now that the youthworks deal is public, i think i can tell the story and add my thoughts, as so many have been asking me to do.
let me start with a few preliminary thoughts:
- first, i’m really sorry i’ve had to be so silent this past month. the reasons for this are many, of course, and include both my own need to lay low and process my emotions and thoughts, as well as an appropriate respect for the process happening with zondervan and youthworks.
- so many have blogged wonderful sentiments that i agree with. these include (but aren’t limited to) tic, karla, doug/walt, and wayne. if you haven ‘t read those gracious and moderate posts, i encourage you to do so.
let me back up and re-cap some of what was written in those posts:
when yac died, 6 years ago now (geez, hard to imagine it’s been that long), everything at ys changed. of course, he’d been the soul of ys in so many ways. tic and i stepped it up in the years that followed, and learned new things about each other and leadership. karla was fond of saying, in those days, that yac’s death was his final gift to us; and, as weird as that might sound, those couple years really were an amazing time of healing and growth — both as an organization and as individuals. tic and i learned to deeply respect each other’s gifts and roles, and we forged a whole new way of leading ys collaboratively. and, as much as we loved karla, and grew so massively close in those days, it was clear to tic and me (and to karla) that her role as owner/ceo wasn’t the best fit for her. so when our long-term friends and partners at zondervan came around, asking if it would be ok to consider discussions about buying ys, we all felt it was the right direction.
this is important for me to state as clearly as i can. tic and karla and i all felt selling ys to zondervan was the right decision. and, in hindsight, i can say with 100% certainty, that if karla had not made this choice, ys would not exist today. ys would not have survived the financial turbulence of these last two years.
now, let’s fast forward a bit.
the changes we made at ys early this year (resulting in letting go of 14 staff, including tic) were brutal on us. but we saw those changes as the only path forward for survival. i’m an evergreen optimist, sometimes at the expense of good business sense. i say that to couch my next comment: i think ys would have turned around, financially, in the next 12 months. but i also realize that my belief in the mission of ys, my passion for the “customers” of ys, and my natural optimism and hopefulness colors that greatly. i also know that the leadership of zondervan was deeply challenged in the complex stew that was made up of a genuine affection for ys and the financial pressure and scrutiny they are also under.
all that to say: when i was first informed that zondervan was considering selling ys, and that the organization on the other end was a ministry non-profit, i saw it as good news. i felt this was, potentially, a win for everyone (zondervan, youth specialties, youthworks, and youth workers in general).
and here’s what i really want you all to hear from me: i still think this whole thing is, potentially, a win for everyone (zondervan, youth specialties, youthworks, and youth workers in general).
i spent time with the leadership of youthworks, and can affirm what tony jones has written, they are good and honorable people with a heart for youth workers.
i had thought, over the couple months leading up to my dismissal, that i would go along with ys to youthworks. that was my hope. but, ultimately, they had other plans, which is fully their right to do. and my former boss at zondervan felt it would be better for me, ys, and youthworks, if i were out of the picture during the final days of that agreement and the announcements to follow. whether i agreed with this or not is hardly the point. i certainly wasn’t a fan of the process, but i’ve come to see that it was what it was, and – from a corporate kind of perspective – i’ve been dealt with fairly. my 6 days in the desert this past week (which i’ll blog about separately in the days to come) were instrumental for me in turning the corner and letting go.
here’s another truth i want to go on record with: zondervan is not an evil empire. zondervan is made up of good and honorable people who love jesus. yes, they’re a business. yes, they want to be profitable. yes, they’re more corporate than ys (which isn’t a bad thing!). but so many of the people there became dear friends of mine. really, the loss for me in all of this is not limited to leaving ys and the youth workers we served — it’s also leaving zondervan and my friends and colleagues there. moe girkins, the president and ceo of zondervan, is a brilliant and compassionate leader with a commitment to doing the right thing. we didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but that was always part of what we appreciated about each other.
i have been out of my role as president of youth specialties for over a month now. it almost baffles me to even type that. but, i can say this: if i ever had any ability to predict the future for ys, it is most certainly gone. really, i don’t have a clue. what i do expect is that youthworks will do everything in their power to make wise and god-honoring choices about the future of youth specialties and serving youth workers. what that looks like remains to be seen for everyone. i’m not a huge fan of the “system upgrade” metaphor used to describe this process at the nywc this past weekend in atlanta. that doesn’t feel honoring of the past enough to me. but i do think change is — while often hard and painful — completely necessary at times, and often the only way an organization or organism will survive. i think it’s highly likely that we will all look back, in a few years, and realize that ys would not have survived had the sale to youthworks not occurred, just as these last four years with zondervan were an absolutely essential part of the ys story, as well as the story of my life.
i pray god’s richest blessings on zondervan and youthworks, both organizationally, and on the lives of the people leading the missions of each.
and, my heart will always have a very special place for youth specialties, that amazing and wonderful idea. i cannot imagine my life story without the 11 years i worked there (plus the many prior to that where i was speaking and writing for ys). i love the staff of ys, and i love the mission of ys, and i love the quirkiness of ys, and i love the place ys has in the kingdom of god. but mostly, i love the “recipients of ys” — youth workers in the trenches, loving teenagers with the gospel of jesus, sticking it out through times much tougher than my own, and following god’s calling into unappreciated and challenging corners of culture. and i’m full of anticiapation about how god will have me play out that love on a daily basis, as my story continues to unfold. in the mean time, and no matter what else happens, i’ll still be with the five 7th grade boys in my small group each week, living out my own youth ministry calling.