Youth Specialties – An Update.

So in 2009, I had the amazing privilege of working with Youth Specialties for a number of months. It was through a pretty crazy transition period for the organization. Well, actually – I came at what I thought was the end of a period of transition for the company.

As a youthworker, there has been no other organization that resources, trains and publishes relevant materials for my youth work career as well as my theological formation and development as a person of faith and a youthworker. YS has always been intelligent, forward-thinking and engaging. During my first years of volunteering, I clung to every word of Mike Yaconelli’s I could find. And other voices from the YS community began to become incredibly important and influence me.

So now – as another big announcement has just been made – I think it’s timely to throw a few thoughts and gratitudes of my own.

For the leadership, creative talent and genuine passion for youthworkers, I will always be grateful for the time and hearts of people whose names and faces will be familiar (Mike Yaconelli, Wayne Rice, Tic Long and Mark Oestreicher). They are not just figureheads of an organization but formative thinkers and talents in our community. However, they are only one part of the story, no matter how intertwined the stories are.

I cannot thank Marko enough for the influence, opportunity and hope he gave me in the opportunity to work with the YS team. There are many more names and faces you won’t know that are part of it’s history. Some of those names are Adam, Holly, Amy, Michelle, Brittany, Donna, Lara, Bethany, Dave, Mandy, Ian, Roni and more. There are more names that influence the stories behind those stories.. people I met in passing but who are remembered for their part in the story too – Alex, Mindi, David, Mike, Carol and so on.

Here’s my point. Today, if you received the YS Update, you will have seen the video update Youth Specialties.. Next Steps. Or, you should take a minute to do so.

I got to meet Tic and only spend brief amounts of time with him, but I wildly respect him. He has been influencing and challenging my creative big room ideas since 2004. He is a man of ability, compassion and humor. I also got to spend a lot of time with Mark Matlock – first in late night conversations about the future of youth ministry in 2007, and then more so throughout 2009. I consider him to be a man & a youthworker genuinely committed to helping youthworkers do the best they can, to encouraging and challenging our community towards the future and reengaging how we can work towards this goal. He’s brave enough to lead the courageous “new world / changing world” thinking started by books like “Youth Ministry 3.0” by using different approaches to training and cooperation like Open Space Technology.

Regardless of anything else – the process illuminated in these recent days at YS are so different that the changes over recent years. There’s love and a discernible sense of the presence and direction of God. At times there have been many people pushing and pulling YS to a new season of ministry and I genuinely believe this is a moment like that. And the beauty is that Tic & Marko, having worked together for many years and sharing much friendship beyond that, are still closely entwined in this new season of ministry for Tic, as he moves to Journey Church. That’s their story to tell, but an observer.. it’s pretty cool that God values longwearing relationships as much as we do.

Here’s my future dream/challenge for anyone willing to take it on:

There’s just one leader that that hasn’t been mentioned so far and that’s you. See – the future we are moving towards is less “expert-driven” and more “community & experience” driven. So if you want to ask me, as I feel inclined to share with you – the most important leader in this next phase of youth ministry leadership, training and resourcing…. IS NOT the person at the head of Youth Specialties, but the person at the heart of Youth Specialties. And that’s you, the youthworker – still out there doing your bit. The changing face of youth ministry in the United States, Canada and other parts of the Western World is you, because you’re on the frontline of a landscape that changes every day.

As we wrestle and re-engage our imaginations in theology, in praxis, in creativity, in storytelling – I pray that you will step up to the plate with your overflowing portion or your empty hands. Bring whatever you have whether it’s a need, a desire, a passion or a question without answer, problem without solution.

I firmly believe that YS was starting to push into these directions a few years ago under brave leadership – and that we’ll continue to push there again because we have no choice but to! Bring it on, I say.

Coming from the small islands of New Zealand, if you’re not from here you have no idea how blessed you are by the scope of the NYWC & YSPalooza events. The concept of so many denominations, styles and sizes of youth ministry having the opportunity to come together with Ph.D level teachers, speakers and experienced, incredible youthworkers – many of whom are found sitting next to them in a row, not just up the front of a class. The scale of education is incredible and the opportunities for American youthworkers to learn proactively from one another is amazing.

So do it please, and ensure that your questions, insights and valuable learnings can be applied to the whole YS community. Lead by sharing your stories – not your successes or failures, just your stories and you’ll inspire hope and courage in someone else. And that’s the future. That’s the simple baby step towards working together in a brave new world. Take on the challenge.. because you are at the heart of this thing.

What do you think?