Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

18 Oct

The ‘Us’ has become ‘Them’

Posted in Uncategorized on 18.10.12 by Merlyn

Published at Youthworker Online (A part of Youthworker Journal)
The ‘Us’ has become ‘Them’
I remember early on in my youth ministry career, besides being young, immature, arrogant and having a chip on my shoulder; I was also part of a mindset that seemed to be prevalent in youth ministry: the battle of ‘us’ verses ‘them.’ The us refers to youth workers and the them refers to the senior pastors, adults and others that just did not get youth ministry. It was not just the youth workers that were young that thought this way; you heard it from almost everyone in youth ministry. Mike Yaconelli was constantly critical of those in the ‘them’ crowd in the church for not understanding the nature of ministry. While there was (and still is) plenty of arrogance in youth ministry, I believe there was some truth to the idea that it was youth workers who really ‘got it.’ The church was resistant to new ideas, unconventional thinking, creativity, and outside the box thinking. Youth workers attempted to lead the way in helping the church think differently. I remember so many conversations around this topic as recently as 2005, but something has changed.
Hopefully some of us (present company included) have grown up and matured (some would say ruined). Youth ministry has changed. It does not have the importance, power or influence that it once did. The busyness of culture, the lack of youth and adult participation and the economic realities that have changed the church staff market in general are all part of the equation. The world has changed, the church has changed and youth ministry has changed. Maybe it all makes sense, or maybe it’s just me. Yet I think there is something else going on. The ‘us’ crowd, the creative, innovative youth workers that used to lead the way, have become ‘them.’ It’s no longer the senior pastors, adults and other leaders of the church that are resisting change. It’s now those of us in the youth ministry world. I am not sure what happened; perhaps we are just comfortable or maybe even tired. We have lost some of our power, leverage and influence. I don’t think youth ministry has matured though. In fact our youth ministries seem more theologically immature than ever. I see some of the same games, strategies and mindsets that I experienced as an intern in the late 1990’s. Youth workers seem more resistant than ever to ideas from parents and those outside their circles, especially senior pastors.
While I have yet to hear a single youth worker utter the death phrase ‘we have never done it that way before,’ I see so many youth workers operating out of that very mindset. What happened to our innovation? What happened to our thoughtful, cutting edge, rebellious nature? Where has our sensitivity and discernment to the changing needs of culture gone while trying to engage the Holy Spirit? While I would say that we have lost our way (and we did need to grow up), I also believe youth ministry has become a victim of its own success. We have fallen into the trap of being professional ministers. We have lost sight of the mission and have found comfort in our own empires (no matter how large or small). Much like the church leaders of the past (and perhaps the present), we are unable to challenge our own thinking, especially if what we are doing is appearing to work.
The problem is that I am not so sure it is working anymore. Sure we have amazing youth ministries with fun games and messages that change lives instantly (or at least we think). Yet, in a world where our teenagers hide more of their lives from us, we have created an alternate world that looks more like a Christian bookstore than the Kingdom of God. Our youth are coming to faith and experiencing radical change, and moments later they are off to the parking lot to have sex in their cars. Our student leaders are not the youth that are ‘sold out for Jesus.’ They are the youth that are able to manage multiple selves and pretend better than others. Everything has changed, and the problem is that we have not changed with it. It’s now those in the ‘them’ crowd that are leading the way and it’s those of us in the ‘us’ crowd that are stuck in our own comfort.
Rev. Marcus J Carlson has worked with children and youth for over 14 years and is a spiritual director. He current serves as Associate Pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, CO. (

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11 Oct

Ministry Reflections

Posted in Uncategorized on 11.10.12 by Merlyn

While I my primary nature is undoubtedly introverted, I also tend to be a fairly reflective person. During various seasons of life and ministry, I have found myself focusing my reflective moments on differing things. At this moment in life, I have been reflecting quite a bit on my ministry passions, gifting and non-negotiables. This past week I spent about four days at our national denominational gathering. It was a gift as my time there created many opportunities for reflection through my own involvement and leadership, the speakers, the time of worship and the many great conversations. While I did not necessarily learn new things, I was reminded of the things that matter the most to me that had slipped to the back of my heart and mind, I was challenged to think more carefully about my call and the call of the church and I was given new language, ideas and hope both for ministry and the church. Combined with personal reflection that was already occurring as well as the place in life that I now find myself, here are my current reflections on ministry…


The non-negotiables…

There are some non-negotiables for me when it comes to life and ministry. We live in a world that is increasingly complicated and complex and as God’s story continues to unfold, I believe that while we continue to learn there are some things that are not flexible in any context. The first of these is Christ. The nature and person of Christ is a non-negotiable for me, as is the triune God. A second non-negotiable for me is the authority of Scripture. The person and role of the Holy Spirit who is alive and active in the world is a non-negotiable to me. We are called to live and walk in the Spirit. A fourth non-negotiable is the call to think and act theologically. Life and ministry must be viewed and expressed theologically. God must be at the center as the source of life rather than personality, desire or any other well-intentioned source. The fifth and final non-negotiable for life and ministry is dialogue and relationship, both of which must be a priority for us all. There are probably other non-negotiable items and issues that I am forgetting; however, it seems to me that one of the dangers of non-negotiables is that the list is non-existent, not applied, or far too long.


My own gifting…

I believe in and support a scriptural perspective on the spiritual gifts, where God has given us all gifts that are for our good, the good of the church and the good of the world. The primary spiritual gifts God has given me include discernment, administration, leadership and teaching. Outside of (and because of) the spiritual gifts, there are some gifts in ministry that have been affirmed in me. My strongest gift is equipping people in the use of their gifts, and for ministry, service and leadership in the lives of others and the world. I also believe I am gifted in making disciples through the power of the Holy Spirit and because of those who have poured into my own life. Whether through ministry, networking or leadership, equipping and discipling those inside and outside of the church is an area of passion and gifting that has been a key part of life and ministry. A final key gift in life and ministry comes in my ability to build meaningful relationships with a wide variety of individuals.




The most important passions for ministry…

This area is one that I have rediscovered in the midst of recent reflection. While these passions were never lost, many of them have taken a back seat to the demands of life and ministry. I have a deep passion for the Great Commandment as it is the simple expression of what is most important in life and ministry. It is the love of God, others (which includes the whole world) and the love of self that allows us to fulfill all God has for us and individuals, families, communities and as a people. The mission of God is to bring about the Kingdom of God in the world, and the mission of the church is to make disciples, the charge Jesus left his own disciples and the mission of the church since its inception. I am passionate about the call to discipleship in the gospels that calls all that know Jesus to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow the Christ. I am passionate about Ephesians 4 as the image of the church and the community of that faith. We are all called to equip the saints for ministry, to use our gifts and to be unified as the people of God, fully mature in our relationship with Jesus Christ.


I am passionate about missional ministry and serving the missional church that truly resembles the movement that was the early church rather that the institution that the church has become. I believe that the role of the church and of all believers is to work with the Holy Spirit to bring about the Kingdom of God in every corner of creation. My passion in ministry is focused on transformation, the radical, Christ-centered change of individuals, families, communities, the church and the world. I am passionate about the work of God and the work of humanity. It is God’s action that calls, saves, redeems, and transforms. Our one action as human beings created in the image of God is to trust. Our relationship with God begins with trust, and our journey of discipleship is marked by trusting God with every aspect of our lives. We were created to be in relationship with God, with others, and with the world.


My personal life verse that has been a source of challenge and encouragement is from Habakkuk 1:5: Look at the nations and watch and be prepared to be amazed, for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told.

Personal Mission Statement: To help others experience transformation through Jesus Christ.



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04 Oct


Posted in Uncategorized on 04.10.12 by Merlyn

I am not a runner. Plain and simple, I prefer not to run anywhere at all. I do run sometimes as a part of an exercise routine, but I do not find it enjoyable. I have a family history of bad knees and do not like the risk of running. This is part of the reason that running analogies are lost on me. Yet the scriptures are full of running and race analogies. I am certain in the case of Paul that they fit the culture well. I tend to be a fairly reflective person and lately my reflection around ministry has been centered around the analogy of the marathon. Having been at this now for over 14 years, I can see the value of looking at ministry as a marathon. The freshness, newness and initial energy, while sometimes still a part of ministry life are not at the center any longer. Effectiveness, excitement, creativity etc all seem to come from a long-term perspective instead of a short-term perspective. Patience is not my gift, so this is not without its challenges and yet I find myself enjoying the pace and reality of ministry more than ever. The consistent nature of ministry and the slow and steady pace has now outweighed the radical, short-term, life change that used to characterize ministry. I no longer feel guilty about this, because in the end, building disciples that last must come in running a marathon and not a sprint. It only took me 14 years to accept that.

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