When he died on October 30 at age 61, Mike Yaconelli had helped improve Christian youth groups for nearly 30 years. As cofounder of Youth Specialties, founder of The Wittenburg Door magazine (now The Door), and author of the books Dangerous Wonder and Messy Spirituality, Yaconelli inspired thousands of church leaders, seminarians and their professors, and people with a sense of humor about their faith. More than 25,000 people accessed CT's online coverage of Yaconelli in the week after his death. In this essay, Ben Patterson reflects on the gifts left behind by his friend.
Virtually none of the students at the college where I serve as campus pastor know who Mike Yaconelli was, though some may remember my voice growing thick the day in chapel I announced Mike's death and tried to explain why they should care. I told them that if they had been in any kind of youth ministry anywhere in North America, Mike probably had touched their lives. Such is the influence of an outfit called Youth Specialties. The enterprise that began with Mike and his friend Wayne Rice silk-screening the first Idea Book in a garage in San Diego, and that grew into conventions and resource seminars and a crazy little magazine called The Wittenburg Door, has affected a few generations of evangelical youth workers, pastors, and even college professors. All of this happened through God's sovereign and inexplicable grace, and no small amount of chutzpah.
Mike embodied chutzpah. He expected to be listened to, to affect people, and if his expectations weren't met, he found a way to meet them: sometimes through outrageous humor, sometimes through the passion of his convictions. Nothing fired Mike up more than justice for the underdog, the overlooked and the undervalued, ...