Innovation Cohort

Brian's Blog

I have been in youth ministry for 18 years and service Webster Groves Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO. I also work with Ministry Architects and train youth workers in suicide and mental health awareness and outreach with an organization called Soul Shop. Through all of my work, I have come to believe that is our calling as youth workers to gain a broad, honest, authentic and faithful understanding of what it means to be a teenager today. It is also our call to discover how and then to lead the church to meet our young people where they are. This cohort intends to live out this faithful calling. It this space I will offer my accounts, insights, and learnings from guiding, and walking with, some fantastic youth workers as they seek innovative answers to the question, "How might we become a thriving faith community committed to intentionally following the example that Christ has set to serve all?"

  • July 05, 2018 10:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Happy July everyone! How did that happen? In true youth ministry form, May and June have been a blur, and we have found ourselves halfway through summer without any real understanding of how that happens! So we are playing a bit of catch up on our blog releases. So that means you will get two this month! The first is from Kate Morrison. Kate is currently "braving the wilds of Southeastern Wyoming where she serves as a Youth and Young Adult pastor." Kate has some fantastic insight and understanding to the challenges that face the church how our willingness to innovate in those challenges speak to our understanding of the Spirit moving through times of change.

    I pray Kate's words are hopeful reminders of the time we find ourselves as the church, and the excitement and energy and can be found when we see this as a time of renewal instead of death. Maybe you will be inspired to innovate and the life that brings instead getting caught in the trap of death. Enjoy!


    Innovation: The Way Forward

    The church is changing Y'all. Gone are the days when the cultural expectation was that you and your family were present and accounted for on Sunday mornings for worship and Sunday school. Nowadays, the church struggles to be fit in amongst the variety of other activities that our American society says that we must have to be “well-rounded” individuals. Many of us who work in the church have noticed the trend and tried our hardest to prepare and keep ahead of the curve. However, as has been my experience and I am sure many church folks know, the church is one of those places that doesn’t always adjust well to change and is certainly not the first place I think about when it comes to risk-taking.

    But as the church changes, risk and innovation it seems are just what is being called for. Back in January, I began the journey of being a part of the first Youth Ministry Innovation Cohort, a joint venture of Youth Ministry Architects, and the Presbyterian Youth Workers Association. As I have worked alongside my three other youth ministry colleagues and our coach, I have been so incredibly inspired, first and foremost by the love that our cohort has exhibited for our work and for the church as a whole. In the midst of the struggles that we have all had as we have worked on innovative solutions to youth ministry in our particular contexts, our faith and devotion to making youth ministry relevant have shined through it all. It is this type of dedication that tells me that yes, the church may be changing, but it is most certainly NOT dying, not so long as such dedicated and loving servants of God continue to step forward to preach, teach and make relevant the Gospel to our young people today.

    As I mentioned above, the journey has not been easy for us. We have each hit roadblocks as we have tried to implement our new ideas. However, this is what the innovation process is all about. You come up with an idea, in our case built on providing a thriving faith community committed to intentionally following the example that Christ has set to serve all, you try out your idea in your church or community, and if it works, excellent! Continue to develop this idea, put some money behind it and let it blossom. And if the idea doesn’t work or is a complete flop, this is also 100% okay! You took the risk, you tried it, and now you can devote time and energy to coming up with another idea until you are able to find the right thing for your community at that particular time.

    One of the greatest things that I have struggled with as I have worked in the church is that many churches are afraid to take risks. We are so scared to fail and fear that if we do so, we only feed into the belief that the church is dying. However, as I’ve stated multiple times, the church is changing, and if we don’t begin to think up innovative strategies and take risks, then we will forever be stuck, remaining stagnant until our church does in fact die. I love God and God’s church too much to see that happen. So I implore you, it is time to start changing the conversation about risk and failure and to stop demonizing these ideals. For the sake of the church, we must embrace innovation and continue to explore new and exciting ways of spreading the Gospel and reaching out to the people in our communities and across the globe. Yes, this is not necessarily an easy thing to do, and yes we may have to take a few risks and even fail a few times. But as people of faith, we should be some of the first to risk reaching out to God’s children through innovative strategies to seek the betterment of God’s kingdom. After all, if we claim to follow Jesus, then we too might be being called to risk it all, to leave our nets, our livelihoods, and all that we know, just as the disciples did. Go and do likewise.

    -Rev. Kate Morrison

    Bio: Hailing from North Carolina, but currently braving the wilds of Southeastern Wyoming where she serves as a Youth and Young Adult pastor, Kate enjoys the simple things in life, like a good cup of sweet tea, a strong female protagonist, and an afternoon at home with her kittens. However, Kate also finds deep meaning in her friendships and in her work, which has led her to a life of commitment to the church. In a few words, Kate is contagiously joyful, fiercely loyal, a dreamer and an activist, and a grateful Presbyterian. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat at @livurlif12.

  • April 13, 2018 3:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    We'e all aware of the fact that transition can come fast and without warning. No matter how much we plan and feel like we can anticipate the future, sometimes, life challenges us and our faith in ways that we would not choose. As God loving, faithful people called to work with youth, we are not immune to these moments. In fact, they can become extra challenging because we are faithful, because we work with youth, and because we love God so much. One of our cohort members, Chris Gibson, found himself in one of those painful transitions shortly after joining our Cohort. He has agreed to document his journey through this time of wondering, questioning, searching, and innovating as he works to discover what is next for him. We hope that through his journey you can find some shared experience, peace, and a reminder that transition does not equal death and like Jesus being lead into the desert, we are right where we need to be.

    Thank you, Chris, for sharing this amazingly honest and faithful words!


    Today marks the beginning of “Sabbatical #2, Week #3” for me. Two weeks ago today I was called into an unplanned 8 AM Monday morning meeting with our executive pastor and the chair of our church’s H.R. team. The meeting lasted 13 minutes, and at the end of it I walked out the door and out of ministry at my church…for the second time in just 4 years…. So this morning I’m sitting here looking out on the possibility of spring in my back yard and woods…fresh cup of coffee steaming next to my laptop…freshly-lit fire in the woodstove…and wondering about life and the future and ministry...all of that at the same time.

    I probably need to unpack a couple of things as I get started on writing this…first of all; I’m not a child molester or anything crazy like that. No, I didn’t do anything illegal or unethical that I could be cut loose so quickly. And while that fateful meeting was unplanned, it wasn’t exactly unexpected either. When things begin to unravel in a church, there are usually some pretty clear warning signs…and I saw those months ago. The really crazy part is that I’ve been down this same road before…and at the same church. Exactly four years ago I resigned from this same church for eerily similar reasons…and then was called back 18 months later to jump right back into that same life-breathing faith-community, staff and ministry. This is why I refer to my current situation as “Sabbatical #2.” I learned a lot of lessons during “Sabbatical #1” that I want to put into practice early on this time around.

    Lessons learned:

    Leadership Transitions can be REALLY hard. Over the past 8 years, my church has had 5 different senior leaders…3 senior pastors, with 2 interim pastors sandwiched in between. In my 27+ year church ministry career I’ve been part of 3 senior pastor changes where I had already been solidly in place when a new pastor came on board. I did not survive long in any of those environments. Senior pastors come into new assignments with all kinds of hopes and dreams for what they will do…and often with the authority to jump right in and do it their way right away. For me, that combination of energy, vision, and authority outside the context of deep and trusting relationship has been really difficult and each time has been at the center of my eventual departure. There are a lot of stories I could tell about how tricky these transitions have been in my career. Bottom line: leadership transitions can be really, really hard.

    God is always faithful. When I resigned four years ago, my wife had already been unemployed for six months with no new job on the horizon. Our oldest was in his first year of college, and we had two teen daughters in high school. On top of that, we had recently adopted our fourth child…4 years old at the time of my resignation. Things had deteriorated at church to the point where I literally walked in one day, submitted my resignation, and walked out the door – the only job I have ever just “quit” in my life. This was an incredibly hard decision, with no guarantees about our family’s financial future. We knew there was the possibility of losing our home and all kinds of income-related negatives for our future. It was a huge step of faith for us. I spent the first six months picking up side jobs…power-washing vacation homes along Lake Michigan and painting cottages. Ultimately I picked up a “real job” as a construction manager, building commercial playgrounds across Michigan and Indiana. Even though we often did not know how we were going to pay our bills, God always provided exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it. When a mortgage payment was coming due, I would somehow pick up just enough hours at odd jobs to make that payment. Our aging cars miraculously went through that entire time without any significant mechanical disasters. When our family was without health insurance for about two months, we did not have any injuries or illnesses requiring a doctor’s care. And when I needed encouragement for future ministry possibilities I would often get an invitation to speak somewhere or have a significant conversation with a former student or fellow staff-person. God was faithful every step of the way. Bottom line: God is always faithful.

    I gained the power to choose. During my first sabbatical, I gained an incredible (and totally unanticipated) freedom…the freedom to choose. I had the freedom to choose which people I would stay in contact with, which people to go out for coffee with, which people to cut out of my life entirely. I had the freedom to choose what I would do with all the time I suddenly was not pouring into ministry…time for my family, for long-neglected projects around the house, time for praying and asking God “what’s next?” I chose to spend time with people who would breathe life back into me, to work outdoors as much as possible and do hard physical labor because I knew that it was good for me (and because it paid the bills). I had an immense freedom to make choices that were good for me. I did things because I wanted to, or because I consciously knew they would be good for me or for my family. I gained the freedom to cut out people and activities that sucked the life out of me. What an incredible blessing! Bottom line: I gained the power to choose.

    Gratitude rose to the top. I had a ton of poisonous stuff lurking deep down inside me after walking out the door to ministry in 2014. I had been in full-time ministry for almost 25 years…there were quite a few “demons” that needed to be exorcised! I needed some healthy ways to get some of that deeply-buried stuff out. Certainly the hard physical work and time with good people were key factors in making a good experience out of a bad one. But in the midst of this time, I think I simply became a person who was much more grateful about life in general. When I would come home with a wad of cash from 40 hours of painting, and it was just barely enough to cover the mortgage, I was consciously grateful to God for His providence. I was way more grateful for the simple things: $1 any size coffee at McDonalds,, sunset walks with my wife and kids at the beach, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of a paper bag at lunchtime…things I would hardly have noticed back when life was “normal.” This was a tremendous help in purging the “poison” from deep down inside and preparing me for future life and ministry. Bottom line: Gratitude rose to the top of my life and I am truly grateful that it did.

    I started this post on Monday morning and am finishing it on Saturday morning. This past week I spent time with people who are good for me, preached at a friend’s church, did some chainsaw therapy (and earned a few bucks for my hard work and sweat), got outdoors for some incredible Michigan sunrises, celebrated my daughter’s 18th birthday, began building a tree house, and thanked God regularly for a growing list of things I love about this life. Sabbatical #2, Week #3 was a really good week despite my lack of employment and a future that is altogether unclear from my point of view. I intend to “thrive” during this time of enforced “rest” from ministry. I intend to surround myself with a faith community that will help me thrive, and that will encourage me to follow Jesus’ example to serve everyone I come into contact with. I am grateful for the lessons I learned during “Sabbatical #1” and fully intend to put those lessons to good use during this unplanned “Sabbatical #2.”

    God bless any of you out there who can relate to anything I’ve shared here. May the God of all peace, fill our hearts and minds with joy in all circumstances, and bring peace to us and to the ones we hold most dear. If I can ever be of help or encouragement to you, feel free to contact me at

    “From the rising of the sun, to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” Psalm 113:3

    C:\Users\ChrisG\Downloads\image1 (1).jpeg

  • March 06, 2018 3:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As an 18-year youth ministry vet I have seen a lot of good and lousy youth ministry (my own included), experienced moments with young people that I knew would last a lifetime and moments that were gone in an instant. I have had fantastic failures of "sure things," and joyful successes of the last thing I ever thought would work. The honest truth I have learned over each one of those moments is when we allow ourselves to be moved by the Spirit, seek out a deeper understanding of the young people and families we are in ministry with, and put our own "agenda" to the side beautiful things happen, even in failure.

    This Innovation Cohort was something that I have been thinking about for awhile. Offering a space for youth workers to have the permission to say, "I am not bound by anything," and give them the freedom to truly connect with those they are in ministry with and to share the Good News in a way that will be heard, understood, experienced, and lived. It is not a space that most of us typically operate in, and one often makes us anxious. We are bound by tradition, uninformed expectations, money, lack of imagination, lack of time, the limits of human resources, fear of failure... The list could go on, but I am sure you get the point. These realities are what held me back from trying a cohort like this. When we faithfully consider the reasons we "don't" or "can't" its seem very silly and trivial; especially when we understand the possible consequences that can come with that way of thinking and operate.

    We are at a new turning point in youth ministry. Generation Z (or the iGen) is a group of young people like we have never seen before. Their experience of life and understanding of the world is both fantastic and terrifying. They are a group looking for safety and wary of anyone (or institution) that is not genuine, invested, and willing to jump into the scariness of life with them. This is true of past generations as well, but Generation Z has a different feel to it. If youth ministry does not embrace these truths, I fear that a decline that started years ago not only will continue but will accelerate, because this is a generation that does not time for anyone or anything that "does not get it." I firmly believe that what started with the late Gen Xers, gained steam with the Millennials, and is taking on a brand new form with Generation Z is the new normal. Each generation is going to require us to be proactive, intentional, and aware of the consistencies and nuances from the one previous. Youth Ministry may never look the same again.

    Enter the gift of innovation! Extreme change is one of those things that scares many of us, and that the Church has never been great at. But if there was ever a time to overcome those fears, acknowledge our shortcoming, boldly forget "what lies behind and [strain] forward to what lies ahead" (Phil. 3:13) this is the time. That is what this amazing cohort of five people is striving to do as they journey to minister in a whole new (but old) way. We are creating a place where "I can't" is not an option and failure is an expectation. All with the goal of connecting, enriching, guiding, learning from, and hoping for young people who are desperately looking for answers that the church can and should be providing.

    Umm, sounds like things Jesus did and still does! I did say it was bold!

    You are going to have to follow these blogs to discover precisely what the cohort is working on, but I will share that we are operating within an exciting question, "How might we become a thriving faith community committed to intentionally following the example that Christ has set to serve all?" The two teams of cohort members will share with you more details about what they are working on through their blogs, and I will offer you a facilitator/ creators view of the process. We hope that by documenting our experience, it will inspire you to be innovative in your ministry and maybe even motivate you to join us in as a member of the next innovative cohort (details about that are coming soon).

    Here is what we know already, this process will not always be pretty, but we find peace in that because we know we have a Christ who jumps into the mess with us. We also know already that we do all of this better as we support, love, and enrich each other and each other's ministries. We want to hear from you along the way. What are your questions about what we are doing? How have you innovated within this question in your ministry? How did it go? Post your thoughts on the PYWA Facebook page to help us get this conversation started and motivate all of us to better ministry with young people (and all people).

    You know that time when an idea moves from an abstract thought that is easy to get excited about to a concrete thing that has more anxiety connected to it than it ever did before? That is where we are with this new project, and I could not be happier about it. Thank you for taking a few minutes to join us on this new, fascinating, and faithful path that we hope will inspire you in your ministry as you work to be an innovator in youth ministry.

    When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into tall the truth; for he will not speak on his own but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare the things that are to come. -John 16:13


Michelle Phillips

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