Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dallas, 1982

My regular readers may have already noticed that 1982 was a very pivotal year in my life and in my ministry.  Somewhere along the road of this most interesting year, David Stone (see Influences: J. David Stone) suggested to me that I attend the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC).  I knew of Youth Specialties (YS) from their series of Ideas books and a few other youth ministry resources, which were really just starting to be published at the time.  I had never heard of the NYWC, and neither had anyone else I knew, but David made it sound like a place that I needed to be, and he was leading some of the workshops.  So I made plans to go by myself to Dallas in November of 1982.  I was 23 and venturing out on my own, and I had my doubts.  It turned out to be a  very good decision plus I came home with awesome belt buckle seen above.  Thanks Wayne Rice!

The NYWC in 1982 was not the same beast it is today.  Dallas was the only location, and there were only around 800 of us there, compared to the thousands they draw to multiple locations today.  It was held in a hotel ballroom with very limited sound equipment and no big screens or projectors.  And it was wilder- MUCH wilder!  Those were the days when YS was a stand alone company, not part of the Zondervan conglomerate, and they were much bigger risk takers.  I was clueless as to what to expect, but the opening general session told me all I needed to know.  Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice,the two head-honchos of YS, did a welcome and orientation, during which they roasted many of the denominations represented at the convention.  The barbs went something like this:
  • How many Southern Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?  Just one- and it doesn't even matter if the light bulb needs changing!
  • Pentecostals, the hotel pool is NOT available for mass baptisms!
  • Episcopalians should note that hotel bar closes at midnight...
  • There will be an all-night meeting of the Committee of Methodists in room 806 to determine if that committee needs to meet again tomorrow!
  • Sorry, Lutherans, but the revolving restaurant at the top of the hotel is NOT available for a potluck supper on Saturday night...
They then did a "roll call" of denominations, and I was surprised to find out that there were a few other Quakers in attendance, all from Iowa, including my future friend Tom Klaus.  There were not, however, enough of us to qualify for an insult from the stage!

The next few days were among the most exciting, draining and educational of my life.  The workshops were amazing, with people like Yac, David Stone, Dennis Benson, Tony Campolo and Jim Burns opening my eyes to what student ministry could truly be.  Tony led a workshop called Issues that Divide the Church, and focused on the sacraments, abortion and homosexuality.  As you can see, we have made SOOOOO much progress over the last 27 years!  Jim Burns 2-part Advanced Youth Ministry seminar became the basis of almost everything I did for the next 10 years. (I finally got to thank Jim in Pittsburgh in  2005!) In those days, the general session speakers YS chose were there to challenge you to think.  No matter your theology or your politics, there was a main speaker who would really tick you off!  The whole thing was like drinking from a fire hose- totally overwhelming!  And then there was The Wittenburg Door banquet.  The Wittenburg Door was a magazine published by YS that featured satirical humor, generally making fun of the excesses of the church.  It's now just The Door and YS let it go years ago, but at the time it was quite a thorn in the side of the mainstream church.  For their banquet in 1982, the speaker was Dick Gregory, the radical, outspoken African-American comedian who was not known for his religious views or church language.  He held nothing back as he spoke about our responsibility as Christ-followers to feed the world and take care of the broken and cast out.  It was amazing, and I was among those who gave him a standing ovation.  Many had walked out far before the end.  My eyes were opened in a whole new way for about the 34th time that weekend!

It was also at this event that I met James Ward for the first time.  James was a featured musician at the convention, who came out looking like James Taylor- a skinny white guy in a white shirt and loose tie.  He say down at his piano and began to play, and JT disappeared and Stevie Wonder popped out!  He was incredible, and our paths would cross a number of times over the years.  His long out-of-print album Good Advice remains one of my very favorite contemporary christian recordings, even if it is on a cassette tape!  I also met and got to play guitar with Yohann Anderson (just YO to his friends!), the founder of Songs & Creations.  The Songs & Creations song book was the standard for youth group singing from the 1970's until the praise and worship movement of the 90's, and YO was the man behind gathering so many great songs in one place.  He led all the group singing at the NYWC until praise bands were discovered...

It would be 5 years before I returned to the NYWC (an event I would eventually attend 15 times, and speak at once) but the lasting impact of that first time would be difficult to overstate.  The lessons I learned and the connections I made would last the length of my ministry and beyond.  You will read many more NYWC stories as time goes by; you will hear some of these names again as well.  I returned to New Garden more fired up than any $100 a month part-time youth leader ought to be, ready to make the student ministry there all it could be.  How could I not be excited, with the words of the greatest speaker I have ever heard, Tony Campolo, still ringing in my ears:  "You are thinking the world is too big, and one person can't change it.  Well you CAN change it!  YOU can make a difference!"  I was certainly going to try...

Because of Jesus,


  1. Thanks for the reminder of how wonderful YS is-Getting excited to go to Atlanta in November for YS-Youth can be so physically and emotionally exhausting. YS just has a way of rejuvenating you for another year through the speakers, workshops, music and of course the comedians. They all remind you of why we chose to work with the youth. Thank you Carl.

  2. Tammy, it is people like you who have always inspired me- volunteers who give so much love and so many hours to the students we serve. Some of my best YS memories were in Atlanta- hope you have a blast!

  3. Great flashback! I remember YO! He used to lead us in songs in the booths area. Sadly, I will not be attending this year. Budget is tight. Thanks for the memories.


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