Tag Archives: YFC
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.
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.
After being assured that receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award doesn’t necessarily mean your lifetime is over, I was pleased to accept a LAW from Youth Specialties at their recent San Diego National Youth Workers Convention. From what I hear, this was the first of many that will be given to individuals who have contributed in some significant way to field of youth ministry. In my case, I co-founded the organization giving out the award, so I suppose that’s the secret to getting the first one! Regardless, it was a very special night for me and I am very grateful to the staff of Youth Specialties and all who contributed to making it happen. The presentation was captured on video and posted by Youth Specialties on YouTube as well as their web site.
After the presentation, several people said they were surprised to hear that I gave up a promising career in music to pursue youth ministry. Actually, that’s not quite true. I tried to explain it in the interview but I’m not sure I explained it very well. So let me explain it a little better here.
First, I was in youth ministry before I ever started playing music. In fact, it was youth ministry that prompted me to take up music in the first place. As a Youth for Christ staff member in the 60′s, I was trying to figure out how to reach kids for Christ. Folk music was pretty popular at the time, so several of us learned to play guitars and banjos and we formed folk groups. Our YFC rallies became “hootenannies” and believe it or not, they were pretty cool.
My first group was a folk trio with my wife Marci and another YFC staff member Dave Sheffel called “The Accidents.” That was in 1966. I played bass. Later, I learned banjo and formed a bluegrass group with my brothers and wife Marci called The Rice Kryspies. We recorded a couple of albums and played for churches, youth groups and two summers at Forest Home Christian camp. I really got into bluegrass music and my obsession with the banjo kept growing, but it was a hobby, a part-time thing while I was working for YFC and doing youth ministry in my church.
I was still playing with the Rice Kryspies AND doing youth ministry when Mike Yaconelli and I started Youth Specialties in 1968.
Then, in 1972, my wife Marci contracted pregnancy and she had to quit playing bass with The Rice Kryspies. My brothers and I continued along with two new members of the band, Ken Munds and Dave Rose. We changed the name of the band to Brush Arbor. After winning a local radio station talent contest, we were signed by Capitol Records and before long we were hearing our music played on country radio stations. One thing led to another and we ended up on the Grand Ole Opry, doing some network TV shows, touring with people like Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins (my favorite) and then winning a couple of country music awards including Vocal Group of the Year (Academy of Country Music). We had a manager by then and a booking agent, both of whom were expecting us to become the next big thing in country music. Capitol Records called us “The Voice of the New Country.”
All this happened very quickly and I have to admit, it was a whole lot of fun. But in December of ’73, while taping an NBC TV Special with Johnny Cash at Rockefeller Plaza in New York (on the same stage that later became the home of Saturday Night Live), I realized that I just couldn’t keep on playing with Brush Arbor. Our booking agent was telling us that he was going to put us on the road for over 300 dates per year. Youth Specialties was just getting some traction. My son Nathan was two years old and needed a daddy at home. I was torn between too many things and putting too much stress on my wife and partners in ministry. So I quit the band in New York. Our manager told us (while we were in New York) that he had booked us on the Hee Haw TV show and wanted us to fly to Nashville immediately to tape three shows. But I just couldn’t go. I had already made plans to go from New York to Atlanta to meet up with Mike Yaconelli and Denny Rydberg for a YS event.
So, I told the band I didn’t want to hold them back and they would need to replace me, which they eventually did. I played out a string of dates in Las Vegas in early 1974 but that was the end of my music career. Brush Arbor ended up going through a few more personnel changes after I left and while they never became the next big thing in country music, they had a good run and ended up being a top Christian country band. My brother Jim kept it going for quite a few years and they made some really good records.
I never felt like I gave up anything to do youth ministry because (1) youth ministry was what I had been called to do all along and (2) I was a very mediocre banjo player. I knew I would never make it as a professional musician. I would have starved to death.
But the time I spent with Brush Arbor (and since then, playing with other bands and doing my radio show) has been wonderful. I’m very blessed and thankful to God for all the opportunities that he has given me to do what I love to do.
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.
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!