99 Thoughts on Marriage and Ministry – Prioritizing the “Holymess” of Matrimony – a Book Review

99 thoughts coverLike most life lessons, sometimes you have to learn things the hard way. But what if there was a way to learn things without all of the pain?

My husband says there are two types of people in the world – “stove-touchers” and “not-stove-touchers”. If you have a hot stove and tell someone not to touch it, some people will listen, others have to touch the stove themselves. There is wisdom in listening to good advice before you get burned.

What about you?  Are you more of a stove-toucher in life or not?  Either way you learn life lessons…but why would you want to learn things the hard way when it comes to your marriage and ministry?

Jake and Melissa Kircher’s new book, “99 Thoughts on Marriage and Ministry – Prioritizing the ‘Holymess’ of Matrimony,” is full of sound advice for youth workers who are trying to achieve balance between church work and married life.  The book covers five areas: Marriage Basics, Balancing Marriage and Ministry, Finances, The Church Versus Your Family, and The Darker Side of the Church.

I realize after reading the section on “The Darker Side of the Church,” that I was a “stove toucher” myself when it came to surviving my own youth ministry struggles.  When you leave a youth ministry position, it’s easy to get in a trap of “if only’s,” ruminating on things that have gone badly.  As Jake and Melissa point out, this leads to hurt and bitterness more than healing and forgiveness. I learned this the hard way as I spent way too much time trying to figure out how I could have done things differently to make other people happy.  Sometimes in ministry, we can get overwhelmed with the pressure to meet the stated and unstated expectations of others.  It’s heartbreaking.  If I had heard Jake and Melissa’s advice earlier to “expect to fail,” and advice on how to handle that pressure, I imagine I could have avoided a lot of pain.

I have to confess, I picked up this book with an unintended arrogance.  My husband and I have been married for over 15 years and have been involved in youth ministry the entire time.  I started the book thinking there wasn’t much new I could learn, but I was pleasantly surprised with not only Jake and Melissa’s candor and openness, but also their sound advice.  We forget the valuable marriage life lessons learned along the way, this book does a good job of articulating important points to consider about work-life balance and the idiosyncrasies specific to church work.  Whether it’s advice basic marriage happiness or finances or whatever you need most, it’s comforting to know you are not alone in your struggles.

Good advice doesn’t have to be earth-shattering to be valuable.  For example, Jake and Melissa advise youth workers to have a day completely off from work each week plus a “flex day” for getting errands done.  The concept of a day of rest is not new, yet how many youth workers neglect Sabbath?  When you keep telling yourself you’ll take a day off later, or keep putting off time with your spouse because you have just “one more thing” to do for work, it doesn’t take long until find yourself exhausted and on the road to burnout.  Neglect taking days off and you suffer, your spiritual life suffers, your marriage and your ministry suffers, too.

It’s as painful an experience as touching a stove when you find yourself at a point of spiritual dryness or hurt in youth ministry.  While it is reassuring to know that you are not alone and you can survive these experiences, wouldn’t it be easier to avoid some of the pain by following sound advice in the first place?  Your marriage and family life should take precedence over your work life – read this book for advice and practical on how to make your own family and spiritual life a priority.

Who should read this book: If you are newly married, thinking about marriage, or if you just never really given any thought to how ministry effects your marriage, I would say this book should be required reading for you.  But even if feel like you have your act together, there are elements in this book that are healthy reminders about how to find work and life balance.   To the happily married, read it for a brush up, then pass the book on to your favorite newlyweds.

Book Review: Taking Theology to Youth Ministry

It’s both comforting and annoying when you read a book and get a sense that the author jumped in your head and thought your thoughts for you, but that’s how it went for me when I read Andrew Root’s new book, “Taking Theology to Youth Ministry”

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Andrew Root, well, let’s just say he’s a big theology kinda guy.  He has a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and is an associate professor at Luther Seminary in Minnesota.  He thinks eye-opening thoughts and says profound things about youth ministry in particular, so he’s the go-to guy about youth ministry theology…plus he’s young and cool and talks about growing up watching television.  We can relate.  I met Andy last year at the SMU Perkins School of Youth Ministry, and he was genuinely a nice guy.  But what I like best is that Andy is also a great storyteller – and that’s how this book comes across, as a great story.

“Taking Theology to Youth Ministry” explores thinking theologically about youth ministry from the approachable perspective of a youthworker named Nadia.   When I started in youth ministry, like probably most new youth workers, I didn’t really understand what the word “theology” even meant, never mind what my own personal theology of youth ministry was – so I could relate to Nadia’s journey of discovering what she believed to be the real purpose of her ministry and her role as a youth worker.  Her journey is the journey many in youth ministry travel – except that she gets past the points of frustration to true meaning and purpose.

Through Nadia’s story, the book explores what is the purpose of youth ministry.   Nadia discovers that youth ministry itself was not born out of theological needs but because our culture had segregated students into grades and age groups, so ministry began to reflect that trend.  Although there is no historical or biblical precedent for youth ministry, and even if the field has a reputation for not being serious about things, it is still a place for theology.

As youth ministry evolved into a profession, the standards for youth ministry evolved as well. As Nadia discovered, when she was a hired youth worker, people expected her to be able to explain the purpose of her ministry in a professional, purposeful way.  In my experience, the larger the church and the more professional the congregation, the more pressure there was to perform and be “successful” as a program.  Like many youth workers, I planned my programs with a popular, easy to articulate, purpose driven model.  Root says:

“Too much purpose-driven theological reflection in youth ministry has been more fodder for candy shops than dangerous wrestling, because it views theology as a bunch of biblical bullet points used to sweeten our intentions, rather than a call to examine our motives in the light of God’s judgment and grace.”

The danger of this pressure, is that it rewards having a plan or presentation of ministry without necessarily requiring deep reflection on God’s call for the ministry.

Another danger is in feeling the pressure to be “successful” as a program in order to make different camps in the church happy.  When you looked deeper, the visions for youth ministry and standards for success for the people around Nadia divided into three primary motivations: keeping kids good, involving kids in service and passing on the elements of our faith tradition to kids.  

The motivations in themselves are not bad, and being able to articulate the purpose of your ministry is a good thing.  “But maybe a problem created by this professionalization is that it encourages us to ignore our motives, as opposed to actually doing ministry from the location of our motives, from the core of our own being.  We get confused into thinking that the heart of youth ministry is organized calendars and vision statements rather than having the courage to seek to become part of God’s action in the world, which always exposes our motives.”

As I reflect on my own journey in youth ministry, I have struggled with pressure to “grow the program” and to do ministry the “right” way.  But growing numbers would never be enough and there isn’t just one right way – so many different parties bring different expectations, motivations and standards of success of failure to the table, there’s no way to make everyone happy.

“If youth ministry isn’t about keeping kids good, making them into something, or passing something on, then what is it all about?  I contend that at its core youth ministry is about participating in God’s own action.  The purpose of youth ministry is to invite both young and old to participate in God’s action.

It’s about participating in God’s own action.  I love that.  It’s exciting to think about what youth ministry would be like if we could set aside the pressure to perform and just figure out what God is calling us to do next.  Us.  With our own God-given gifts and passions being used to their fullest, instead of trying to beat ourselves up for not being enough.  There is freedom in being able to articulate your purpose as a ministry this way.  It could be, after prayer and reflection, your youth ministry takes off in a totally different direction.

There is so much more to write about in this book – and a cool part is that the appendix has discussion questions for each chapter.  It would make a great book study with fellow youth workers, parents and youth in your ministry or the rest of the church staff.   If you read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts!  We are all in this together.


As you plan your fall programs and move forward, how will you reflect theologically about your ministry?  What difference will that make?

What does it look like in your context to participate in God’s own action? 

What standards of success or failure does your church use to measure youth ministry?


Be blessed,



Can Youth Ministry really be done in 4 Hours a Week?

In 2010, our youth ministry program offered some sort of youth program (be that Sunday school, youth group, special Bible studies, retreats, trips, etc.) on 205 of the 365 days in the year.  That is just counting the number of days, not the number of programs to account for when we offered 2-3 things in a day like Sunday School in the morning and various Sunday evening programs…it was probably about 255 programs in a year.    Almost all of the programs offered were led by adults – either myself, another staff person or adult volunteers.  We had a fantastic youth leadership team and the students gave input on our plans, but if I’m really honest, most of the planning was done in our offices and most of the details were taken care of by staff.  If I say so myself, it was very professional looking, details got taken care of, we had a cool logo and everything.  I think it was run by adults because that’s what we believed we were expected to do & if it succeeded or failed, we got to hear about that first.

It wasn’t until I read the book “4-Hour Youth Ministry – Escaping the Trap of Full-Time Youth Ministry” by Timothy Eldred that I got the courage to stop the insanity.

Now, for years I’ve been on the bandwagon for having a student led ministry.  As a youth minister, I believe my job is to coach students how to develop their own gifts and to do their own ministry.  The young people I’ve known are talented, gifted, amazing, creative.  We did increase the amount of student leadership in the church, but I am almost embarrassed to admit how much of the ministry work I did when I should have been coaching students to run the show.

Tim’s book reminded me that my calling was not to run a program, essentially being like a wedding planner for youth events.  I knew this in my heart already, but I found myself caught up in working really hard to make sure programs were successful.  Sometimes implied and sometimes clearly stated, my success or failure was measured by how many people showed up, so I wanted everything to be perfect, welcoming, cool, whatever it needed to be so more people would come, and bring friends, too.

Tim points out the obvious – it’s about relationships.  And relationships don’t grow as well when you’re at a desk planning programs.  And the probably best way students can learn ministry is to do ministry first-hand.  So after lots of prayer and discussion as a staff team, we changed our ways of doing things.  We came to our student leaders with a blank summer calendar, talked about our purpose as a youth ministry, and asked the student leaders to prayerfully decide what the summer calendar would look like.  As they selected each event, they decided which students would be leading it, when they would plan the details, how they would promote it.  You could feel the excitement grow as they realized that they were really going to be in charge.

When you’ve got a team of students responsible for greeting new students and making them feel welcome, another team in charge of each aspect of the program…and you can even leave the room with no worries, that’s a beautiful thing.

Did I end up doing youth ministry in 4 hours a week after reading the book?  Maybe not immediately, but things are definitely in a healthier place.

Book review in short: it’s excellent.  It takes about 4 hours to read.  It may change your life in a very healthy way.