Teen Mania Puts Out the Fire; Letter from Ron Luce to Honor Academy Alums

Screen cap from You Tube. MSNBC documentary on Teen Mania
Screen cap from You Tube. MSNBC documentary on Teen Mania

Christianity Today is on a roll. After solid articles by Bob Smietana on Gospel for Asia and The Gathering, Morgan Lee scores an interview with Ron Luce on the end of Teen Mania. I am impressed that Lee got Luce to talk about the Honor Academy. What emerges is a study in self-justification and blame shifting. Essentially, Luce blames the kids for being soft. Luce told Lee that kids changed over the years.

Luce said coaches and military leadership used to be able to motivate young people by verbally threatening them. “Don’t you dare demand something hard out of me,” gets construed as “you’re abusing me,” he said.

One can watch an MSNBC documentary on Teen Mania and decide for yourself (part 1, part 2, part 3) Teen Mania is still in debt to several groups and individuals. Luce claims to be working on that. World magazine brought much of the financial concerns to light.
In a letter to Teen Mania Honor Academy alumni sent last night, Luce includes the pastoral staff at Gateway church as encouraging the end of the ministry. As an aside, is there some workshop or course where flamboyant, controversial ministry leaders learn to overuse the word “season?”

Dear Alumni Family,

First, may we wish you and your family a blessed Christmas season as we celebrate our Savior’s birth. We hope that you and your family will be blessed in the coming New Year.

Katie and I wanted to make sure that you heard the latest significant news regarding Teen Mania directly from us. You may remember for most of you as you were getting ready to graduate, I talked about seasons of our life and the changes we all encounter. I referred to a passage where Jesus was talking to Peter and He said to Peter “Simon, Simon behold, Satan’s desire to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Luke 22:31  There are seasons in our life when everything looks like nothing could possibly go wrong and then there are other seasons in our life when it looks like every single thing has gone wrong. We talked about during those seasons of grace when God’s favor is so strong upon you that you build yourself up in your faith and get strong, so that when the seasons of sifting come, which Jesus seemed to promise would come here, you will be strong and able to stand.
Over the course of the last 30 years, we’ve experienced many seasons of extraordinary fruitfulness. You all know the story how Katie and I started with just a few hundred dollars and a little car and a big dream to build an army of young people who would change the world. Over these years, we wrestled, we have fought, and we have prayed together with thousands of intern alumni, hundreds of staff and tens of thousands of youth leaders and have impacted millions of young people at Acquire the Fire and over a million souls through Global Expeditions mission trips. At that time, little did we know that God would allow us to be a part of launching a new era in youth ministry and witness the movement of ministry to young people here in America.
The fact is that in life there are seasons and when the birth of a new season comes change is inevitable. After talking with our board members and pastoral leadership at Gateway, we have decided that the season of Teen Mania as an organization has come to a time of conclusion.
I personally feel so grateful to the Lord for all that we have been able to do together. We saw a new era of youth ministry launched and a world-class youth conference propel innovation into youth ministry culture and traveled 24 tour seasons, making what I believe is the largest and longest running youth conference in America’s history to date. Together we saw nearly 80,000 young people travel around the globe seeing more than 1 million people coming to Christ. Together, we have seen countless ministries blossom, youth ministries explode with growth, youth leaders become pastors, mission organizations started, entrepreneurs creating businesses and many of these businesses have grown to become multi-million dollar companies helping to fund missions around the world. My heart is so full of gratitude to God.
In spite of the challenges and the Great Recession, we were still able to struggle and continue to push forward to reach hundreds of thousands more during those challenging times.  You might know that up to 80% of businesses started end within the first year, and about 80% of those businesses that survive end within the next seven year period. Here we are nearly 30 years later thanking God for a fruitful ministry every single year.
When we started in 1986, it would have been terribly hard to imagine that we would have regular television programs being aired in 190 countries around the word being viewed by 200,000 people monthly, literally affecting countless millions of people, that we would have been able to survive such financial difficulties and have thriving ministry each weekend at Acquire the Fire. Think about it this way, since 1986, think of the bands that have come and gone, and the tours that have come and gone, but by the grace of God we kept going and going.
Our hearts are grateful and I want to thank each of you Alumni for being a part of this legacy. As you may well imagine, these last few years have been almost unbearable as Paul described of ministry in some of his writings. It has been heartbreaking to know that some of you have been hurt either while you were an intern or sometime in the aftermath, please forgive me for that. Please note that we have tried to learn from each comment we have read or any notes we have received even those that are very critical. We personally have not dismissed any of these, but asked the question, “Is there a thread of truth in this and how we should respond as a result?”
I want you to know that over this past year, Katie and I have done everything we know to do in regards to the financial situation of Teen Mania. As you can imagine, running a ministry with the scope and size of Teen Mania costs millions annually to operate and can become excruciatingly difficult to manage effectively when a huge part of revenue is cut off (especially due to canceling a tour) while maintaining a large amount of the operating expenses for ministry outreaches and operations. One thing we did to try to offset these losses, was to take out a significant mortgage on our home and put this money into Teen Mania to pay staff salaries, pay vendors and refunds to youth pastors, believing that we could keep operating and keep the ministry moving forward. The fact is that- season’s change, economies change, youth ministry changes and many of the fluctuations that have happened in our culture, we simply were not prepared for. I’m sure many of you could think of the things I could have done better, and I probably would agree with you as I seem to be way more harsh on myself than anything I’ve read regarding my leadership.
However, I can say that through the sweat, love, and prayers of all of us together (all interns, staff and volunteers), that we all worked as hard as we knew how and did our very best to stay the course put before us to reach as many kids as possible with the message of the Gospel and love of Christ. I’ll look back at the last 30 years of this amazing season with gratitude at what God allowed us all to participate with Him to accomplish.
At the encouragement of our board and pastoral leadership, Katie and I are going to be taking a season off from public ministry. We will be spending time refueling our hearts and our minds preparing for the next assignment God has for us. We will be unplugging from social media during this season. After carrying the mantel of this organization, which at one point had 200 staff, multiple volunteers and hundreds of interns and traveling nearly every weekend for nearly 30 years, we believe it’s time to call a time out and get refreshed and refocused for what will probably be the final chapter of our lives.
I want to encourage you to think about seasons in your own life. You might be in a season of blessing right now or you might be in a season of challenge. The hope is that if you are in the middle of winter and it is cold and it feels dark, that springtime is coming. Seasons don’t last forever. If you are in as season of flourishing, thank God for that, but spend that time while you are flourishing preparing for the next season, just as Joseph did as he prepared for the years of hardship that are sure to come. It is just part of the nature of life. God gives us wisdom to prepare for the seasons of winter and grace to deal with the hard times in the midst of that season.
God bless you, your families, your businesses and your ministries. It has been an honor to serve the King together.
Still Consumed by the Call,
Ron and Katie
P. S.  To be a true season of restoration, we have been advised to essentially unplug for a true season of rest, so you will not hear from us personally or publicly.  Although we cannot write back, we would like to stay connected with you all and so if you have anything we can pray for, or just an update on your life, family or challenges you can write us at [email protected]