The Youth Ministry Mirror: We All Need A Tribe


Ross Carper, Director of SHIFT_jrhi Middle School Community, First Presbyterian Church Spokane

ross carperIf you’re a youth worker like me, you sometimes vacillate between two shocking realizations: (1) Whoa… I’m very different from these students, and (2) Yeesh… I’m really not that different from these students.

Teenage culture is changing rapidly, so it’s jarring at times to recognize the new and foreign ways our students are navigating life, relationships, and faith. But some stuff is just plain old “human condition” culture, and as I meet with my students, sometimes I realize I’m looking in the mirror. The need for acceptance, belonging, community—in short, the desire to be known—is something we all relate to.

Yep: this time of year, I’m just like my students as they begin a new school year. I’m seeking out my tribe: I need to be around peers who understand me, what I do, and what I’m about. A few mornings ago, I got to have coffee with a bunch of other youth workers in my city. The most refreshing thing was this: we spent a long time just sharing about life. Eventually, a stimulating conversation began about how to encourage our students’ faith in fresh ways this fall. But first, we just took some time to know and be known.

On a much larger scale, my ministry co-worker Alicia and I are heading off to the Middle School Ministry Campference in about a month (you should check ‘em out here). I’ve never been to it before, but just from looking at the materials, it’s clear that the organizers get this whole “tribe” thing. Before we jump into the latest and greatest strategies for middle school ministry, it looks like we’ll get to simply belong. Maybe it’s the fact that the words “my tribe” are written in 86-point font on the Campference’s homepage, but I trust I’ll be surrounded by some peers who will become fast friends.

Drawing from this experience of belonging, Alicia and I will hopefully be energized to build a community of belonging in SHIFT_jrhi, our group—not where everyone is exactly the same, but where everyone simply knows that they are known. And by the way, that’s the kind of community that empowers students to do higher-risk, higher-impact things together: like have the most incredible, record-breaking 30 Hour Famine EVER later in the year… right? Right!

(side note: I get to host a late-night conversation at the Middle School Ministry Campference, and my session will be focused solely on 30HF… hope to see some of y’all there!)


And from the 30 Hour Famine team: since we’re partners on the Campference, we get to pass along a deal to our fantastic youth workers. The MSMC reg fee is $325 (which is all-inclusive, and includes lodging AND all meals!); but if you use the code FAMINE when you register, you’ll get a rate of $275! Fifty bucks off!  Check it out (and register) here: