Questions & Answers With Teen Mania Ministry Founder Ron Luce
Teen Mania is an international youth ministry organization that holds youth rallies all over the country and sends teenagers on mission trips all over the world. The ministry impacts thousands of people each year. Founder and president Ron Luce talked about why he started the organization and how he stays relevant to youth culture.Q: Let's jump right in: what does the ministry mean to you?
A: It was in the summer of 1986 when the Lord put Teen Mania in our heart — my wife and I — a heart to reach young people and inspire them to equip and change the world and make a difference; you can do that while you're young. So, it's exciting to see after 25 years, we're still able to inspire people and watch year after year as thousands of young people go and make a difference and make their life count while they're young. Over 25 years, about 70,000 young people have gone now. So we feel humbled, honestly, that the Lord would allow us to see so many young people go out and change the world.Q: Whenever you and your wife were inspired, was there a person or an event that pushed you to start?
A: We'd been on mission trips, so we felt like we wanted to go and live in a village somewhere and share Christ with somebody who had never, ever had one chance to hear about Christ. Then we felt that the Lord really put a burden in our heart for young people in America and how broken and desperate they were, partly because our own background had been broken and our families had been divorced, things like that. Now we felt we had this paradox— young people in America and people overseas who had never heard about Christ. We couldn't get away from either one of those. So we tried to talk to different ministries and say 'hey, can we come work for you and do this?' And they'd say 'well no, we have our own vision.' We couldn't figure out how we could mix both of those. It was really a matter of prayer where the Lord put it on our heart: help young people get a fresh vision of what it means to be fully committed to Christ and challenge them to do something that is a 'Indiana Jones, eat your heart out' mission from God to go change the world while we're 13, and 14, and 15. You can make a difference while you're young. Our hope was that if a young person goes to a village somewhere and shares Jesus with somebody who's never heard or never had even the concept of forgiveness or a new heart, and they're part of leading that person to Christ, and they're 14 years old, and they're realizing 'wow, that person who's a tribal animist has got the life of God in him now, and God used me, and I'm only 14. If He could do this with me when I'm 14, what could he do with me the rest of my life?' That's exactly what we want every young person in America to be thinking about, rather than the next CD coming out, and what's the new pants style, that kind of thing. We want them to be thinking about the way they can contribute and help and do something that matters for eternity for the sake of Christ.Do you have a favorite story?
I could tell you lots and lots and lots of stories of young people who come down on a mission trip, and they're the rebellious pastor's kids. Sometimes you get the impression that parents are like 'hey, take my kid for the summer, I don't know what to do.' Then God gets a hold of their life. This one young man named Jeremy grabbed the microphone in Guatemala and begs 'please, let me preach, please, please' after we'd done a drama where we shared the story of Christ. We gave him the microphone, and he had an interpreter and said 'we came down here because we love you, and we want you to know that God loves you, and we came here because we love you, and we want you to know that God loves you.' He kept saying that, and then he began to weep. Then the people in the crowd of about 500 began to weep. They're just watching this 15-year-old kid's heart bleed all over them. Now he's graduated from college and is in ministry and there's been a profound thing that's happened in his heart. Lots and lots of stories of young people, many of them come back for a second and third year. You can begin to tell that they get a different set of values. They're not so deceived by a culture that says 'dress like this' or 'be cool like this' because they've seen poverty and they've seen brokenness, and they see life is more than just having fun, it's about making a difference. They're in the American culture, but they don't get sucked into it, they're not deceived by it. They see there's something more important than being entertained to death.What's your vision for the future?
We're continuing to find fresh new ways of reaching and discipling young people. We have our Acquire the Fire tours all over the country and have a smart phone app that we've just introduced. It uses a game mentality, but it's not a game. The whole idea is that you level up, the same way in Christ you have the opportunity to grow and go somewhere in your faith. So it's kind of a progressive model and it's interactive as well. We're trying to leverage technology. We're real close to closing a deal to do live nationwide events in movie theaters. There's some 2 billion teenagers in the world. How can we leverage technology to reach them and disciple them? We have lots of countries that have come to us — the leaders will say 'hey, listen, the kids in our country are more like your teenagers and your culture than they are ours, because they're watching everything from Hollywood. Can you help us know how to reach them, because we don't know how to connect with them anymore.' So we're trying to find fresh new ways to help people on the international scale as well.If you could pick one thing that you're most proud of from the 25 years of ministry, what would it be?
That's a really hard question. I don't want to presume to be proud of anything that we've done. What continually thrills me the most is watching when young people really get it. They see that it's not me, the preacher, it's them. They get to be a part of the answer that the world so desperately needs. When the light comes on in their eyes and they realize, 'you know what, for the rest of my life, I need to do more than make a living, I need to make a difference, and I can start right now, when I'm young.' That's Teen Mania. It's teenagers using their youthful zeal and passion to make a difference for Christ. When I see that happen, when the light comes on because they came to one of our events and they get committed to Christ, then they go on a mission trip, then they go to the Honor Academy and get some character and some roots down deep in Christ and they are set on leveraging the rest of their life to make that difference, one at a time, that makes me hopeful and excited about the mission really being accomplished because we're setting them free to really go and be the agent of change that God called them to be.So what is your own story of coming to faith? Were you raised in a Christian home?
I grew up in California, and my parents were divorced and married to different people; three different marriages, each of them. We grew up being drug to different churches and schlepped into churches that we really didn't want to go to. When I was 15, I ran away from my mom to go find my dad, because they were divorced when I was really young. When I found my dad, I became just, a party animal until about a year later when a friend took me to church. Finally, at this church I was like 'wow, I can understand the pastor, he talked plain, he spoke normal language, not King James English.' I got radically committed to the Lord. I said 'OK, this is great, these people are real, they're full of life, they're singing really passionately.' I'd never been in a church like that, and I committed my life to Christ. No one came up and poked their finger in my face and said 'now, you need to stop drinking and you need to stop partying,' but I stopped. I'm a really strong believer in — and I tell people —when you fall in love with Jesus you fall out of love with the world. When you have the real thing, you don't need the fake thing. So I start trying to bring all my friends to church. It was at 16 that I found the best thing in the world, I found the answer. Then I went away to go to college, and right out of college is when Katie and I started Teen Mania.What would you say has been the biggest challenges over the years?
One challenge is that youth culture is always changing. If you're in youth ministry or any kind of youth industry and you're not paying attention to the culture, you get outdated in just a couple of months. I'm not the kind of guy who likes to act like a teenager or dress like a teenager, but I need to know what they're thinking and feeling, and what's influencing them, so it's a constantly moving target. The message never changes, but the medium of delivering the message needs to change in order to connect. That's a challenge, because you never know which way the wind is going to blow in youth culture.How do you keep up with that?
You keep asking lots of questions. We have a lot of interns who come to our campus all the time who are fresh out of the youth culture, so we're listening to them, we're watching what's out there in terms of teen magazines and teen websites, reading studies, that kind of thing. You keep seeking to learn. If nothing else, a teenager is an expert on their perspective of life. We keep trying to understand that and see life through their eyes. Another challenge is that the people you minister to can't afford to find the ministry that they're getting. It's not like a pastor at a church who preaches to adults who give. So we have to be very creative on the financial side; how can we woo people to give support to other people's kids who need help? Particularly in the last five or eight years with all the financial issues and the economy. So, there have been challenges there, but I think it just makes you pray more and sharpen your pencil and think more deeply about how you're doing what you're doing.Is there anything else you wanted to add?
It almost seems sort of surreal to have a 25th anniversary. I thought only old people had those, and I don't feel old. To be in ministry for so long was by the grace of God and not me. We have such an incredible team of staff, volunteers and supporters here on our campus and also all over the country who have believed in a vision and a dream of 'let's go rescue young people and equip them to change the world. We couldn't have done it without the team that God has brought to us, so we feel grateful for that. A lot of those people are right here in Tyler.