may 1: end of a year, start of a year

today is a significant day for me in two ways…

may 1 is the end of a year. today is our one-year anniversary of being acquired by zondervan.

i’m thinking back to that first crazy day or two, a year ago. i was at ys with our staff the day before everything went public. it felt like we were holding our collective breath, not quite sure how all of this would play out, for us as individuals, for ys as an organization, and — particularly — how our friends in the world of youth ministry would respond.

the next morning i was in grand rapids, at zondervan, when the announcement was made to their staff. the response was warm and loud and affirming. concurrently, my blog post went live, an email was sent out to all our email lists, and our website posted the news. and we had that fun little video of me and tic talking about the change or lack thereof (i still get comments from people about that video). at that time, that day was my highest blog traffic ever. i received about 500 emails in 24 hours, mostly congratulatory. the response from youth workers (as seen on the blog comments) was mostly positive and encouraging, with many neutral, in a “let’s wait and see” mode — which was totally fair. and, of course, there were a handful of “you’ve sold out”, and “clearly you don’t care about youth workers, you only care about making money” accusations, which were painful to read, even though we expected them.

question: did we prove ourselves? i told those who thought we were just going to lose our calling (if not our souls) to give us a year to prove ourselves. i think we’re still ys, still in love with youth workers and teenagers and jesus, and passionate about the intersection of those three. i think we’re still irreverant and occasionally juvenille (hopefully in a good way — a way that keeps us young). i think we’re still resistent to bureaucracy and institutionalism (just ask zondervan!). i think we’re still committed to the church, which means we still love the church and we still challenge the church. i think we’re still youth workers who care about youth workers, not suits who care about increasing the bottom line or expanding our kingdom.

it’s been a challenging year, to be honest. my job has often been that of mediator: helping the zondervan staff stay true to their commitment of not screwing up ys, and helping ys not freak out at zondervan. i think i did ok at this role, but i’m glad it’s not the sum-total of my job for the rest of my life. what i mean is: i feel like today is the end of the transition, and i’m ready to be done with this part of transition. of course, we’ll always be in transition — at least i hope we will be! the opposite of transition is stagnancy — i am not interested in ys settling in there! we’ve had our bumps and bruises in this year-of-transition, as one would expect when a 29-employee organization of smart-aleck youth workers has to blend our operational junk (like accounting and human resources and stuff like that) into a 300+-employee somewhat-more-conservative (!) organization. but here’s the good news, from where i sit: zondervan has proven true to their commitment to let ys continue to be who ys is.

may 1 is the beginning of a year. today is day one of my one-year speaking sabbatical.

one of the things that ys tries to promote, of course, is that youth ministry flows out of who we are, not what we do. youth ministry flows out of our character, our emotional health, and our connection with jesus. to that end, we continue to preach a message of slow and quiet and soul care. but i’m somewhat hypocritical on this front. and readers of this blog know that. i do have a few spiritual practices that have kept me from going over the edge: specifically, meeting with a spiritual director (which i’m doing this afternoon) and taking a quarterly silent retreat (which i’m doing next week). but my life is completely out of balance. and it’s out of sync with the message of spiritual health that i do think i actually believe in.

so i’m hoping this year off from flying all over the place and speaking will bring a level of sanity and reset some things. this month (may) still has insane travel, all of which is personal or work-related. but june, july and august are the slowest, lightest summer i’ve had since high school. and i hope this coming fall, when we hit ys convention season, will feel manageable, rather than feeling like breathing through a straw.

6 thoughts on “may 1: end of a year, start of a year”

  1. …especially if that straw has boogers at the other end.

    Seriously though, I am glad to hear that is has been a “good year.” I hope this sabbatical is exactly what God has for you.

  2. prayers for you Marko – that hitting this “reset” button is one that brings renewal, refreshing and refocus… oh and happy one year anniversary on being owned (that doesn’t sound right, now does it).

  3. Maybe it is more time to travel with the family and travel alone with God – reflecting and refocusing on how great our God is. Thanks for all you do.

  4. you did it marko! congratulations on making it to may 1 – i know these past couple of months have been crazy busy for you (minus the lovely break with your fam in nz)

    i can’t wait to see what grows when the soil is still enough to tend! yippee! thank you for setting this example to other christian leaders everywhere!

  5. being transparent is one of those qualities that just don’t come from one’s self… That’s a special sign that shows God’s finger print upon our hearts… youth ministry does flow from who we are and not from what we do… so thank you marko for keeping it real…

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