Most of us usually start our days with a plan for the day, thinking that we know what lies in store and what the day will look like. Now and then however, a phone call comes in and changes the course of the way we think, not just for the day, but for a long time.
One of those calls came in this morning. The first words were, "Mike Yaconelli was killed in a car accident last night." After a brief conversation, I hung up the phone and I just sat for a while trying to grasp what I had just heard. Lots of memories began to pop into my head. Things about my friend that I hadn't thought of for a long time.
As I thought about Mike's life, I realized what an incredible influence he has been to hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of lives. I've been around for half a century now and as I have watched our culture evolve with new and relevant churches and ministries, I am convinced that most of them wouldn't exist today without having been influenced directly or indirectly by Mike Yaconelli.
He pioneered an organization that brought new life and new thinking to those of us who were potentially destined to a life of traditional religious thought. He helped us to escape from a future of God-in-a-box, don't-rock-the-boat, traditionalism, to thinking for ourselves and experiencing life and God as a dangerous wonder. Mike was a rebel with a cause. If I recall correctly he was expelled from a few of our prestigious Christian colleges for well for being Mike. He was the founder of the Wittenburg Door magazine (later called "The Door"), which irreverently exposed a lot of our quirky church subculture for what it was or is. He daringly stepped on a lot of toes, and crossed a lot of lines, but he was passionate about people experiencing Jesus, and he wanted desperately to knock down any of the barriers that kept this from happening. He, along with his partners and friends at Youth Specialties built an organization that blazed new trails in training youth workers and pastors from around the world. Their conferences, seminars and conventions, were the first of their kind to bring together almost every denomination from all over the world to celebrate, create, worship, and learn in an environment that set new standards and raised the bar for churches to think, create and finally, to be relevant..
He spoke at one of our camps a number of years ago and his approach to the message caused one of the influential pastors of a large church to pull his students out of the camp. It scared me to death because I hated conflict and thought our ministry was in trouble. Unlike the pastor of that church, Mike handled the situation with grace and humility and hundreds of kids' lives were changed (including many from the church who pulled out, as their students sneaked away from their own meetings to get back in and hear what Mike had to say.)
Mike's whole life and ministry was an example of being "wild at heart"--way before a book was written about it. He loved passionately, he laughed heartily, and he lived a full life.
If you ever heard him speak, then you heard him at some point break into a high-pitched voice and shout WhoooHooo!!! He had a phrase he used a lot about this life he lived. He expressed it with "What a Ride".
Last night he took the last ride in this life, but I have no doubt that when he opened his new eyes, a lot of angels heard him shouting WHOOHOOO!
My prayer is that Mike's life and his death would remind us that when we take our last ride, we leave behind a legacy as he did. That our lives would be such that hundreds of thousands of people would have experienced Jesus because of how we live.
We'll miss you Mike. Thanks for your dangerous, wonder-filled life.