My Thoughts On An Awkward Award

For the second year in a row, The Church Report has put me at the top of their list of 'Top 20 Youth Ministers'. I didn't mention it to anybody last year and wouldn't have this year if not for the fact that it is the topic of conversation on a couple of blogs. Let me give you a little history and my thoughts.

Last March, my assistant received a phone from The Church Report Online asking for a bio because I was being listed as one of the top 20 youth pastors. I was surprised that I was on the list, and even more surprised and slightly concerned that such a list was even going to be published, so I asked my assistant to call them and ask how the list was compiled, what the criteria was etc. Their response was basically this: Each year they do a massive survey asking church leaders to list the most influential churches in America. They publish this list each year. From that list, they create their list of top 20 youth pastors, top 20 worship leaders, top 20 children's ministers etc.

They said that they took a quick look at the health of the youth ministries and the reputation of leadership to make their list....that the list didn't match the top 20 churches exactly, but came from the top 50 churches, and that I was being named #1. In hindsight, I wish I would have declined the award right then. But I guess my thinking was that if such a list exists, I may as well be at the top (I recognize the arrogance and insecurity in that statement)!

I heard nothing, got no phone calls. I began receiving emails this week from people offering me genuine congratulations as well as my friends mocking me for my 'repeat', my 'dynasty in the making', my 'back to back championship' etc. I went to the current issue of TCR and compared it to last year's list. IT WAS EXACTLY THE SAME! Nobody was off the list, nobody had moved up or down a spot and there was nobody new added.

I could probably right a book about my thoughts! I'll make them bullet points and try to keep them brief:

* I dislike anything in ministry that pits churches, pastors etc. against each other. Creating a 'top 20 list' seems to go against kingdom economics.

* I found last year's list and methods to be suspect at best. Just because a church as a whole won an award from a survey of peers somehow means the youth pastor at that church automatically wins the same award?

* I find this year's list to be completely invalid (again, I think the whole concept is questionable, but much more so when it has no integrity). I think that by cutting and pasting last year's list, the organization hurt it's own credibility and also hurts the credibility of youth ministry (at least it feels like it hurts our credibility....although I'm not quite sure why).

* The question has been asked: "Why Kurt and not Doug Fields?". While I would like to say that it is because I'm obviously a much more gifted and talented youth worker, I have a feeling it happened like this:

Church phone rings and is answered by receptionist who happens to know me better than Fields...
TCR: "Hello, can you please give us the name of your youth pastor?"
Church receptionist who happens to know me better than Fields: "Uh, Kurt Johnston?"
TCR: "Thank you."

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how I have become America's Top Youth Pastor two years in a row.


P-Rob said...

i can think of only one piece of good news in all this.

your co-workers have something else to give you a hard time about -- and isn't that what every co-worker enjoys doing most?

brian c. berry said...

Thanks for this post Kurt....

but don't even think for a second that this changes the fact that Josh and I have already secured www.kurtisabetteryouthpastorthanyou.com and are currently designing t-shirts to hauck at YS this year. :) Let the legacy begin....


Eric Wakeling said...

I love your perspective on all this stuff and to other readers - I'm not on his staff and I don't know him personally.

It's nice to see someone win an award and then say that the award is ridiculous. It's one thing if someone who doesn't make the list says that, but quite another for Mr. Numero Uno.

My biggest question is, how does that Preston Mitchell guy (#3) manage to be the Student Ministry pastor and Executive pastor of a huge church? I seriously doubt that you could do hands-on youth ministry that way.

Puddles said...

Im not really sure how they compare youth pastors and decide who is on top, but just from experience, you are definitely up there.

Can I have your autograph?

Paul said...


I don't know you at all, but from what I have seen, you seem like a pretty authentic and nice guy. Though I blogged about the list earlier today, I would never dream of blaming you for any of it. I hope that you can be encouraged by that.

Having said that, I question the reason for any such list. It just seems that no good could come from it. Maybe all this press will help them reconsider.


Eric Venable said...


how about the name game next time... inform the Church report that the "new" youth pastor is semore Butts... or al chaholich.

in the spirit of Youth Ministry and this lame ranking crap report.. that would rock it.

they do give you something right? a trophey or something to hang on your wall... in the name of youth ministry call up and ask for something offical? tape it for a podcast

side note... lots of middle school people ...

also if you look at the Church Reports list of big name pastor that write for them.. you.. surprise! find a number of their youth guys on the "list" you know... people that you have never heard of?

nice job Church Report

E.Money said...

does this mean I can put, "The #1 Jr. High Intern in America"on my resume now?

...or at least, "The #1 Jr. High Intern in America who is female, from VA, and goes by Emoney?"


brandonearly said...

2 things...

1...No Doug Fields on that list...tell him he owes you some of that purpose driven money...

2...You are a quality youth guy so don't be too shy to accept this encouragement, but really isn't this a reward for your volunteer staff? I am sure you are sharing it with them...how cool!

Chris Goeppner said...

nice blog.

Josh Mann said...

Here's my sort-of-serious question on a not-so-serious-topic.

If I was in any other field other than ministry people would consider it normal, healthy and expected for me to desire to improve as a professional. I would be rewarded for production--for setting higher and higher goals and attaining them, for desiring to increase my effectiveness and expand my leadership. Kudos, awards, benchmarks and the like would accompany my pursuit of all that I can work for in the marketplace.

Am I the only one that feels that although we live and serve in an upside-down kingdom world that the same desire for effectiveness, improvement, and even success is frowned upon? You know I know that we are dealing with changed lives and such--shouldn't that be all the more motivation, our stakes our much higher?

Yet any mention of someone doing an abnormally effective job and getting recognition for it in ministry and we all balk, myself included, why is that?

Josh Mann said...

Our stakes 'our' much higher? Apparently not high enough to pass the grammar check, my bad.

BTW-kudos kurt for staying out of the ditch, growing in ministry effectiveness, and doing so with a humble heart. you are very admired and respected--and with that comes a few quirky 'awards.'

Kurt Johnston said...

Josh Mann...
I get what you're saying. I don't think any of us would be being 100% honest if we said we didn't want any sort of recognition.
Personally, I'm never going to buy into the idea that I'm a better youth worker simply because I'm at a bigger church with a bigger youth group. One of my best buddies has served in the same church for almost 20 years as a volunteer junior high pastor. My very best friend has spent the last 15 years in a small church setting faithfully serving as their youth Pastor. TCR has never heard of these guys. Neither has Y.S., Group Publishing etc. Yet they are having massive kingdom impact. I'm opposed to recognition, just struggle with the reasons some of us get recognized while some of us don't.

Kurt Johnston said...

Correction: I meant to say "I'm NOT opposed to recognition."

Nick said...

So they just copied and pasted it this year? Man! I wanted to make that list...Ha!

Gary said...

Don't worry about the list. It is fake. See:

Rising Evangelical Star Jason Christy Leaves Trail of Fraud, Associates Say
By Hannah Elliott

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Aug. 1 /ABP/ -- When young, charismatic Christian publisher Jason Christy was tapped two years ago to lead the powerful Christian Coalition, the group's leaders praised him for his ability "to inspire and encourage people of faith to action." But Christy's business dealings -- both before and after his one-month affiliation with the Coalition -- instead have inspired former customers and co-workers to file lawsuits charging Christy with defrauding their Christian businesses.

Christy, 36, who apparently had no previous public-policy experience, persuaded the Christian Coalition in 2005 to place him in one of the most visible and powerful positions in evangelical life. But before the coalition's leaders officially turned over the reins of their 1.2 million-member national lobbying group, they learned of a trail of legal and financial problems that has followed Christy from coast to coast.

Former associates and customers of Christy's many business ventures -- mostly Christian magazines -- say he cheated them out of money and threatened them. At least 10 of them have filed lawsuits, Associated Baptist Press has learned, and others have gotten court-issued restraining or protection orders against the Scottsdale, Ariz., businessman.

Christy says all the allegations are false. He and his supporters say "enemies" are spreading lies about him because of soured business relationships. But critics say Christy is a scam artist preying on trusting Christians.

Christy now publishes The Church Report, supposedly a conservative, national print magazine and web site. He has appeared as an analyst on CNN and spoken at megachurches like Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral. He hob-nobs with some of the evangelical elite and still has relationships with leaders in highly respected positions, like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

This article is continued at Associated Baptist Press News: http://www.abpnews.com/2685.article

Also at The Baptist Standard: http://www.baptiststandard.com/postnuke/index.php?module=htmlpages&func=display&pid=6646 and

Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/augustweb-only/131-35.0.html