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 LifeChurch.tv. 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.