Tag Archives: Tic Long

Youth Specialties is the ministry that Mike Yaconelli and I started back in 1968 to provide resources and training for people who do youth ministry in the church. I don’t think the mission of YS has changed much since I left in 1994 or since Mike died in 2003 but the leadership continues to change. After a few years as part of Zondervan (Harper Collins), it’s now in the hands of YouthWorks (headquartered in Minnesota). The “world headquarters” of Youth Specialties is still in El Cajon, just a couple of miles from my home, but that may change since Tic Long (who has served as president of YS for the past couple of years) is stepping down and passing the baton to Mark Matlock who lives in Texas. Tic just accepted a position at a local church in town as executive pastor.

I don’t know Mark real well, but I’ve had a few conversations with him and I like him a lot. He seems to get youth ministry–that’s it’s not it’s so much about being relevant as it is about helping students become lifelong followers of Jesus. He a smart guy, a good communicator and he’s highly regarded among youth workers from both sides of the theological aisle. I think he’ll be very good for Youth Specialties and its future.

Here’s a video that YS released recently to introduce Mark.


Category: Ministry

I just returned from the National Youth Workers Convention in Nashville (Youth Specialties). I was a speaker at both the Nashville and the San Diego YS conventions this year, an honor for me given that I’m well past my prime as a youth ministry expert. What I am these days is a walking youth ministry museum.

But YS president Tic Long graciously invited me to do a couple of seminars this year based on recent books I’ve written and I really enjoyed participating in both conventions. At the San Diego convention I also got to do a seminar with my son Nate on camping. Since I really don’t know all that much about camping, I basically slow-pitched some questions to Nate (who DOES know a lot about camping) which he hit out of the park. It was a good seminar, if I must say so myself.

One of the really fun things I got to do this year was lead a few old youth ministry songs at one of the main (“big room”) sessions. In Nashville, the “big room” was the Bridgestone Arena, a huge hockey palace across the street from the convention center where some of the biggest concerts and events in Nashville take place. It was quite a rush to lead several thousand youth workers in a half dozen or so songs like “Pass it On” and “Pharoah Pharoah.” From the response I got, I think everybody really enjoyed singing those old songs. As it turned out, I warmed up the crowd for the band Jars of Clay who brought things pretty much up to date.

I think the highlight of the convention in Nashville for me was hearing Mark Yaconelli speak. I sat high up in the stands and alternately laughed and cried as he presented a beautifully crafted message on what it means to serve God in ministry. Now in his 40’s, Mark has become the spitting image of his dad Mike who I had the opportunity to work with for more than a quarter century. It’s obvious that Mark has inherited the formidable speaking talent of his father (with many of the same gestures and mannerisms) yet he clearly communicates in a style of his own which is passionate, fresh and insightful. He had that huge crowd in the palm of his hand for 45 minutes or so, and me in particular. Having known Mark since the day he was born, I loved hearing him speak so skillfully and powerfully. I couldn’t keep from wondering if somehow up in Heaven, Mike wasn’t enjoying all this too and feeling very proud.

I was only at the Nashville convention two of the five days, but I did see a lot of old friends and catch up a bit with some of them. I also had my first opportunity to get acquainted with Paul Bertelson, the founder and CEO of YouthWorks,  the organization that now owns Youth Specialties. YouthWorks is a ministry that has a real heart for youth ministry and as the co-founder of Youth Specialties, I’m very grateful to these good folks for taking on the challenge of keeping YS moving forward, especially during such tough economic times. From all that I heard and saw at both conventions, they are doing a great job.


Category: Ministry

This was a fun little sketch that the YS gang invited me to do a few weeks ago. It was about 110 degrees outside when we filmed this inside a car with the AC off and the windows rolled up. I kept flubbing my lines so after about 5 takes, we were both about to die of heat stroke. Christina Robertson is the middle school director at Journey Community Church and formerly worked with the middle schoolers at College Avenue Baptist, where I now serve as Pastor to Generations.


Category: Ministry

ys_logoWell, the news is out about the future of Youth Specialties and I’m happy to report that it’s very good. YouthWorks, the Minneapolis-based ministry that purchased YS from Zondervan a couple months ago has re-hired Tic Long to come back in and lead the organization. I wrote in a previous post about the high regard I have for Tic and the crucial role that I know he played in the success of YS over the years. I’m confident that under Tic’s re-energized leadership (he got an unexpected but certainly much-needed sabbatical after his termination last July), YS will emerge from this transition with its mission and vitality very much intact. Tic sounds to me like he’s fired up and going to hit the ground running.

Tic e-mailed me recently to tell me that he was returning to YS with the subject line “God has a sense of humor.” So true. I have a feeling that God was grinning a little bit when a week or so before Christmas, I was having breakfast at an El Cajon restaurant with a youth pastor friend of mine and unexpectedly, in walked Tic with the guys from YouthWorks. We went through a series of awkward introductions after which they sat down in the booth right behind us. I wasn’t sure what they were talking about although I had a hunch. The familiar laughter that I overheard from Tic was certainly a good sign. I had been praying that something good would come of all the Youth Specialties turmoil of the last few months and in a crazy turn of events, God let me actually be in the same room when he answered that prayer. A sense of humor indeed.

I’m very excited for Tic and everyone else at Youth Specialties. It will be fun to see how God prospers YS under the YouthWorks banner.


Category: Ministry

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.


Category: Ministry
Tic, as always, blessing all of his friends on Saturday night.  Photo by Mike Atkinson.

Tic, as always, blessing all of his friends on Saturday night. Photo by Mike Atkinson.

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.

A toast to friendship, then and now.

A toast to friendship, then and now.

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.


Category: Ministry