Mike Yaconelli

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Michael Yaconelli (1942-2003) was a writer, theologian, church leader and satirist. Co-Founder of Youth Specialties, a training organization for Christian youth leaders, and The Wittenburg Door, a satirical magazine.

As well as his contributions to the Wittenburg Door, Yaconelli also wrote a number of books for youth leaders, and was a well-received Christian conference speaker. He was a regular at the Greenbelt festival in the UK.


  • The Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places (2016)
  • Messy Spirituality: God's Annoying Love for Imperfect People (2002, 2007,2013)
  • Messy Spirituality: Christianity for the Rest of Us (2001)
  • Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith (2003)
  • The CORE Realities of Youth Ministry: Nine Biblical Principles That Mark Healthy Youth Ministries (2003, 2004)
  • You Don't Have to Be Perfect to Follow Jesus: A 30-Day Devotional Journal (2014)
  • Getting Fired for the Glory of God: Collected Words of Mike Yaconelli for Youth Workers (2008)
  • Disciple Experiment Student Journal (2003)
  • Play It Again! More Great Games for Groups (1993) With Wayne Rice
  • Best of Play It! (2010) With Wayne Rice
  • Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic (Emergent YS) (2003) Contributions from Spencer Bruke, Tony Jones, Chris Seay, Chuck Smith Jr., James F. Engel, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Brad Cecil and George R. Baum.
  • Disciple Experiment, The (2003)
  • Devotion: A Raw-Truth Journal on Following Jesus (invert) (2004)
  • Get 'Em Talking (1990) With Scott Koenigsaecker
  • Keep 'Em Talking! (1997)
  • The Greatest Skits on Earth, Volume 1 (1986) With Wayne Rice
  • The Greatest Skits on Earth, Volume 2 (1987) With Wayne Rice
  • Amazing Tension Getters: 56 Real Life Problems and Predicaments for Today's Youth (1988) With David Lynn
  • Tension Getters-Two/77 Real-Life Problems and Predicaments for Today's Youth (1985) With David Lynn
  • Far Out Ideas for Youth Groups (1975, 1990) With Wayne Rice
  • Way Out Ideas for Youth Groups (1980) With Wayne Rice
  • Right-On Ideas for Youth Groups (1973) With Wayne Rice
  • WWJD Spiritual Challenge Journal (1997)
  • WWJD Spiritual Challenge Journal - The Next Level (1999)
  • Alive 1 (1995) With S. Rickly Christian
  • Creative Socials and Special Events (1986) With Wayne Rice
  • A Gift for My Grandchild (2002)
  • The Door Interviews (1989)
  • Mike Yaconelli/Collected Writings (2004)
  • High School Ministry (1986) With Jim Burns
  • Yak Yak Yal: Mike Yaconelli's Guide to Herk-Free Christianity (1992)
  • Tough faith: The search for honest, durable Christianity (1976)
  • Tension Getters (68 Real-life Problems and Predicaments for Today's Youth) (1981) With David Rice and Wayne Rice
  • A Gift for New Parents (2002)
  • The Thing About Kids (2003)
  • A Gift for My Daughter (2002)
  • Wit and Wisdom for My Daughter (1996)
  • Wit and Wisdom for My Son (1999)
  • Wit and Wisdom for Your Life Together (1996) With Sue Pontefract
  • Wit and Wisdom for My Grandchild (1996)
  • Wit and Wisdom for Life's Journey (1996)
  • Wit and Wisdom for New Parents (1996)
  • Wit and Wisdom for Your Birthday (1996) With Sue Pontefract
  • Wit and Wisdom for a Friend (1998)
  • Wit and Wisdom at Work (2000)
  • Wit and Wisdom for My Father (2000)
  • Wit and Wisdom for My Mother (2000)
  • Wit and Wisdom for My Parents (1999)
  • Wit & Wisdom: for Your Anniversary (2000)
  • A Gift for Life's Ups and Downs (2002)
  • Focus on You(th) (2005)
  • Going Against the Flow (Custom Curriculum) (2002)
  • Grow for It! Journal Through the Scriptures (1994) With David Lynn
  • Ideas for Social Action - A Handbook on mission and Service for Christian Young People (1983) With Anthony Campolo and Wayne Rice.
  • Ideas Number 1-33 (1968 - 1983) With Wayne Rice
  • Teaching the Truth About Sex: Biblical Sex Education for Today's Youth (1990) With David Lynn
  • Grow for It! Journal (1985) With David Lynn
  • Truth is Stranger Than Fiction (1993)
  • Devotion. A Raw-Truth Journal on Following Jesus (2003)
  • Creative Gaming 3: Creative Resources for Youth Ministry (1982) With John Roberto & Wayne Rice
  • Tension Getters (Youth Leadership - Creative Handbook) (1991) With David Lynn
  • Tension Getters Two (1985) With David Lynn
  • Downtime: Helping Teenagers Pray (2009)

Selected Journals

  • The Door Interview: M. Scott Peck - The Pressure to Be Authentic / Pastor Karl's Rookie Year XI Never Call Retreat: When the Pastor Is the Biggest Bogeyman of All / Dogs Who Know the Lord: Featuring the Return of Growlie, the Preaching Dog (The Door, May/June 1990)
  • Dave Barry: This Is What Happens to PKs? / Tony Campolo: Are Whales Dysfunctional? / Contemporary Attitudes About God / Franz Bibfeldt: He Came, He Saw, He Compromised / Has Benny Hinn Been Born Again... Again? (The Door, September/October 1993)
  • Interview: M. Scott Peck - Christianity's Best-kept Secret / Evangelism and Other Rights of Passage / Is Nothing Sacred? Introducing The New Testostament (The Door, September/October 1995)
  • Interview: Alan Jones - A Message for Generation Frightened By the Octives of Passion / Interview: Patrick Leonard - Meet the Only Guy on the Planet Who Has "Done" Both Madonna & Michael W. Smith / The Great Calvanist/Arminian Baseball Farrago (The Door, November/December 1995)

Mark Yaconelli

Mark Yaconelli is son of Mike Yaconelli. He is the co-founder and co-director of Triptykos School of Compassion.


Even when Yaconelli decided to attend a spiritual retreat at a Portland convent, his motivations weren’t merely to get away from it all: "I thought, "Okay, spirituality. That seems like a new field. Nobody’s doing that in youth ministry. I’ll steal some ideas and write a book and get out of youth ministry—because I can’t do this anymore."

But Yaconelli’s spiritual life—in fact, his whole life—changed at that retreat center. So much so that he’s been volunteering his time the last several springs with youth working adults—via his Sabbath retreat—who want to learn about the practices of Christianity’s ancient desert mothers and fathers.

YOUTHWORKER: What exactly happened to you at the retreat center?

YACONELLI: I’m sitting in silence, and the first thing I recognize is an image of God as the judge—always expecting more of me: "That was good, Mark...but next time jump a little higher." ...

The second thing I recognized came as a result of an imaginative exercise on the prodigal son. I thought it was stupid and didn’t think it made any sense, but we had two hours of silence on the schedule, so I thought I’d try it. Then after a while of putting myself in the prodigal son’s shoes and picturing myself walking on a road back to my father’s house, I suddenly was filled with this feeling of, "Welcome Home."

I know it might sound like a stupid, dramatic Christian story, but from that moment, everything in my life changed. ...

YACONELLI: I also started teaching my kids the ancient spiritual practices that I’d learned on the retreat. But after a while, I realized that adults need to learn these practices first. Otherwise how can we teach them to students? ...

YACONELLI: All we’re doing is going back to some of the wisdom of the early church. Something happened to us with the Modern Age and the Enlightenment. We became fragmented—intellect and spirit were compartmentalized. I mean, there was no such word as spirituality before 1880! It’s a relatively new word. Because before then, it was just a given that being religious meant you had an active relationship with God. But suddenly religion came to mean belief statements, intellect, and philosophy rather than a way of life. So the word spirituality was needed in order to help us realize that we were missing something.

But the ancients didn’t have those separations. To them, reading the Bible meant a time of intimacy—listening and relating to God. It was a communion experience as well an intellectual exercise. It was holistic.

So now we need to hear from those desert fathers and mothers who knew how to hold all of that together—who didn’t see prayer as having its own category. Everything is supposed to be prayer! They used practices and disciplines that removed the obstacles and opened them up to God so they could be transformed. But this century we’ve turned that duty over to therapists and scientists—we have no tools. So we go back to Lectio Divina and the Jesus Prayer. And also—since God is alive and present and always doing a new thing—there are new ways of experiencing God’s presence today! Now we’re seeing the spiritual practice of combining art and silence; using the Jesus Prayer at retreat centers when it’s usually only recited at Orthodox services. ...

YOUTHWORKER: Some attendees raised concerns about the exercises in silence—the possibility that what we’re "hearing" in silent meditation isn’t necessarily from God. How do we recognize God’s voice in those instances?

YACONELLI: You mean the concerns that "maybe I’m only hearing my parents’ voices or my own psychological dysfunction or even darker spirits"? Well, the truth is you don’t know for sure. But at least during those times you know what you’re doing. At least in silence you’re more likely to notice the process you’re engaged in—and then you can reflect on it: Is this where I want to be? Is this who I am? Is this what I want to listen to?

  • Books:

  • Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus (Youth Specialties) (2006)
  • Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry (2007)
  • Downtime: Helping Teenagers Pray (2008)
  • Wonder, Fear, and Longing: A Book of Prayers (2009)
  • Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practising the presence of Jesus with young people (2014)




    Youth Specialties

    The Story of YS

    Once upon a time, way back in the crazy days of the 60s, there were two guys in their 20s who were "youth workers." Back then, youth ministry hadn't really caught on—not many churches took it seriously—but Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice were about to change all that.

    In the 60s, Mike and Wayne set out to convince senior pastors and church boards that youth ministry was absolutely vital if the church was to remain strong. They determined there was a need for relevant, fun, truth-telling youth ministry resources—and that youth workers needed help connecting with teens in a real and relevant way. So Mike and Wayne self-published their very first Resource, Ideas. They took the books on the road, and held seminars to show youth workers how to use them to reach students.

    And people actually showed up. Thus, Youth Specialties was born.

    The first annual YS National Youth Workers Convention in 1970 reflected what became a YS trademark: off-the-wall and slightly irreverent humor, yet deeply serious about encouraging, training, and equipping youth workers. Since then, thousands of youth workers have come together every year at NYWC for training, encouragement, and community (except for 1989, when the San Francisco earthquake forced us to shut down that event).

    Youth Specialties’ passion for youth workers caught the attention of Zondervan in 1974. Together, YS and Zondervan published hundreds of resources for youth workers and even teenagers, which can be found in Christian bookstores and in the YS Store.

    Back in the day, YS started a one-day training seminar, a lot like what Mike and Wayne first started with their first Ideas book. The National Resource Seminar for youth ministry teams became the CORE, and the CORE became YS One Day. These YS regional training events have now morphed into a day and a half event for youth ministry teams, appropriately called YS Team Training, bringing affordable and valuable training to youth ministry teams across the U.S.

    In 1994, Wayne left YS to start his own company, Understanding Your Teenager, at which point Mike and his wife, Karla, led the company into the next millennium.

    Mike began to feel strongly about caring for the soul of the youth worker. That's when YS started to incorporate more of the Soul Care elements into its resources and events, including several Sabbath retreats.

    In 2002, Mike appointed a new president to the company. Mark Oestreicher had been the VP of ministry resources, but before then had been a middle school youth pastor for 20 years.

    In 2003, Mike died tragically, leaving Marko, Karla, and YS to figure out the next steps on their own. By 2007, the ownership of the company was becoming more than Karla wanted to handle. To help, Youth Specialties and Zondervan teamed up to solve that problem in a whole new way. Zondervan acquired Youth Specialties, allowing YS to continue doing exactly what it had always done, but with new support behind it.

    More big news sent the youth ministry world into a frenzy in December 2009 when Zondervan sold Youth Specialties to a non-profit youth ministry organization, Real Resources. Now YS is a sister organization to two other great ministries, YouthWorks and BigStuf Camps.

    Mark Matlock now leads the team at YS. Matlock has been in the youth ministry world for two decades, spending much of the last 10 years leading WisdomWorks, a nonprofit organization, and running PlanetWisdom student discipleship events across the country.

    Each year YS serve more than 100,000 youth workers worldwide through training seminars and conventions, resources, and on the Internet. Youth Specialties offices is in El Cajon, CA.


    Youth Specialties is the only ministry of its kind to provide spiritual directors free of charge to conference attendees, and thanks to Mark Yaconelli, the son of YS founder Mike Yaconelli, YS has done so long before most people had heard of spiritual direction. Providing spiritual directors is not "cost effective" for YS—it’s part of their commitment to deeply tend to the people they serve. In fact, many organizations now use YS as a model for how spiritual direction as a ministry can bloom in a large convention setting.

    • emergingchurch.com - June 22, 2001 - Youth Specialties bought the domain name on this date from someone who originally bought it in the year 2000 but didn't use it.
    • Brennan Manning is a close friend of Mike Yaconelli.
    • In his book, Dangerous Wonder, p. 16, Yaconelli relates how lost he had felt after twenty-five years of ministry. In his "desperation," he picked up a book by Henri Nouwen (In the Name of Jesus) and said he heard the "voice of Jesus ... hiding in the pages of Henri's book" and found himself wanting "to start listening again to the voice of Jesus."

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