Pragmatism In My DNA, I Think

Nobody has ever accused me of being a deep thinker, and I'm surprisingly okay with that. I'm a pragmatist through and through....with all the good and bad that comes with it.

After over 20 years of hands-on youth ministry combined with undergraduate and graduate education in the field mixed with extensive reading and writing on the topic combined with attending and teaching countless seminars and workshops dealing with youth ministry, I think I have come up with my own manifesto, of sorts (shout out to Marko...).

This is in no way meant to be a response to Marko's book or to Chap Clark's books or to Doug Fields' books or to Kara Powell's books or to Mark Yaconelli's books or to my own books or to.....well you get the point...there are a LOT of youth ministry books with a lot of incredible, important, information about how we can be better at what we are called to do. I'm a proponent of being a life-long learner, and I think the more reading and training and sharpening we can get, the better we become. But with all that also comes a muddying of the waters. Some of the most basic principles in youth ministry can get lost. So sometimes a little simple, pragmatic thinking can be a good thing.

So, my pragmatic youth ministry manifesto is this: Build a team of caring, Christ-following adults who like teenagers, then do whatever seems to work best in your unique setting to assist those adults in building relationships with your students as they walk with them through their journey of faith.

That would be a pretty short book, I suppose.

Youth Ministry 3.0 Update: Apparently the book won't be available on Amazon or through any other online or physical vendor until early next year. So until then the only place to get a copy is at one of the two remaining NYWC conventions. If you aren't going, find somebody who is and ask them to buy you a copy.


Joe said...

Great thoughts. I really think that every youth worker could profit from coming up with their own "manifesto". It forces us to really get down to what we're all about and gives us a way to examine our focus and direction. Kudos!

marko said...

ya know, ironically, that little paragraph-long manifesto isn't a bad summary of my book! you put, in the words of a pragmatist, the whole idea of building a contextual ministry around communion (you didn't include the mission part, but it could be in there, i suppose)!

Kurt Johnston said...

After I wrote that, I took a second look and thought the exact same thing and almost mentioned that in the post!

Kate said...

now if people would just buy that book... always good to come back to basics and make sure we're on track

Johan said...

Books, blogs, articles and more are full of excellent teachings on how to become a good youth pastor; and your pragmatism in this case was great.

But Kurt, how can somebody know that s/he was really called to be a youth pastor?

David Malouf -- said...

Would you mind telling us what your co-laborers think of the manifesto?

Do they think it's accurate to what y'all are doing? Would they add or subtract anything?

When we met 8 or 9 years ago, I did NOT take you for a pragmatist. I got the impression you had dreams for the youth, the 'adults', other youth workers, and even yourself.
To me, you're not a 'pragmatist' as much as you are unwilling to let it all be theoretical-only. Perhaps a better word would be 'activist'?

[Not to discount your post nor the pragmatic gem that is your manifesto!]


Kurt Johnston said...

Nobody else on my team has read it yet. I only bought one copy and loaned it out to a guy on my flight home!

I think I consider myself a pragmatist because I typically filter everything theoretical through the lens of "Okay, but how does this translate into actual ministry settings"; even when I dream and vision cast. So, your assessment may be accurate. I'm not sure about the "activist" part, though!

David Malouf -- said...


Please forgive my lack of clarity. I'm curious if your paid & volunteer staff think one-paragraph statement captures what you/y'all do? I find, for me, sometimes I am more (or less) than what I write/think. Sometimes what we do is more (or less) than what I write/think.

I think you're spot-on, but I would suspect that those who work with/around/under you might add a little more.

Just my hunch!


Kurt Johnston said...

David...So funny! Now that I re-read your comment, I see how you intended it. sorry!
Without question, we do more in the way of programs etc. than my succinct "manifesto". But within my manifesto is the phrase, "then do whatever seems to work best in your unique setting..." which allows freedom to have lots of programs, or few programs, to have small groups, or not to have small groups, to do outreach "events" or not to do outreach events...whatever works in your setting. I think my team, if pressed, would answer in terms of our purpose-driven strategy, but I hope they would also include that the goal in all of it is to connect kids with caring adults who will point them to jesus.