Known by many as the godfather of modern youth ministry, Mike Yaconelli was involved in a fatal car accident late Wednesday night outside his hometown of Yreka, in northern California. He passed away on Oct. 30.
Yaconelli was the owner and co-founder of Youth Specialties, an organization dedicated to equipping and training youth workers through events and resources. He also was the founder and general editor of The Door (formerly The Wittenberg Door) and the author of numerous books, including Dangerous Wonder and Messy Spirituality. Yaconelli was a contributing columnist to Youthworker journal, which is part of the Salem Publishing family.
Reflecting on the man who was his boss and friend, Will Penner, editor of Youthworker journal, told Crosswalk.com, “Mike is the epitome of what it means to be a godly man. He is, without a doubt, the reason that I personally went to work for Youth Specialties and he has been a hero of mine ever since I became a youth minister.”
According to Penner, because of the kind of person Yaconelli was, and because of his vision for youth ministry, Youth Specialties has been able to wipe out denominational lines. “One of the things that is amazing about what he has done is that he’s brought everybody who is crazy about kids and crazy about Jesus under the same roof.”
Yaconelli was a man who lived “every bit” what he wrote, says Penner. “He writes about life with Jesus as being exciting and fulfilling and messy and scary and difficult and hurtful and beautiful and magnificent and it’s all that stuff wrapped into one.”
Penner most admires Yaconelli’s humility and service. “Here’s a guy who’s running a company that is impacting 100,000 youth workers a year. But just as much of his energy was poured into his little community church in Yreka that had 60 members in it, or pouring his heart into the Young Life club at the high school in his city.
“He was just that kind of guy. He’s the kind of guy who lived what he preached. He was probably the kindest man I’ve ever met,” Penner adds.
In remembering his last encounter with Yaconelli on Monday night, Penner describes how this busy and important man spent an evening with his staff, “taking a minute or two with each person and telling them how important they were to him, how valuable they were as a member of the team and personalizing it all. I’ve never seen somebody in such a powerful position be so humble.”
Tic Long, president of events at Youth Specialties, agrees. “Mike was the incarnation of his book titles, Dangerous Wonder and Messy Spirituality. He lived a life of wonder and amazement at God’s grace. He never claimed to be perfect; he just lived as he was—a man after God’s own heart.”
Yaconelli’s life and work have inspired thousands of people, most notably youth workers, through his writing and speaking. Perhaps his greatest contribution was his ability to encourage and inspire youth workers for almost 30 years at the National Youth Workers Convention.
Mark Oestreicher, president of Youth Specialties, recently introduced Mike at the National Youth Workers Convention this way: “I guess I could say he is a wonderfully complex group of seeming contradictions. Many of you know that Mike is extremely playful; and while many playful people are only that, Mike is a deep well—a contemplative man with a mushy pastor's heart. Mike is one of those rare people who truly lives in the upside-down kingdom of God; he values mercy, change and truth (even when it's uncomfortable)…He's a reluctant prophet, and reminds me of Jeremiah, but more fun. In my imagination, they even look alike.”
Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, issued the following statement regarding Yaconelli’s death: “Mike was a prophetic voice who, in his own unconventional way, challenged individual Christians and the church in America to examine their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ in an honest and open manner. World Vision's relationship with Mike was brief, but very powerful. His passion for helping orphans and vulnerable children, affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, sparked our collaboration on One Life Revolution, a partnership I am confident will continue despite this tragedy. He played a significant role in making AIDS a cause for thousands of young people.”
Bruce Ryskamp, president and CEO of Zondervan, also remembered Yaconelli: “Twenty years ago, a young man with a huge vision approached us about publishing books and resources for youth ministers. He knew little about publishing, but Mike Yaconelli's passion for the church impressed us so much that we began a partnership that has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Along the way, Mike became more than a business partner and a best-selling author. He became a friend. A member of the family.
“Mike's legacy will live on through the pages of his books, through the fond memories of his provocative messages, but more important through the thousands of lives he influenced. For despite the countless challenges of leading a dynamic ministry, Mike was never too busy to come alongside a discouraged youth pastor, a troubled teenager, or a seasoned veteran in publishing and offer encouragement. He loved to remind us his life was a mess, but it was a beautiful mess that he offered to God to use as he saw fit.”
The funeral for the Yaconelli family and Yreka community is this Sunday, November 2, at 3 pm, at the Yreka High School.
A memorial service to celebrate Mike's life will also be held in San Diego on Saturday, November 15. It's tentatively set for 3 pm at Journey Community Church in La Mesa
Instead of Flowers
The Yaconelli family has carefully chosen ministries that Mike dearly loved and believed in. Your support is appreciated.
One Life Revolution
This is a partnership with Youth Specialties and World Vision. Mike was a vital part of the vision to mobilize youth groups to make a difference in the AIDS-ravaged country of Zambia. He even came up with the phrase, "You have one life. Do something." (a bit poignant now, huh?), which led to the name of the campaign. Your donation will go toward the building of the Mike Yaconelli School in Zambia, which will bring hope and an education to children who have been affected by the AIDS pandemic.
L'Arch Daybreak Community, Toronto
L'Arche is an international federation of faith-based communities creating homes and day programs with people who have developmental disabilities. Mike was deeply impacted when he spent time there with Henri Nouwen in 1991.
Donation info (please designate your gift to Toronto in memory of Mike)
Teen Edge, Yreka
This is the campus ministry at Yreka High School that Mike helped and supported. Send your gift to:
P.O. Box 561
Yreka, CA 96097