Category Archives: Ministry
College Avenue Baptist Church (San Diego) is doing something radical this coming spring. It is combining it’s two Sunday morning services into one. No longer will there be a traditional service featuring the pipe organ and Sanctuary choir followed by the contemporary service featuring electric guitars and two complete drum kits. College Avenue Baptist Church currently is a divided church. Old people go to the first service. Young people go to the second service. The pastor preaches the same sermon in each one, but these two worship services clearly serve two separate congregations-one made up of people with grey (or blue)hair who still dress up for church, the other made up made up of people in flip flops, blue jeans and fashionably bald heads (as opposed to unfashionably bald heads like mine).
Everyone agrees that unity is a good thing, that an intergenerational church is desired. But the young people are afraid the worship services are going to turn dull and boring. The old people are afraid of the guitars and the loud volume. I was having a conversation between services last Sunday with one of the older members of the church and he expressed serious doubts that this effort to combine worship service would succeed, mainly because of the music. He likes the idea of bringing generations together but he doesn’t like the idea of having to give up singing hymns and hearing the pipe organ. “Churches are having to sell their pipe organs,” he lamented, “because nobody wants to hear them anymore. That’s a crying shame!”
I suppose he’s right. If you’re in the market for a pipe organ, there are probably some good deals to be had out there. I have no problem with pipe organs. I love to hear them when they are played well, just as I love to hear any kind of music when it is good. But I have never gone to church expecting to hear the style of music that I like best (which of course is bluegrass.) When I hear people complain about the style of music being played in their churches, I can usually relate to their disappointment because I have never yet found a church (in California, anyway) that features the style of music I prefer. But that’s not what I go to church for. I really don’t care whether I hear my favorite kind of music or not.
But I’m in the minority, I think. Most people choose the church they attend based on the music they hear in the worship service. And because music styles change with each generation, churches today are predictably very age-segregated, which is shameful considering that the Lord’s only prayer for the church was that we would have unity (John 17).
While listening to this church elder lament the pending demise of the pipe organ, it occurred to me that maybe our Church of Christ friends had it right all along. The Church of Christ (denomination) has never allowed instruments of any kind in their worship services. They sing all their hymns and worship songs acapella. I’ve never quite understood why they do this (since the Scriptures actually encourage praising God with musical instruments) but I think I’m beginning to see the wisdom in it. My guess is that the worship wars we are all so familiar with are not so common in the Church of Christ.
What do you think?
I’ve been getting phone calls from people wanting to know how I feel about the recent changes at Youth Specialties. Earlier this year, Tic Long was let go, and last week, Mark Oestreicher (Marko) was also released of his duties. I’m not sure why all of this happened, although I do know that YS was under a lot of pressure over the last year or so to get things back “in the black.” Unfortunately, the general state of the economy more than likely created something of a perfect storm to keep that from happening.
How do I feel? Actually I’m not sure how I feel about it. I don’t have any involvement at all in YS anymore, nor do I have much of a relationship with its parent company Zondervan. It’s all in the past to me. I still get a few royalty checks (tiny) for books I have written but that’s about it. I don’t get invited to YS conventions and my most recent books have been published by other publishers.
I’m saddened by what I’ve been hearing, and I’m also concerned that things are getting out of control on the internet. People who blog (I guess I’m one of them now) often say hurtful things which are quite often uninformed as well as unkind. From what I’ve been reading, Zondervan is being painted as an evil empire that mistreats its employees, is only interested in making money and just doesn’t “get” youth ministry. While it’s true that Zondervan is a large corporation with shareholders who expect all their divisions to perform profitably, this should not have been a problem for YS. Youth Specialties has never been a non-profit company. It was a profit-making company when Mike and I owned it and making money was just as important to us as it is to Zondervan’s shareholders. Neither Mike nor I had deep pockets to keep YS operating at a loss. It had to make money. Fortunately for us, it always did. We almost lost Youth Specialties in 1989 because of the San Francisco earthquake (and we had to let a lot of good people go that year) but we managed to pull through and survive thanks to some friends and banks who went out on a limb to loan us a lot of money. When you are a business, turning a profit is what it’s all about. That’s how you keep things going. Therein also lies your inherent accountability, keeping you competitive and on the cutting edge of things.
More on Zondervan: When Mike Yaconelli and I started YS in 1968, we self-published all of our books because no Christian publishers would touch them. The market was way too small and the stuff in our Ideas books was controversial at the time, not to mention in very bad taste. We bootlegged them. But an very nice man named Bob DeVries, who was an editor at Zondervan, came to our second National Youth Workers Convention to hear Francis Schaeffer speak. While he was there, he approached us about possibly publishing our Ideas books in a format that would reach more people. We couldn’t believe it. The first Zondervan/YS collaboration was called “Way Out Ideas for Youth Groups” which came out in 1972. That was the beginning of long relationship with the company that resulted in quite a few books and it really helped put YS on the map. Zondervan was distributing our books all over the world. In addition, they encouraged me to write my first “real” book in 1978 called Junior High Ministry which has been revised and republished several times.
All that to say: Zondervan has always been a big supporter of Youth Specialties and its vision. To my knowledge, that hasn’t changed. I don’t think they purchased YS from Karla Yaconelli to watch it disintegrate.
I got a call from a reporter from the Christian Post (an online newspaper) last week and her subsequent article about YS included a few quotes from me (most of them I were accurate). She asked if I thought YS would survive now that the two most recognizable and visible names (Marko and Tic) were gone. I assured her that yes, I think YS can probably keep right on going. There was a time, after all, when Wayne Rice and Mike Yaconelli were the two most recognizable and visible names. After I left and Mike died, names changed but the vision and mission of YS continued. It can still continue.
I feel bad for Marko because it’s never easy to be terminated from your job. It’s humiliating, feels a lot like rejection and can stir up all kinds of negative emotions like anger and anxiety about the future. Maybe Marko is feeling more relief than rejection, I don’t know. I do know that he’s a very talented and capable guy and will likely land on his feet, just as Tic will also. We all of us do in the end.
Like I said, it saddens me to hear all the trash talk about Youth Specialties’ demise. I gave 25 years of my life to it and watched it grow far beyond anything that Mike and I ever imagined when we printed those first idea books way back when. God has powerfully used YS to bring about some remarkable changes in youth ministry and the church and I don’t think he’s finished with it. No obits just yet. My prayer is that YS will emerge even better and stronger under new leadership. But only time will tell.
Standard Publishing has asked for some feedback on two cover designs for my new book Generation to Generation. What do you think? Which do you like best? Keep in mind that this is a book for parents. Click on the images to make them larger.
I have a new book which just came out titled Engaging Parents as Allies, a book for youth workers on how to work with parents. It’s part of a three-book series called “Youth Ministry in the Trenches” which the publisher packaged with a bit of a military theme (little toy soldiers, etc.) The other two books in the series were written by my friends Rick Bundshuh and Marv Penner.
Standard Publishing asked me to videotape a little commercial for the book and you can view it below. It’s also posted on Standard’s website along with more information about the book.
My friend Paul Sailhamer unearthed an old photograph that he took at a YFC gathering at Hume Lake in 1962 and sent me a copy last week. I was 17 years old in this photo, a senior in high school (in the plaid shirt with the cool flat top). To my left (or right in the photo, with the glasses) is the YFC director from Ventura Don Goehner who gave me my first youth ministry job. In front of me (in the blue shirt) is Sam McCreery, who was my YFC club director at Camarillo High School and a hero of mine (notice that he had a flat top too.)
Don and Sam both left youth ministry (Don became a fund raiser and consultant for colleges and churches and Sam went into the concrete pumping business) but I somehow managed to find a career in youth ministry that has lasted five decades.
Just today I turned in to the publisher a book manuscript which tells the story of my YFC days and the founding of Youth Specialties, along with thoughts on how youth ministry has changed and where it needs to go in the future. I’ve written a bunch of books over the years, but this one was definitely the most challenging. I’m not sure when it will be published, but hopefully sometime next year.
This has been a nostalgic year for me. Besides writing a book full of memories, I’ve also attended several reunions of various kinds which have brought old friends and colleagues together and they have been great reminders of what God has done in my life through people like Don and Sam. I’ll always be grateful.
This week is Tic Long’s last at Youth Specialties, the organization I co-founded with my old friend Mike Yaconelli. Mike and I and our friend Denny Rydberg ran YS for the first seven or eight years, and then we made the smartest decision we ever made: in 1977, we hired a 25-year-old named Ronald “Tic” Long to be our “office manager.” I don’t remember checking to see if he had taken any courses in business or had any business experience on his resume, but we liked him so much, we hired him on the spot.
If you are familiar with Youth Specialties, you know that the organization has had a good run and has accomplished some pretty amazing things in its 40 year history. But it is now owned by Zondervan Publishing House and due to the economy and some corporate restructuring, quite a few employees were laid off recently, including Tic–after 32 years.
This past Saturday night Tic threw a heck of a party at his beautiful home in El Cajon for some of his old YS friends and they came from far and wide. We had a wonderful chance to celebrate with him his years at YS. Some impromptu speeches were made that sent a lot of love to Tic but also reminded me that I was very blessed to have worked with this very special man for more than 15 years.
I said it at the party and I’ll say it again. Tic was the glue that kept Youth Specialties together for so long when the owners (Mike and I) did our best to drive it into the ground. Many years ago I had lunch with Thom Schultz, the owner of Group Publishing who told me they had basically given up trying to compete with us in the events department. But he did ask how we managed to pull off such great conventions and one-day seminars year after year. I told him we had a secret weapon named Tic Long.
But Tic is a much more than a great leader who knows how to get things done. He was and is a great friend. Even though our relationship took a hit when Mike and I parted company in 1994, Tic took the initiative to bring restoration and healing to our friendship and also to me personally. Our Canadian buddy Marv Penner mentioned that he doesn’t know anyone else who so many people claim as their “best friend.” That’s so true … Tic has an amazing capacity for friendship.
If an investor had the choice to but buy stock in either Youth Specialties or Tic Long right now, I know where the smart money would go. I can’t wait to see how God uses Tic in the years to come. Trust me, Tic’s story is not over by a long shot.
This month I began a new adventure in ministry as a Family Ministries Coach at College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego. I’ve never been a FMC before and I don’t really know anyone else who has ever been one either. But essentially I will be serving as a consultant to their youth and children’s ministry staff as they explore ways to better serve families at the church.
Strategically located just few blocks from San Diego State University, College Avenue Baptist Church has had a long and fruitful ministry in the San Diego area. My first contact with the church was back in the 1960’s while I was working with YFC/Campus Life.. Our offices were located just a block away from the church on the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and College Avenue. Several of our YFC staff were working part time at CABC and we used the church frequently to conduct Campus Life meetings.
In the 1970’s, I attended Bethel Theological Seminary which was meeting at the time on the campus of College Avenue Baptist. The seminary later built it’s own campus, across the street from the church, but many of the professors continue to attend CABC. Because I have taught a few youth ministry classes at Bethel, I’m still (I think) on their roster of “associate faculty” members.
College Avenue Baptist Church has gone through a lot of changes in recent years as the church has gone through several pastors and lost quite a few members. More than a decade ago the church’s youth pastor started an alternative church service for young people called The Flood which was very successful but is no longer part of CABC. It broke away a few years ago as a independent congregation which now meets several miles away. Another group left the church recently to form another new church plant called Legacy Church.
So CABC has been in something of a rebuilding phase. I’ve been very impressed with the vision that new senior pastor Carlton Harris and executive pastor Mark Goeglein have shared with me. Part of their master plan is to strengthen families and leverage the immense amount of influence that parents have on the spiritual formation of their children. They are also committed to building intergenerational and interracial unity and community which reflects not only the diversity of the church but the reconciling power of the Gospel.
There’s more to their vision of course but I’m very excited about this opportunity to get involved with a church that seems to be really serious about encouraging parents and building faith in the home. I will be meeting with their staff this summer, formulating some ideas and hopefully becoming more engaged with parents and families in the fall.
I just returned from a week-long (June 7-12) mission trip in Ensenada, Mexico with a group of families from Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. My good friend Ken Elben is the student ministries pastor there and he invited me to come, which I was happy to do. I’ve always enjoyed these trips which include building houses for poor families and providing a daily “VBS” (Vacation Bible School) program for neighborhood children. I’ve put together a few carnival-type games which we take down there and use to attract the kids, then we do puppets, drama, crafts and a Bible story. This year most of the children came from migrant farm-worker camps, the poorest of the poor in Mexico. Despite the dirty faces and ragged clothes, they are beautiful children who enjoy laughter, candy, play, love and attention just like all children do.
Many groups have cancelled mission trips to Mexico this year because of violence along the border and the threat of swine flu. In Ensenada, neither seem to be an issue and the staff at YUGO Ministries did a great job of easing everyone’s fears, both before and during the week of ministry there. Mexico seemed pretty normal to me except for fewer tourists in downtown Ensenada. The cruise ships have stopped going there also, at least for now.
Meanwhile, know that there are some dedicated Christians who live and work in Mexico day in and day out, serving the poor and faithfully proclaiming the Good News. If you ever get a chance to work with them for a week or two during the year, don’t pass up the chance. It can be a life-changing experience for you, as it has been for me.
In our VBS programs each year, I like to take a small guitar with me and let the children strum while I play the chords with my left hand. The children are always amazed that they are making music while everyone else sings along. The photo (right) and the short video clip below was taken Monday when we visited a small church in one of the poor neighborhoods. The children come to eat a meal provided by the church. We spent a few minutes with them singing songs, including “Christo Me Ama” (Jesus Loves me).
I began my youth ministry career as a club director for Ventura County (California) Youth for Christ in 1963. Folk music was getting real popular about that time (Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, the New Christy Ministrels) so we formed our own folk groups as a way to be “relevant” with teenagers. The first group I had was a trio patterned after Peter, Paul and Mary called “The Accidents.” I played the upright bass in that group. Then, after hearing the Dillards (who were playing folk clubs around Southern California and appearing on the Andy Griffith TV show), I learned to play banjo and formed a bluegrass group with my brothers called “The Rice Kryspies.” My wife Marci played the bass.
Harry White, who was Ventura YFC’s sound engineer, recently unearthed some old tape recordings of early YFC rallies, several of which featured The Rice Kryspies. The recording below was made on May 10, 1969–exactly 40 years ago. The introduction is by Ventura YFC director Roger Cross (who later became the president of Youth for Christ/USA). The song you’ll probably recognize. Just keep in mind that the Beatles were still together in 1969. This was very cutting edge stuff back then!
An interesting post from the Dallas Morning News religion blog:
“My grandfather had this conversion experience and went to West Virginia Wesleyan. He was kicked out of a church in 1919 for playing the banjo with the youth group. Obviously everybody knew the banjo was an instrument of Satan! … Beware the demon banjo.”
Funny, same thing happens to me all the time.