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Avengers and The Gathering Place: We Are Better Together


Martin Saunders, a youth worker in the UK and contributing blogger for the online magazine, Premier Youthscape, wrote a riveting article last week connecting the mega-themes of the new Avengers: Age of Ultron movie (major blockbuster for 2015–kicking off the summer movie series, right!) to youth ministry.

He writes,

“Thor is swinging his hammer, Iron Man is firing energy beams from his hands and Captain America is throwing his shield around like a boss. Along with a gaggle of other superheroes, they’re fighting off an innumerable legion of robot baddies in, of all places, an old church. This is the glorious finale of Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015’s biggest blockbuster.

It’s the purest distillation of the Avengers concept: some situations are so tough, some bad guys so evil, that overcoming them takes teamwork. If any one of the Avengers were to fight Ultron and his army on their own, they’d be easily overpowered; only by working together can they pave the way for the next inevitable round of sequels.

Now, call me sad, but as I watched that incredible scene in the cinema recently, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels with youth ministry. Granted, we’re not called to fight evil robots and none of us are going to turn into an out-of-control green giant when we get angry (as far as I know), but youth ministry is full of local and national heroes, all of us facing a particularly difficult situation right now. So the question is, how are we going to address it: as a series of individuals, trying our hardest to solve the problems directly in front of us, or back to back, arm in arm, working together and for one another?” (read the rest here…)”

And I think he’s on to something…

Are we ready for an age of collaboration?

Youth ministry can often feel pretty isolating—our work is often confined to a segmented population (high school) with very little cross-over to other areas of the church.  Granted, youth ministry does have its unique needs, challenges, and joys, but I think most people who work in faith formation of youth also realizes that IT DOESN’T START HERE.

Faith Formation for our youth doesn’t begin when our graduating 8th graders go through some wild initiation rituals to enter MYF. Likewise, faith formation doesn’t end when they walk across the stage wearing a cap and gown.

Parents are the #1 influence in the faith development of their youth.  #1.  So how are we as youth workers, taking a collaborative approach?  Faith formation is most holistically and authentically developed as it is integrated into the whole of the church, where everyone sees themselves as formers of faith for we all belong to one another.

What does it mean to look outside our little office and 4-year walls to build bridges and strengthen partnerships with the whole of the church remembering that WE CAN’T DO IT ALONE.

But even more so–as youth workers–as formers of faith–we need to broaden our own horizons.  Navigating this ever-changing culture and contextualizing our faith in ways that our youth understand and can make sense of, is no delicate matter.

You need someone who has your back.

It is too daunting to go at it alone.  We need one another.  Like the Avengers who would have been utterly destroyed in the final epic battle if one decided that they didn’t need the others and could handle it on his/her own, we really do need each other to companion and work together.

Simply put, we are better together.

Didn’t Jesus say that too?

Jesus never sent out his followers by themselves…but always in pairs.

Even the animals of the Ark knew they couldn’t go at it alone.

And we all know…where 2 or 3 are gathered together…

And isn’t the Holy Spirit the greatest Super Power of all?


And if you need more convincing, it is simply more fun to gather and journey along together.


So as we enter into this Convention week–Kansas City 2015–and into the BIG official launch and celebration of this site, like the Avengers–we too declare that we are greater than the sum of our parts when we collaborate.

This, my friends, is exactly what TGP is all about. It is about bringing you together with others from all over the country (and world–holla, France and Canada TGP subscribers!). It’s about developing connection and networking, finding space to ask questions, wrestle with concerns, in essence, to learn and grow with one another.

At Kansas City Convention, The Gathering Place will have space in the Exhibit Hall, couched within the Executive Board booth. At our booth, bring your entire youth ministry team to come talk with me or Scott Roth (entrepreneurial youth ministry) about this site, pick up some TGP swag, and get your picture taken with some Avenger paraphernalia as a reminder that at The Gathering Place…

…truly, we are better together.

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Rachel Gerber is the Denominational Minister of Youth and Young Adults and editor of The Gathering Place.  She’s looking forward to meeting with you next week at KC or gathering with you virtually throughout the year ahead.  Subscribe to The Gathering Place to stay connected with the latest gathering happenings.






Read All About It! TGP makes the press…

New website for Mennonite youth workers to launch at KC2015

(Mennonite Church USA)—A new website for youth workers, The Gathering Place, will officially launch at the Mennonite Church USAconvention in Kansas City from June 30 to July 5, 2015. Rachel Springer Gerber, Mennonite Church USA denominational minister for youth and young adults, envisions the site as a hub for networking, peer-to-peer resourcing and spiritual formation for leaders.

Screen capture of the home page of the new website for youth workers, The Gathering Place.
Screen capture of the home page of the new website for youth workers, The Gathering Place.

“The Gathering Place is an interactive website created by youth workers for youth workers,” says Gerber. “Unlike other webpages that simply have information to absorb, The Gathering Place is a site that connects people in real time to provide much more that what basic social networking sites can offer.”

In her role, Gerber has noticed two trends. One is a common sentiment from youth workers that they feel alone in ministry and want to be connected to others to think through best practices and flesh out ideas, but they don’t know where to start.

“Often, time and resources are limited, and people are stretched thin,” she says. “Even our area conferences are stretched to provide seminars and continuing education for our leaders.”

The second trend is that advances in the digital age allow access and opportunities for people from all around the world to connect virtually. The Gathering Place bridges these trends to create an online platform where Anabaptist youth leaders can gather for resourcing, networking with other youth ministry workers and deepening spiritual practices.

Gerber says the site will draw on virtual real-time learning experiences and study circles to help create spaces for conversation and community-building. Each week, youth workers can join a “Think Tank Thursday,” where those present can dream together about ministries that are emerging in their local communities.

In addition, The Gathering Place will offer spiritual direction; personalized coaching for youth ministers and lay leaders (sponsors); forum discussion groups; a blog exploring best practices for youth ministry; webinars; podcasts; and opportunities to meet face-to-face with Scott Roth, assistant pastor at Perkiomenville (Pennsylvania) Mennonite Church, for training about entrepreneurial ministry in local contexts.

The Gathering Place focuses primarily on faith formation, the primary task of youth workers.

“We wouldn’t be doing this work if we didn’t believe in the life-changing power of Jesus Christ,” says Gerber. “And yet we can’t trick ourselves into thinking we can do authentic spiritual formation with our youth if we are not rooted in God’s own love for us. Investing in our own spiritual development is the only way to truly invest in the lives of our youth, and The Gathering Place offers the space and the tools to do just that.”

Gerber believes that no youth worker should ever have to “go it alone.” The Gathering Place provides a cutting-edge way to equip youth leaders — pastors and sponsors — across the church.

“I trust that by God’s grace, The Gathering Place will be just what is needed to equip us for doing 21st-century ministry,” says Gerber.

Youth sponsors, pastors and others who work with youth are invited to visit the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board staff exhibit at KC2015 to learn more and get a preview of the site. In addition, all are invited to attend The Gathering Place launch party in Kansas City, to be held Saturday, July 4, at 4:40 p.m. at the Kansas City Convention Center.

The Gathering Place can be found online.


—Mennonite Church USA staff

Image available:

Screen capture of the home page of the new website for youth workers, The Gathering Place.

Live Podcast



Join an interview with Marlene Frankenfield and Merv Stoltzfus, spiritual directors for The Gathering Place, as they talk about how to find our Sabbath when we work on Sunday, and practical suggestions for pastors to take care of themselves.

Thursday, July 16

1pm-2pm EST

There will be time for a Q&A at the end to talk with Merv and Marlene directly.  Register here to join the conversation.

Happy Birthday TGP!


Happy Birthday To Us!

Celebrate the official website launch Saturday, July 4, 4:40pm 
Kansas City Mennonite Convention
Room 2505B
Join in the festivities!
Also, swing by the Executive Board Booth during convention week to learn more about The Gathering Place and get connected!  We will be taking pictures of all the youth workers who are at convention, so stop by and get your official mug shot!

Sacred Pauses

sacred pauses 2

As we engage the theme of Sabbath & Self-Care, I can think of no better book than Sacred Pauses by April Yamasaki. April, a Mennonite pastor in British Columbia, begins with her own longing for personal renewal. What would it take to feel renewed every day? Instead of waiting for a vacation to smooth out the tensions of life, instead of waiting until the end of the week to shed our weariness, what if we could take time out every day? Live a renewed life every day? Be refreshed by God every day? 

Wouldn’t that be lovely? 

Sacred Pauses offers simple ways for readers to do just that. Each chapter explores a different spiritual practice-from the classic disciplines of Scripture reading and prayer to other creative approaches such as paying attention, making music, and having fun. With plenty of stories from real life and ideas to try, this book is personal and practical. 

Will you read it with me so that together we can encourage one another on this journey? Are you willing to step out in courageous fashion to embrace a Sabbath practice that ceases busyness and work to claim that God is God and ultimately this is not our work.  We are not God. What a counter-cultural statement in a world of production and endless fragmentation.

Register here to join the conversation on Sacred Pauses.

July Gatherings


This month, The Gathering Place will focus on:  Sabbath and Self-Care. We can’t trick ourselves into thinking that we can do faith formation with our youth if we, ourselves, are not first nurturing our own care in body, mind, and spirit. Truly, the best way to truly invest in our youth, is to first invest in ourselves.  We have to find ways to take care of ourselves in order to be able to fully give of ourselves to those around us. Even if it means this:


In this day and age, finding the time, or maybe I should say, making the time to care for yourself is tough.  It takes planning, effort, and dedication.  No one is going to take care of yourself for you.  This is something that we as ministering persons need to engage.  This month, as we move out of our theme of Sustainable Ministry, we will move into reclaiming Sabbath & Self-Care, because if we are honest, there is no sustainable ministry, if we are not diligent about finding daily renewal and re-creation. So let’s talk about these sticking points–how do we carve out the time to tend to ourselves even in the midst of caring for others?

July Gatherings

Think Tank Thursday–Thursday, July 2, 9am-10am CT–LIVE gathering at Kansas City Mennonite Youth Convention, rm 2501 A. Gather in this ‘brain hatchery’ to dream and talk with one another about how to make relevant connections between Sunday morning and the real life of youth. Scott Roth, facilitating.

Live Podcast–Thursday, July 16th, 1pm-2pm EST–Join an interview with Marlene Frankenfield and Merv Stoltzfus, spiritual directors for The Gathering Place, as they talk about how to find our Sabbath when we work on Sunday and practical suggestions for pastors to take care of themselves. There will be time for a Q&A at the end.

Learning Circle–Thursday, July 21, 2pm-3pm EST– Most of us aren’t able to take off a month for a holiday to the Greek Isles. But finding ways to care and rest on a regular basis is essential to your ministry health. Let’s talk about self-care practices and re-creation together.

Webinar–Wednesday, July 22, 1pm-2pm EST–“Stopping For Rest In A Society That Doesn’t”–Youth are too busy. Youth workers are too busy. The calling to minister on behalf of young people often exacts a high price from those of us who answer it. We all have too much to do, not enough time to do it, and the pace of our lives sometimes borders on insanity. Yet perhaps the way we relentlessly work out our calling risks drowning out the One who calls us in the first place. Does it matter that we worship a God who rests? Is Sabbath even an option in societies and churches that hold preconceived definitions of success and productivity? This workshop will explore these questions and imagine ways of receiving God’s gift of rest within the realities of today’s culture. Come listen with Dr. Nate Stucky (Lead Director for Ministry Architects).

Study Circle–Wednesday, July 29th, 2pm-3pm EST–This month we will be reading Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal. It offers fresh ways to find everyday personal renewal. Through personal stories, scriptural insights,and practical suggestions, April Yamasaki guides us into new connections with ourselves and others, with creation, and with God. Click the title to order!

Registration fills up quickly!  Click here to fill out the form and save your place at the table.

And like always:

If joining a circle or podcast doesn’t suit your schedule this month because you are on VACATION (!), well…good for you!  We celebrate this and consider your time away as the best practical theology experience.  Like always, TGP is designed to fit any schedule.  When you have the chance, read the best practices blog post about Sabbath and self-care practices, ask or answer a question in the community forums, watch or listen to the recorded podcast as you leisurely walk your dog in the woods (but maybe not while taking a bubble bath). Take a moment before jumping into your work and click on the “Spiritual Formation” tab and begin your day with a 3-minute centering retreat. May you find joy in the unexpected places this month filling your cup to overflowing. Be blessed, my friends. Be blessed.

Looking to the Future of Youth Ministry

Published on May 27, 2015

A YS Idea Lab with Kenda Creasy Dean.

Kenda Creasy Dean shares some thought provoking ideas about the future of youth ministry in this YS Idea Lab with Brian Aaby. As I listened through the conversation, I want to highlight a few things Kenda said about the future of youth ministry and how youth workers will stay in ministry long enough to see it.

In 10 years, Kenda thinks youth ministry will be…

  • less programmatic and will become embedded into the fabric of the overall mission of the church.
  • more entrepreneurial, happening out in the community and making young people agents of ministry, not just objects of it.

If youth workers are going to make it 10 years in ministry, they’ll have to…

  • understand that they can’t do it alone and surround themselves with people who can support them.
  • make their senior pastor’s job easier and over communicate with them.
  • be smart about the practical things, like structure and finances. It won’t help your young people if there isn’t a church to come back to after they are grown.
  • stay in it and don’t quit. People succeed in ministry because they don’t quit as soon as everybody else.

On 1st Thursday of the month, join us for Think Tank Thursday at 1pm EST, 12pm CST. ministry. Each month in Triple T, we dream together in this entrepreneurial spirit about what God is calling forth from our neighborhoods. You bring the agenda, we provide the space. Sign up here to reserve your spot.

Pentecost–Taking Courage and Delight in God’s call

As we enter into our theme of Sustainable Youth Ministry this month, I find it interesting that it is also colliding with the Church season of Pentecost.

The story of Pentecost always memorized (and terrified) me as a little girl.  Tongues of fire, wind howling–the Spirit’s presence comes. This Spirit transformed floundering fishermen and bumbling disciples to preachers and prophets.  Voices were found, gifts were transformed, courage, boldness, and power discovered. The Church birthed.

In sum, Pentecost brings life. But life comes through fire and wind. Growth comes out of the friction of heat and swirling of wind. Both fire and wind refine in their own way, consuming or shaking loose those things  which are not essential, making room for the Spirit’s re-creating presence.

Even Moses, who first discovered this God-Presence as a burning bush. On fire but not consumed. Ready with the call to reclaim life to God’s people.

By: Paul Koli

By: Paul Koli

In Exodus 3, where Moses encounters this peculiar bush, it reads, “Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!'”

Notice that before God speaks, God waits for Moses to notice God’s presence. This is an important characteristic of God: God chooses to patiently wait for us.

Friends, our lives as youth workers are busy.  We often feel the heat of the burn(out), as opposed to the heat of the Spirit’s flame. There are schedules to keep, programs to run, volunteers to coordinate, youth to manage. But sustainable youth ministry starts with us. It begins by us slowing down and taking notice.  It starts with us lingering to see where God is already blazing in our life and work.  As we “turn aside” (take notice) those burning bushes are in our own lives and remember again that God is near, new life blooms.

Perhaps that is why the color of this season following Pentecost is green, the color often associated with life and growth. “Green signals health and the presence of the invisible but powerful forces at work bringing earth to harvest. So with the fruit of faithfulness; It grows daily, unremarkably, into a harvest of abundant life for all of God’s people” (Susan Blain, Imaging the WORD, 21).

That is why the spiritual formation element of The Gathering Place is central. We must tend to ourselves if we hope to tend to the faith in our youth. Utilize the resources available to you here:  spiritual direction, retreat, contemplation via art.

Let The Gathering Place help you find that space to ‘turn aside’ and take notice.


Going Deeper

This month The Gathering Place is delving into the theme, ‘Sustainable Youth Ministry.’  How do we keep going?  But perhaps a better question to ask is not in form and function, programs and volunteers but rather…

Who keeps us going? 

As youth leaders, our work is primarily in spiritual formation–to nurture and form faith in young people. We wouldn’t be doing this work if we didn’t believe in the life-changing power of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

And yet we can’t trick ourselves into thinking that we can do authentic spiritual formation with our youth if we, ourselves, are not firmly rooted into God’s love for us.

Investing in your own spiritual formation is the only way to truly invest in your youth.

The Gathering Place is equipped to help you slow down and drink deep from the well of God’s love. Sometimes all we need is a little reminder and encouragement. Consider this your invitation.

The Spiritual Formation portion of The Gathering Place offers a variety of ways to invite you to slow down and remember again who you are and Whose work you do. There are three primary ways to engage: 3-minute retreat, Art, and Spiritual Direction.

The 3-Minute Retreat is linked to the wonderful site from Loyola Press that invites you to slow down at your computer, in the midst of your busy day and re-center.  It might feel a bit odd “praying” via your computer, but I invite you to stick with it and see what emerges.

The Art section are full of visual arts, writing snippets, and music clips that have been chosen to inspire and re-engage our imagination.  Often in our harried life, we find ourselves blinded.  We might visually look, but we fail to truly see.  “By encountering and engaging in poetry, prayer, music, and the visual arts, we can convert patterns of superficial sight into profound understandings of what it means to live before God in a world of mystery and wonder” (Maria Harris, Imaging the Word, Vol. 3, 13).

Spiritual Direction connects those seeking, a companion for the spiritual journey.  Spiritual directors are guides that walk with you in your spiritual life, asking discerning questions about where you are encountering God in your life and ministry.

May you find The Gathering Place to be a place where you not only connect with others doing youth ministry, but where you find yourself in the refreshing shade of the One who created you.

Come and rest awhile.

Kick Off Study Group!

sustainable youth ministry pictOur book study this month we will be reading, Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries and discuss why most youth ministry doesn’t last, tools to recover a sustainable ministry model, and what our churches can do about reversing this trend.  This would be an excellent conversation especially for conference ministers and lead pastors to participate. We are so pleased to have Mark DeVries himself (!) facilitating our conversation on Wednesday, May 20th from 11:00am-12:00pm EST.

Register now!