Category Archives: 30 Years 30 Stories

Ooozing All Over The Country

STORY 6 from 30 Years, 30 Stories in YLO100

061115_ylo100_30stories_blogsEditor’s Note: This is one of a series of 30 Stories that appeared in the 100th edition of Youth Leaders Only. Make sure you check out the other great stories  from this special edition celebrating 30 years of YLO. 

They’ve logged millions of miles to be with you at local network meetings, conferences, concerts, summer camps, D-Nows, and at the flagpole. Why? They’re committed to the same things you are: leading kids to Christ, making disciples, using music and media in the process. Big salute to the heroes of Word Regional Promotion and interlinc:

Regional Director Meeting 1986 L-R Linda McDougall, Dave Bunker, Jim Brady, Dan Hickling, Allen Weed, Paul Rogers

The Word Regional Directors (1985-1986)

  • Brad Burkhart
  • Doris Purcelli Scott
  • Dan Hickling
  • David Bunker
  • Steve Miller
  • Paul Rogers
  • Jim Brady
  • Mike Clark
Greg Ham, Denny Keitzman, Chris Renzelman with DC TALK Seattle 1992

The first interlinc Regional Team (1987-1990)

  • David Bunker
  • Jim Brady
  • Paul Rogers
  • Mike Clark

The interlinc Regional Team (1990-2015)

  • Chris Renzelman
  • Troy Hargrave
  • Mark Pittman

You guys ROCK!

ROCK’N U – Rick’s Wild Hair (Hare) Idea

STORY 21 from 30 Years, 30 Stories in YLO100

061115_ylo100_30stories_blogsEditor’s Note: This is one of a series of 30 Stories that appeared in the 100th edition of Youth Leaders Only. Make sure you check out the other great stories  from this special edition celebrating 30 years of YLO. 

Wild hare ideas are my friends. They seemingly show up out of nowhere and beckon you to chase them down a rabbit hole. ROCK’N U was one of those wild hare ideas.

Get the complete ROCK’N U kit when you join YLO!

As the Pastor of a church that, from the start, embraced fully modern (think Rock-based) music as our worship medium, seeing young people slouching around our tiny stage amongst the litter of guitar cases, cords, pedals, and assorted sound gear was not unusual. But one day, surveying the wreckage, I realized a few undisputable facts:

  •  The medium of Rock Music had won the day. The “worship wars” of the early ’90’s were over—guitars and amps were now as ubiquitous on most every church stage as pianos and organs once were.
  • Everyone pretty much liked music built on simple chord progressions and the verse/chorus/verse of Rock music. Even the old guys—the Baby Boomers—were raised on Rock music. As far as music goes, it was our native language.
  • For someone who likes to play rock music, getting all the backline gear (amps, monitors, mics, etc.) was an expensive proposition, especially if you were young and poor. But low and behold, there on every church stage was all that equipment sitting idle most of the week.
  • Finding a place to practice is a pain in the neck for amplified music, but here at church was a big hall ready to use 24/7 with no set up—or tear down needed in order to get the car back in the garage.
  • Every band wants to play for an audience as much as they can and they want their audience to want them to play. If they create original music, they want that to be celebrated. Playing to a crowd on Sunday morning that responds to each song is the ultimate home team audience.
  • A ton of kids want to play music but don’t have the skill, the mentors, the gear, or the opportunity to hone their craft, especially playing with others.

With those facts rumbling around in my head, it became apparent that the church was a rock musician’s best friend and we somehow needed to became a patron of this new opportunity to touch people via music.


Thus, the idea of a weekend devoted to helping teens sharpen or discover their music skills, explore creativity, learn how to be part of a band, understand the sacredness of using the tool of music for Kingdom purposes ,and having fun was born and christened “ROCK’N U.”

That was over ten years ago. The idea has grown, mutated, replicated, spawned, and been a pipeline to send a whole bunch of young new musicians onto the stage on Sunday morning as well as being a terrific outreach tool in our community. (60% of those who come to our ROCK’N U weekend do not come from Christian families).

ROCK’N U has also animated our adult musical community, who quickly volunteer their services and mentoring skills for the weekend. In addition, our local music stores have been extremely generous in giving us gear to use for this event, knowing that it will produce future lifetime customers.

Probably the biggest joy that following this wild hare idea down the rabbit hole has produced, at least for me, is the reaction of the church seeing a stage full of young worship leaders banging out songs of worship on the Sunday morning that ROCK’N U wraps up. From their response, you would think that U2 was on the stage

ROCK’N U – Ten Years After

“JeMarketer” JeMarc Boliver
Volunteer @ gFREE Church, Philipsburg, Pennsylvania

ROCK’N U provides an outreach opportunity to invite people to church, and to hear about the love of God.


Max Crain was first introduced to ROCK’N U at a Creation concert event about five years ago. ROCK’N U is a teaching program (created by interlínc, who was at Creation) that is designed to help people learn the basics of playing in a band. If you’re not familiar with “Creation,” it is a GIANT, Christian music festival at Agape Farms in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania.

Get the complete ROCK’N U kit when you join YLO!

Starting with the ideas from ROCK’N U, Max tweaked the lessons to meet the needs of his church and the students who showed interest. Most of the students were “youth” (6th – 12th grade), and Max developed a 7-hour crash-course that he calls “1st Semester.” The students get to pick up an instrument for the first time ever (guitar, bass, or drums), and will actually perform a song on stage (as a band) by the end of the day. The “2nd Semester” builds on that foundation, and encourages further participation and consistent involvement with music.


Max saw a need within his church for a “culture of music” since sometimes musicians were there, but no musicians at other times. He wanted to create a training ground for musicians, to develop their God-given talents, and to have a steady stream of musicians cycling through at various levels.

Max never played an instrument, until he encountered ROCK’N U at the age of 35. He was trained to operate the sound equipment (mixing board) for the church, and he learned about music from behind the scenes. His son was learning Bass through the ROCK’N U curriculum, and Max sat through the practices to make sure his son could be there. Max then learned drums as well, through watching his son have drum lessons, and by listening to the instructor(s) teach his son. Max has even learned guitar, too! He set up a recording studio space in his home, and has played numerous band events. ROCK’N U gave Max a foundation to build on, and God has produced lots of fruit and growth as a result of his faithfulness and stewardship of the gift of music.


By now, Max has been involved with ministry for roughly ten years, and felt called to the music ministry (even before knowing how to play an instrument). He’s passionate about serving God through music and helping others develop their musical gifts.

The response and turnout for the ROCK’N U events has been awesome. Four different churches have gotten involved with he ROCK’N U ministry at gFREE Church (previously called the Gearhartville Free Methodist Church), and some students from ROCK’N U have started their own bands. The “Christ First” band, located in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, is one example—the ROCK’N U student in this band is only about ten years old! One ROCK’N U student is currently touring Europe with a band right now (2015).

The church has provided all of the ROCK’N U musical equipment—grants have been given for the instruments—but students can bring their own instrument if they want. All that’s required is to show up and be ready to learn. The youngest person to attend ROCK’N U has been about eight years old, and the oldest have been in their 50’s. The program is for anyone interested in learning music. ROCK’N U provides an outreach opportunity to invite people to church, and to hear about the love of God.

Get the complete ROCK’N U kit when you join YLO!

Max is excited about this year for ROCK’N U as he develops online music training videos to help students practice at home. He sees the internet as an opportunity to serve beyond the local area. Come join the online community of learning musicians, and post your questions or comments to let Max know what will help your journey into Christian music/worship.

They Got There First

STORY 29 from 30 Years, 30 Stories in YLO100

061115_ylo100_30stories_blogsEditor’s Note: This is one of a series of 30 Stories that appeared in the 100th edition of Youth Leaders Only. Make sure you check out the other great stories  from this special edition celebrating 30 years of YLO. 

061615_richmullins_blogOnly a few of those who have given so much to create the resources that make Youth Leaders Only so powerful have gone on to Heaven during this adventure. I wanted you to know about three of them.

Dan Snyder Northwest Youth Leader. YLO Writer. Cindy Engøy Youth Leader. Musician. Missionary. Writer. Team Interlínc WriteGroup Member. Mrs. Kay Weed Retired English teacher. Proofer of YLO resources.

And there are others Rolly Richert, Wayne McAfee, David Busby, Dana Key, Rich Mullins.

Dan Snyder

072915_dansnyder_200Just as we were going to press with YLO68, I received some very sad news. Dan Snyder, a longtime volunteer writer for Youth Leaders Only had passed away. Dan was a youth pastor in the northwest for decades, and was a certified “Old Guy” in youth ministry. The entire interlínc team—along all the youth leaders who write for interlínc—were saddened by this loss.

I’ll let Dan say goodbye in his own words. This is from an email he sent to me:
Ken, interlínc has meant the world to me for over ten years. I will miss you and it more than anything I have done in youth ministry (other than Mexico Mission trips)! I still have every issue, and will save them for my 16-year-old son who wants to be a youth pastor some day. It has been a great ride and I’m thankful (not bitter) that I have been able to stay in youth ministry as long as I have. Thank you again for giving me the great opportunity to write for you, and more importantly, for the way interlínc “kept me going” all these years in youth ministry! I hope that you have many years to go in the most important work on this planet: youth ministry! It has been an honor to ride with you.

Dan, I really eagerly await hanging out with you in Heaven!

Cindy Engøy

072915_cindy_500wYouth Leader. Musician. Missionary. Writer. Team interlínc WriteGroup member. Wife. Mother. Friend. Cindy Engøy was all that. And more. And, for the last year she’s laughing with Jesus and enjoying Paradise. And I’m still grieving.

The cancer in her that was discovered just a few months before she left us finally prevailed over her body, but it couldn’t overcome her spirit. Cindy’s love for others, her willingness to serve, her talent and creativity continue on. interlínc isn’t the only “family” that Cindy left behind.

She was heavily involved in multi-cultural ministry from her home base in Long Beach, California. She helped to plant Light & Life Church, and then served with the Seventh Street Church. She and her husband formed YesWeServe, a mission organization that works with kids in Ghana, India, and Mexico. (She wrote an article called “My Ghana Girls” just over a year ago in YLO94.) And, Cindy was an accomplished musician who sang jazz vocals and praise music with various bands in southern California. Her musical sensibilities shone through the many music-based Bible studies she wrote for Youth Leaders Only over the years.

Cindy, I can hardly wait to play guitar in your band when we’re in Heaven!

Mrs. Kay Weed

You know how you get to know some people very well over the phone and internet, but never really meet them in person? That’s how it was with Mrs. Weed and I. She was a retired high school English teacher who volunteered to proof the Bible studies and articles for YLO once I had edited them. We spent hours and hours talking on the phone together—and she never stopped being the English tutor for me.

You need to understand something, Mrs. Weed was one of the “Greatest Generation”—a “Rosie the Riveter” type during World War II—who did something very unusual for a woman in her time: she went to college and got her degree. She was a tough teacher who garnered praise from all who knew her despite her rigid insistence on writing correctly. (See? I almost typed “doing it right” but her voice rang out in my mind, “Doing WHAT right, Ken? Define the ‘it’ in that sentence!”) Mrs. Weed took our “B” work and turned it into “A” quality. Her focus on details turned the YLO magazines from merely energetic and creative to all that and professional too.

Over the course of our many conversations and years of working together, I grew to really like this tiny old woman from the panhandle of Florida. I helped her with her computer problems, and worked with her to figure out her new digital camera. (She’d send me photos of the prize Amaryllis flowers that she was so fond of growing.) We’d talk and talk and talk about the youth ministry at her church, the mistakes I’d make in editing, and our common love for God. (By the way, she’s Allen Weed’s mom. If you know Allen, then you know what I mean when I say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”)

I’m sure she’s found a place in Heaven for her tremendous energy and attention to detail to be used to honor our Lord. I look forward to finally wrapping my arms around her in a big hug when I get to Heaven!

My grief about these three people reminds me of something very important about this Youth Leaders Only thing that I’ve been a part of for so many years: this isn’t a job, or a program, or a product—this is a “family” of likeminded people who care for each other, who celebrates in our creativity together, and who are elbows-deep in youth ministry together. Many of my closest friends have come from my involvement with interlínc and Youth Leaders Only. I’m actually pretty glad that I haven’t had to say goodbye to more than three of them!

Tooth & Nail: A Story 20 Years In The Making

STORY 16 from 30 Years, 30 Stories in YLO100

061115_ylo100_30stories_blogsEditor’s Note: This is one of a series of 30 Stories that appeared in the 100th edition of Youth Leaders Only. Make sure you check out the other great stories  from this special edition celebrating 30 years of YLO. 

I started “working” with the Christian music industry as a bit of a music nut. My youth leader had done a good but somewhat limited job of introducing me to Christian music. Meanwhile, my college music experience had exploded; a ton of people were on my hall, all with their own music collection.

Get the 1 hour Tooth and Nail documentary DVD in YLO 100!

My beginnings in the industry mirrored a lot of teens at the time: I knew the big names, but where were the Christian bands that would meet my need for New Wave, Metal, or Rap? I didn’t expect Petra or Steve Camp to become something they weren’t, but I was hungry to find music “outside” what I knew in the industry. Then I came across Frontline Records, and I started to hear some of the sounds that I needed. My hunger for heavy or strange music began to be satisfied when those kinds of albums showed up in the selections for Youth Leaders Only.

At a Youth Specialties conference in San Francisco (not the huge ones you know of now—it was so small that all the booths were in a tent in the parking lot of the hotel, and there actually was a shrub in our booth space) I was walking around looking at the t-shirts, greeting other ministry people I knew, and then I encountered a booth that said “Tooth & Nail Records.” I looked down at their table and saw one CD. As I met and talked to this guy named Brandon, I discovered that he had just split off from working at Frontline, so my desire to hear what was on that CD sparked.


The band was Wish for Eden, but the album name and artwork was the catchy “Pet the Fish.” As I put it in my CD player, I was hooked. Deep and heavy, it was the music I was looking for (and I knew kids were looking for it as well.) Pet the Fish went into the YLO box and our relationship with T&N was started. At that time, interlínc was going to many student conferences, introducing students to new music. For two whole years, it never failed—we would put on “Green” from Pet the Fish and students would rush our table. “Who is that?!?” they would ask.
We would put headphones on them and let them browse other cuts from the album. They would almost always smile big, take off the headphones and ask, “What else do you have?”

For the next few years, Tooth & Nail albums were a staple in our YLO box. We were very happy to have someone making music for kids. Some youth leaders weren’t quite ready for T&N’s move into genres that other Christian record companies were reluctant to serve. I remember having to put a warning on our Bible study for the group Chatterbox. The crazy thing was, even though the youth leaders weren’t ready, the kids were. I was stoked to see kids trade out their Nine Inch Nails CDs for Chatterbox.

One of the best, and polarizing, bands we served and shared with our youth leaders was Demon Hunter. I still remember a youth leader telling me, “Mark, if you put another Demon Hunter CD in my box, I’m cancelling my subscription.” I worked to calm him down a bit, and said,

“Remember the value that you are getting. If you take one of your CDs and stick it in your desk drawer, it’s still worth the membership.” He calmed down, agreed with me, and took to heart shoving Demon Hunter CDs in his desk drawer. A couple years later he found me at a conference and said he HAD to share a story with me. He went on to share how one Wednesday night, one of his student brought a friend. This friend walked in with the full-metal wardrobe, piercings, etc. The youth leader said he didn’t quite know how to connect with this student. Then a voice said, “What’s in your desk drawer?” He went and retrieved the CDs, approached the student, and explained how he had these CDs with music he couldn’t stand, but that the student might like. The student took the CDs and then started coming to youth group. Demon Hunter had become their connection!


Get the “No New Kind of Story” DVD in YLO 100!

There is a long list of T&N bands, fun cover art, great videos, and multiple thousands of kids in youth ministries that discovered and devoured music that built up their faith. Thanks, T&N, for your faithfulness to find bands and music that kids wanted. Thanks for being renegade.

The WriteGroup With The Right Stuff

STORY 10 from 30 Years, 30 Stories in YLO100

061115_ylo100_30stories_blogsEditor’s Note: This is one of a series of 30 Stories that appeared in the 100th edition of Youth Leaders Only. Make sure you check out the other great stories  from this special edition celebrating 30 years of YLO. 

WriteGroup Annual Retreat (2003)

For this one hundredth issue of YLO, we asked the WriteGroup to explain why they are involved, why they passionately pitch in their efforts, and what benefits they derive from their involvement.

Here’s how a few of them responded.

Todd Pearage

Calvary Church, Souderton, Pennsylvania

While sitting in a general session at the national youth workers convention, I heard a speaker say, “Now I feel know what a donkey feels like at the Kentucky Derby. I know I’m not the best, but it sure is fun to run with the best.” That’s exactly how I feel being a member of the WriteGroup. I have the privilege of writing Bible studies for thousands of youth ministries with the likes of Ken, Rick, Mary, Eric, Jeremy, Paul, and others.

In the last few years, I’ve been invited to join Team interlínc at music festivals and leadership conferences around the country. Countless times youth leaders have shared how much they appreciate and value the Bible studies in each YLO magazine. Their words are encouraging, humbling, and serve as a powerful reminder of the privilege of serving on the WriteGroup.

Eric Gargus

Marie Baptist Church, Dublin, Georgia

An eccentric old hermit told me the force was with my family and I, so I decided to join the rebellion. After all, who wouldn’t want to use a light saber? Actually, I have loved writing since my college days. I was looking for an outlet for my passion for writing that intersected with my passion for youth ministry. But wait, there’s more! I love music—especially great faith-based music. Writing for interlínc was a no-brainer, if given the opportunity.

Ken McCoy sent out the call for potential new interlínc writers and I submitted a study. It didn’t get published because the album didn’t make the cut for the box. I thought it was because I had not made the cut. A few weeks later during a challenging time in my ministry I got an email. It was Ken and he invited me to join the WriteGroup. I’ve been in the group ever since! From writing movie studies, song and video studies, and even a retreat based on Si Robertson’s first book, I know that my studies have the potential to help many youth leaders.

Having been a YLO member long before becoming a member of WriteGroup, I was truly humbled to join the top-notch folks in the WriteGroup. These people had unknowingly helped me in my ministry countless times through their studies. And now I had the honor of calling them my colleagues! I still haven’t met many of them face to face, but the camaraderie via internet definitely spurs me on in my ministry.

There’s something so much bigger than just being published in a tall stack of magazines (or are they “Resource Books”?) along with the other in-the-trenches youth workers of the WriteGroup. It’s about impacting youth ministry across the world by engaging students in the media that drives culture. Ultimately, it’s about proclaiming the blood of Jesus to the world. And what more fun way is there than music and media?

Rick Bundschuh

Kauai Christian Fellowship, Poipu, Hawaii

One thing that lunatics really dislike is to be alone. Lunacy is only fun when it is goaded along by other lunatics. What lured me to be part of the Write Group was the idea that someone actually was willing to host (with other similar smart aleck, witty, imaginative thinkers who all happened to be youth ministry veterans) unfettered out-of-the-box thinking about what interlínc might be able to do that would be innovative. The lunatics were invited to suggest how to run the asylum! How could you turn down an invitation like that!

WriteGroup at Hog Heaven (2006)

For a number of years we descended upon Nashville and, taking our role as the vanguard of youth ministry, created havoc in some of the fine dining and lodging establishments interlínc hosted us at—such as “Hog Heaven” and Montgomery Bell State Park. (We did get to stay at the Opryland Hotel once, but I think someone stole the towels—so that ended that.)

In the end, all the wild and wacky stuff aside, I think all of us ended up in the WriteGroup because it seemed as if we could be useful in helping connect kids with good stuff that points them to God.

interlinc … How I Got Hooked

STORY 7 from 30 Years, 30 Stories in YLO100

061115_ylo100_30stories_blogsEditor’s Note: This is one of a series of 30 Stories that appeared in the 100th edition of Youth Leaders Only. Make sure you check out the other great stories  from this special edition celebrating 30 years of YLO. 

In the summer of 1985, in the thin air of Colorado, surrounded by big snow-covered mountains and enveloped by the smell of old wood in the chapel at YMCA Camp of the Rockies, I was introduced to interlínc. One year out of seminary, one year into an assignment as a youth pastor “planting” a youth ministry on the opposite coast of my upbringing, I brought a small group of youth to our national and denominational youth conference.

As a product of the small church, big events were not a part of my past profile. For the first time I saw a bigger world of youth ministry with new speakers, new musicians, new leaders, and new resources.

One evening, at our daily briefing with other youth leaders, we were introduced to guy with a southern accent and big smiling face. His name was Allen Weed, and he had just started a little ministry called interlínc. In those days, well before smartphones and social media, he was just trying to get the word out. He told us this service was started with the idea of building a bridge between the growing Contemporary Christian Music ministry and our youth groups. I became immediately interested. You see, in college I was on the leadership team of Agape Festival at Greenville College – and even sang in it – and had become very familiar with Christian music.

Moving on to seminary, I worked backstage with another large festival named “Ichthus” – and learned further about the strengths and weaknesses of this growing movement.

Allen Weed flashed a box of cassette tapes and I was hooked. What further attracted me, though, was interlínc’s offer to help us find bands that would be meaningful and effective in our settings.

In those days of phone calling and letter writing, a big youth event organizer had little resources to tap for finding a good fit or knowing if the price was fair. interlínc said they would help, and I believed them.

They delivered on a promise within two rounds of this denominational national youth conference. Our organizers had brought in a headliner band for opening night – and while the group sounded good, I later found out that their character and attitudes were anything but. interlínc called our organizers to get more details, and followed up with the band to encourage and challenge them back to their core purpose. interlínc showed integrity.


In the years to come I picked up the mantle of directing our national conferences. In addition to their steady resource-offering presence at these events, interlínc also helped us make healthy selections for our headliner band and helped set up a TalkBack session with the band. interlínc was living out their purpose.

On the home front, I became a member of Youth Leaders Only when they were boxes of 78RPM records. Okay, just kidding on that, but I did join when they were sending cassette tapes. You might remember those! Though the initial check we wrote from the youth budget seemed steep, the math and impact proved otherwise. Becoming a member gave me a discount on every album, stretched our youth ministry’s musical awareness, and offered us depth through Bible studies and articles written by other “front-liners” like me. When the box arrived in the mail it was like a wrapped present under the Christmas tree with my name in bold on the tag.

In the last several years I have had the privilege of writing for interlínc, peering more intently into the character and heart of this ministry. What I saw thirty years ago is what I see today: a ministry seeking God and using the today’s media to help youth leaders plant the seeds for transformation in the hearts and minds of youth.

Happy 30th, interlínc – let’s keep going!

Best “Junk Mail” Ever

STORY 4 from 30 Years, 30 Stories in YLO100

061115_ylo100_30stories_blogsEditor’s Note: This is one of a series of 30 Stories that appeared in the 100th edition of Youth Leaders Only. Make sure you check out the other great stories  from this special edition celebrating 30 years of YLO. 

In 1997 I was a young, struggling senior pastor in a small struggling church. One day I received a piece of “junk mail” that caught my eye—mostly because it came with some free music. It was from a company called interlínc, and promised all the best Christian music delivered right to my door. Prior to that moment I had never heard of that company, but I was (and still am) a huge fan of Christian music. So I grabbed the phone and dialed the number. Maybe I’m skeptical, or maybe I got burned one too many times on those CD clubs of the ’80’s. Believe me, this deal sounded too good to be true and I needed to find out what the catch was. After a very short call to interlínc and even shorter conversation with my wife, we were all in!

Don’t miss joining YLO for your ministry!

Unfortunately, the church board didn’t share my enthusiasm or my love for that “Christian rock” music. They didn’t want a youth group and certainly didn’t want to pay for curriculum for “those kids.” They actually made “no playing games in the church” an official policy. But, I would not be deterred. I opened my wallet and we became members with our own money—and waited for the first box to arrive.

I’ll never forget receiving that first box. It was like Christmas morning. I couldn’t believe everything I was getting. That brown box was stuffed with great music, brand new music videos, solid Bible studies, and a ton of FREE stuff!
Since that day, interlínc has been an intricate part of my ministry. The Bible studies are so much more than just Bible studies. Each one is everything I need for the meeting—a theme, an objective, a game, and a relevant lesson that allows me to speak truth into the lives of my students.

Todd Pearage with his wild youth group (2015)

And as a fan of Christian music, I love how easy being a member of Youth Leaders Only makes it for me to introduce my students to new music and new bands. We always have music playing. I can’t tell you how many times a student has stopped playing Ping-Pong or Pool, listened to a song, and asked me, “Who is this?”And, thanks to interlínc, I’ve known the answer!

I now have a library of music and a collection of music videos that spans two decades. I still wait like a kid on Christmas for the UPS man to deliver the latest box.

Every time I start to dig through the box, I stop and think to myself, “This all started with the best ‘Junk Mail’ ever!”

Youth Leaders Only @ 100

STORY 2 from 30 Years, 30 Stories in YLO100

061115_ylo100_30stories_blogsEditor’s Note: This is one of a series of 30 Stories that appeared in the 100th edition of Youth Leaders Only. Make sure you check out the other great stories  from this special edition celebrating 30 years of YLO. 

Cleaning the garage after the last of my kids graduated college, settled into a career and got their own place to store their junk, I ran across a box marked YOUTH LEADERS ONLY. My wife caught me staring off into the pale South Texas wintry blue sky with a vacant look in my eye. I was having a flashback.

Mark Pittman on the interlinc booth lifeguard stand (1992)

In the early 90’s at my first youth ministry conference, I timidly ambled from the registration desk to the exhibit hall. I turned the corner into the hall and this thing called interlínc hit me with a visual and audio feast. A bit overwhelmed, I passed on by, looking but not looking. The other booths were buttoned up, staid, denominational, Sunday School. Over the next two and half days, I observed. There was always energy at this booth. It seemed to be all about music. Good music. People were hanging around talking with this distinguished, lanky guy dressed in Hawaiian shirts. I explored the offering of the entire hall. This was the only booth with anything approaching relevant for teen culture. Towards the end of the conference, I finally came by when there were not many people around. The Hawaiian shirt guy grabbed my hand and introduced himself. He had this thing that once a quarter sent straight to your church a box of music, a video, some posters, stickers, and a handy dandy curriculum guide. This stuff would match up to any style of music a teen might like. I met YLO. I wanted in.

Two things I know about music. 1) I like it. 2) I don’t know anything about it. Now, with YLO, I could get the latest music that might have a chance of connecting with my students. Those skater kids grinding rails on the curbs in the far parking lot – Hey, do me a favor, take this and listen to it and tell me what you think. They are in. Audio Adrenaline got them in. Those guys squatting on the sidelines talking guitar riffs while everyone else plays hoops – check out this CD, think you could play it? They are in. Guardian got them in. Those pale girls writing poetry in spiral notebooks – they are in. Rebecca St. James got them in. In a matter of weeks, I had those students around the fringes all connected, active, engaged, initiating conversations with me. Instead of me struggling to do something to overcome my weakness with music, I had a tool that was inverting my ministry. Music was sparking connections.

Each time the box arrived I paused everything and poured over the content. I organized the CDs for personal listening. Sunday school teachers got first pass at the music video, planning upcoming lessons that would hold the student’s attention. The weeknight Bible study leader got the Music Study Guide for selecting songs and studies for interactive discussions. The Atmosphere Team got the selection of posters, stickers, and occasional kitsch that graced the box. I picked a sampling of songs from the CDs I listened to and interspersed them in our routine student workers meetings, asking how the adults might use a particular song in a lesson from our planned and structured curriculum, or how they might connect with a student by recommending a particular artist. In our student leadership meeting, I would pass out CDs with assignments to write a short review for our weekly handout to encourage other students to sample a particular CD. Finally, I would add the CDs to our music library. The empty box was even used to store games, resources, and equipment in our giant student ministry toy box. Standing in front of the group in a Sunday morning, I would hold up a few CDs and talk about the songs and artists I liked. Students would constantly stop by my office to check out CDs from the library, leading to some great conversations.

Admittedly, all these things did not happen immediately, but emerged over the course of a couple of years to where the arrival of the YLO box sparked creativity, new relational connections, and relevant conversations at the intersection of faith and youth culture.

I had my own personal Y2K. I looked around and realized that hundreds of teens that had passed through my student ministry over the past twenty years were no longer connected to church. I got together with a group of people and redesigned church from the ground up based on months of informal conversations with former students. As a pastor with a student minister’s sensibilities, I took the lessons learned with teens and translated them to a church for emerging generations. Over the years, I had evolved a sense of how to use music for connections and conversations. I discovered music as a soundtrack instead of an event, enhancing the experience of multi-sensory engagement. Most importantly, I had discovered music resides at the intersection of humanity and spirituality. We discovered that music would calm and focus, mentally and emotionally moving people from the secular to the sacred as they began to settle in to the worship atmosphere.

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The experience in student ministry with YLO studies sparked an anytime anywhere group around music. The idea was that any selection off the shelf in the local bookstore or music store could be a starting place to discuss life and faith, reminiscent of Re:tuned. My former students knew how to make the leap from their experience as teens. Drawing their friends, they connected over things I never would have chosen like hip-hop and rap. People who would never darken the door of a come-and-watch us church were sitting in a public space openly discussing their struggle with faith or lack thereof.

Each time I attended a student ministry conference, I would talk with the Interlinc team. I got connected with the group who previews all that music and prepares studies. Before long I had accepted an assignment. Through the transition from student minister to lead pastor, I routinely took on writing assignments, most of the time stretching my 70′s rock sensibility, but certainly enjoying the challenge of finding ways to talk about faith in culturally relevant music.

Our church served its purpose, reconnecting people to a faith community, and engaging those never before engaged in a life of faith. After 28 years, I had grown old in ministry. Tired and weary, I found a 9-to-5 in a comfortable office. Still, I kept on in that writers group, writing less and less until a few days ago I reflected on an email for writing another round of YLO studies and realized I was far out of touch with teens. My current job is managing transitions in enterprise software – mostly working with knowledge transfer.

Through the years, I collected an extensive toolbox of student ministry resources. But none was more valuable than the resources from the Hawaiian shirt guy, Allen Weed, and the team at interlínc. Of those, none was more anticipated and none more useful per dollar invested than the treasure box they call YLO.