Free Youth Ministry Interview

Our first interview features Mike Atkinson of Youth Specialties. Enjoy!!! -Ed

You know, we've always wondered what you looked like. Can you help us out?

Sure. Here ya go.

What is your official title at Youth Specialties (YS) ?

Internet Director. (Like someone could direct the Internet!)

What is your "ministry" history with YS?

(Editors Note: I know that YS is a business but I also know that you guys minister to others through your work so I’m using the words ministry in an appropriate but broader sense than normal in the rest of the questions.)

I'm comfortable with the ministry moniker. Just because the government doesn't think we are, doesn't mean we ain't.

Anyway, I've been at YS for 8 years. I came on as the Periodical Manager. I oversaw Youthworker, Youthworker Update, and The Door. Then I oversaw us selling and transitioning Youthworker and Youthworker Update to CCM Publications, and The Door to Trinity Foundation. As you may know, we continue to produce all of the editorial content for Youthworker, CCM owns it.

Then I took over as Operations Director, overseeing, uh, operations.

Not too long after that, I was assigned the task of creating an Internet presence--only because I was the only one on staff who thought the ‘Net was cool (well, important, too.). That was in April 1995. Seems like a century ago in e-years. I started working on the Internet fulltime in August 1998.

What is your favorite movie?

Two (sorry): Elephant Man and Field of Dreams.

Did you ever own a pet rock?

Uh, no. A black light, yes. (Is that dating myself?)

Please tell a little about your family.

Well, "little" and "family" are usually not used in the same sentence with my family. My beautiful (and still blushing) bride and I have eight kidlets. (See photo below) They range in age from 6 to 18. As you can tell, my family is a BIG part of my life. I love being involved in the kids' lives (school, drama, cheer, water polo, swim, roller hockey...oh man, I'm tired.) You can also read the short bio in the Who section of the YS site.

You have teens, what do you expect of their youth minister?

Good question. My kids are fortunate to have great youth workers in their lives. They all have the essentials: sincere love and care for the kids; great models as dads, moms, wives, husbands; lotsa fun; solid, biblical teachers. We are definitely blest. I can't ask for much more.

It would not be self-serving to list YS in this next question. What 5 web sites would you recommend youth pastors to bookmark?

Well, then I'll list YouthSpecialties.com. In fact Group magazine just said we were "an indispensable site for all things youth ministry." (Thanks!) The Job Bank is the most used part of the site. But I think Youth Ministry Central is the most useful for youth workers. It categorizes over 1700 links to Web sites of interest to youth workers. And our online store is the only place you can get YS resources at 20% off all the time.

Next would be youthpastor.com. James Moberg has done a great work for youth workers. There is SO much content and info. I'd call it as indispensable.

Internet For Christians Newsletter - links, information and news for Christians on the Net.

Search engines: I use Yahoo to find city info, people, places, and things. And then I use AltaVista (although slowly transitioning to HotBot) for keyword searches.

For the last site I won't recommend a specific one, but generally the ‘Net can help keep youth workers up on pop/youth culture. The links for this category in Youth Ministry Central - Pop Culture are a good starting point.

(Editor's note) Actually, Mike's first choice would have been eyouthministry.com, but since you are already here, it seemed kind of silly to list it. . .)

What are the last 5 books that you read?

Well, to be honest, I'm not a huge book reader. I just found out I have ADD so I'm hoping that's the explanation. ;^)

I've read Mike Yaconelli's book Dangerous Wonder twice in the last year. (Yes, I liked it that much. And no, I'm not saying this to get a raise.) Other than that, I read Dave Barry's book on cyberspace and I'm trying to get through Growing Up Digital.

But I am a major magazine junkie. We get tons here at YS and I pour over them. I read volumes of newspaper articles and magazine on the Internet. Also culture stuff like Rolling Stone and Spin.

What are the 5 most recent CD's you listened to?

Oh man, this could take a while. I'm a serious music fan. I have a constant shuffle going in my office CD player. (Just ask my office neighbors). I'll make this my current and all-time fave Christian and mainstream artists, k?

Christian: [all-time] Fernando Ortega (just heard his new one, and it's great!), Phil Keaggy, the 77s, Mark Heard. [current] the latest Jars of Clay, Bebo Norman, Five O'clock People.

Mainstream: Chris Whitley (I'm a big blues fan, and Whitley is the best white bluesman. Thanks to Urbanski, Youthworker's editor, for turning me on to his music); Emmylou Harris, Andrea Bocelli (okay, I admit I have a romantic streak in me somewhere), Bruce Cockburn, Lucinda Williams, T Bone Burnett, Gillian Welch, Boston (really).

How long have you been doing “Mikey’s Funnies” and how did it start?

I just went back in the archives and the first one I sent was 11/8/95, but I didn't get consistent until 1/96. It went to about 50 friends, which included a coupla youth working friends (Greg Tucker, Troy Amster, John Ruhlman). I'd see them at our Conventions and they'd tell me they used stuff I was sending out in their meetings! Doh! Golly, Batman, this is more than a distraction, it's a resource!

So on 7/18/97 we publicly announced to the YS e-mail list that we had this humor/illustration resource. We now have over 20,000 subscribers all over the world. It really trips me out. And it's become quite a ministry. Of course, we started it as a resource for youth workers, but there are many who are not in youth ministry on the list.

AND the MikeysFunnies.com site is almost ready to go live!

Around how many e-mails do you get per day?

200-300, but a lot of that are the online orders, guestbooks, message board posts, etc. Probably 50-75 a day that I need to respond to.

Fortunately I have an incredible administrator for our Internet services: Leslie Lutes. She does much of the customer service and direct connects with folks who need help. We also get help from our customer service stud, Casey Finely. She loves helping youth workers! Then I'd have to give it up for our two-month old (@ YS) Web Developer, Jase Smith. He's brought an amazing amount of enthusiasm and creativity into our department. Can't wait to let this guy loose!

What’s coming down the pike that we can look forward to from YS?

We are creating more online resources, such as a year's worth of lessons for less than a buck each. Also we're converting some of our resources to PDF format so youth workers won't have to buy the actual book. Some of this is in response to youth workers in other countries who can't afford to buy the books because of their country's massive tariffs. We are also working on some cool music projects.

We have a whole buncha projects in the wings that will go live this year (including one with freeyouthministry's ever brilliant Len Evans!). Stay tuned...

(Webmaster's note - please disregard the hapless comment about Len Evans. It will only go to his head!)

From your perspective, what is the biggest need for youth pastors today?

Hmmm, that's a tough one. I would have to say worship. Unfortunately, I think most youth workers have many roadblocks to serious worship. Many youth workers have told me that it's tough to worship at their church. Maybe the music isn't conducive to their style, or they're busy bopping kids in the head during the service. It was thoroughly overwhelming for me to walk through the crowd during the worship time at our Conventions last fall. I saw thousands of youth workers absolutely soaking up the Spirit. They looked so thirsty. I think this is a good mission for the ever-developing youth ministry networks out there (like National Network of Youth Ministries groups). It'd be great for their meetings to commit some time to worshipping. Just my 2.

And I'll mention others:
-- Gentle, protective support of the senior pastor.

-- A close, brutally honest accountability partner.

-- Modeling a life of worship and devotion to their kids.

What's been the highlight of your ministry, so far?

I'll tell ya, when someone comes up to me at the Convention and tells me they found their youth ministry job through our Job Bank, I just lose it. Maybe not in front of them, but after they walk away or when I tell another YS'er about it. Powerful stuff to see God work through your work like that.

What directions would you like your ministry to be going?

I'd like to see YS’ ministry to youth workers to be fully realized on our Web site. I want it to be an island for tired, whupped youth workers to come and be filled, loved, and resourced. We have a long way to go, but God continues to show us the way. We also want to expand our training online.

How could we pray for you and your ministry?

Wow, that's tough. I feel like I don't pray enough for youth workers!

I guess I would ask you to pray that we would clearly see and decisively respond to the hurdles we encounter to realize the mission I stated in the previous question. It's way too easy to get distracted.

What are three things you have done in ministry that you would tell others to never do?

Okay, now you're getting personal!

1. Don't forget your own soul.
2. Don't forget Who's really in charge.

3. Love your own children before anybody else's.

What has been your worst problem in ministry and how did you overcome it?

See the above three points.

Overcome them? Who said I've overcome them! They're constant struggles.

What are the five must-have resources for youth workers?

(NOT in order of importance)

A computer
The Internet

Ideas library (preferably on CD)

An active network of youth workers around you

A supportive, straight-shooting spouse or good friend

What affordable technology is out there that would benefit those of us in ministry?

That's kind of a slam dunk: the Internet. There is community and resources galore--and a lot of it is free or discounted.

If you don't mind, what church do you attend?

I attend Community Covenant Church in El Cajon, Cal. My family has been attending there for almost 20 years. Quite a few YS'ers attend there as well. I'm the Director (fancy term for deacon) of Worship. I feel pretty inadequate to do that, but God uses our committee in spite of ourselves.

My family has a 15-passenger van (for obvious reasons), so we are our church's youth workers' best friends. I really love driving 14 junior highers around. They're just spilling over with fun. Who doesn't wanna be around that?

In 2 sentences or less, what advice would you give to teens today?

Well, since I have four of 'em, I find myself spewing advice more than I probably should. Here goes:

Don't focus on what HAS to be done in Christianity. Ask God to develop a desire in you to WANT to be devotional and a serious worshipper. That more than anything else will draw your unbelieving friends to your God.

Oh yeah, and use sunscreen.

Well, that's all for the interview with Mike Atkinson of Youth Specialties fame.