In the late 1960s, two youth workers in their twenties, Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice (who happened to be working for Youth for Christ at the time), wanted to change the way youth ministry was viewed and approached. They self-published a small booklet called Ideas, began talking to senior pastors and churches, and in 1970 held their first conference. They called the company Youth Specialties. Interestingly, the late theologian Francis Schaeffer attended their second annual conference.1 Schaeffer would be very surprised if he had known that thirty years down the road this young, sprouting organization would become one of the major catalysts for the emerging church movement.
Just a few years after Youth Specialties was launched, Zondervan publishers took notice of the two men’s work:
Youth Specialties’ passion for youth workers caught the attention of Zondervan Publishing House in 1974. Zondervan came to YS and said, “You guys are weird and unpredictable. We want to put your books in bookstores,” recalls Mike. Zondervan was very Dutch, very Grand Rapids, very conservative–but hey, they believed in our mission!2
Zondervan’s interest in Youth Specialties would only increase, and over the next thirty years, the two companies would publish over 500 resources for youth workers. It is worth mentioning that Zondervan became the property of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 1988. Murdoch’s corporation, also owner of Fox News, has been a major catalyst for Purpose Driven Life and now, we see, for the emerging church through Zondervan. This is significant in light of Rick Warren’s relationship with Murdoch. Warren says he is Murdoch’s pastor;3 it is clear that both he and Youth Specialties benefited from a corporation that had a net profit of 21 billion dollars for the 2004 fiscal year,4 and whose founder (Murdoch) received a “papal knighthood” from Pope John Paul II for Murdoch’s donation of “large sums of money” to the Catholic church.5
In 1984, as Youth Specialties grew and its circle of influence spread across the country, Zondervan signed a co-publishing agreement with Youth Specialties. Eventually, there was the National Youth Workers Convention, the National Pastors Convention, and another 100 seminars throughout the year around the country.
Twelve years later, Youth Specialties partnered with San Francisco Theological Seminary to form the Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project.6 The following year, the young organization was awarded a grant by the Lilly Endowment.7* By this time, Youth Specialties had contacted the new emergent leaders and said they wanted to work together. Sharing many of the same spiritual affinities as Emergent, Youth Specialties hoped to help take the movement to the next level with more books, more conferences, and more growth.
In 2006, Zondervan bought Youth Specialties.8 After the purchase, Zondervan made a commitment that it would continue its support of the emerging leaders.
While Zondervan’s role in helping build the emerging church movement cannot be minimized, it is not the only Christian publisher that has added force to the movement. In fact, most major Christian publishing houses have released at least a few books written by emerging church leaders or books that have an emerging spirituality bent to them.
The secular publishing industry has also played a significant part in the emerging church’s tremendous success in getting their message out. In 1996, Leadership Network established a partnership agreement with Jossey-Bass (a large San Francisco-based publishing house), which would turn out to be most beneficial for both parties.9 Incidentally, Jossey-Bass had a close ongoing relationship with Peter Drucker, who sat on the Jossey-Bass board, and his Leader to Leader Journal is to this day published by Jossey-Bass.
Through this strong-arm publishing alliance of Jossey-Bass and Leadership Network, the handful of carefully selected young men (Young Leaders Network) began writing books, and with the Drucker/Buford marketing energies, these young emerging leaders became known world-wide in just a few years, so much so, that in 2005, Time magazine named Brian McLaren one of the country’s top 25 “Most Influential Evangelicals.”10
In addition to numerous books being published by the Jossey-Bass Leadership Network series, several conferences have taken place that have further propelled this movement. The secular Mother Jones magazine took notice of the young emergent movement and its benefactors, stating:
Postmoderns receive crucial support–financial and otherwise–from the megachurches. These postmodern ministries are loosely organized by the Leadership Network, a Dallas-based umbrella group for many of the nation’s megachurches. It’s the Leadership Network that keeps Driscoll’s bohemian Mars Hill ministry in touch with the fast-growing, but more traditional, University Baptist Church in Waco by holding conferences and seminars. For the past three years the network has sponsored national conferences that bring together postmodern leaders.11
There is little doubt that the emerging church movement would not be what it is today without the zeal, backing, and efforts of Leadership Network, Rupert Murdoch, Jossey-Bass, Youth Specialties, Willow Creek, Peter Drucker, Rick Warren, Zondervan publishing, and the Lilly Endowment.
Bob Buford has stated that, “A few men can make a huge difference,” and he adds, “[I]t has become my firm conviction that the way to affect multitudes is to Focus on the Few.”12 With such a stealth backing, I can see why this would be true. But if these “Few” are preaching a different gospel, the “affect” on the “multitudes” could produce a terrible falling away from the faith.
If such a process does occur, what will it look like? Will it happen overnight, or will there be a seductive alluring over time? Will the youth be targeted? And what will happen to those who warn about this seduction? Will they be considered out of touch and narrow-minded, holding back new frontiers and tides of change?
For Christianity to be restructured, a spiritual paradigm shift of a magnificent strength and clever strategy would have to take place. It would have to involve all denominations, even ones that were once biblically based. While humans will carry out this shift, we know the Bible teaches that the battle we face is not against flesh and blood and that there is an evil one “which deceiveth the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). When man turns his back on what the Lord has said, nothing good can come from it:
Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. (Jeremiah 17:5-6)(From Faith Undone, chapter 2)
* In 2001, the Lilly Endowment awarded Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project another even bigger grant–$691,000.
1. Youth Specialties’ 30th Anniversary: http://www.youth specialties.com/about/30th.
3. Malcolm Gladwell, “How Rick Warren Built His Ministry” (New Yorker, September 12, 2005, http://www.pastors.com/RWMT/article.asp?ArtID=9636).
4. “News Corporation: Earnings Release for the Quarter and Fiscal Year Ended June 30th 2004,” accessed online at http://www.newscorp.com/Report2004/2004_annual_report.pdf.
5. Steve Boggan, “Catholic anger at Murdoch’s papal knighthood” (The (London) Independent, February 17, 1998).
6. From the Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project website: http://www.ymsp.org/about/history.html.
7. “Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project Receives Major Grant,” (Youth Specialties News, January 11, 2001).
8. Press release from Zondervan, Tara Powers, “Leading Christian Publisher Zondervan Acquires Ministry Organization Youth Specialties” (May 2, 2006).
9. “Leadership Network’s Top-Selling Books and Why” (Leadership Network Advance, November 2005, http://www.pursuant group.com/leadnet/advance/nov05s2a.htm).
10. “25 Most Influential Evangelicals” (Time, February 7, 2005).
11. Lori Leibovich, “Generation: A look inside fundamentalism’s answer to MTV: the postmodern church” (Mother Jones, July/August 1998).
12. From Bob Bufor’â€™s website: http://www.activeenergy.net/templates/cusactiveenergy/details.asp?id=29646&PID=207455.
There’s Something About Lilly