Tag Archives: Don Goehner

With so many graduations going on this month, it occurred to me recently that I graduated from high school FIFTY years ago. Yep, a half-century ago, I marched with the Camarillo High School class of ’63.

More significantly, it also occurred to me that it was fifty years ago that I started doing youth ministry. I wrote about it briefly in my book Reinventing Youth Ministry [Again]:

My call to youth ministry came in the form of an actual phone call.

After I graduated from high school in 1963, I went to work for the architectural firm that gave me a job after I won the drafting contest. After several weeks working for the architectural firm I was absolutely bored to death. On top of that, I noticed how bored (and boring) everyone else there seemed to be. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to become an architect after all.

A few weeks later Don Goehner, the executive director of Ventura County Youth For Christ, called me and wanted to know if I’d be interested in working part-time for YFC as a club director. My responsibilities would include running one of the high school clubs, helping out with Saturday night rallies and doing some graphic design work. He also wanted me to help start a new junior high club program. The pay would be $50 a month.

I was stunned and absolutely overjoyed. It took me all of five seconds to say yes to Don. I definitely wanted that job. The pay didn’t matter. I was only seventeen years old, and gas was only thirty-five cents a gallon. What mattered was that I got to do something I really wanted to do, what I believed God was calling me to do.

Me on the left; Don Goehner on the right. 1963.

While there have certainly been times when I’ve wondered what my life might have been like had Don Goehner never made that phone call (Would I have become a world famous architect, designing impressive buildings and making millions of dollars …?), I have no regrets whatsoever. Youth ministry has provided for me a very rewarding and fruitful life. I met my wife in youth ministry. I learned how to preach, teach, write and play music in youth ministry. I made a lot of dumb mistakes and learned valuable lessons and leadership skills in youth ministry (as my old friend Bill Wennerholm was fond of saying, “Learn to run a junior high group and you can rule the world.”) I got to work alongside a lot of amazing and inspiring people in youth ministry. And I learned to follow, serve, trust and love Jesus more authentically in youth ministry.

So here I am, fifty years later, Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church. Am I still in youth ministry? Of course I am. It really doesn’t matter what your job description is. Once you’ve been called into youth ministry, you’re in it for life.


Me (in the plaid shirt). Don Goehner on the right, Sam McCreery in front (blue shirt).

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.


Category: Ministry