Tag Archives: youthworks

tic long’s big move

my friends at ys made a pretty massive announcement this morning, via the video below.

tic long (the executive director of ys) and i were having a drink together in early january, and i mentioned how we really needed to find an executive pastor at my church. after explaining why for a bit, tic responded, “i’d love that job.” i completely thought he was kidding, and laughed. he didn’t laugh. he said, “i told you that before.” then he laughed — but only because tic and i have learned that we both, occasionally, have selective hearing with each other. he went on to explain the reasons he mentions in the video, including, “i’ve spent my life in a national ministry; i’d love to spend my last decade doing ministry at a local level.” tic and his wife terrie had, at that point, only started attending my church a few months earlier, and were really connecting with the vibe and values of the place.

a half hour later, i called our lead pastor, and told him about the conversation. his response, “you could push me over with your pinky finger right now.”

within a week, the three of us were meeting for coffee. more coffee appointments followed. more meetings. i was giddy. i kept telling our lead pastor, and eventually told the church board, “we shouldn’t have this opportunity — no church gets the opportunity to have a world class leader like tic, who we already know and already knows us, join our staff team.” everyone agreed, and tic is about to start as our executive pastor. he’ll phase in slowly, transitioning out of ys and into our church over a number of months, allowing him to finish strong at ys (though, with tic, nothing actually moves slowly, and he’s already met one-on-one with most of the pastors). tic will continue leading the national youth workers conventions through this fall, though he’ll be full-time at the church by that point (our church has a great kingdom mindset, and is totally fine with him taking those weeks off).

it’s a funny twist in my long story with tic, really. we were friends (like hundreds are) for a decade before i joined ys; we worked together at ys for 11 years; the boss of my parent company made me lay him off in 2009, just a few months before she laid me off; right before i got laid off, i started conversations with tic (on the sly) about him rejoining us; after i got laid off, youthworks hired him back to lead ys; and now he’ll be one of my pastors (btw: i’m not employed at my church, but function like an adjunct, lay pastor, teaching a various settings, advising and coaching a few of the pastors, and — of course — leading a middle school guys small group).

as for ys: well, i’ve been less privy to the process on that side of this story. but i agree with tic that it’s a good time for a new day and new leadership. i worked with matlock for a couple years, and believe he brings a great raft of ideas, skills and experience. i’m excited to see how things unfold in the next couple years. and please understand, this is nothing like the shake-ups we went through at ys in past years: no one chose that stuff; this is, i’m confident, an intentional hand-off, a natural and good transition.

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.