This week’s 5 questions is with Joel Mayward, author of The Youth Cartel’s new book, Leading Up. Here’s our interaction about his life, his new book and a little insight in leading from the middle:

Who is Joel Mayward?
I’m a pastor, husband, father, and writer currently living and doing ministry in Langley, British Columbia. I’ve been leading in youth ministry since I was 16, and have been in full-time ministry for about 6 years. I love movies, writing, coffee, drumming, reading, hiking, discipleship, and Jesus, but not in that order.

Love the idea of leading up – where have you seen this done well in your current ministry?
I recently moved from Arizona to British Columbia, and have only been at my new church for two months. I have to practice what I preach in Leading Up, learning how to navigate the systems and sacred cows of my new church context, and intentionally take the time to build relational equity with my fellow church leaders. I’m relearning everything, having to start over in a new church and rebuild relationships. It’s a deeply humbling and transformative process, which is what leading up is all about.

Leading up can be so difficult because we’re stuck in the middle as youth workers. What is one key thing to avoid to make sure our leadership is not overlooked?
Being “stuck in the middle” sounds more gloomy than the reality of our role–we are key members of the body of Christ, called by the Spirit of God and equipped to lovingly build up the whole church while focusing our time and energy on teenagers. It all comes back to recognizing my identity and calling in Christ; I’m not just a “youth worker,” I’m a beloved child of God, uniquely gifted and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. Leading up is far more empowering when I realize that it’s not about me, it’s about the vision and calling Christ has given me. Leadership is a gift, not an entitlement or obligation.

The book is a great and easy read. Why choose the youth ministry story/fable approach?
Originally, the book felt like a bunch of random concepts and tools about leading up, making it both very short and very boring. I love movies and compelling stories, and knew the various “leading up” experiences of many of my friends and partners in ministry needed to be shared well through a fictional narrative. Logan’s story is true in the sense that truth is larger than just facts, and art reflects our life and experience. I have to thank Mark Oestreicher for giving me the suggestion to write the book as a leadership fable, and the encouragement to keep writing. The characters and story took off from there!

What is next for you?
I’m hoping and praying that Leading Up would be an encouragement to leaders in the church, both in the youth ministry tribe and beyond. I’d love to hear the stories of young leaders choosing to stay in churches and embrace their calling, seeing their churches transformed through a leadership of grace. There are all sorts of other book ideas percolating in my mind. It’s literally a dream come true to write this book, and I hope to keep humbly writing and sharing and speaking and leading in the season to come.


I love movies. As in, I’ve watched 85 films already this year, which averages to around 3 a week, if my math is correct. Some might call me a movie snob; I prefer the term “cinephile.” While one could argue that film is a big waste of time and money, I believe filmmakers are theologians of sorts. They tell us stories that both reflect and shape our cultural values, including our views of humanity and God. The movie theater becomes a sanctuary, a 2-hour respite from the summer heat and boredom. In the youth ministry world, movie theaters–alongside malls–become the centers of summer activity for many of our students.

Your students are not only watching movies this summer, their views are being inherently shaped by them whether they realize it or not. Students tend to approach films in one of three ways. Some are sponges–they mindlessly soak up anything and everything that a film offers, including messages and values that are intrinsically unBiblical. Others are funnels–they mindlessly avoid all cinema (and all other media, for that matter) and let it slide past them due to its supposed sinfulness. Finally, some are sieves (or colanders, or strainers, or whatever word you prefer for that thing you use when making spaghetti!)–they wisely filter which movies to watch or avoid, using a Biblical filter for discerning the messages that films are presenting, and critiquing films based on Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

People don’t become sieves on their own. Students need wise and discerning people to watch movies with them in order to have conversations that go deeper than, “yeah, that was a cool movie.” They need someone who will take them to a film, then take them out for ice cream or coffee afterwards in order to intentionally have that spiritual conversation. They need someone who will expose them to films that reflect the beauty of our Creator that they might not otherwise watch. They need someone who will hold them accountable to the films that they watch, lest they become sponges like the majority of teens around them. They need to know why a film isn’t okay to watch, not just what is wrong with it.

So go watch a film. Invite some students along. And expect Jesus to show up at the movies with you.

Joel Mayward is first and foremost a follower of Jesus, which is the foundation for his love of his wife Katie, and son, Copeland. Joel loves pondering all the interconnections between film, theology, and youth ministry. He is the high school pastor at Red Mountain Community Church in Mesa, AZ. You can read his movie reviews and youth ministry musings on his blog.