This week marks the end of an era: the final Youth Specialities National Youthworkers Convention of the Rice/Yaconelli era. For more than 30 years YS has been bringing together the most recognized leaders of youth ministry so that vocational and volunteer youthworkers could have the chance to be trained by, challenged by, and influenced by those who have been deeply invested in ministry to kids. As of the 2009 Atlanta Convention, this run will come to an end.
Youth Specialties is not dead, for they are being bought by a group of great people who plan to morph this movement into viability for the coming future. But the YS that Mike and Wayne began and passed on to Tic Long, Jim Burns, Rich Van Pelt, Bill McNabb, Duffy Robbins, Chap Clark, Marv Penner, Helen Musick, Doug Fields, Laurie Polich, Marko Oestreicher, and lots of others is coming to what some may see as a screeching halt. I envision that the future will be bright for the "new" YS, but the "old" YS is about to breath its last.
Most of us old timers call this a family. People who have come out of the influence of YS, like Walt Mueller, Tiger McLuen and Kara Powell, have also been an integral part of YS and are feeling the effects of the slide. Since Mike and then Karla Yaconelli saw the need to hand off YS to a new ownership group, the writing has been on the wall. The economy made this inevitable, at least according to some, but the passage of time and the consequences of choices have brought us to this place.
I will miss YS. I have obviously missed Mike since he died, but I especially miss his heart for youthworkers and for Jesus, and his style and humility and humor. I will miss the chance to argue with Tony Jones and Brian McLaren alongside Duffy, and listen to Mark Yaconelli and Shane and the godfather himself, Tony Campolo, while standing in the back making snide comments about "the old days". I lament the chance to visit for hours with veteran youthworkers who are trying to hold onto their job, and volunteers who have been hanging in there with kids for decades, and YM profs who are trying to find that middle way between academics and practice. I will miss YS.
Yet I also have hope. I believe that God has led us to YS - all of us. I know firsthand that what Doug Fields' "Simply Youth Ministry" partnering with GROUP has meant is exciting and contemporary. I believe that what Reggie Joiner and Jared Hurd are doing with the Orange conference is creative and powerful. And I do believe that the new "owners" of YS (those " " are intentional, by the way) are committed to the best of what YS has been.
But I still will miss YS for a long, long time. YS has raised me. YS has taught me. YS has nurtured me. YS has loved me. Goodbye, my friend. You will be missed.