Education can learn a lot from iTunes


Posted by Matt Vaughan, in Kansas, as he listens to his 1980s boom box…

My basement is a mess.

I can almost see your mental image, because I was just down there. We’ve got children’s clothes stashed along the wall. A bike with a flat tire sits in front of my old boombox. There’s another box of old coffee cups and glasses that we plan on setting out in a garage sale this summer.

Next to my boombox is a treasured box of old cassettes. Remember those? There was a day when we’d line up at the record store to buy a newly-released LP or cassette of our favorite band. That was during my teenage years. Journey was one of my favorite bands.

My 13-year-old son loves Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.” The song was released 34 years ago on 8-track, LP, and cassette (the CD player wasn’t released for another two years!). My son looked incredulous when I set up the tape player recently. In the time it took to rewind my cassette, he bought the classic song on iTunes.

The song is still relevant, but the context changed.

Education is that way, too.

For example, my father worked for 39 years at the same company. He was highly educated when he took the job and he kept up on his education over the years as technology changed. The person that replaced him has a different kind of education. Instead of a degree, my dad’s replacement was trained in a specific skillset.

Education is more relevant than ever, but the context is changing. Education can learn a lot from iTunes.

This evolving format of education is nicknamed by some as “just-in-time education.” The Washington Post recently ran a piece about this on April 13, 2015 (Are master’s degrees on their way out? Alternatives grow as enrollment fades, by Jeffrey J. Selingo).

The author writes, “Until now, if you needed additional training to get ahead in your job or switch careers, you had little choice but to enroll in a graduate or certificate program at a local college or online…most of all, the programs were expensive, and came with little, if any, financial aid from the colleges, which saw them as cash cows.”

The article continues by saying “the graduate and professional education market is ripe for disruption.” I think the same thing is true about how we educate and train church staff who serve in youth ministry.

Youth ministers need practical, just-in-time training more than ever. Two Duke Divinity professors and a United Methodist bishop wrote an article last year (Mainline Protestantism and Disruptive Innovation in Youth Ministry, February 24, 2014) that “many congregations have all but walked away from the field, allocating minimal resources to youth programs and hiring people with little theological training to lead them.”

The writers go on to say that “the lack of theological education among those who serve and lead adolescents going through one of life’s most developmentally important seasons is a travesty. Approximately 70 percent of full-time youth ministers have no theological education, according to one recent survey.”

You probably know where this is going. Youth Ministry Institute disrupts the traditional model of education with practical training and personalized coaching. We meet the need of providing quality training and theological education for youth ministers who enroll in our program.

As a result, these youth ministers stay longer in their jobs and their youth groups grow substantially – usually more than double.

One year ago, a pastor at one of our Midwest client churches said, “I am not persuaded that any other program even comes close to offering the depth and richness of YMI. There is still quite a bit of “creative thinking” we would need to do on the topic of how to work it into the budget, but that should really be the least of our concerns – it seems – when it comes to building a solid foundation for this church and its youth ministry for years and years to come.”

I love that quote. The church enrolled in our program, and one year later, great things are happening in youth ministry at that church. The church’s needs were immediate, and Youth Ministry Institute Midwest provided a relevant context to meet those needs, just-in-time.

Speaking of time, I need to go and flip the cassette to hear “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

By Matt Vaughan, Midwest Regional Director

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