I’ve mentioned before a youth ministry conference back in 1984 that changed my life. The line-up of speakers included Tony Campolo, Eugene Peterson, Lewis Smedes, and Earl Palmer. In particular, Earl Palmer’s four points (1. always be growing, 2. see your life in terms of a week, 3. do most what you do best, and 4. the principle of benign neglect) have kept me sane and loving what I do ever since.
Another speaker at that conference was a man named Mike Yaconelli. He was one of the founders of “Youth Specialties”, the group that organized the conference. I remember his thick black beard (in 1984 it was black, not gray), his passion for Christ, and his wicked sense of humor. Mike died in a car accident in 2003. He was 61.
I thought of Mike last week as I read something written by his son, Mark. Mark Yaconelli was writing about one of his failures. He had put great effort into launching a prayer service for college students at Southern Oregon University. Nobody came. Nobody.
Two months of preparation, and not one student. If I ever become an actor and have a scene where I need to make myself cry, it will be easy. I’ll only need to think of that first college prayer service. It was the saddest service I’ve ever witnessed — and I don’t mean Jesus in Gethsemane praying “I am sorrowful unto death” kind of sad. I mean more like over-weight middle-aged white man at an Usher concert dancing “I am a sex machine” kind of sad.
I would say Mark has inherited his dad’s wicked sense of humor!
Isn’t it amazing how God’s work continues even after some of God’s best people are no longer with us? A generation ago it would have been difficult to imagine this church continuing without the leaders God had raised up for us back then. But they have now pretty much all gone on to their reward, and the church continues. A generation from now it will be a whole new group of people, and the church will continue.
We will still be gathering for worship. There will still be singing, praying, laughing, and crying — “all of it saying”, as the hymn goes: “I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together!”
In Christ, John
PS By the way, out of the ashes of Mark Yaconelli’s carefully planned service that nobody attended, a different kind of a service emerged that is well attended and still meeting every Tuesday night. Next time you’re in Ashland, check it out!