Have you met my friends The Youth Cartel? When I say friends, I really mean that. Marko has been a trusted confidante, guide and thought-provoker both in life and youth work, and Adam became a good friend during my brief time at Youth Specialties in 2009. The great thing about friends, is that often they think in similar ways you do, so you find synergy and a sense of buoyancy, as well as companionship on the road to revolution.

This last weekend in Atlanta, a bunch of people became better friends with The Youth Cartel, with each other and found some companionship on the road to revolution.

Let me bullet point a few of the highlights first:

  • Ben Chestnut, CEO of MailChimp, brilliant thinker and believer in failure as a pathway to new and interesting ideas. He was phenomenal.
  • Lucas Leys, delivering compelling truth on what Latin American perspectives have to offer American youth ministry. As do many other cultures.
  • Anne Jackson, sharing on creative process and learning our own language of creativity
  • Charles Lee, on Good Idea, Now What?
  • Brock Morgan, addressing the elephant in the room of youth ministry in a post-Christian reality.
  • Lots of hang time as speakers, attendees and partners all were willing to hang out together.
  • Authors as attendees; aka Paul Martin, whose book on discipleship is like reading my own thoughts, who came just to hang out and be present, although he should probably be presenting himself.
  • No fluff – the TED styled format compelled presenters to deliver their best material and encouraged attendees to have to mull, process and develop those thoughts and ideas themselves. Aided by ‘Digging Deeper’ sessions of intentional interaction, this removed the “do as we say” prescriptive model of youth ministry training that I’ve seen and been part of for so many years. Viva la revolution!

No doubt about it, this weekend was a big risk for all concern. Brand new format, brand new model and plenty on the line in terms of cost, impact and perception. But as Marko said in his closing keynote – there is no tweaking your way to transformation. You either engage in the process completely or you’ll never really transform into something new.

No one needs to hear me say again, how drastically our models of youth ministry and measurements of success need to be addressed. But the only way to encourage people into creating (not adopting) new models of ministry is to first compel a thinking revolution. A revolution that esteems and elevates the audience/attendees into belief that they are as capable of creating meaningful and groundbreaking youth ministry in their communities as any of the published, well-known speakers and professors they might engage. It’s not to say that there isn’t much to be learned from others, but simply that the key to transforming youth ministry is in transforming the thinking and engagement process of youth workers. And no one has taken a bigger risk in trying to do that than The Youth Cartel.

Engaging in conversations with people over the weekend, you begin to hear the shifts, the excitement and the synergy in the room as folks felt like they were discovering gems, at the same time as discovering connectivity with one another. Boom yeah.

The revolutionary ideas about youth ministry conferences that came hurtling out of the ‘firehose’:

  • The thinking of a youth worker is as important as the doing of a youth worker
  • Diversity strengthens us
  • We can learn just as much, if not more, from what other disciplines and industries have to say
  • Youthworkers don’t need to be entertained into learning environments

The thoughts that will be sitting with me for a long time:

  • Ideas need to have sex with each other. We carry ideas in us; the ideas in us need to meet the ideas in others because in the joining of ideas magic happens.
  • Stop talking about your ideas – it tricks your brain into thinking you’re actually doing something about it.
  • If you want to see creativity in process, don’t give more resource, give more time or try to make ‘creative’ work spaces. Take away time, create periods of intense focus and see magic.
  • You cannot tweak your way to transformation.
  • Our experiences are not biodegradable – they float in the reservoir of our memory forever.
  • When you measure quantity, you can only measure the minimum you have of something, but when you count by quality you can measure the highest conceivable amounts.
  • Relationships between people cannot be like the relationship between the hammer and the nail.
  • Exercise curiosity.
  • Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom – Kiekergaard

Why does all this matter? Brock Morgan probably gives the most accurate starting point: the context of youth ministry across the world but particularly in the US, is changing as the Christian faith loses it’s coherency in the story of human history and the context of daily lives in our students. They are relativistic, exploratory, walking through extended adolescence and facing the challenge of trying to find voice to what they actually believe. In many instances, a trite rendition of their parents’ faith, that doesn’t hold up in the nuanced experiences of high school and college life. But these are young people who deeply care about the world around them, deeply care about those they are involved with and are looking for how to connect in meaningful, engaging ways.

Our models of youth ministry must be transformed by thoughtful consideration of context, unique creativity and mostly, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit – a God who is not far off, but an Creator of more than just moral standing, who is as actively and passionately engaged in the human story as our students long to be. That’s why The Summit matters and why you could hear voice after voice in the hallways saying – “this is the best youth ministry conference I’ve been to in a long time, maybe ever.”

That’s why it was worth 36+ hours of travelling just to be part of the experience. That’s also why you should mark the dates in your calendar: November 8-9, 2013 in Atlanta, GA.