likely get the message they children and youth ministry is something that is done for them in this church. Churches who are hospitable to first time visitors and their unique needs AND also cultivate an environment in which it’s clear that everyone is a part of the team who minister to youth and kids will sent the right message and see more adults involved in youth ministry.
4. Does the church know why it has a youth ministry? Most churches don’t know why they have a youth ministry. Most everyone you ask will be able to give you a reason, but there isn’t a cohesive well articulated reason that is owned by the church as a whole.
5. I think it would be fun to hear your reader’s number 5.

6. Likewise – what kinda questions do you think youth pastors should be asking themselves on a regular basis, in regards to their own ministry/expectations/staff relationships?

Wow. What a question!
– Does how I spend my time represent what we as a church value?
– Am I the only one who can do this? If not, why I am doing it?
– What might I unintentionally be doing that is undermining the ministry here?
– What is true about the things my biggest critics are saying about me?
– Am I using my gifts today to invest in the church to invest in kids?
– Am I really interested in what the other staff are saying? Why or why not? This is my issue not theirs, so what am I going to do about it?
– Am I being the kind of person I expect my students and adults to be?
– Am I living in a healthy rhythm?
– How can I be an advocate for the people who’s ideas I disagree with?
– What questions can I ask to unearth what others are saying without making assumptions?
That’s a good start.

7. You’re about to release a 2nd book… the unofficial church staff manual – what’s the story behind that book? When I first read Inside the mind – my immediate response was, hey – this applies to a broad section of church staff relationships.. ? Is that where it came from?

My first book, Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors, was a book written to church leaders to help them rethink youth ministry. When most church leaders talk about youth ministry, it quickly becomes a conversation about staffing. So I wrote a book that starts there for church leaders.

My second book, The (un)Official Church Staff Manual: Youth Pastor Edition, comes out officially in September and it is very different. It’s written to youth pastors in a way that they can uniquely get. It’s a cross between a Worst Case Scenario book, the Wittenberg door and a sarcastic advice book. Very short chapters. Some of it’s funny. Some is really pointed. Comedians use the phrase, “Talking to the back of the room.” It means they are telling a story, a reference or a joke that is subtly directed to the other comedians in the back of the room. It’s something of an inside joke. The book uses satire and sarcasm to indirectly make many of the same points I made in the first book. I’m tackling youth ministry with youth pastors in a fun way. It was a lot of fun to write. I’ll get a copy to you when it comes out.

8. What kind of responses are you getting from people so far?? You’re very gracious and inviting throughout the book in the way you speak directly to Seniors who are reading it. Seems like you’re trying hard not to have a “hey, listen to us youthworkers, we know what we’re talking about” attitude.

The response to the book has been very generous. A lot of Senior Pastors tell me that I’ve been reading their mail. I’ve gotten feedback from a lot of people telling me that it’s helping them and their co-workers work together better.

9. ok. so you talk a lot about the Church A and Church B models – something that is obviously close to your heart and key to the work of The Riddle Group.
If we are changing the models – or hoping to get from A to B – what changes should we expect to see – or begin to look for…

a/ in ourselves as leaders
b/ in our churches as they respond to us
c/ in our young people as we work with them
d/ in our youth pastors

What do you think we can expect to experience as church communities moving from A to B?

In church A the youth pastor is the primary spiritual former of youth. The parents drop off kids or support the youth staff as a volunteer. In Church B the parents and the church community are the spiritual formers of youth. Church B may hire a youth pastor, but it’s in an entirely different role. I think that it does mean changes for a lot of people, though I’m not sure I can tell you all of them here, nor do I pretend to grasp all of them. As more and more churches move in this direction I believe we’ll see more diverse ways of being Church B. In ourselves as leaders we no longer need to prescribe to the style of leadership big names in publishing companies tell us exemplify leadership. It means we can be ourselves. It means there will be many leaders with gifts of hospitality or mercy or shepherding able to lead in churches and feel better about it. I hope the end result for pastors in church B is relief from the burden the church has placed on them to be someone else. Our churches will change because the ethos of our communities will no longer perpetuate a consumer or victim mentality. A space where control and responsibility for faith development is given up to pastor while they feel simultaneously out of control in the local church. Young people will feel this because they will feel valued as equals in these communities and they will each be known by several adults in the church. Youth pastors will invest more and more time in the adults of the community helping them love kids and own their spiritual formation. Our churches will more rapidly embrace new ideas and be able to respond to changes they need to make.

In the states, we were committee led organizations for along time. Church leaders, especially Senior Pastors found it difficult to make changes as quickly as they would like so for the past 30 years churches moved themselves toward a more staff driven model of leadership. Where the staff make the day to day decisions regarding ministry. Staff feel more freedom, especially living in the shadow of the unintentional, overbearing, “we’ve always done it this way” committee system. However, there’s been a price to pay for this move. Staff led churches can make changes more quickly and are able to adapt to personalities centered teaching, values, or style resulting in quick growth in churches. Most of the churches folks think of as successful today are staff driven churches. What’s interesting to look at is how they create engaged people in their ministries, especially youth ministry. These churches have lots of people involved, but engagement is a different thing. Most of these churches need to hire engaged people to maintain the pace of change they need. One could argue that the very reason staff are hired in most churches is because the church itself isn’t engaged. In doing so, youth and ministry to them suffer. I could talk about this for hours. The future holds a beautiful combination of the two. That is a community who owns the ministry and lives it. A staff who uses their gifts and works together to in mission with God. I’m looking forward to hearing about these kinds of stories coming from my kiwi friends over the coming years!

Thanks so much for hosting this conversation today!

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