After having several conversations about YS over the past couple weeks I thought I would write a little more to clarify my thoughts for those few of you who are interested. It’s funny how the words SAD and BAD sound a lot alike and can easily be mistaken for each other. In my last post I talked about how SAD I was about Zondervan breaking up YS and selling it, how it felt like the end of an era. Yes I am SAD, BUT I don’t think Z selling YS is a BAD thing. In fact, I am kind of excited about it,. First let me speak to why breaking apart the publishing from YS makes me sad.
1. YS started with books. For YS, it may not have been “in the beginning was the Word” but it was in the beginning of YS there were words. Words in the form of the ideas books. Words that came not only from YS but from youth workers all over the country to create extremely practical books to help adults work more effectively with teenagers. Books to help make youth groups more fun and attractive to students and to help adults communicate the gospel more effectively. YS started with a vision of creating books that would impact youth ministry. In my 3rd or 4th year at YS I suggested that maybe YS not do books anymore…..I thought Mike and Wayne’s heads would explode. I’m lucky I lived through it.,
2. I loved that YS equipped youth workers and influenced youth ministry through it’s publishing. I loved that it was about way more than just books by Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice. We gave Chap Clark, Doug Fields, Duffy Robbins, Les Christie, Kara Powell, Walt Muller, Rich Van Pelt, Ginny Olsen, Marv Penner, Jeanne Stevens, just to name a few, a platform to share what God had laid on their hearts for youth workers. I loved that we had all kinds of books from practical “how to” books to theological, cultural, academic and books for youth workers own souls. YS helped lots of people with its publishing. I know it’s hard to believe, but there was a time when there were almost no books on youth ministry and YS responded to that void.
3. I just like books. I have been shaped professionally, personally and spiritually by books. I must admit however that I am that person who buys more books than I actually get around to reading. I must think that if I have enough good books around me I will somehow get smarter BUT still I love books and always will.
4. Lastly, there was a synergy that existed between publishing and live events. When writers spoke and speakers wrote something special happened. When you got to meet and hear someone whose books you had read and had been influenced by, it was fun. The interaction between the two usually (but not always) made both better. Having publishing and live events gave YS an amazing opportunity to interact with and influence youth workers. Neither publishing or events could have had as much impact without the other.
That is why its is SAD to me that YS will no longer be publishing books in the same way it was. BUT, and it’s a big BUT, that does not mean it’s all BAD.
Speaking of BAD, let me add my 2 cents worth about Zondervan being the BAD guys in all this. They are not the BAD guys. Doug, Wayne and others have pointed this out and they are right. Z and YS had a good relationship for over 25 years before they bought YS. Z loved YS. Scott Bolinder and Doug Lockhart (who are no longer at Z but who were the driving forces behind the purchase) had a strong sense of the mission of YS and great admiration for YS and it’s staff. Z had great hopes for YS, BUT it just didn’t work. YS did not perform well while Z was it’s owner. There are a lot of reasons for that, BUT not all of them were on Z’s side of the table by any measure. When you run something, be it a local youth ministry or a big company you have to make decisions. You never really know if those decisions are right till you see them in the rearview mirror and you can be sure not everyone is going to agree with your decisions but you do your best. I would not have made the same decisions that Z made but that’s not the point, they were their decisions to make, they owned the company. All this to say Z isn’t evil or anything like that. In the end, it was just not a good fit. It just didn’t work and we don’t really need to make up a villain for this story. Z could have could have just let YS die but instead they are giving YS a chance to move forward in a new home. For most of us who have been let go by Z, even though we didn’t like being let go and disagree with their reasons, they have treated us fairly in our dismissal. In the end, I don’t think Z really “got” YS or youth workers. Our cultures were just too different. Lets face it youth workers are a quirky bunch. Lots of the time we don’t even get ourselves. No one outside our world can fathom the idea of being locked in a church overnight with a bunch of middle school kids voluntarily! Publishing companies see Youth ministry as a “market” but actually it is much more of a fraternity or a brotherhood, a calling, a mission or just a bunch of goofballs who just love students. I don’t think they really ever got their arms around that. Z is not alone in not entirely getting youth ministry and youth workers. If you are a youth worker my guess is many, if not most, of the people in your church don’t really get you or your ministry. They still ask you if you have any adult friends or when are you going to get a “real job”. That does not make them bad people, just not part of our tribe. Sometimes I think we are like that Groucho Marx quote where he says he would never want to join any club that would allow him in as a member.
Lastly I would like to comment on even though this really is the end of the YS I helped create and am SAD about that, it may be more than not BAD, it may be the best thing for YS. No one loves YS more than me, BUT it wasn’t working with Zondervan! Hello….. This sale gives YS a chance to reinvent itself and that is why I have some excitement. I know there are no guarantees this will happen, but there is a real chance a very exciting YS could emerge from this. Maybe a YS that is close to the beginning vision of YS which was to unashamedly love and serve youth workers. Maybe a YS that you would love as much or more than the old YS will emerge. I know maybe that is a stretch but that’s my hope and I hope yours as well. Will they be able to pull it off? I don’t know as I have not had any conversations with the new owners (I should say potential owners as it is not a done deal yet) but I know who they are and as I said before they are good people. Several of my friends have had conversations with them over the last week and came away with a sense that they were humble, genuine, love YS and feel called by God to make this move and that is a great place to start. Could they screw it up? Of course they can screw it up BUT that does not mean they will. Who knows who they might gather together in their ownership of YS or what their dreams are for it. It may be BAD, BUT it may be awesome and that would not be SAD. Believe me, I know they are taking a big risk but I’m praying for them as they seek to take on YS and I hope you do as well. I sure like the youth ministry world better with a healthy YS in it’s midst.