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]

Board Members Quit Floundering Teen Mania; Will Gateway Church Continue Support?

World magazine reported on October 17 that half of Teen Mania’s independent board members resigned. I am linking to World’s coverage of TM as an alert to readers that the former high flying ministry is in free fall. TM continues to break commitments and is going deeper into debt to various groups, some of whom are suing.
Top Ten Charities in trouble; note that TM is #5.
I am not sure why anyone would want to be involved with TM after seeing this in 2011:
Part two and part three are available on You Tube.
This is required reading as well.
I don’t care how much good TM claims to do (e.g., Acquire the Fire is for the most a big pep rally for God), the mistreatment of teens that is glorified by TM in the msnbc documentary is enough to shut the whole thing down.
Despite light coming to the situation, some groups continue to stand by TM. One such group is Gateway Church and The Kings University.
TKU actually gives academic credit for TM’s Honor Academy. This should be an embarrassment for TKU.
Robert Morris endorses TM, as does K.P. Yohannan.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill: What are American Christians doing?

This post will be a work in progress in that I am going to list organizations with connections to those in Uganda who are suporting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. As I learn of various statements and positions of American Christian groups, I will post them, even if there are no particular ties to promoters of the bill. I need to caution readers that being listed here does not mean that the organization or anyone in it supports the bill. Reactions have varied and those reactions are what I am trying to capture. As organizations change there positions or views, I will change this page to reflect new information.

I will begin with the three Americans who spoke at the Kampala conference “Understanding the Gay Agenda” in March. I posted on this here early and was quoted in the Ugandan press as a critic of the conference as it was about to begin.

Scott Lively (Defend the Family International) – As of January 10, Scott Lively endorsed a revised Anti-Homosexuality Bill which removes the death penalty and encourages counseling. The problem is that I cannot confirm that such a revision exists. In an email exchange, Lively would not disclose whether or not he has seen a revision.

Caleb Brundidge (International Healing Foundation) – Initially, there was silence from Brundidge and the International Healing Foundation about the ex-gay conference and the bill. Cohen’s book Coming Out Straight was referred to positively during the Kampala conference and at a follow up conference. In the IHF’s Summer, 2009 newsletter,  Brundidge wrote an article detailing the trip. When the national and international media began to report this story, Brundidge’s former therapist and mentor at IHF, Richard Cohen, stepped forward to comment, on the Rachel Maddow Show and via an open letter to the Ugandan parliament. In the letter, he expresses strong opposition to the bill but then asks them to emphasize therapy.

Don Schmierer (Exodus International) – In contrast to the above two organizations, Exodus International did not send Don Schmierer to Uganda. The organization was warned that the conference was to take place and advised to contact Mr. Schmierer and ask him to reconsider taking part. They did not do so and seemed slow to grasp the significance of the event. Initially, Exodus supported Mr. Schmierer’s attendance there even as they condemned criminalization of homosexuality in March, 2009.  Later, after the bill was introduced, Exodus International expressed strong opposition to it saying so in a letter signed by Alan Chambers, Randy Thomas, Christopher Yuan and me (I am not affiliated with Exodus but signed as an expression of support for the move Exodus made to engage).  Later, Don Schmierer added his signature.

Mr. Schmierer has recently told several news sources that he felt duped into participating and was misled about the intent of the conference by organizer Stephen Langa.

“It wasn’t what we agreed on for advertising,” Schmierer said. “He had me write out 45-minute speech on healthy parenting. I found out a week before I got there he made it a three-day event and added more people. One guy was speaking on fighting the gay agenda. The way we were all listed on the program, I can see why people lump us together.”

Schmierer said he didn’t want to back out of the conference because he wanted to be gracious to the host, and said he didn’t have any indications at the time that his talk about parenting would become a lightning rod for criticism.

Since no actual revision has materialized, it is not clear how Mr. Brundidge or Mr. Schmierer would feel about a bill which removed the death penalty and added counseling.

The following people and organizations have various connections to the principle people in Uganda who support the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I also note whether they have commented on the bill.

Rick Warren – Initially many critics looked to the Saddleback pastor as being involved with the bill because of his prior connection to Ugandan Martin Ssempa, who spoke at an early AIDS conference hosted by Saddleback Church. On October 30, Rick and Kay Warren released a statement to me revealing that they had severed ties with Martin Ssempa in 2007 because “his views and actions were in serious conflict with our own.”  Martin Ssempa is relevant because he has been a vocal champion of the bill from the time of the first reading and is now chair of the Uganda National Pastors Task Force Against Homosexuality. The mission of the task force is to promote the passage of the bill.

Rev. Warren followed his statement regarding Ssempa with this video and print message to Ugandan pastors. The video made clear his personal opposition, enhanced the visibility of the story and laid out a clear rationale for broad Christian opposition to the bill. Then, the Uganda pastors task force issued a print and video rebuttal to Rev. Warren using Martin Ssempa as spokesman.

The Fellowship Foundation – The Fellowship Foundation (aka The Family) sponsors the upcoming National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. They also recruit people to conduct similar events in countries around the world. In Uganda, the prayer breakfast is organized by Nsaba Buturo with assistance from parliamentarians, including Anti-Homosexuality Bill author David Bahati. These connections, disclosed by author Jeff Sharlet on National Public Radio led to questions about the role of the Fellowship.   Later, Mr. Sharlet provided a guest post confirming and expanding on my reporting that the Fellowship opposes the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Fellowship member, Bob Hunter, has spoken candidly to Sharlet that the Fellowship has opposed the bill from the time they first became aware of it.

America’s Survival – This group, headed by Cliff Kincaid, published Scott Lively’s endorsement of the bill on their front page. Mr. Kincaid has also published articles defending Mr. Lively’s speeches in Uganda and in one called the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, “pro-family legislation.”

The organization is also requesting that constituents contact Ugandan officials with the following message:

Contact the Embassy of Uganda in the U.S. and express your support for their efforts to keep homosexual influences out of their country.

Family Watch International – This Gilbert, AZ organization promotes adoption and abstinence programming. Martin Ssempa is listed as being a volunteer team member:

Martin Ssempa, FWI African Coordinator (volunteer) – Internationally renowned family activist.  Helped Ugandan government develop its national policy on abstinence in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  Has spoken extensively on the subjects of AIDS, marriage, pornography and drug addiction.  Testified before the U.S. Congress, explaining how the U.S. aid programs that rely on condom promotion and distribution have exacerbated the AIDS problem in Africa.  He is helping Family Watch coordinate pro-family efforts in Africa.

College of Prayer – Led by Atlanta’s Fred Hartley, the College of Prayer has an ongoing relationship with David Bahati, Benson Obua-Ogwal (co-sponsors of the bill) and Nsaba Buturo (Minster of Ethics and Integrity who has strongly supported the bill). The CoP mentors and supports the Parliament leaders who take advantage of these meetings. Regarding the bill, Rev. Hartley told me he saw an early draft of the bill in the Summer of 2009 which did not contain the death penalty. In fact, he doubted that critics had the actual bill since Hon. Bahati told him that electronic copies were unauthorized.

Another bill supporter and CoP connection, Apostle Julius Oyet was scheduled to speak in Atlanta for a CoP event in early February. Oyet, presiding Apostle of the Born Again Federation,  was in parliament’s chamber when the bill was introduced and afterward prayed to thank God for the bill the introduction of which he believed would keep God from destroying Uganda. Apostle Oyet was scheduled to speak at a College of Prayer event in Atlanta during February 4-6. I recently learned from the CoP that the speaking engagement had been cancelled. No reason was given.  The CoP has issued no public statement regarding the bill, however, director Hartley told me that he opposes the bill and opposes criminalization of homosexuality. He also indicated that CoP activities in Uganda are on hold. It seems clear to me, despite the lack of public disapproval, that the CoP does not support the bill and had no part in creating it.

WAIT Training – After meeting Martin Ssempa at the Saddleback AIDS conference in 2005, Joneen Mackenzie, founder and director of WAIT Training decided to assist Ssempa spread his abstinence message in the US. She helped him construct a website and agreed to distribute a DVD of his speeches and book speaking engagements. 

Initially, when contacted about their stance on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Mackenzie provided a statement which neither endorsed or opposed Ssempa’s efforts (scroll down to comments). However, Mackenzie recently alerted me that WAIT Training had severed ties with Ssempa over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. As an aspect of this move, she place a statement on her website and asked Ssempa to remove references to WAIT Training from his website (which he has done). 

Disciple Nations Alliance – The African representative of mission organization DNA is Stephen Langa. Langa organized the ex-gay conference in March which was designed to kick off efforts to enact stonger laws against homosexuality. DNA issued a statement here maintaining confidence in Mr. Langa while expressing significant concerns about the bill.

Teen Mania – Recently, Teen Mania issued a statement about the Anti-Homosexuality bill. Initially, TM had informed people that the bill covered only child abuse and rape, however, on their Facebook page, the group issued a statement expressing concerns about the bill and promising to evaluate African ministry partners in light of those concerns. Specifically, the prominent ministry partner is Martin Ssempa as Teen Mania is contemplating setting up a leadership training organization in Uganda.

World Outreach Ministries – This organization is an organization which processes funds for the Ssempas. They are not a “sending board” which would mean an organization who trained and mentored them on their way to the mission field, but rather a service agency. The Ssempas are supported by Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas and until recently New Hyde Park Baptist Church on Long Island. Director Jason Peebles told me that he and his staff are evaluating the situation but felt that Teen Mania’s statement was a good expression of their position.

Canyon Ridge Christian Church – Canyon Ridge supports the Ssempa’s financially and via mission trips to assist his Makerere Community Church. Regarding the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, executive pastor Mitch Harrison provided this statement:

Canyon Ridge Christian Church partners with missionaries and ministry leaders around the world, including Martin Ssempa, for the purpose of reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ and providing humanitarian aid where possible.


With the oversight of our elders and missions team, we constantly evaluate our ministry partners and their activities. We will only support those who engage in and promote activities consistent with the redemptive and grace-filled purposes of Jesus Christ in the world.


Canyon Ridge Christian Church does not wish to enter into the debate over the legislation in Uganda. We do encourage those involved to seek God’s leadership in humility and grace and to follow Jesus command to love one another as they wrestle with this difficult issue. Our prayers are for the good of the people Uganda.

Oral Roberts University – Martin Ssempa is on the Board of Reference for ORU. Public Relations Director, Jeremy Burton explained the Board of Reference duties:

  • This Board of Reference is to provide for effective communication an informative exchange and service among the public, ORU’s stakeholders, and the University.
  • A board of reference is for the purpose of credibility, for reputation, and for influence.
  • As a member of the Board of Reference, your name and your circle of influence lends reputation to the credibility of Oral Roberts University.
  • A board of reference has no voting privileges and does not have any regularly scheduled meetings.

Mr. Burton declined to issue any other statement regarding the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Watch this space for updates…