What Doug Fields’ move from Simply to YS means for both organizations

I actually decided to bow out of Doug and Youth Specialties’ announcement just because I have good friends at both Youth Specialties and at Simply Youth Ministry. It’s hard to write about something like this and not have people try to read between the lines and push you to one side of the fence or the other. But you guys are already emailing me and popping up on Skype asking what I think about all this. The peer pressure built up, so here ya go: To be totally honest right up-front, I feel equally excited and a bit cautious for both Simply and Youth Specialties with Doug’s move.

It’s not really a secret that I’ve been a huge fan of Simply Youth Ministry, especially their conference and the hearts of the people who work there. They just ooze with passion for God, youth leaders, and hold so many values in common with me and my heart for serving the body of Christ. Conversely, I haven’t been to a NYWC in many years and felt like Youth Specialties was drifting away from what I grew to love about them in the late ’90s and early 2000s (which is an entirely different blog post in itself that doesn’t really matter anymore). But then Tic Long came back on board, brought a lot of stability, and now that Mark Matlock is leading, a guy I absolutely trust and respect and I sense has many similar values as me in ministry, I’m excited about Youth Specialties again. Adding Doug to that team, another guy I respect, strengthens that team, it’s vision, and it’s ability to pull off what God is placing on their hearts. I’m looking forward to seeing what Youth Specialties becomes with them serving together!

I’m also excited for Simply because they’ve always said their conference is “for youth workers, by youth workers.” As a guy who’s been a presenter at the conference for the past several years (and was just invited back for next year), their heart to make presenters accessible to youth workers is communicated in private very strongly. I love that! They’re serious about only having speakers who will engage with youth workers and be available and mingle with them weekend long, not just during their seminars. They’re serious about not giving a platform to the “celebrity” youth workers, but helping that every youth worker present have equal voice and contribution to the dialogue throughout the weekend. If they don’t personally know a speaker or band and can vouch for their humility and authenticity, they don’t invite them to the conference no matter how popular they are or how many new youth workers they might attract to the conference.

But as Mark Riddle blogged about today, we all have our stated values and our true values. Simply Youth Ministry truly values doing ministry that’s not based on having “rock star” youth workers and experts on platforms, but then they’ve always had Doug Fields. Now that he’s not at Simply, they now have the opportunity to demonstrate that this is truly their value and further shift the focus away from all the names and faces on a brochure and more towards creating a community where every youth worker present has experiences and wisdom to share with everyone else. Of course, it’s a bit more difficult to market a conference like that because we really love our “rock stars” on a stage and feel that it justifies the money we spend, but we all know the balance in ministry of giving teens what they want versus giving them what they need. Maybe that applies here, as well.

What I’m cautious about for Youth Specialties is that I’m hearing more about talent acquisition than actual vision and direction. Maybe it’s just me and the way I’m wired, but I don’t care as much about the big announcements and press releases of who’s on staff as much as I care about where they’re going as an organization. I’m sure that kind of talk is coming once they get the pieces in place (including staff), but I feel that’s kind of more important and should be a bigger deal. Right now I’m thinking, “Does Doug honestly fit with where Youth Specialties is going or is it more about the checkmark of credibility that he brings?” Knowing Mark Matlock, I’m confident it’s the former, but I still can’t help but wonder how Doug fits and what Youth Specialties is focusing on.

To be clear, I don’t know Doug personally that well. We’ve met and talked a few times and I’ve helped him with some web stuff here and there, but he’s not in my cell phone’s contacts or anything. My perspective on what Doug might be feeling is totally a guess and an outside perspective, but having transitioned out of my ministry position 6 months ago and seeking God for what’s next, I think I’ve been feeling some things similar to Doug. He’s clearly an entrepreneurial guy, just as I am, and guys like me get bored if we don’t have a project to work on. Once something is running about as smoothly as its gonna get, we’re ready to move on to a new challenge. We can’t sit still. We’re restless to build something.

Looking at Simply Youth Ministry, it seems like it’s growing and thriving almost on its own. I mean, their conferences for the next year are half full by the end of the previous year’s conferences and they sell out months in advance. In Doug’s announcement video, he says that Simply is in good hands, that he’s ready to start building Youth Specialties and that he’s ready for a change. He also talks about new ministry that is “fresh and fun.” At the risk of reading between the lines too much myself, Simply is at a solid place and Doug is ready to move on to something else. I totally get that. Honestly, I’d probably move at that point, as well. It’s great that God can use Doug to build other youth ministry organizations to support us, the people serving His bride.

My concern for us as a youth ministry community is that we follow Doug Fields around and place undue credit in whatever organization he serves. I’m not saying Youth Specialties doesn’t deserve that credit, just that some of you have asked if I’m no longer as excited about Simply now that Doug has left. The answer is absolutely not. Doug was at Simply and, for good or for bad, he was the face of the ministry. But what I love about Simply has nothing to do with whether Doug is there or not — it’s about Simply’s heart, vision and values. Granted, I’m sure Doug greatly influenced the organization in those areas, but Simply definitely has ownership of their ministry now. Their direction will continue to thrive and grow with or without Doug, and I’m excited to see it happen for both Simply and Youth Specialties!

Ultimately, what it comes down to for me is this: I’m excited for Doug and YS — I truly am! I’m also just as excited that Simply Youth Ministry will move forward and discover their true identity outside of Doug. But let’s continue to focus on what matters: serving Christ by building spiritually influential ministries for teens and families. I understand that we feel emotional attachments to these people and organizations (and maybe rightly so), so let’s celebrate with Doug as he moves to where God is leading him and let’s also focus on where God is moving us and our ministries.

Posted on June 8, 2011

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