Books Friday is For Friends

Hopecasting by Mark Oestreicher

My partner in crime at the Cartel has a new book coming out. He has something like 70 titles in the youth ministry genre, been the general editor of a couple Bible projects, and is the general editor of our Cartel publishing line.

But this is Marko’s very first general audience Christian book.

So it stands out that the audience isn’t limited to people who are working in local churches with teenagers, it’s for everybody.

Here’s the truth: I haven’t read it yet. So I can’t recommend it from that perspective.

However, I can recommend it wholeheartedly as a friend who has born witness to the process of creating the book… and the life altering stuff that happened which lead to the creation of the book.

This book kicked Marko’s butt.

It made him uncomfortable. It made him work harder than he wanted to. It interrupted him. I think it drove him crazy and pushed him to places he didn’t really want to go. And, in the end, he’s really proud of it.

Here’s the description:

Why are some people full of hope, while many of us struggle to get past the snooze alarm? Hope often seems elusive—both to explain and to experience. So we find ourselves instead clinging to lesser substitutes. From self-medication to lazy clichés, we apply these balms to our pain and experience little to no comfort. But we know, in our guts, that these replacements aren’t the hope-filled lives we long for, the lives we were made for. Mark Oestreicher gets it. Through hard-wrought experience and robust-bordering-on-desperate theological reflection, he offers here a fresh perspective on Hope, that virtue that God carries to us even as God carries us. Read Hopecasting and discover a good God casting hope your way.

And here’s what Scot McKnight has to say, he’s way smarter than me:

Hopecasting takes us through the joy of holy week, into the exile of darkness and hopelessness, and to the empty tomb of hope. In this book Marko teaches each of us how he has learned to practice a life of hope through the resurrection. What a gift of God this book is. May you discover the reality of a biblical hope that reshapes life today.

So that’s the scoop. Give it a shot.

You can buy it from Amazon or at The Youth Cartel store.

Friday is For Friends youth ministry

5 Weeks Until Open Grand Rapids

Ah… winter.

A quick scan of social media reveals that folks living in Michigan, Northern Indiana, and the Chicago area are completely sick of winter.

The supreme irony of our living in San Diego is that we’re Midwesterners who love a good midwest winter. We’d get 6 inches of snow and Kristen was ecstatic about shoveling the driveway. I absolutely loved giving people a hard time about canceling things because it was cold or a bit icy.

So, a year ago, I scheduled our very first Open Grand Rapids right in the middle of winter. On purpose! My hope was that people would have a little cabin fever and look forward to something to get out of the house for on a cold Saturday.

Welp, um… I was wrong. The weather was a bit of a sucker punch and we had a very hard time getting people to come out.

Year one was great: But year two will be a lot better!

This year’s Open Grand Rapids is March 28th (SPRING!) on the campus of Cornerstone University. If you aren’t familiar with the format we have a great line-up of presenters presenting on real-life stuff from all over the region. Instead of the “big national organization” bringing in a group of ringers to offer big-box-version youth ministry training without local context, we recruit local youth ministry experts to offer training to fellow workers doing youth ministry right in that same context. So don’t expect polish or production or anything fancy about Open Grand Rapids. But do expect a very full, very high quality day of youth ministry training for just $25. (No one gets paid and most of the money gets donated back to a local organization & the local organizer team.)

The kicker? What our presenters lack in the experience of doing the same seminar dozens of times per year, they more than make up for in real-life experience. 

What has became so evident at our 3rd Open Boston a couple weeks ago is that with a little bit of experience, some feedback/coaching, that the quality of training is just as good as any I’ve seen.

So that’s the scoop on Open Grand Rapids. I hope to see you there.

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Church Leadership Friday is For Friends

A Weakness with Formal Ministry Preparation

Driving across rural Kansas in December I couldn’t help but be reminded of this fact:

  • In the New Testament, nearly all of the illustrations Jesus used were agrarian.
  • In modern times, nearly all modern formal education happens in the city.

It’s a conflict that most people training for vocational ministry either completely ignore or they think they can read a commentary which will explain what Jesus was referring to. (Most of these commentaries aren’t written by people who don’t know anything about that stuff either… they are written by people who live in the city but did research from other books about what to put in the commentary.)

And the implication is that most ministry models emulate a business structure and worship is built around a lecture when Jesus’ illustrations for believers were that ministry should run like a farm.

But I think most Americans are so removed from agrarian life that they miss what life in ministry could really be.

And so I’m left to wonder:

  • How can people learn to shepherd a church flock if they don’t know anything about actual sheep?
  • How can you “fish for men” if you don’t know how to fish?
  • How can you “reap a harvest” if you’ve never planted a crop?

And let’s state the obvious… I’m not aware of any ministry preparation that places wanna-be pastors on farms or commercial fishing boats or herding sheep.

Instead, we send wanna-be pastors to the city where ministry preparation looks like any other course of study.

And we wonder why our churches look like businesses, why church workers are comfortable in offices, why they are white collar workers completely missing the blue collar majority of our population?

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.

John 21:17

But most of us couldn’t pick a sheep out of a line-up.

Photo credit: Deputation by Peter Eskersley via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Friday is For Friends The Youth Cartel

Our January Line-Up

We’re off to the races in 2015 with 4 new publishing products launching in January. With each new release cycle our stuff just keeps getting better and better.

Here’s what is new:

A Youth Worker’s Field Guide to Parents by Danny Kwon (Book)


The Audacious Seven by Steve Case (Curriculum)



THINK Volume 2: Theology by Jake Kircher (Curriculum)



Viva: Choices (Curriculum)




Friday is For Friends

A Path Appears Coming January 26th to PBS

There’s a lot of money given to charities around the world. I’m not an economist, I’m a youth worker. So I don’t know how much money is given but I’m pretty sure it’s in the bazillions.

Until 2010, I was relatively ignorant of the long-term impact of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world. Sure, I’d heard rumbles here or there from a visiting missionary at my church or a talking head on TV, but I largely assumed that all money and efforts coming from the Western world were somehow good for the Developing world.

That changed five years ago when an earthquake rocked Haiti.

Read the rest of this post, Walking a Path Together, that I wrote for the 30 Hour Famine blog.

The only nonfiction book I pre-ordered and read not related to youth ministry last year? A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It’s an important read for anyone who is involved, in some way, with social justice. And it’s an important read for anyone who asks anyone for money. (To be clear: I think this is a must read for anyone working in a church.)

I’m super excited for the new film series, A Path Appears, that’s coming to PBS later this month. I hope you’ll watch it.

That’s my Friday is For Friends this week. I’m not personally friends with Nicholas and Sheryl, but I wish I was!

Friday is For Friends

Behind the scenes of YM360 with Les Bradford

There was a lot of change in youth ministry in 2010-2011. Especially among resource companies. I think, looking back, history will show that this period of time birthed the next wave of youth ministry stuff, new organizations and ideas got built from the ground up to shake loose from the past.

As we were getting going at the Cartel I started to get to know the guys at another start-up, youthministry360. Over the past few years I’ve chatted off and on about ministry stuff with YM360 co-founders Andy and Les. We have a pretty simple business relationship where each company sells a few of the others products in our stores, stuff like that. But we’ve also hit it off because we share some of the same growing pains that all start-ups go through.

Recently– cough, late last night on my way back from Cedar Rapids, IA— I asked Les Bradford a few questions about what they are up to.

Adam – You guys started up at about the same time as The Youth Cartel, so what’s your genesis story? How did you guys get started at YM360?

ym360-logoLes – Both Andy (co-founder) and I have a deep desire to see teenagers grow deeper in their faith. And we love helping the incredible men and women who are pouring out their lives in the local church for the sake of teenagers knowing Jesus. We knew starting ym360 was what God was calling us to do, but didn’t know how it would all work out with us leaving jobs behind, needing resources to get started and everything that comes with starting an organization. We also had growing families and all that comes with that. At the end of the day, the Lord provided everything we needed. It wasn’t easy, but as we look back we know ym360 is still around because he’s been faithful to what he’s called us to. Of course, we’ve worked our tails off too and God has graciously honored that. We are coming up on 5 years having left our former organization to start developing ym360.

Adam – As we’ve talked, I know that both of us have made some good moves and some moves that sounded like a great idea at the time. What’s something you guys have learned that might be transferable to our friends in youth ministry?

Les – Know your stuff and don’t over-extend yourself. Early on we found our resources being distributed to lots of Christian bookstores. In our world, this meant tons of inventory and additional risks that we just weren’t ready for. We quickly saw it was not going to be a good move for us. It sounded like an awesome idea to be in every Christian bookstore in the country, but it became a serious threat to us because of the strain it would’ve put on ym360 being such a young under-resourced organization. We knew then we would have opportunities for ym360 that may not always be the best thing. Focusing on our core (direct to youth worker) and not getting too far out in front of ourselves was a valuable lesson learned.

Adam – One thing that sticks out to me about YM360’s product line is that it’s not just well written stuff, it’s really well thought out when it comes to layout and design. Where did you guys pick up this aesthetic?

Les – We’ve had the privilege of working in Christian Publishing for 15+ combined years now. Through those years we’ve never stopped tweaking and adapting along the way. We’ve been able to learn from things that work well and things that don’t work so well. We’ve tried really hard to listen to those using our resources and implement what we learn from them. Our designers are also top notch. We surround ourselves with incredibly talented folks and let them do their thing. Youth workers are also writing and creating our resources with us, so that helps too!

Adam – I noticed recently on Instagram that you guys pulled all of your product shipping in-house. Why did you decide to do that?

Les – We have always outsourced this. But as our shipments continue to grow we wanted to touch every single package with a little love and care. The act of seeing a package that’s going to a youth worker who orders frequently from us and throw in a hand written letter or a little gift of some sort is something we love to do. Or the first-time order who gets a surprise in their package is fun too. Plus, we needed to centralize this part of our operation due to some exciting things coming up in the future. Overall, a little culture and a little future planning was the driving factors.

Adam – What’s one thing that you are doing right now that you wish more people knew about?

Lesym360. It’s so hard to get constant/frequent impressions in the youth ministry “marketplace” if you will. There are thousands more youth workers and churches that have never heard of ym360 than there are that have. Being such a young organization we know that’s par for the course and all that. At the same time, we’re blown away by the number of churches we’ve been able to serve in such a short period of time and a grateful for the impact our resources have had on teenagers all over the globe. More specifically, our ongoing curriculum lines that are designed to be used week in and week out are really incredible and we’d love more folks to know about them: currently, The Jesus Studies, the elements curriculum, and The Thread (new 52-lesson curriculum launching in Aug. 2015).

Adam– I hear from a lot of people who are thinking about starting up a ministry or company of their own. What’s one bit of non-obvious advice you could share?

Les – Sleep is overrated. You’ll find that you can really get by with a lot less than you thought. Kind of kidding. To answer your question . . . I recently saw a quote that said “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” This stuff is hard work. The things we’ve learned in the “doing” have been worth the ride altogether. Surround yourself with good people on your journey: from partners, to a mentor, to your family and all in between. Never be on an island. As success comes, you’ll be better for it and it’s better shared with others.