“Open Paris, in a word”~ thoughts from Marko

*taken from the blog http://whyismarko.com/2013/open-paris-in-a-word/

This last weekend, Adam and i were in paris for The Youth Cartel‘s event called Open Paris. these “Open” events have been adam’s birth-baby, shaped by this short manifesto of vision. but each Open event is completely unique, since there’s a high level of ownership given away to the local organizing team.

i’ll admit something here: while i thought the vision of doing one of these in paris was fun, i was a tad skeptical that it would actually work.

but i was wrong. 100%.

50 youth workers from 7 or 8 countries came. by most event planning metrics, that’s not a win. for this event, it was totally a win. the event had a relational dynamic as a result. we learned from each other; but we also hung out together. like: i have new youth worker friends now who live in germany and holland and england and france.

so, Open Paris in 5 words: LOCATION WAS HARD TO BEAT


Open Paris in 4 words: OUR HOST WAS AMAZING




Open Paris in 2 words: CURIOSITY WINS


Open Paris in 1 word: LIMINAL*


* a thin place, often used to describe a spiritual thin place. in this case, a place where the kingdom of god and the world of humans overlapped.


Open Paris…in review

Open Paris

This past weekend, 50 youth workers from across the E.U., U.K. and the U.S converged upon Paris for the inaugural Open Paris.

We were tremendously blessed with a stacked lineup of diverse speakers and seminars including Mark Oestreicher, Andrew Marin, Chris Kidd, Chris Curtis, Gemma Dunning, Markus Eichler, Tabea Weiler, Tim Eldred among others.

Tim Eldred


For the full range of the schedule, seminars and vision for Open Paris you can check out the website here:http://paris.openym.org

Hosting was fun and I really enjoyed playing tour guide in the city of Paris and The American Church in Paris.

More importantly, I loved connecting up with such a wide array of youth workers from 6-7 different countries. Each person shared his or her unique story, context, struggles, successes, hopes and dreams for God’s work in the lives of their students.

Some of the highlights for me included a very delicious traditional French dinner served for all guests on Friday evening followed by a sacred time of worship in the church’s catacombs.

(photos courtesy of Tim Eldred and Andrew Marin)



Open Paris was highly interactive, participatory, inclusive and relational.

In my opinion that is the way forward for youth worker gatherings.

Though some well-known speakers were on site, Open Paris was NOT about creating a dichotomy between the “professionals” and the ordinary youth workers.  We were all together all the time, and this is unique among these type of conferences.

Open Paris was about taking some bold risks and opening up honest conversations about real issues facing youth workers today including ministering to the ever-increasing LGBT community, embracing ecumenicalism as a way forward,  and inter-faith dialogue in pluralistic contexts.


I applaud the vision of The Youth Cartel (Adam and Marko) for desiring to create this kind of atmosphere and am excited to see what the future holds for other Open events and also for the connectivity and friendship of youth workers across Europe.

We have much to learn from each other and I hope to see more of these gatherings in the near future!

ACP sanctuaryThe American Church and Eiffel Tower copy

Announcing “Open Paris” with the Youth Cartel




I am excited to announce a partnership with the Youth Cartel in hosting “Open Paris” this May 10-11, 2013 at The American Church in Paris.





I have known the guys behind the Cartel for a number of years and have always appreciated their passion for student ministry and visionary leadership.


Adam McLean and Mark Oestreicher’s dream is to provide great resources for all youth workers and especially opportunities for everyone to have a voice in youth ministry.



I love the idea behind the Youth Cartel and these “Open” events….  “Celebrating fresh ideas in youth ministry.”


These are open sourced gatherings of youth workers and practitioners sharing and discussing ideas…sort of like a large think tank.  There are no “experts” since, to be fair, what exactly is an expert in youth ministry? It is certainly not someone who has written books or been in the field for twenty years. (although I have much respect for them)  Sometimes the youngest and least experienced have the greatest insight into youth culture and God’s active engagement.  These gatherings in Seattle, Boston, and then Paris will be a wonderful opportunity to explore a new city and culture while truly learning together in community.



Of course I highly recommend taking a trip to the City of Lights and join us in Paris.  We will have a great group of youth workers and theologians from across North America, the U.K. and Europe.  This will certainly give Open Paris an international flavor.  I will admit I have learned valuable lessons from my European colleages since arriving in Paris last year.  As American culture is trending towards Europe/Scandinavia is many ways, what better source for collaboration and friendships than youth workers from there!

For more information on all of the Open events, please click the link below




The closer we get we will be posted more information and have an updated site for Open Paris.  Stay tuned!  à bientôt






Top 5 movies for youth workers from the past decade

Here is a quick list from the past decade of youth related movies that have deeply helped my understanding of teenagers and youth culture.  The list includes documentaries, satires, dramas, and comedies all focusing on contemporary teen culture and issues.

I am sure my list is limited, so please add a few recommendations to all youth workers (and parents).  We have watched most of these movies with our teens and had incredible honest conversations as a result.  I highly recommend parents and youth workers to watch these, as uncomfortable as some of them may be.

Through your comments, I would like to add more and will post your suggestions.

1)  American Teen

2)  Juno

3)  Thirteen

4)  How to Save a Life

5) Saved

Rethinking and Redefining our roles as Youth Workers

I realize that the hot trend today is to call ourselves “youth workers”.  It seems to be a safer word than “pastor” in this day and age.  Using that word also helps us get credibility and find commonality with other youth ‘workers” such as teachers, coaches, and counselors.  We are all on the same team…that sort of thing.  I do believe that we must work closely with other adults and organizations interested in the well being of students, and I really do believe in the importance of a holistic approach to student development, growth, and maturation.

In the past, youth pastors have tended to focus solely on the “spiritual” aspect of the teenager, while often ignoring or avoiding the other aspects of their life. Somewhere along the way, their “soul” became much more important than their mind, body, and spirit (emotions).  We failed to see just how interconnected they are and failure to address these areas is a failure to address to true and full spiritual development of teens.

But at the same time, I have also seen the opposite take place.  Youth “workers” whether in churches or secular institutions work tremendously hard to bring mental, social, physical, emotional, and intellectual wholeness to teenagers. Yet, at the end of the day (or the end of their invested time with a particular student), nothing is ever said regarding their soul.  Now the problem arises when someone believes that a person’s “soul” or “spiritual” life is composed of all the above mentioned areas:

mind+body+spirit= soul


intellect+physical+emotional+social= spiritual

Again, I do believe that is correct to an extent, but I have found this model to be lacking in real transformation.

So, while it is all well and good for us to pursue health in those areas, we are called to more!

Whether you chose to define yourself as a youth “worker”, “leader”, “director”, or something else the bottom line is that we are all pastors.  This implies a radical new understanding of our roles and responsibilities.

We are not called simply to  direct activities and programs for students.  Clubs and after school programs do that.  We are called to the spiritual formation of students.

Whether you work at a church, club, organization, or school, we are all in youth work.  Yet, if we believe that God has called us towards this ministry, than our “work” takes on another added dimension. (more on this in a later post)

Now, in order to bring this kind of spiritual transformation and life change to teenagers, we must be willing to think creatively about our roles outside of the church and traditional parameters.

I do agree with much out there today about changing the spheres of influence and rethinking tradition roles.

Clearly a coach, teacher, or tutor will have much more interaction and time spent with students than a traditional youth pastor. In my area in New York, I am not even allowed to eat lunch with the students or be with them at flagpoles. (So I became a baseball coach and now have full access to the school!)

Also true is that students no longer flock to youth buildings or programs at churches (even if you have a sweet Rock Band set up).  Youth workers must be willing to go where the students are.

Hanging out at a local Starbucks, movie theater, or mall is a good start. That kind of exposure will help, but exposure with influence is much better. Volunteering as a coach, serving as a tutor, actually working at a local Starbucks…these are the kind of creative ‘out of the box’ roles and jobs that emerging youth workers will intentionally pursue.

Besides, some extra cash always helps as well!

However, emerging youth workers will gladly welcome and embrace any opportunity to serve the local community, not out of financial necessity but because of the unleashed potential.

I recently met with a church planter (former youth pastor of course!) who wanted to pick my brain about finding someone to work with the teens in his community. His church was around 100 people with only a small handful of students. They had no church building, no offices, and no meeting space for the youth.  His heart was to see the teens in his community not come to their church, but rather to be exposed to the love of Jesus on their turf.

So, his informal job description had this youth worker hanging out at football games, playing pool and paintball,  and spending time in arcades.  Even more astonishing was that rather than renting out the local Boys and Girls club some Friday evening for a “Youth Group event” (which probably would draw like 5 students), he envisioned the youth worker volunteering there and simply getting to know these students and building trusting relationships over time. In his mind, ministry would be the natural outflow of true friendships and relationships built over shared interests and activities over time.  Now there is a great model!

But for that particular community, I guarantee that approach will be far more effective and reaching than your typical youth outreach or youth “pastor” role. More students will be exposed to Jesus (through conversation and friendship) than if invited by the youth pastor to some event (because they would never go!)

But, the purpose behind this role is not to help students improve their basketball game and be more polite and respectable citizens. The hope is for them to meet and embrace the person and presence of Jesus and allow Him to transform their lives and futures.

I do believe that more than ever, youth leaders will not take on traditional roles in churches.

For one reason, with the economy the way it is, churches will be less likely to pursue full time youth pastors. A few collegues of mine recently have been demoted to part-time status because of the economy and have been forced to be bi-vocational.

But additionally, pastors simply do not have access to the places where students are…at least not here in the North East. As previously mentioned, I cannot simply show up during lunch with pizza to hang out with my students.

You may never get a student to step foot inside your church building, but if you can gain access and trust on their turf..than that’s a different story.

Youth leaders and workers need to be in the schools as teachers and counselors, on the athletic fields as coaches and serving in other capacities such as instructors and tutors.

Running after school programs, running a recreation league, volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club, working at Starbucks..these are where emerging youth leaders must be found…that is truly where the greatest impact will happen.

But we must always remember the reasons why we are there.  To love, serve, and introduce them to the person of Jesus Christ.