The firing of YS Marko

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The youth ministry world took a big hit this morning.  A press release from Youth specialties and their parent company Zondervan announced the “release” of YS president Mark Oestreicher.

YS press release

I haven’t had much time to think about this, and perhaps I should wait a few weeks to reflect…

But nevertheless I feel compelled to write.  But before I get to some personal thoughts, I wanted to share a brief history/overview of how Marko came to be so important to youth workers in the 21st century.

Youth Specialties was founded and developed by men of boldness and courage, who were not afraid to push the limits.  Mike Yaconelli was a modern-day prophet (especially to youth workers).  His books Messy Spirituality, Dangerous Wonder, and the Core Realities of Youth Ministry gave me hope for youth ministry and inspired me to enter the family and stay the course.

Grace was given and received.  Theology and rules questioned (and broken).  There was, for the first time, a true sense of freedom and joy accompanied with youth ministry.  You were given permission to be yourself and be the person God was shaping you to be (not made to feel guilty that you were not conforming to someone else’s image or expectations)

No one really cared about what others thought of you or how many people you might offend.  Authentic faith was demonstrated in the lives of youth workers and then modeled and passed down to generations of students across denominational lines.   I even remember hearing that Yaconelli told the crowd at  one YS convention that if they needed rest for their souls to skip the sessions and workshops and sleep and play.  And…. if their marriages were rocky, to go grab a bottle or two of wine and lock themselves in their hotel room for the weekend!

He understood the plight of youth workers and also knew what real refreshment was like (spiritual, physical, emotional).  And we learned together that sometimes laughter is the best remedy.

The first YS convention I attended occurred one month after Mike’s tragic car accident.  Myself, along with 5,000 other youth workers wondered what would happen.  What would become of YS?

Who would take over (not just the leadership) but the prophetic voice of Yaconelli?

Marko received that calling and answered it well.

Every year since, I have witness Yaconelli’s dreams flourished and expand.

Marko embraced all, loved everyone, and found grace and truth in everything.

Under his leadership, not only did YS expand cross culturally and around the world, but new voices were given permission and a platform to share with the world.  The mission of God was put on center stage for us as both youth workers and followers of Jesus.

Recently, many of us read Marko’s last blog.  I have included the link below

The end of YS Marko

It appeared to me that God was preparing Marko for major change.  Perhaps this transition is a good thing.  Maybe not for YS right now or for the hundreds of thousands of youth workers, but for Marko and his family.

I don’t know.

I hope Zondervan made a decision based upon God’s leading and not a business decision.  But am not too naive to realize that sometimes tough decisions need to be made for the long-term benefit.  Perhaps visions were not aligning just right.  Perhaps God has something better in store for Marko.  Or perhaps, this is the wrong decision and time shall reveal the fate and consequences.

I choose not to question Zondervan at this time. I choose to pray for Marko, and wish him God’s absolute best.

I hope and pray that another prophet will emerge who will take up the torch and run wildly with abandon.

Marko, we all appreciate what you have meant to us.  Most of us never personally knew you, but we certainly felt like we did.

You kept us going and kept us excited and passionate for youth work. You lead by example, motivation, and inspiration.

May we pass on what you have taught us about grace-living life and loving God-serving students-having a global view- soul searching and spiritual formation-and being ourselves all the while.

Though you never knew me, you believed in me.  Thank you.

We believe in you and will continue to support you wherever God leads.

–appreciative youth workers from around the globe

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the next generation of {youth} pastors

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A few months back I attended two ministry conferences, and what a difference I saw between them!

One was the Youth Specialties NYWC convention and the other was my denomination’s district prayer conference.

Besides the enormous contrast in ages,  I noticed a great deal of differences between the two conferences and the “ministers” who attended.

I really am against over generalizations and stereotyping, yet….

At the district conference, the pastors carried their Bibles, did not laugh at certain jokes, only seemed to talk about theology and church ministry, prayed long and doctrinally soaked prayers, and to be brutally honest, just did not seem to have fun or enjoy their time (in my opinion)

There were other noticeable differences that probably just come with age. The preferred style of worship music and lack of understanding new technology were just two. Can you imagine that some pastors there didn’t even know what a blog was!

I thought to myself “Self, if that is what my future in ministry is going to look like, then I am out”

Also, I wondered if that was what I needed to become in order to fit in and be a “real pastor” one day.

And when do I start wearing loafers and sweaters over cotton shirts?

I like my shorts, baseball hat,  zip up sweatshirts and iphone!

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OK, now that you think I am bashing pastors, I will admit that when I got to know these men, I learned a great deal from them and found myself challenged and inspired in faith and ministry.

These are wonderful men of God who, although very different from me, have a genuine love for God and love for his Church. This I respect and admire greatly.

Clearly I am not writing about fashion statements, but I do wonder what the next 10-30 years of ministry will look like as the current generation of youth pastors transition out and a new generation phases in.

What will this new generation be like?  They are probably the kids with ADHD in your Jr. high group right now. Scary, right?

What roles and expectations will we put on them and what will they think of us when attending a prayer conference in the year 2020?

It is kind of scary to think that we are the next generation of pastors!  What will we be like 20 years from now as “Senior pastors”.

Will our humor change?

Will we wear loafers?

Will our youth pastors look at us and think the same things we often think now about our senior pastors?

Obviously, with age comes cultural differences.  If we try to act like our high school students or buy certain clothes or trends to fit in, then something is amiss.  So, I don’t think our senior pastors need to necessarily like David Crowder, blog, or wear clothes from the GAP.

But I do think there is a need for them to understand where we are coming from, what makes us tick, to give us certain freedom in our ministries, and to understand the importance of mentoring and relational ministry.

20 years from now, we will be old (at least in the eyes of young youth pastors).  On the outside, we will probably not fit in or look cool.  But youth pastors should feel comfortable in our presence, eager to learn from us, and knowing that we fully support them in whatever God is doing (as crazy as some of their ideas may be!)

Stay tuned for Part 2: Youth Pastors make the best senior pastors.

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