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Leading Through Personal Trials

Leading Through Personal Trials

By Adam Mashni

Cartel note: Adam Mashni was one of five youth workers who gave a 5 – 7 minute ‘soapbox’ talk in the Saturday morning main session of the Middle School Ministry Campference a couple weeks ago. We loved what these people talked about, and thought they would make great blog posts for others to access their thoughts. 

On May 8, 2014 I was told I most likely had Testicular Cancer.  I went in for a referral appointment to essentially push aside any extreme worries.  Within 10 seconds the urologist said, “this doesn’t feel good.”  That night I went in for emergency surgery to remove my left testicle.  My life, everything about it, was put on pause (and I also started leaning a little…too soon?). A few days later I would find out it is indeed cancer and it had spread to my abdominal lymph nodes and my lungs.  I was to be married on August 8, 2014…so the 3 months leading up to my wedding was full of Chemo treatments and doctor appointments.

Continue reading Leading Through Personal Trials

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May’s Registration Perks

Are you planning to come to The Summit? Register by May 31st and we’ll give you the following early registration perks! ($100 in value)*

  • All MP3 audio of The Summit 2015 ($25)
  • All session videos of The Summit 2015 ($50)
  • $25 store credit to our online store

Early Bird registration is just $149 per person… so $100 in perks is a screaming great deal. Head over to The Summit page and learn all about this year’s event.

* Limit to one perks package per church/organization/ministry.

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Lead Like a Girl?

Were you as intrigued as I was by the Super Bowl commercial asking young people to run, throw, or fight like a girl?  Ultimately, the ad transformed a negative comment into an inspirational phrase.  It stirred up in me all kinds of memories about the challenges of gender when you find yourself in any arena mostly occupied and led by men – including, of course, the local church.  When I feel dinged by the idea of “leading like a girl” I must catch myself, and be inspired by these kinds of thoughts – I’d like to lead boldly like Esther, wisely like Deborah, and with a surrendered spirit like Mary!  I’m thrilled that all over the globe, women of all ages are turning upside down what it means to lead as a female in the church.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to join The Youth Cartel’s gathering for women in youth ministry.  It’s vitally important that women called to serve in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ – especially as leaders and communicators – come together for support and challenge.  We need to regularly connect with other women who will quickly “get us” and almost finish our sentences!  My journey as a leader in the church is impossible for me to imagine without some amazing women who walked with me, listened when I needed to vent, told me I wasn’t crazy, prayed for me, and reminded me I was not alone.

I look forward to being among courageous women who are forging their own pathways, and providing an opportunity for us to talk about ministry wounds and challenges in a safe environment.  How great is it that three women—April Diaz, Leneita Fix and Rachel Blom—had the vision for making this gathering a reality!  Together we will explore the practical side of navigating ministry life in what can sometimes feel like a boy’s club – how to do our work with grace, truth-telling, humor, and relational intelligence.  I can’t wait to see how God will work among us!

If I could say anything to women church leaders, I would want them to know that no matter how difficult your situation may sometimes be, you are not alone, and YOU ARE NEEDED IN THE KINGDOM!  The church won’t be as beautiful a bride unless BOTH men and women show up with all that God created them to be.  Let’s come together and ennoble one another with that truth.  I look forward to seeing you in April!  (and getting out of Chicago weather)

nancy-beach-featuredNancy Beach is a passionate champion and voice for leaders and artists in the local church. For over 20 years, she served as the Programming Director for Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago. Nancy was privileged to be one of the founders of that local church, also serving as a Senior Member on the Management Team and using her communication gifts as one of the Teaching Pastors.  She truly believes God is calling her to give back to emerging leaders, drawing from her experience, her strategic mind, and her intuitive heart.


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Are we out of the woods yet?


Maybe you don’t listen to my girl T Swift’s 1989 Album as often as I do. Frankly, I find that questionable, but I try not to judge too much.

There’s this song she sings, and she asks over and over, “Are we out of the woods yet?” She asks, “Are we out of the woods yet, out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet, in the clear yet?

Now, I’m not the most astute at interpreting song lyrics, to be honest. My 5 year old and I were all about that bass for a hot minute before my brain picked up on what I was singing. Sometimes it takes me embarrassingly long to figure songs out. But I think I get this one. At least, I get how it speaks to me.  Taylor’s trying to gauge in her relationship if they have reached some safe space yet. Have they, “arrived” yet? Is there a level of relational intimacy that they can trust?

And basically I think about that kind of thing all the time. And isn’t that what we’re doing in youth ministry? In all ministry, really?  We’re in the business of relationships, right? We’re talking every Sunday (I really hope we are!) about a relationship- a knowing and being known- with a God who is real and who is LOVE.

And whether we are paid youth ministry staff or volunteer youth workers, we are so in the trenches of relationships. We’re doing life with hurting, broken families. Our own families are hurting and broken. WE are hurting and broken. And in individual relationships, so many of our students and our parents are asking, “Are we out of the woods yet?” Have I found safety with a friend, with a pastor, with another family yet?

That parent whose marriage is on the brink of disintegration and who has shared part of his story with you- he wants to know; are we in the clear yet? Have we reached that place in our relationship? Can he say this stuff out loud? Can he trust you, youth pastor, not to judge him or hurt him, or gossip about him with the rest of the church staff?

That middle schooler who rolled up the sleeves of her sweatshirt and showed you the long, desperate slashes on her arm? She wants to know, small group leader; are you and she in the clear yet? Can she trust you? Do you have that kind of intimacy where she can share, without you freaking out or yelling at her or judging her?

That mom whose teenage daughter won’t speak to her? The single dad who is struggling to get his son to attend your weekly youth group event? The volunteer youth worker who is battling depression? The church staff member you work with who is going through a really hard season in her marriage? They’re all asking, begging for that safe place, that safe relationship that is out of the woods.

And we in ministry have decided to live right in the middle of that.

My two cents? There’s one relationship where we’re totally out of the woods. Sunday school answer, right?  Jesus! Jesus is love, so He loves and forgives us perfectly. I am SAFE there.

But otherwise, I mean, we’re never really 100% out of the woods, are we? In life, I think most people do their best to be trustworthy, to be people of good character. In the Church, we use words like accountability, transparency, and grace. And I know in my church, people try to love each other well. People are transforming and becoming more and more like Jesus. And that is freaking amazing and beautiful and world-changing stuff.  But we blow it, of course. So we’re never totally out of the woods yet in our relationships with other people.  And that used to cause me to shut down and think, “Well, forget it. I can’t trust anyone. Definitely not the church.” Some of your students think that. Some of their parents do. Maybe you’ve thought it.

And I think we’ve got to dismantle that. I think that the trust that those parents and those students are looking for starts with us helping them see it. I think we’ve got to live lives that model trust-radical trust in God.  Friend, our lives better show that. And trust in community that is counter-cultural and makes people take notice. And really deep trust in a few that allows us to confess and share and flourish.

Here’s the thing. I feel like I’ve got two choices to make, because in every relationship I’m almost always both the truster and the trustee.  I can choose to do the hard work of developing relationships with a few people and trusting anyway (obviously, with the exception of abusive relationships). And I can choose to do the hard work of surrendering more and more of my life and self to Jesus so that I can become more like Him and thus, more trustworthy.

At least that’s what I’m learning anyway. See, trust has always been a thing for me. It’s always been a BIG, SCARY THING. But more and more it’s becoming an opportunity and an opening for me. I know that people are looking for it. They are craving those safe spaces. So let’s be honest about that!  Let’s start talking about it. How are we being people, pastors, leaders, and volunteers who are trustworthy? That’s birthed out of continual surrender to Jesus.  So how are we nurturing our own relationships with God and our trust in Him?  How are we helping students trust Jesus better? How are we providing opportunities for parents to get to know each other and start to trust each other with the difficulties of parenting? How are we harnessing the power of social media to promote trust and not hurt?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my thing. But 2015 is in a big way about trust for me. If that speaks to you, and you want to chat about it, email me. Better yet, if you’re a woman in youth ministry, join me at the Youth Cartel’s first Women In Youth Ministry Campference in April. We NEED events like these where we can just be- with God, together, with ourselves, and maybe start doing some of the hard work of learning to trust better.

Oh, and for what it’s worth. I googled the lyrics to, “Out of the Woods Yet.” Turns out it’s about a snowmobile accident. Yep. Really, Taylor? I kinda like my thing better. But still totally love the album, girl! Hit me up if you wanna hang when you’re in DC this summer!


About Heather:

Heather Henderson is the associate pastor at Journey’s Crossing Christian church in Germantown, Maryland and also serves actively in the youth ministry there. For two years before that, she was the associate youth pastor at the same church. If you don’t find her working or hanging out with students, you’ll find her spending time with her brilliant, kindergarten-age daughter or handsome, almost one-year old son and her husband, Devin.

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Why I’m Going to the Women in Youth Ministry Campference


I have to be 100% honest: when I first heard about this campference, I dismissed the idea of attending. I had no desire to go to a women’s conference. I’ve been to several “women-only” events in the past and tend to find myself a bit judgmental of them. They sometimes lean heavily on crafts, quiche, and talking about how great it is to be woman rather than a man. I have walked away from several feeling hungry physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Over the years I’ve appreciated youth worker gatherings. Not only because they are fuel to my brain, but also because they’re fuel for my soul because of the relationships I have made with other regular attendees. These gatherings have turned into a meeting place of friends.

Yet, even though I love the camaraderie, the rest of the conference I catch myself trying to prove my credentials. I’d causally drop my professional position or years I have been in youth ministry as a sort of status when introducing myself. I secretly had a feeling that I need to prove to people why I belong there. No one ever asked for my resume. It sometimes was the pressure of hearing someone else’s experience level. Sometimes it was feeling out-numbered being one of the few females in the room.  Other times it was just rooted in pressure I put on myself both professionally and personally.

Recently though, I was doing some soul inventory. I had a longing for something but could not quite figure out what it was.  It wasn’t until I found myself praying aloud, “God, I need a place where I can just BE.” I desired a place I was not trying to prove myself.

At that moment, this campference re-entered my mind. I went back to the website and read the description of this event: “We may not know your name – yet – but we know you. We get you.  That’s because you’re one of us. You’re a woman in youth ministry and so are we.

That’s it!  That is what I need!


This April I am looking forward to entering a community to just BE. I am looking forward to a place where I will not have to justify who I am. I will not bring up if or how long I went to school. I will not preface a conversation with how many years of experience I have. I will just be.

Why? Because I am already gotten. I am already understood. I am already one of them.


Christina Robertson is currently the associate middle school pastor at a church in Southern California and has had a heart to serve middle school students for a number of years.  She is married and has three girls.

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The merry go round that is youth ministry


Hello. My name is Theresa Mazza and I am a Woman in Youth Ministry. (Hi Theresa).

My mind won’t shut off at night. I lay in bed awake for hours because there is so much on my list that still needs to be done.

I sneak texts and facebook posts. I can’t ignore the teenager or parent on the other end. I can answer a text while I’m cooking taco meat. No, I’m not texting a student. I’m making dinner!

My computer is a part of my body. I’ve watched countless movies with my family while answering emails, loading the youth calendar, or creating a winter retreat brochure.

Youth ministry gets more date nights with me than my husband does. Youth ministry and I go to the movies together, we go away on the weekend together, we share meals together, we worship together. All things I wish I did more of with my husband.

I am the master at the Costco run. I can load my car to the max with all things youth group, unload, set up the youth room, prep dinner for 80 (where the hell are my volunteers), print out small group sheets, plug in my mac, turn on the sound system, and start a mad round of 9 square while students arrive…all with my child on my right hip the entire time.

This is me pushing myself on the merry go round that is youth ministry. Most of it feels like utter chaos most of the time. But enough of it, enough of the time, is an absolute thrill. So see I just can’t stop pushing myself round and around and around. I’m freaking called to youth ministry and there’s nothing I can do to be uncalled. It’s not uniquely crazy because I’m a woman, but I think other woman in youth ministry can uniquely understand why I do what I do, why I am the way I am, and can identify with me, and challenge me. This is why 2015 will look very different.

After almost 20 years of youth ministry I can say that I will not be on the youth ministry merry go round alone. Me and 5 other women in youth ministry in the area where I live, have committed to stand together in prayer and friendship. The decision to make this commitment came when we all agreed on a few things: we isolate ourselves on our youth ministry island way too much, we don’t laugh enough, or go out with friends enough, and we don’t have the prayer support or accountable we so desperately need.

So this year will be different for the six of us. We will pray for each other very intentionally, we will call each other often, and meet together the way besties do. We aren’t part of a program or anything, we’re just doing it.

We’re doing it and I hope this happens…

I hope my phone rings and the person on the other end says: “Pray with me.” And in that moment because I know what she’s going through, I can go to our loving God with her and petition for her in a way that no one else could.

I hope that we end up at Starbucks, not as our second youth office, but as place of friendship where we will share stories with each other that most people don’t get (yes, we purposely lock ourselves in with middle school girls all night and don’t sleep).

I hope we inspire each other and recognize each others strengths and gifts.

I hope we trust each other. And I hope that our trust will allow us to guide each other in a loving way.

I hope we challenge each other to be better, better moms, wives, sisters, friends, and leaders of our ministries.

This year I’m locking arms with these women. Whom will you lock arms with? Maybe there are women in youth ministry in your area you could invite to spin on the merry go round with you. And maybe you could also join us at the first ever Women in Youth Ministry Campference.

TheresaAbout Theresa

Theresa is a long time youth director and youth worker currently volunteering and causing student ministry mayhem at Broomfield United Methodist Church in Broomfield Colorado. She is also a speaker, writer, mommy, wife and Outreach Director at a clean water non-profit called El Porvenir.


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Provoking the Future of Youth Ministry

MarkDeVriesHeadshotOur oldest daughter took her sweet time coming into this world.

We were in seminary (read: no money) and had scheduled to have this baby at a birthing center…with a midwife (read: 1/4 the price of the hospital).  The one caveat was that, if the baby were to come over 2 weeks late, she would have to be born in the hospital (read: cha-ching, cha-ching).

Though we were highly incentivized to see Debbie as soon as possible, she was on her own timetable.  So with 24 hours left to go, we asked the midwife, “Is there anything we can do to provoke this baby to be born?”

She smiled and said, “There’s always, um…castor oil.”

We were desperate.

Okay, Susan was desperate.

She drank the castor oil, and, believe it or not, within 24 hours, our Debbie was born under the marvelous care of a midwife (read: phew).

I’m convinced that something new has been incubating in the womb of youth ministry for a long time now.

At the Summit, I’ll be presenting my “Modest Response to the Impending Death of Youth Ministry (as we know it).  Hoping maybe to bring a little castor oil to the party…and just maybe practice a little ministry midwifery along the way.

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Deep in the Dark: Abiding During the Dark Night of the Soul

nkiru okaforI am a huge fan of TED Talks. I have listened to Brené Brown describe her “breakdown” when she discovered that the same thing she is avoiding continues to show up as the bedrock of authentic human living- vulnerability. (  She then goes on to say that her spiritual director named her breakdown a “spiritual awakening.” I am wondering around the connection between “breakdown” and “spiritual awakening.”

On a particular Sunday, I made this post on my Facebook page, “Was the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes at the height of spiritual awakening or suffering from acute depression when he wrote the book?” This Book that seems to negate everything that human beings long for and aspire to achieve is unquestionably included in the Bible.

My questions then are many. How would a faithful youth worker know that she/he is deep in the dark? I mean that point that transcends doubt and has plunged one into the deep abyss of darkness?  Is it real? Does it have a name? How has it been described in the long years of Christian history? What could be done? Or rather, what should not be done?

These and many others are the questions I seek to engage during The Summit. I promise you that I have no answers to them. My hope is that we will be able to ask the questions and hold them together.

Until then,