There are two voices in this blog today. . . .

Walt:I’ve now had a little more than a week to process, discuss, and try to sort out what I think about the big changes announced last week at Youth Specialties, an organization (or more accurately, a group of people) I’ve grown to know and love over the course of the last thirty years.

YS was there for me when I was serving in the local church as a youth pastor. I was always excited about traveling with my team of volunteers to one-day resource seminars, conventions, and other events. The overwhelming majority of youth ministry resources that populate my shelves bear one of the many different YS logos. In recent years, it was my friends at YS who have done more to encourage me and promote CPYU than anyone else. They’ve also given me more opportunities than anyone else to train and serve youth workers – year after year – at the NYWC.

For those of us who have been around YS for a long time, Marko’s termination is one in a long line of changes that have taken place relatively recently. First, Wayne Rice moved on. Then, Yac died. Last January, my good buddy Tic and a host of YS staffers were terminated. And now, another big change. Each of us has to respond to news that no doubt makes us emotional. My initial response was to text Marko last week, tell him that I was praying for him, and to thank him again for the role he and YS have played in encouraging and supporting CPYU.

Just as I’ve been blessed to have YS (the people) as a friend, I’ve been doubly blessed by the friendships I’ve made with countless others through YS. One of my closest and most respected-friends is Doug Fields. Doug’s a part of a trusted group of close buddies who I can always rely on for wisdom and perspective. Throughout the last week, Doug has served in this function in his normal, balanced, and well-reasoned manner. Doug’s said a lot of good things that he has graciously committed to writing because. . . . well. . . . I think they are things we all need to think about and hear in order to gain perspective as we wander around in a cloud of dust that – believe or not – is settling and will settle. I asked Doug to jot down his thoughts. Doug’s words echo my own thoughts, and since he says it all better than I can, I yield several inches of blogging space to my esteemed colleague from California, Doug. . . .

Doug: I’ve had several people ask me what I think of Marko being fired from YS and if I think YS will survive.

Well, I’ve been around long enough to know there are two sides to every story and I’ve not been privy to both sides. So, if working in the church has taught me anything, I’ve learned that it’s wise to be slow to judge, criticize and jump to conclusions. The thoughts below are limited to gut-level observations and intended to be my way of answering all the emails that I’ve gotten from friends in youth ministry who want to know what I think about the “hostile-takeover”. Here you go, here’s what I’m currently thinking:

1. I love the fact that fellow youth workers are rallying behind Marko.
He is definitely worthy of thanks, praise and support for all he has done in being a leader in youth ministry while at YS. He is one of us and “one of us” seems to have been wounded and regardless of the other side’s point of view, I love the comradery and defensiveness for Marko! I’m honored to be part of a “team” that gets angered when one of us is hurt. And, let’s be honest, Marko has been a GOOD one of us–raising the bar in YM, cheering on youth workers, challenging us to think, being a champion of junior high, etc…

2. Personally, I am heartbroken that Marko was fired in a corporate-type of way.
The way Marko described the firing to me seemed brutal (you’re done, over, clean out your desk, hand over your phone, give us your computer, etc…). I know that is how the corporate world works, but I’ve worked in the church since I was 18 years old and it just seems so heartless to me. I told Marko I was sad for that to happen to him—I would have hated to have gone thru that experience.

3.I DON’T believe Zondervan is the evil empire that some within the youth ministry world is accusing them to be.
The moment YS was sold to Zondervan (4ish years ago), a new reality was born. Zondervan is a FOR PROFIT company that trades on the NYSE. They are accountable to shareholders and Zondervan (and YS) lives under the pressure of high financial performance. They MUST turn a profit. Zondervan wasn’t out to kill, quench or damage YS…they bought the company from Karla Yaconelli with the belief that they could make it a better and more profitable ministry. They had no reason to want it destroyed, they invested millions in the hope that it would thrive. They had to cut their losses–their financial model was dependant on large events with paying customers. In the church-world, when tithes go down, conference budgets are cut.

4. I’m sad that YS probably won’t ever be “my-YS” again
YS is a rich part of my youth ministry legacy. When I was a young youth worker, Wayne Rice, Mike Yaconelli and Tic Long were youth ministry demi-gods and they took a big risk in giving me a platform to teach at their conventions and write books. They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and kept cheering me on and inviting me to do more. I brought an “in-the-trenches” element to YS that they appreciated and my ministry platform expanded. I am very grateful to the legacy of YS!

But, for me, “my-YS” was YS infused with the spirit of Yaconelli. Mike provided the resounding DNA that surfaced louder than the other leaders. YS was Yaconelli-breathed. It was his baby! Mike didn’t want to lose money with YS, but it wasn’t about the money for him–it was about the mission, the message and the audience. When Mike tragically died, “my-YS” died. Though my long-term, dear friend Tic was still there to help Marko lead the way, it just always felt a little different to me without Mike’s presence. Not bad different, just different-different.

I write all that because I know the loss of Marko will be the loss of “my-YS” for many younger youth workers. I totally get it. It feels weird when you identify so strongly with a personality and they’re no longer leading it. I understand if your YS isn’t the same again.

5. Karla Yaconelli did what I’d want Cathy Fields to do if I died.
Karla was an incredible support and cheerleader to Mike when he was running YS. She sacrificed a ton of her husband as he traveled throughout the year speaking and building the ministry of YS. She’s a remarkable woman! This last week I’ve heard people say that she should never have sold YS to Zondervan because that was the impetus for all these events. In this case, “shouldn’t have” is simply birthed from ignorance. Karla didn’t want to run YS…she wasn’t wired for those types of responsibilities. Karla did the right thing and sold to the right company—Zondervan had a 20+ year relationship with YS and it was a natural partner! Her intention was that Mike’s legacy would continue thru Zondervan’s reach and she would be able to survive and move on with the assets from Mike’s hard work. If I died, I would never expect or want Cathy to continue to try to run Simply Youth Ministry in my absence if it wasn’t in her heart. I would want her to do what was best for the future of her and our kids…the same thing that Mike wanted for Karla.

6. Youth Ministry organizations will come and go.
Everything will have its season and run its course. Over the landscape of youth ministry, the powerhouses will fade away and new influencers will arrive. This happens with resource companies and it happens with churches… it’s the cycle of life. Twenty five years ago church leaders flocked to the Crystal Cathedral, then ten years ago they flooded Willow Creek and Saddleback…now, they race to North Point and Churches, ministries and organizations come and go—the YMCA was once the most powerful youth ministry presence of its time…now, many YMCA’s are ghost towns. I’m happy that Simply Youth Ministry continues to grow, but there will be day when people say, “What was the name of that guy who had that internet company and did conferences with Group?”

7. Marko is bigger than this knock-down.
I haven’t done life as intimately with Marko as I have with Yaconelli and Tic…but, I know him well enough to know that his identity is stronger in Jesus than in being the president of YS. Sure this move stings…and yes it’s not what he planned…but he will still love and serve Jesus in spite of this move. What we know to be true about his character in good times will only be enhanced during this difficult time.

8. Youth ministry will still happen.
Whether it’s Marko, or Yaconelli or Tic or anyone else who has taught, challenged, led and encouraged us…we go on. Youth ministry continues. Teenagers need caring adults to love them, believe in them, and point them to Jesus. With or without YS…youth ministry continues—that’s the way to honor a leader, a legacy…and our Lord Jesus.

Walt: While I’m grateful for Doug’s perspective, I know that it means nothing unless I act on it. I’m constantly reminding my kids of their need to fill their wells with the “This I know’s” (the richness of the perspective of God’s Word) and then acting on those things when the going gets rough and you don’t always see things clearly. I’m convinced that if we don’t live that way, we might wind up doing some things we wish we hadn’t done when we find ourselves walking through muddled stuff that is blurry, confusing, and emotional. Doug, you’ve given me some “this I know’s” to add to my own this week.

Which lead me to this weekend in Cincinnati. . . . the second of this year’s YS National Youthworker’s Conventions. My goal this weekend will be the same as it always is when I head off to a NYWC: I intend to embrace the privilege of the invitation I’ve been given by YS to honor and glorify God through serving and training youth workers. As always, I’m excited about being a part of this great event.

For those of you who will be in Cincy. . . or even in Atlanta in a few weeks. . . .let me go out on a limb and issue a bold challenge. Even though Marko is no longer a part of it, there’s still a YS, a YS staff, and a NYWC that is being run by a YS staff that is passionate about Jesus and passionate about youth workers. This reality is the true legacy of Wayne, Yac, Tic, and Marko. It’s my hope that we’ll come together to honor that legacy by honoring the passion of each of these guys for Jesus and youth workers through bringing honor and glory to God in our worship (24/7), our care and love for the YS staff, and our commitment to encourage and equip each other.

21 thoughts on “Dear Youthworker. . . . About YS. . . . And Thanks Doug!

  1. Doug and Walt, well said all around. I have to admit that I have been slightly perturbed by the amount of “not my YS anymore” comments that have pervaded the blogosphere and social networking sites, most particularly the ones that seem to demonstrate the attitude of “Marko/YS, what can you do for me now?”

    Life will go on for YS, for Marko, and for youth ministry.

  2. Yeah, I echo the notion, that this is a great post. Well I was one of those angry youth pastor bloggers who is still sorting this thing out.

    I appreciate the wisdom, experience, and sound voice as it speaks to this matter.

    Frankly, this post help me understand and identify that the Marko/YS legacy is the legacy I grew up on. I fall into the camp of: loss of Marko will be the loss of “my-YS” for many younger youth workers.

    I am having a difficult time accepting this reality because I am not sure what YM organization to attend and glean from.

    Thanks for these sage words.

    Grace and Peace.

  3. Excellent perspective. I especially hope people don’t stop reading before the last paragraph. The fact is that while we’ll miss Marko, you’re right, there are still some great people working for YS who deserve our love and support as well. Thanks YS for all you have done, and all you continue to do for youth ministry.

  4. Doug and Walt thanks for being a calm voice. I truly value your perspectives. You both are part of “my ys” and I thank you for your words.
    Let’s all be praying for what God has in store for Marko and for YS. God certainly is bigger than this.

  5. Thanks for the wisdom Doug. As always, it is well stated. Trite or cliche it may be, but God is with us even in letdowns. Heck, God could very well ALLOW the letdowns and intense pain and use them as a sanctifying event in Marko’s life.
    And I agree with Doug, once Yaconelli moved on, it was different for me…and for everyone. Losing Mike was a massive blow to the entire youth ministry community.
    Change happens, and sometimes it is imminent even if we don’t agree with it.
    We love you Marko!

  6. Walt/Doug- I have to admit that last week was tough on me too. When I heard the news I reflected on how I felt when something like that happened to me a few years ago. I wasn’t as angry as I just felt that a loss had happened. I have had the opportunity to be around Marko and YS for many years and am friends with many at the conventions. I think that I agree with everyone that YS will continue and ministry will happen but it still feels a bit like life is now going to always be different. In my mind it is similar to what happens after a funeral. Everyone knows life will go on but first must grieve the loss. One week in many are still grieving. It will get better.

    I said this somewhere this week that I was proud of Marko for lasting with corporate America for 3 years. Yac wouldn’t have lasted 3 weeks (said a bit tongue in cheek) 🙂

  7. Thanks for the insightful perspective on YS. You are casting a guiding beacon of light in the midst of a heavy storm. We all love progress but hate change…however, change is very evident in the landscape today. Our love and prayers continue for Marko, Tic and all the rest of the YS team, past and present!

  8. As a former youth worker and parent(current youth worker) I come to this site as a resource in helping me love me kids and their friends. I have no idea about the ins and outs of all these changes but I am reminded why I turn to CPYU… because of the real and Christ like responses to real and not so fun life stuff we all deal with. Thanks for the wisdom and grace you have demonstrated in what I imagine is a difficult transition for many.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing your mature, reasoned and seasoned perspectives. It helps us get the bigger picture, which is what we need to keep from building walls, responding out of wrong motivations and getting too distracted from the ministry at hand. May God use this in all of our lives in a positive way and may He raise up many other passionate “Markos” who will come alongside to lead youth ministry at this critical time.

  10. Considering your work and the work of others like you, you don’t know how much I hope Y.S collapses in on itself and does not survive. Every time I read your blog, I feel my stomach bunch up into knots.

    All I can see is nothing more than another line of Baptist bolony aimed at leading people into hate and bigotry in the name of Christ. Typical of seminary upbringings, though.

    If YS folds, I will be thrilled.

  11. I will agree that this is a well-written post. However, I still want to consider the short history of Zondervan’s time IN-CHARGE, not as publisher or retailer of YS materials and resources.

    Both Tic and Marko we terminated, from what I understand, due to “the bottom line.” I struggle to understand how such a large organization like Zondervans could not have understood that during a recession and one of the lowest times in our histories economy a couple facts behind their YS investment:

    1. When the economy and finances are as low as many can remember, the Church and non-profits are some of the first to take a hit.

    2. When the church takes a hit, conference budgets and additional expenditures are always the first to be frozen.

    3. When the Church struggles, YS and other Christian retailers will hurt. Especially NYWC, the need to train and equip youth workers in the local church is great, but finances really determine the priorities and as John M. teaches us: be managed by your priorities NOT your opportunities.

    I am not overly upset by the change in YS as I have been attending other conferences for the last 3 years. As a 17+ year full-time youth pastor, I have been to more than a dozen NYWC and learned a great deal from all the speakers, musicians, and follow youth workers. What bothers me is Zondervans termination process of two Godly men who deeply cared and gave years (Tic, I believe more than 30) to YS. If this is the way they handled the “leaders” of the organization, what happened and is going to happen to those who have served faithfully behind the scenes making ministry and life a little better for those looking for answers in youth ministry.

    I will prayerfully and consciously consider my relationship of customer with Zondervans in the future. It is not to brand them as “the villains” but to ask myself if I want to spend my resources with them when there are so many other organizations that I could support… who might just handle transitions in a way that is honoring to those people who have given so much. I think that’s something worth considering.

    Living for Jesus & Loving it!

  12. My name is jarad and I found out about the termination today at nywc I guess I’ve been under a rock. The whole thing makes me want to puke. Before I heard the announcemnt I was thinking something feels different. I loved coming to these things but I came expecting amazingness and got a bunch of sorrow. Even in the years after yac died there wasn’t this feeling of lostness in the air. The introduction of the new guy and the awkward ceo lady was one of worst things I have ever seen on stage(and I’ve had someone puke on stage). Just horrible come on seriously get your stuff together your better than this. I have a question anyone know a good youth pastors convention cause YS isn’t it anymore.

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