It’s been quite a year for Youth Specialties, one of my two favorite go-to places for youth ministry resources (the other is Simply Youth Ministry). One of the bigger ways that the economy has affected churches is student ministry budgets. I know mine has been significantly cut over the last year – I’ve heard of some churches eliminated the youth budget all together. Not an easy time for a youth ministry resource company by any means. Zondervan recently sold them to Youth Works, which is a good thing from all accounts. Youth Works, as a ministry and non-profit can really give the heart that YS needs, while Zondervan will continue to handle the publishing, which fits more with their for profit organization. In the process, though, Youth Specialties lost a lot of great people over the last year, including Tic Long (he was the president of events) and Mark Oestreicher (president of YS).
One of the interesting things to me about youth ministry is the unique bond that youth workers have. Guys like Marko (Mark Oestreicher’s nickname) and Tic have long referred to us all as a tribe, and in a way that’s pretty accurate. There are a LOT of youth ministry resource companies out there, but I’m convinced that there are two reasons why YS and SYM have been the top dogs; quality resources (something I have to admit a lot companies have) and a deep sense of personal connection. There are literally tens of thousands of youth workers who consider Marko and Tic friends. The same is true of Simply Youth Ministry’s crew; many of us have had meaningful connections with Doug Fields, Andy Brazelton, Chris, Nadim and more. Consequently, there’s an intense loyalty that forms, which triggered a massive reaction to Tic and Marko being let go. I was certainly ticked to think of my friends being fired – any time someone is fired from ministry because of a corporate type mindset, it pushes my buttons. I get the realities demanded by the economy, but it doesn’t take away the emotions.
Here’s why I think it really caused a reaction for me when Marko was let go. Besides being someone I consider a friend, and someone I’ve loved hanging with at conventions, reading his books, and learning from his experience, I think a big part of what happened for me is that I was selfishly upset that ‘my YS’ had in a way died. Doug Fields blogged about that here, and I think it really helped focus my thoughts about all this.
For a generation of youth workers, their Youth Specialties was Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice, the founders of the company. Wayne moved on some time ago, and Yac passed away a while back. My first convention experience was the convention season following Yac’s death. I’ve read his books, seen his videos and listened to his audios, but if I’m honest, for me he is a great author, speaker and teacher – but I don’t really tie him to my YS experience, if that makes sense. I’ll never forget when I met Wayne Rice; it was a few years ago and I was working The Journal of Student Ministries booth with Will Penner and Len Evans. This guy comes up and starts shooting the breeze with us; when he was introduced to me, I said something to the effect of, “Wayne Rice? Your name is familiar to me, but I’m not sure why – have you written anything?” He kind of laughed and said yeah, he’d written some books with ideas and stuff for youth workers. After he left, Penner and Len whacked me and said something to the effect of, “Have you written anything??? Dude, you just dissed the founder of Youth Specialties!!!” I have a ton of his books on my shelf – I was so embarrassed!
But I guess that’s my point; Yac and Rice are legends in the youth ministry world, but my connection and loyalty to YS was because of the impact Tic and Marko had had on me personally. And for me, I selfishly grieved that that is over. On the other hand, I think that I was wrong to think that ‘my YS’ is dead – it’s really not over, it’s just changed. With guys like Adam McLane and Mark Matlock there – I think it’s safe to say that Youth Specialties is still very much my YS, just with the opportunity for some leaders to emerge and continue that long history of connecting, supporting and loving youth workers in a way that continues to bring Youth Specialties to the top of youth ministry resource list.