here’s the last-page column i wrote for the current issue of youthworker journal (the last issue developed by ys):
Youth Specialties wants to be both an encouragement and a prophetic voice.
This is a sad column for me to write. Youth Specialties has been a part of Youthworker journal since day one. And now that relationship is ending.
Here’s a bit of history: YS began, literally out of a car trunk, 37 years ago. One year later, the first National Youth Workers Convention offered something – at the time – totally revolutionary: a place for Christian youth workers of all sorts to come together and be challenged. In those early days of YS, we were primarily a voice in the wilderness – a prophetic voice to the church, and to youth workers. People regularly walked out of general sessions at the conventions; not because they were bored, but because they were ticked! In fact, one of the great early stories of YS involves an audience member in one of the first convention general sessions standing up to argue with the speaker.
Over the years, as youth ministry came into its own, Youth Specialties evolved and saw the need to be more of an encourager of youth workers – not just a cattle-prod to the church. This encouraging role has become such a key piece of our identity and mission, and will continue to be so as long as we exist.
But we’ve done some good organizational soul-searching in the past 18 months, and we’ve realized a couple things:
First, we realized that we had mostly moved away from the challenging (or prophetic) role that was such a key component of our birth. We’d moved into a place of being all about resourcing and encouraging youth workers. That’s a critical ministry; but it seemed we’d lost a bit of who we are called to be.
Second, we realized that we were relying, almost exclusively, on two voices for any piece of prophetic stuff we still provided: Mike Yaconelli and Youthworker journal. Mike’s message – through his talks and books – was clearly a tree-shaker. He reminded us all of things we’d forgotten about ourselves, about God, and about the central truths of youth ministry. And Youthworker became our other voice – the place we could push the edge a bit, explore controversial ideas, try out ideas (often in subsequent articles) that were in direct disagreement with one another.
With Mike’s death two years ago, and with Youthworker leaving us, we have to step it up. In these past 18 months, we’ve identified a handful of new values we want to drive us forward as we work to re-invent Youth Specialties (really, this is staying true to the vision Yac always had for us, especially in the last few years of his life). One of those is to resurface our prophetic voice.
What I mean by that is this: youth ministry needs some re-thinking. There’s much we all know about what makes up good youth ministry and what makes up, well, less-than-good youth ministry. But we believe our changing culture (and our deepening understanding of the Kingdom of God) calls us to constant change and evaluation, growth and revolution. And we feel called, as an organization, to be a part of that process.
This doesn’t mean that we’re suddenly going to only provide stuff that will tweak you or make you angry! We’re still all about encouraging youth workers. But we hope that you’ll see, as you watch our stuff in the months and years to come, that – even without the vehicle of Youthworker, or the voice of Yaconelli – Youth Specialties will be a place you can count on to help you ask questions, help you re-think, help you bring a revolution.
After all: the gospel of Jesus Christ is (not just was) revolutionary. And our youth ministries must reflect this! We hope you’ll continue to walk with us – or better yet, allow us to walk with you – as we explore effective, life-transforming youth ministry, today and in the years to come.
“What characterizes followers of Christ is that we tell the truth.… We talk about all of life. We’re not afraid that teens will see life as a struggle every day—and that it will always be so. Most of all, we point them away from us and toward Jesus…. What’s so disturbing about youth ministry today, however, is how little truth-telling there is. I’ve been in youth ministry for 40 years, and I wish I could have some of those years to live over again. Oh, God, forgive me for causing your little ones to sin. Oh, God, help me to learn from my mistakes. Oh, God, in spite of me, cause all of your little ones to run into your arms. Oh, God, help us all.” — Mike Yaconelli