- How crazy is this, I am back at Youth Specialties. Starting January 1st I came back full time to lead YS. God must have some kind of sense of humor and once again I am made aware that I can never really predict what God is going to do next in my life. Who saw this coming…… I know I didn’t. I thought my time with YS had ended but obviously God had other ideas. This may take a while but let me unfold this Journey. As some of you know and as I have blogged, at the end of this past July I left YS after 32 years. If you are interested you can read about my thoughts and feelings on this on my previous posts. I spent most of August backpacking and starting the process of shaking free of YS and trying to see what my post YS life might look like.I had given myself a three month Sabbatical to rest and recharge before starting to look for work again. I needed some time to try and discern what God might be writing in the next chapter of my life. My Sabbatical was scheduled to end October 31.
I was at a friends condo with my wife in the Colorado Mountains in early October when Marko called and told me that YS was going to be sold. He then asked if I would be interested in coming back to run the conventions again (so much for my plans of 3 months away before I really started thinking about work again). This of course was all very hush, hush. As you might guess this started me spinning a bit. YS being sold and me returning to YS were not any part of my thinking. It was a total left turn. Things got even stranger after that, Marko was let go by Zondervan and all kinds of drama abounded. All my friends at YS who in January 09 were put through an emotional ringer when 12 of us were let go from YS once again found themselves in a very difficult place wondering what was going on. Was the sale really going to happen? When was the sale going to happen? What would it all mean? My heart really hurt for them. So that kind of ended the conversations of my returning to YS other than the occasional rumor that the perspective new owners wanted to talk to me. Meanwhile I was having some pretty exciting conversations with people about what to do next. These conversations were moving along and I was pretty pumped but I could not totally shake “the whole YS thing” . Too many friends were involved in the YS situation so there were always conversations about what was and what might be going on at YS.
Sometime before the Atlanta NYWC I had lunch with Paul Bertelson the President of YouthWorks who was the one trying to buy YS. We spent a great couple hours together. I felt really good about the possible new home for YS. I got an understanding of why they wanted to buy YS, got a feel for his heart. We talked a bunch about YS including some possibilities of involvement on my part if the sale went through. That was pretty much the last I heard from Paul or anyone at YouthWorks as they were consumed with trying to do this deal. At the Atlanta NYWC the intended sale of YS went public (actually by that time it was one of the worse kept secrets in the youth ministry world). I never heard back again from Paul so I was thinking they wanted to move in another direction. My conversations with the others I was talking with heated up and I was pretty sure I would know before the first of the year what I would do next. The week of December 14 Paul called and said they were coming out to the YS offices and wanted to meet for breakfast Thursday morning. Paul, John Potts (the YouthWorks COO) and I met for breakfast. The sale of YS finally closed the day before. We talked for a couple hours and our time ended with them inviting me to come back and lead YS. Holy Guacamole, Whodathunk this!
I had a lot to think about. The other things I was looking at were very exciting and a couple opportunities had firmed up. They were with people I really liked and one with people I loved. They were all involved in youth ministry which is my passion so I was getting excited. What the heck was God up to? December 21 I spent the day in Minneapolis at YouthWorks headquarters. I know Minneapolis in December, right. December 27 after much prayer, reflection and sorting I said yes to return to YS. There are many reasons why I am returning, here are a couple of them:
I kind of fell for YouthWorks. I have been touched deeply by their humility, grace, sense of following God in this whole process, their calling to youth ministry and the grounding of their faith in justice, simplicity, generosity and caring for others. When I met with Paul I ask him why the heck would a youth missions organization want to buy YS? What I learned is that YouthWorks was not a youth missions organization but that youth missions is just one expression of who the are even though it is the most well known and largest expression. Let me tell a bit of their and Pauls story. Paul was a youth pastor at a large and well resourced church in Minneapolis. He thought all churches were like that as he had only been involved in a couple. As he got to know other youth workers in his area he realized that was not the case and in fact many folks we tying to do youth ministry with little or no training or resources. So he decided to just share his resources and started opening his youth ministry up to others. They would do concerts, retreats, camps, leader training even mission trips together. Eventually his church said um…ah…. Paul this is all very cool but it is not the mission of our church (I’m just guessing here but I think liability issues may have played a role in this). They encouraged and help him (very cool) to start a non profit organization to help train, encourage and resource youth workers. So YouthWorks was started.
It just so happened that helping youth groups do mission trips was the part that took off, so away they went. Years later YouthWorks board and leadership team felt they we not fullfilling their calling just focusing on doing mission trips, as important and successful as they were. They were formed to help youth workers and it was time to continue to take more steps in that direction. In 2002 they talked to Mike and Karla Yaconelli about purchasing YS. Paul and others LOVE YS and had been greatly impacted by the ministry of YS over the years. They had attended the YS conventions almost every year. They had heard through the grapevine that Yac might want to sell it. Mike had be playing with the idea of selling YS a few different times and was VERY close to doing it twice. I remember when the YouthWorks folks came out. They had great conversations with the Yaconelli’s but for whatever reason the timing was just not right. They parted friends and kept in relationship. Their interest in YS never really died. This last fall found them in conversations with Z about bringing YS into the YouthWorks family.
YS is now part of an expanding family of ministries that will work side by side. Each will focus on their specific calling to help the church be the church.
I love that they are a non profit and that they measure their success on Kingdom impact. They know how to do the business side really well but that serves the ministry side not the other way around. I really like that turning a buck is not the main thing here. They are all about stewardship of what God has given them. Here is a really cool thing. They give away a million dollars a year to projects and ministries in the communities where they do the mission trips. That really blew me away. So here is the funny thing, as a non profit they are very profitable but they give that profit away in Kingdom work.
When I came to their offices I cracked up because they are ….um….ah…..kind of dumpy. They are in an old Coke bottling plant. Their thinking is simple. They had the money to build a big fancy office but doing that would mean they would have less money to give away. They remember that the money that comes their way came from youth groups around the country who did fund raisers to pay for their missions trips. They remember that they are serving the poor all over the country. A big fancy building flies in the face of that….Nice.
They love youth workers. They see them all summer long. They have a heart for the small churches as well as the big churches. They hang out all summer with the adult volunteer who brought 5 kids from a small church with no paid youth pastor. They want to serve that person as well as the full time paid youth pastor from thriving youth ministries….they get it……they get youth workers…I like that.
OK so that is some of why I fell for YouthWorks as a great home for YS and a great place for me to serve. Oh yeah one more thing. They are keeping the El Cajon office. Minnesota in the winter, Dude.
I still get to serve youth workers. It became clear to me in my time away that youth ministry is where I wanted to stay. Youth ministry is where God has called me. I tried to think about other things to do and places to serve but nothing excited me as much as youth ministry. I guess I am just a lifer. We are a quirky bunch, we may be a sick and twisted group but it’s home.
I get to work with the YS Staff and family again. This was really big to me. I love the YS staff, they are awesome. With some of them it is a chance to continue doing together what we love doing together. For others it’s a chance to do something new. Like in the case of Mark Matlock. We were so excited to get to work together and had all kinds of dreams but never really did get a chance, now we can…way fun
Lastly I am just a YS guy. It’s in my DNA. I blogged it was going to be painful to no longer be able to say “Hi I’m Tic from YS” . I can’t believe I get to say that again. I Love YS. I love that we are all about youth workers and youth ministry. I love the way YS has served them over the years. I love our love our playful irreverence, our commitment to the church. I love that we care for the Youth Workers soul and want to help them walk deeply with Jesus. I love that we feel there is no ministry more important or more rewarding than working with students.In the end I just could not say no to YS
Now I am back. I never even considered this as an option but that is where God comes in. God seems to like to do goofy stuff, likes to do the unexpected. God is funny like that