Overview and Why I Think This Book Is Important: In her book Woo, Morgan Schmidt has named something that will resonate with youth workers across the globe. She tells us that in the hearts of our youth have these deep, huge, and overwhelming desires, and that those desires might just be the best way to help them grow in their relationships with Christ. She calls this approach ministry by desire.
I often times hear my peers in youth ministry express deep and unfulfilled desires of their own about some aspect of their ministry. We long for authentic relationships between youth and the adults who mentor them. We ache for young souls (and parent souls and our souls) to see the beauty, truth, and goodness that they encounter in their daily lives as doorways to deeper encounters and relationships with Christ. We are passionate in the face of long hours, unsupportive communities, overwhelming statistics, and our own personal mess. When I listen to my peers and look at the state of ministry in most parishes, it becomes clear to me that the hearts of youth ministers across the globe are seeking the type of ministry that Morgan discusses. And they want it for the very reason that this type of ministry is successful. Because it is good and God has placed a desire for that goodness in our hearts. As Morgan talks about forming a ministry of desire, she names this thing we have been looking for and shares some elements of what this might look like in our communities.
A Little Background: Two years ago I was invited to present at a new type of youth ministry conference here in Seattle called Open. I remember settling into the space for the event that morning and chatting with the presenter that was going right before me. Her name was Morgan Schmidt and she has that enviable mix of vulnerability and joy that makes someone instantly likable. Her workshop was one that I was looking forward to attending. It was titled “Cultivating a Ministry of Desire” and in it she laid out a rough concept for model of ministry that was this beautiful mix of relational, formational, incarnational, and a ton of other “ationals”. More than anything it was something that I knew I needed to hear more about. That day I asked Morgan if she would present the concept at on our next online conference, rebuild3.0. She said yes and you can watch that here. Fast forward two years and Morgan has developed her initial 30 minute explanation of how she was doing youth ministry in her small episcopal community into a book that lays out a stunning vision for ministry led by desire.
My Favorite Part: My favorite part of Morgan’s book was her connection of Paul’s experience on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31) with how we should identify the desires of the youth in our communities. In this section she reframes the evangelist’s words into language we might use as we walked through our local high schools. She does this a few times, but let me pull one of my favorites out for you.
Students of High School! I see how extremely technological you are in every way. For as I walked through the cafeteria, I saw a sea of blue faces bent over glowing screens. What you long for in your insatiable connectivity, I proclaim to you. The God who gives everyone life, breath, and all things created you to make eye contact with others. Though we are all different, God made humans to be in community with one another, so they would search for God together and perhaps reach out and find God— though God is not far from any one of us. For even as your own artist, Bob Marley, has said, “As it was in the beginning (One Love!); So shall it be in the end (One Heart!).” From Woo: Awakening Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus
Paul’s experience on the hill has sat at the heart of the way I have done ministry for the last 9 years. It is a clear message that we are here not to put things into youth, but to calling forth and point out things that are already stirring within them. Morgan’s book made it clear that I am not just calling out ideas or pointing out formational awareness, but that I am calling out their desire for the divine. I don’t know that I have experienced anything more beautiful than that in my career as a youth worker.
Some Deeper Connections: Leading a youth ministry by desire may sound bit frightening or overwhelming to some of you. It may sound like we are just turning over the direction of our ministry to the whim of the human heart or looking for blind emotional stimulation, but let me give you a couple of quotes to think about that comes from someone other than Morgan.
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.
It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.” -JP II
This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it: We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated. How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you.
God alone satisfies. #CCC 1718
The first quote is from one of John Paul II’s World Youth Day addresses. The second is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and is one I often used to introduce people to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (ToB) at my parish and parishes around the country. When Morgan speaks about desire in her book she speaks in a very similar way to JPII. She speaks of wholly formed and properly ordered desire for those deep, sometimes unnameable things that draw us more intimately into communion with our God. I want my teens to be led with, and to, that kind of desire and I imagine that you want that for your teens also.
Wrap Up: I think every youth worker should read this book. Either to have your eyes opened up to a life giving way of ministry that could potentially change everything for you, or just to help name the things in your heart that you are longing to do in your ministry. As a heads up, Morgan is not Catholic and neither is her theological perspective. I can pick out three points of theology that she mentions that don’t agree with what we teach, but they are all pretty easy to spot and not things we would expect a protestant to believe. During the week of this post we are giving away a couple of copies of her book, but if you can’t wait or read this later you can buy the book here. We also want to thank the guys over at The Youth Cartel for the great work they do and for giving us a couple copies of the book to handout.