PYMThere are many things that I’m looking forward to in this coming year of ministry. One of the most exciting is a conference on Progressive Youth Ministry that I have planned with Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Sarah Cunningham of the JoPa Group. This is a long-time dream coming true and I’m thrilled with the way this has taken shape. JoPa are pros at putting on conferences like this and working with them has been amazing. I think this conference will be a game-changer when it comes to post-Christendom youth ministry.

As a way of introducing what I hope will happen at this gathering, here are my top three goals for Progressive Youth Ministry:

  1. This will be a place for progressive youth workers—and those who are interested in exploring what such a tribe might look like—to come and address issues that are avoided at pretty much every other youth ministry conference I have attended. Of the long list of topics we tossed about, we settled on three that will focus our attention and most clearly set this conference apart from others. This is especially true for the conversations we’ll have about sexuality, but also in the way we approach theology and faith formation.
  2. A broader goal is supporting the community of youth workers who share this approach to youth ministry and those who long for such a community but don’t find it in their local context. One of the things that really struck me at the youth ministry sessions at Subverting the Norm back in April was the number of youth workers who live in fear of being fired for “coming out” as progressives. They are right on target with the youth and emerging adults with whom they work—those who are native postmoderns and those who are the building blocks of post-Christendom Christianity—but their congregations and/or senior pastors are not always on the same page. This conference will be a safe place for folks like this to connect with each other and hopefully develop ongoing networks of progressive youth leaders.
  3. My third goal is really the reason I’m committed to youth ministry in the first place. Believing, as I do, that new kinds of post-Christendom Christianity are emerging throughout the United States (and around the world), youth ministry has the potential to be a subversive catalyst in this ecclesiastical transformation. I don’t believe that the goal of youth ministry is to shape Christians after the pattern of the church as it is now. Rather, rooted in historic and emerging expressions of faith, we are equipping and shepherding the young people who are answering God’s call to be followers of Christ in our rapidly changing world. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most critical tasks of Christian ministry today and I’m passionately committed to it.

If any of this sounds like what you’ve been looking for, or if any of it has piqued your interest, join us at Fourth Presbyterian Church on March 19-21, 2014.

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

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  1. […] Last week, when I laid out my hopes for the Progressive Youth Ministry conference I’m organizing with the JoPa Group, I mentioned that one of my goals is to directly address issues and topics that simply don’t get discussed at most (or any) other youth ministry conferences. High on this list is sexuality. […]

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