Tag Archives: zondervan

understanding your young teen has released

my latest book, understanding your young teen: practical wisdom for parents, is officially available! i’m stoked. it’s my first book written for parents, and covers a wide variety of developmental issues about middle schoolers, as well as practical implications for parenting.

here’s the official description:

Between the ages of 11-14, adolescents experience one of the most significant periods of change they’ll face during their lifetimes—physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. Mothers and fathers of young teens are presented with new challenges in understanding, communicating with and parenting their kids during this time in their lives. Understanding Your Young Teen offers insights on early adolescent development, new research and cultural changes, and practical applications for parenting and living with young teens. Mark Oestreicher has worked with young teens for nearly three decades, and is also the parent of two teenagers. Based on his research and experience, this book is presented to parents of young teens as a conversation from one parent to another. With transparency about his own experience parenting, and examples from his extensive involvement with thousands of other young teens and parents, Understanding Your Young Teen dives into the developmental realities of early adolescence. Oestreicher educates parents on the latest research and cultural shifts that affect their children, revealing opportunities for faith formation in the lives of young teens.

we’re selling it at a discount on the youth cartel store. if you want to buy a bunch of ’em for parents in your ministry, let me know, and we’ll see about doing something special for you (like, a note for your parents, or me skyping into a parent meeting, or maybe even special pricing). i spoke to a group of 50 parents at bay presbyterian church in bay village, ohio, on the content of the book, last weekend. had a great time with them.

here’s the full cover (you can click on it to see it larger)…

my 1 year anniversary of leaving ys

today is my 1 year anniversary of getting laid off from my role as president of youth specialties.

before i reflect on that in writing, allow me to make a few things very clear:

first, i have nothing against youth specialties. just the opposite: i love ys. always have, always will. i remain close friends with the remaining staff, am speaking at their conventions this fall, and hold onto nothing but hope for them as they continue to move forward with integrity and a missional passion to serve youth workers.

second, ys didn’t really lay me off. zondervan, our then-parent company, laid me off. while i might not have agreed with the choice at the time, there’s nothing about the decision itself (particularly from the distance of a year) that doesn’t make sense. ys was being sold, and there was no longer a role for me. i have lots of dear friends at zondervan also (who i miss, since i don’t get to spend time with them anymore), and my next book will still be released with them.

third, youthworks! (the new-ish owners of ys) are good people. really. and i’ve been so deeply pleased to hear from tic and others how supported they’re feeling during this convention season.

now, let’s talk about me!

leading up to my lay-off, i was riddled with anxiety. as i wrote in an earlier post, i had a zombie soul. the work of trying to re-make ys into a profit machine was not my calling, and — really — beyond my ability or desire. but the two months after the lay-off put that anxiety and hear into hyper-drive. when i spent a bunch of days in silence, giving presence and space to the various emotions i’d been frozen in, i journalled about my fears. i wrote things like (these are straight out of that journal):

I’m afraid I won’t find a meaningful job.

I’m afraid whatever job I find – meaningful or not – will be such a dramatic lowering of income that our family will suffer (which will, as much as I try to convince myself otherwise, totally feel like “my fault”).

I’m afraid I’ll lose my voice.

I’m afraid I’ll lose interest in the things I’ve been passionate about, especially if I’m in a role that doesn’t give me cause to think on them and speak about them.

I’m afraid my kids won’t be proud of me, and think my job is cool.

I’m afraid I’ll have a cool opportunity that will require a move, and a boring opportunity that allows us to stay in San Diego, and that I’ll have to choose, knowing that one seems selfish, and the other feels like death.

I’m afraid of losing our house.

I’m afraid of losing what little retirement we have saved.

I’m afraid of losing my dreams, whatever they may be!

I’m afraid of becoming a shell of myself. I’m afraid that I’ve “peaked”, and nothing else – work wise – will come close to providing the meaning and fun that I’ve experienced.

I’m afraid I’ll have to wear a suit and tie, or at least “business casual”, and give up some of my individuality in order to get work.

I’m afraid I’ll be bored, and even boring.

and here i am, a year later; and i can honestly say that not one single thing on that list has even remotely been realized. not one. in fact, just the opposite has been the experience of my year. i’m more fulfilled than ever in my work; i have more time for my family; i have more space for rest; i get to exercise my gifts (and not spend a large chunk of my time on stuff i’m not passionate, like profitability spreadsheets); i get to speak into the lives of youth workers and churches and ministries; and i still get to wear shorts and t-shirts to work!

even in the early months of 2010, when my new plans started to take shape (oblique as it was at that point), i still wondered if i could make it work. what has become imminently clear to me, especially as i look back, is that i didn’t make this take shape. god did it. god provided for me, met me in my anxiety and fear, and brought a freshness to my life and calling that i would never have been bold enough to “claim”.

this past weekend, the pastor leading a time of communion at a junior high event i was speaking at led the students in that slightly cliche response: god is good, all the time; all the time, god is good. but it struck a chord in me; and the vibration of god’s goodness in my life is the hum of my days.

i look back on a horrible firing i experienced early in my youth ministry career, and i can say with complete truthfulness that i wouldn’t trade it for the world. it’s part of who i’ve become in a way that i cannot separate from the goodness of god. i’m almost there with this current reality. i’m grateful for where god has taken me, how god has protected my heart from bitterness, and all the other blessings in my day-to-day life. and, soon, i expect — very soon — i’ll even be grateful for being laid off. i’m already there cognitively, and expect i’ll be able to say it and mean it soon enough.

(photo ripped from adam walker cleaveland, who got it from april)

the youth specialties/zondervan/youthworks story, from where i stand

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.

youthworks and youth specialties

what a big sigh of relief for me, today, to hear that zondervan and youthworks were announcing the sale of ys on stage at the nywc in atlanta. and, from a very personal point of view, what perfect timing for me, as i’m just back from 6 days of silence and journaling and wrestling with both god and my demons in the desert. i mean that the timing is perfect in that i would have been a mushy pile of anxious and raw emotions a week ago (i mean, in response to the “going public” part — i have known about all of this for months); but my inner world and anxiety and anger are all so very different after my time in the desert. as a result, i can, today, very honestly say: god bless you, youthworks; god bless you, zondervan. and i sincerely hope and pray, with great expectation, that ys will continue to serve and love and encourage and resource youth workers for many years to come.

i’ll blog more about my time in the desert, as well as further responses to the yw/ys/z stuff in the days to come. but for today, i’m just happy that the story is public. feels like a bit of permission to move on with my life.

monday morning update, january 26, 2009

the weekend that was: i was in san juan, puerto rico, for the ys youth worker event there. wonderful time, with 750 youth workers from across the denominational spectrum. i’d not been to puerto rico before, and really loved it. being part of the united states, it’s a very easy place to be a non-spanish speaking visitor. many people speak at least some english (especially in restaurants and stores), and u.s. currency is used; and there’s no customs or need for a passport. i had a great time hanging out and getting caught up with lucas leys, the ys spanish director. and i had a blast with my seminars and general session — people were super responsive.

that said, i had quite an experience getting through security at the san juan airport. “traces of something” were found on my luggage, shoes, and hands (!). and right there at the end of the line, in front of everyone coming through, two TSA employees took every single item out of my luggage and backpack, holding each up, one at a time (including my undies!), and examining them. joy!

saw two movies on the flights home: the duchess (with keira knightly), which was pretty good, but very sad; and the longshots (with ice cube), which was predictable, but decent plane fare.

where i am at the moment: unfortunately, i’m heading right back out again (i’m in a wicked few weeks of travel). we have a ys leadership team retreat starting today, going through wednesday evening. it’s local, in san diego; but we’re staying at a hotel, so i’m not home.

on my to-do list this week: two leadership team retreat — first, 3 days with the ys leadership team, then 2 days with the zondervan leadership team.

procrastinating about: um… oh, getting the final tweaks done on the middle school ministry book. need to get to that!

book i’m in the midst of: i think i’m in the middle of three right now:
– still reading the know it all
– halfway through jack handy’s what i’d say to the martians
– started are you there, vodka? it’s me, chelsea

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: ben taylor’s music (particularly his newest, the legend of kung folk). dude sounds like he’s channeling james taylor; and i mean that in a very good way.

next trip: wednesday night i take a red-eye (san diego to l.a. to chicago to grand rapids) for a zondervan leadership team thurs/fri. come home friday night.

how i’m feeling about this week: well, i wish i were home with my family!

monday morning update, october 20, 2008

the weekend that was: laid back, yet oddly busy. i really had no plans friday night or saturday. but i managed to fill it up. friday night we had a family night — dinner at a local mexican place we’d heard was great, and could walk to, followed by uno and dominoes, and then ice cream in front of a tv show or two. saturday, i slept in a bit, then was planning on watching the michigan game. i saw the 2nd quarter, then left with max to run errands during half-time. we ended up missing the entire 2nd half. i ran the kids around a bit and got a few things done. in the evening, i was home alone, and had a nice cuban cigar while reading a bit in the backyard, then joined a friend for a late night showing of “body of lies” (which was great). sunday was a sprint: met with jeannie about a bunch of stuff (schedules and such), went to a middle school ministry staff meeting at christina’s house, helped my wife host a group of san diego spiritual directors in our backyard, participated in an emergent village board phone call, then hosted our home church at our house. whew.

where i am at the moment: flying to grand rapids. had a butt-crack-o-dawn flight this morning, so i can make a late afternoon meeting at zondervan. i’m there through tuesday late afternoon, when i fly on to atlanta for 24 hours before heading home wednesday evening.

on my to-do list this week: a couple day o’ zonderland, a potential partnership meeting in atlanta, a ys staff meeting and pittsburgh nywc nametag stuffing party, more writing, and a wad of other stuff.

procrastinating about: hmmm. since i actually made good progress on the middle school ministry book this week, i can’t put down my usual here. how ’bout this: i’ve been procrastinating about straightening up our garage for sometime now. and about getting back on a work out schedule.

book i’m in the midst of: almost finished with the year of living biblically. fantastic book.

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: well, max and i (and liesl, to a lesser degree) have been family force five fans for a couple years, ever since we saw them at an nywc. their live performances are just nuts. and i dig their sound. so we’ve been eager for a 2nd album, which we picked up in sacramento last week. i’ve been listening to it more than anything else. i really like it — quite a bit. but it’s not what i expected. it’s substantially more dance-oriented than their previous stuff. less rock, more dance. it’s like a weird cross between system of a down and madonna. i would have preferred they stay on the more alt-rock side of things; but i still like the new disc a lot.

next trip: well, i’m on one. so, i guess my next one is tomorrow night, to atlanta. then, next week to pittsburgh for the nywc.

how i’m feeling about this week: pretty good, actually!

poser week

there are minutes, and hours, and sometimes even days, when i feel like i’m pretty good at my job. or, maybe i should say: there are minutes, and hours, and sometimes even days when i don’t really think about it, so lull myself into thinking that “i’m the man!”

then, there are the other times, when i feel like a poser, like i’m over my head, like i’m totally under-qualified and not smart enough. i feel like a little kid who somehow got into an adult world, and no one has noticed yet — or, they’ve noticed, but are being nice.

the last week has been a full week of feeling like an imposter, or poser, or a “who the heck let this guy in here” series of moments.

the feeling started at the end of last week, as i struggled (and still am) with the reality that the staff of ys are extremely weary. everyone’s working at 120% (or more), and we’re struggling a bit financially. if we were doing really well and working hard, it might feel ok. but the weariness is setting in deeply, and morale is low. and i don’t have a clue what to do about it.

in the midst of this realization, i was spending 12 – 15 hour days myself, preparing a one-year plan (on one page) for my boss, and a 3-year plan to present to my boss’s boss. and, i am just SO not a business man. talking about finances and growth (especially when we’re not growing), putting together charts and graphs — well, let’s just say i felt a bit like i would be the little kid coming home with my pretty pictures, saying “look what i drew, mommy.”

sunday, i flew to grand rapids, and monday and tuesday were spent with the leadership team of zondervan, of which i am a part. i’m not saying i don’t contribute anything — they’re all really nice and tell me i add to the group. but they all just seem so smart. i play my little gadfly role, and try to keep my “well, what we do at YS is…” comments to a minimum. really, it was a good two days, and i love the people i work with there — but i did regularly have that feeling of “who let me in this room?” and “when are they going to discover that i’m a junior high pastor, not an executive.”

wednesday morning, i spoke to 100 professional youth workers at a nice breakfast hosted by baker book house. again — great time. but (and, maybe it was the experience of the previous two days), i left feeling like, what qualifies me to be the guy up front speaking? just my title? a title i have because a quirky dude named yaconelli chose to bestow it to me?

wednesday afternoon i sat in a long meeting with a few zondervan execs, a few fox execs, a harpercollins exec, and a couple others, about an initiative we’re working on. what the heck?

and the ultimate was thursday morning, when i sat with the ceo of harpercollins and my boss, the ceo of zondervan, and talked for an hour (with my pretty charts and graphs, all ready to be pinned to a refrigerator with a “look what markie drew!” magnet) about the future of ys. the meeting went well, as did all the others; but i left with that overwhelming “how in the world did i get here?” feeling. this all came together in my little tired mind on the flight home yesterday afternoon.

don’t misread this: i’m not getting all down on myself, or saying i suck, or asking for any pats on the back. i’m just trying to be transparent about the regularity of the feeling i experienced this week.

lucas isn’t gonna change

two and a half years ago, when zondervan bought youth specialties, we announced it with this goofy little video.

so, i got a great kick out of seeing this new video of lucas leys, our spanish director. actually, lucas just got a promotion: he’s now the vp of spanish ministries for ys, as well as the publisher for vida (zondervan’s spanish division). lucas was understandably concerned that this announcement might not go over well with those who would be worried that it would decrease his ability to focus on youth ministry for the latin world (we’re being extremely careful about that, btw), so took our “we’re not really going to change” idea and shot his own video. it’s funny, even if you don’t speak spanish — you can get the idea…

monday morning update, july 28, 2008

the weekend that was: holy cow. it was all about house hunting. so freakin’ stressful, as our house sold so much more quickly than we expected (2 weeks). more update below…

where i am at the moment:
sitting at my desk for a day! yeah!

on my to-do list this week: the main thing is a trip to Z for a leadership team retreat, which i have a bunch of prep for today. we also need to start packing, and hopefully, agree on a purchase price for the home we made an offer on.

moving update: wednesday night, we drove by 25 houses (thank god for gps, baby). thursday, we started spending 5 – 7 hours a day with the realtor. we went through 9 houses thursday, 10 friday, 15 saturday, and 8 sunday. our spirits were pretty down by saturday night, as we were finding that buying a house has a lot of similarities to a software or website build. software and web people say there are three variables everyone wants: finished quickly, low price, and custom/robust features. and, they say, you can only have two of those — any two, but only two. we found in our house hunting that there were three variables also: neighborhood we want, house we want, price we want. we could only find two of the three. we’d find a great house in a great neighborhood, but couldn’t afford it; or we’d find a good house for a good price, but in a neighborhood we didn’t really want to be in; or we’d find a house we could a afford, in a neighborhood we liked, but the house sucked or was too limited in one way or another. finally, on sunday, we found a couple that met all three variables, and after going back to them a second time, one was the clear winner. we made an offer sunday night, and are waiting to hear a response.

procrastinating about: not much. everything is at full-tilt right now. i’m not making progress on my next book, but i don’t know how i could — so it’s not really procrastinating.

book i’m in the midst of: the book of general ignorance, by John Mitchinson and John Lloyd, and the blue parakeet: rethinking how you read the bible, by scot mcknight

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: very little music this week.

next trip: tuesday through thursday in holland, michigan, for a zondervan leadership team retreat.

how i’m feeling about this week: i’m sure the leadership team retreat will be great, but i’m really stressed about what we have to accomplish this month with our impending move.