Tag Archives: youth ministry
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.
I’ll be heading off this week for a conference in Dallas which is called D6, named after the oft-quoted passage in Deuteronomy 6 which commands parents to know the commandments of God and to “impress” them on their children in the normal routines of daily life (6:6-9). Several of us from College Avenue Baptist are going and I’m looking forward to hanging out with them and some of my friends who will be there like Doug Fields, Tim Smith and Mark Matlock. There are quite a few good speakers lined up for this conference and I’m looking forward to hearing them and attending some of the seminars. I’ve been asked to be on a panel for one of the sessions, to talk a little bit about how youth ministry intersects with family ministry today. Should be a good conversation. If you would like to peek in on the conference this week, you can do that online by visiting http://d6conference.com/.
I am an avid reader and admirer of author and Princeton professor Kenda Creasy Dean. In response to a question “What’s the biggest challenge facing youth workers today?” on the Youth Specialties blog, she says:
The biggest challenge might also be the best thing to happen to the church since the apostles and that is the fact that, even though 3/4 of American teenagers say they are Christians, most people in our culture really haven’t got a clue what the church is about, or why Jesus matters, or what on earth the Holy Spirit is doing in the world. The fastest growing religious preference among Americans—especially among young people—is “none”. And the “nones” aren’t in other people’s families or churches—they’re in ours. Churches are going to keep shrinking and the “nones” are going to keep growing, at least for another 10-15 years, mostly because churches are now so darned hard to distinguish from any other well-meaning institution in middle class American culture. It’s very hard for kids (and if we’re honest, for us) to figure out why we should follow Jesus Christ when Christians are caught up in the same rat race as everyone else. So what does that mean for youth ministry? We can either spin our wheels trying to stem the decline of any number of wobbly Christian entities or we can go out and do ministry among the “nones.” If the church depends on Jesus Christ instead of on us, I think maybe it’s time to spend less time worrying about dying and more time hanging out with young people who are dying—literally—to live. It’s never occurred to most of them that Christianity has anything to offer in the “get a life” department, much less that we might offer something that is distinct from what is offered everywhere else. I think one way youth workers will serve the church in general in the next generation is to re-weirdify Christianity, and remind young people, and the church as a whole, that we live by distinctive standards, standards of grace, humility and hope, that make no sense in a world where the primary objective is to “get ahead”.
Good stuff. If you haven’t already, you might want to check out Kenda’s book Almost Christian. It’s the best book I’ve read on youth, youth ministry and the church in years.
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.
Who or what is the most powerful influence on teenagers? Who do teenagers look up to most as role models? These questions (or questions similar to them) have formed the basis for dozens of studies on teenagers that have been conducted over the years. The issue of teen influence is heavily researched because marketers are well aware that teenagers control an estimated 300 billiion dollars per year of discretionary income. They also know that if you can sell a teenager on a brand or product while they are young, there’s a strong likelihood they will remain loyal for the rest of their lives. That’s also one of the reasons why I believe so much in youth ministry. Lifelong disciples of Jesus are more often than not called while they are teenagers. That was true for me as it was for a number of Jesus’ original twelve.
So another study on teen influence has been conducted (this one by the Barna Group) and the results of that new study were just released. The good news for me is that I won’t have to revise any of my teaching notes on this subject anytime soon. Well, I may need to update the clothing styles on the kids on our graphic at the right, but otherwise, everything stays the same.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been teaching and writing that the most powerful influences on teenagers are not (as some might suppose) the entertainment media and same-age peers. The primary influences on teenagers are (1) their parents, followed next by (2) their extended family (grandparents and other close relatives), then (3) caring adults like teachers, coaches, youth ministers and others who care enough to come alongside them in some meaningful way. This was not only true for me personally but it was confirmed by several studies that were conducted almost thirty years ago.
What’s interesting about the more recent studies on this topic is that researchers now assume the dominant position of parents in the pecking order of teen influence. That was not always the case. David Kinneman, who conducted the Barna reseach, explains that “parents were left out of the assessment because so many teenagers—particularly younger ones—have high regard for their parents or feel compelled to list their parents as role models. Previous research shows that mentioning parents is almost … automatic.” So the question teenagers were asked in this study was “Who, besides your parents, do you admire the most as a role model?”
Their answer? The most commonly mentioned role model according to this new study is a relative, most typically a grandparent. Next on the list—you guessed it—teachers and coaches. Way down the list (after people they know personally) come celebrities, politicians, sports heroes, musicians and the like.
When asked why they chose who they did as role models, teenagers responded by saying that these people “are always there for me” or “are most interested in my future.”
Who influenced you most when you were a teenager?
Since my book Reinventing Youth Ministry [Again] came out last month it has received a few very positive reviews that have been very encouraging to me. To tell you the truth, I was worried about how this book would be received. As I was writing it, a little voice kept whispering in my ear: “Nobody’s going to want to read what you have to say about youth ministry … you’re almost 65 years old for crying out loud!” and “Who do you think you are, writing about your early life as if you were a big celebrity or something?” The voices got louder as the publication date for the book neared and quite honestly I was a bit nervous waiting for it to come out.
Well, it’s out now and I have been very blessed by the positive reviews that the book has received so far.
These reviews were solicited by InterVarsity Press from three friends of mine who are also respected voices in youth ministry. They read copies of the manuscript before the book was published:
This book reads like a novel, incites like a prophet, engages like a story, reports like a history, coaches like a veteran and encourages like a pastor. Wayne Rice is absolutely one of the pioneers of modern-day youth ministry. But don’t read this book looking for nostalgia. The whole thrust of this amazingly honest, insightful and hopeful youth ministry critique is about looking backwards only long enough so that we don’t repeat (or make new) mistakes going forward. I couldn’t have written this book with the eyewitness authenticity that Wayne has written it with, but I’ve felt and thought much of what it says. Wayne Rice is still giving youth workers IDEAS they can use.”
—Dr. Duffy Robbins, professor of youth ministry, Eastern University
“All of us in youth ministry owe a debt of gratitude to Wayne Rice. Depending on your age, Wayne’s your youth ministry brother, father or grandfather. With this book, our debt just got bigger. All of us would be wise to sit at the feet of this youth ministry pioneer as he tells us the ups and downs of his own ministry story; shares the kind of deep wisdom and perspective that can only come with years of experience; and challenges us to live, think and minister with biblical integrity. Youthworkers have benefited from Wayne Rice’s experience and wisdom for well over forty years. And now, we should be listening more than ever.”
—Walt Mueller, president, Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, and author of Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture
“Wayne Rice is (still) one of the most authentic, honest voices speaking into the world of youth ministry. I have loved reading Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again). It is unlikely that we will reinvent youth ministry well in this generation without a clear and accurate picture of where we came from. Wayne helps us do both, with passion, intensity and his characteristic gentle wisdom.”
—Mark DeVries, founder of Youth Ministry Architects and author of Sustainable Youth Ministry
Here are some other reviews from blog posts, web articles, online booksellers and the like:
I have also received several very encouraging e-mails from readers who took time to write but I won’t post them here since they were not intended for public consumption.
Needless to say I no longer hear the voice telling me that this book isn’t going to be well received. Now if it would only sell a few copies … !
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.
Last year I wrote a book summarizing pretty much all that I have to say about the past, present and future of youth ministry. The book is titled Reinventing Youth Ministry [Again]: From Bells and Whistles to Flesh and Blood and it was just released this month by InterVarsity Press. I began my youth ministry career in 1963 as a Youth for Christ club director, ran junior high summer camps at Forest Home, served as a youth director in a couple of Nazarene churches, then started Youth Specialties with my old pal Mike Yaconelli. All of that took place long before many of today’s youth workers were even born.
So I thought I would share some of that history as a kind of memoir, along with a few observations on how youth ministry has grown and changed (for better and for worse) over the past 40 years. The book contains a lot of stories, a few rants, and my best shot at trying to describe what good youth ministry should look like in the future. I put all of this down in a book and was simply amazed that a respected publisher like IVP would agree to publish it.
To tell you the truth, I’ve been pretty nervous about how this book would go over. There are so many voices better qualified than me to write about youth ministry. And I’ve had a hard time convincing myself that anyone would want to read another youth ministry book by a relic of youth ministry like me. (“Um, like wasn’t his last youth ministry book written in the last century?”)
Reinventing Youth Ministry [Again] has only been out a couple of weeks now but the response has been pretty gratifying. A couple of friends who got advance copies said they couldn’t put it down. And I was just blown away by the kind endorsements written by Duffy Robbins, Walt Mueller and Mark DeVries on InterVarsity’s website. Best of all, my son Nate gave the book two thumbs up and my wife Marci told me it was the best I’ve ever written. That’s about all the affirmation I need, really.
I’m just very grateful. My prayer now is that it will be used by God to encourage better youth ministry in the future and result in more and more young people coming to know, love and serve Jesus for years to come.
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.