In about two hours, Vallerie and I will be pulling out for the Youth Specialties National Youth Worker Convention in Cincinnati, OH. Over on the YS blog and facebook page, they are collecting a list of bloggers who will be updating from the convention.
As I was saving some of these links and reading a few of the updates, I was thinking about my relationship with this company over the last nearly 10 (!) years that I’ve been working in full time youth ministry.
It all started with the Youth Specialties Job Bank. Young, naive, about to graduate from college Becky needed a job. I really needed a job near Lexington because I had already been accepted at Asbury Theological Seminary. I used whatever search engine we used way back in the day (Yahoo?) before we were googling everything. This search engine led me to a wonderful website called “Youth Specialties.” They had a job bank! I began applying for jobs in the bank. No one wanted to hire me. No one. Some sent letters letting me know that I didn’t have the qualifications they were looking for. One letter even mentioned the fact that I was not a man. I began to get desperate. I expanded my search. On a whim, I applied for two jobs in Henderson, KY.
By the way, there were three things I knew about Henderson, KY. 1) The gas was way cheaper there 2) Audubon Park was fantastic and 3) They had a Dairy Queen (Jenny and I were out driving around one night and thought it would be so cool to go to Henderson. We went to Dairy Queen and then something about the Dixie Chicks…)
One of the churches in Henderson called me. They interviewed me. They called me again. They interviewed me again. They called me and offered me the job. Since I was graduating in 5 days and it was the only offer on the table, I heard God’s voice clearly. The rest is history (sticky, crazy, exhausting, wild, wonderful history). Thanks YS Job Bank!
When I got to my new office, there were shelves of books waiting for me. Many of them were published by Youth Specialties. I studied them, subscribed to the Youthworker Journal and used the website faithfully. Tons of my youth group meetings and event ideas and even publicity came from these books. In my year at Asbury, I attended a Youth Specialties One Day training event. They were just testing out this new format so it was kind of a focus group thing to see how it would work. I got 1 hour of class credit for attending that one day event, but I learned so much. I remember the best of the best of the YS team was there, but I didn’t really know who they were then.
In 2001, I went to my first Youth Specialties Convention in Tampa. I met Mike Yaconelli, the co-founder of Youth Specialties, and heard him speak. I loved him immediately. He was so encouraging. And so was everyone else. All of those things that I was feeling so worried about; all the sadness I felt for some of the teenagers I was working with; all of those frustrations about working in a church; all of those silly things that happen in my job that that no one else ever thinks are funny–YS got it. The people sitting around me in seminars and big rooms got it. Heck, I think even DC Talk (who did the Saturday night concert that year) got it. It was incredible.
I went back the next 2 years–Nashville and St. Louis. The St. Louis convention was sad because Mike Yaconelli had just died not even a month before. At each convention, I learned and played and rested and grew in my faith and in my excitement about ministry. I got new ideas, heard about new programs and companies, and got to party with some of the coolest people in the world.
I continue to look to YS for curriculum, ideas, and advice. The last year has been rocky for the company. In the Spring, Tic Long was let go by the new parent company, Zondervan. Last week, Mark Oestreicher was also let go. I cannot imagine a YS convention without Tic or Marko.
On the one hand, it seems silly to have such an emotional attachment to a company. On the other, as I look back, I realize that it’s unlikely I would be where I am right now without YS. I can’t imagine that I would still be in youth ministry without their influence and encouragement. I’m anxious about the convention. Will I find the same things I found in Tampa, Nashville and St. Louis? I’m hopeful that the answer will be yes.