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Celebrating Heroes & The Story of YPS

We invite you to celebrate 20 years of Youth Pastor Summit!  We exist to inspire and equip youth pastors and honor heroes who pour their lives into students.  The principles we began with have remained. As we celebrate, we want to pause for a moment and reflect on the journey of the last 20 years. First, there are two people whose impact on my life and ministry I must share with you today.

Mentors that Matter

Sitting in Dr. Bill Bright’s living room two decades ago, I asked him about the Jesus film.  “Jay, many people don’t know this, but I prayed for 40 years to find funding before I got a ‘yes.’”  I was shocked at that answer, and the power of knowing that more than 200 million people have come to Christ through that film has never left me.

My wife asked, “How do you work with so many denominations?”  He answered, “Focus on Jesus. You will always find unity there.”  I took the challenge and joined Dr. Bright in inviting ministry leaders from every denomination to come together.  My brother, Gary, said, “Tell everyone to check ego and logo at the door.”  That was brilliant. The shared discussion culminated in a statistic that changed the course of my life:  85% of youth in our churches lose confidence in their faith when they go to college.  The burden was immediate, unlike any I have experienced; and I left that day ready to launch Youth Pastor Summit.   Dr. Bright said, “Keep it free because most youth pastors have little budget.  Keep it inspiring because they are doing the “great work” of God in a difficult culture.”   We have done both for 20 years.

Bill was a prayer partner of the late Doug Coe, co-founder of the National Prayer Breakfast – an unprecedented event that has impacted the world, and a hero to me.  This year Doug arranged for me to be in the Cabinet room with President Trump and the King of Jordan, who I first met through the East-West Peace Initiative of SLU 401.  We were directed to the ballroom where I was seated next to a businessman from Lebanon, the Prime Minister of Serbia, and near the former Prime Minister of Ukraine.  I met a Muslim couple from Saudi Arabia and prayed afterward with an ambassador from the Vatican. Democrat and Republican senators on the stage spoke of attending a weekly Bible study together and how important it was to what they do.  In the middle sat Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, as 4,000 people honored the name of Jesus.  I couldn’t help but look around – would there be offense at the honor to His name alone?  But no one in that room was surprised that we worshipped Jesus; that Mercy Me sang of heaven; or that Chaplain of the Senate Barry Black powerfully proclaimed the names of God from Genesis to Revelation. The media consistently speaks of “haters, protesters, and foes,” but it was not so in that room and in that hour.

In all, some 167 countries were in attendance, but Doug Coe’s name was never mentioned.  This man never sought fame, but prayed with every President in his lifetime and was granted entrance into some of the world’s most influential halls.  Few people know he once flew to a foreign country where he stood outside the embassy and prayed for 3 days for the chance to beg for freedom for a political prisoner, and it was granted.   It was my privilege to sit on the sofa with Doug just days before he went to glory and ask every question I could think of.  He spoke pure wisdom, the kind that best-selling books are made of.  “Jay,” he said, “speak the diplomacy of love in the name of Jesus.”

Do not think that this article is about name-dropping, for that kind of thing has no place for me.  It is about something important, valuable and miraculous; that is, what happens when men and women, who don’t agree on certain things, come together for one thing-to pray in Jesus’ name.

The Value of Partnerships

From both godly men I learned that positive, lasting, personal relationships are your greatest asset.  For YPS, a unique partnership with Universal Orlando bolted us out of the starting block with tremendous cool factor.  Serving Chick-fil-a at our events has always been a big draw, and my 40-year friendship with the Cathy families is a treasured gift.  Then once Lifeway Students came to us and wanted to expand the reach of YPS, together we have launched Youth Pastor Summit in five U.S. cities and formed partnerships in Canada and Nairobi.  Through the leadership of Brent Crowe and Jeff Wallace, this program continues to be free and fabulous, presenting some of the most inspirational, anointed speakers and resources on the planet for tens of thousands of student pastors.

YPS Lessons 20 Years in the Making

Finally, after 20 years this is what I have gleaned:

  • Spend time with iron sharpeners.
  • Check ego and logo at the door.
  • It’s all about relationships.
  • “Just imagine if” every day of your life.
  • God is already at more at work, far more, than I have imagined.
  • Understand that promotion comes from above.
  • You will always find unity in the name of Jesus.
  • If you can pull it off by yourself, it’s not a vision from God; it’s just a good idea.
  • There’s always a way.

We look forward to seeing you on our 20th anniversary at a city near you.


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