Teen Mania Ministries Co-Founder Ron Luce
Turning Down the Volume to Hear God with Ron Luce
Written by Mei Ling Nazar
Text messages, television, billboards, commercials, online videos…the youth of America are bombarded daily by hundreds of messages. A leader extremely keen to the technology war bidding for the attention of our teens is Teen Mania Ministries president and co-founder Ron Luce. With more than 27 years of youth ministry experience, he’s seen the shift and adapted his delivery to stay connected, including the creation of an interactive movie experience called Surge. Luce shared with Risen the importance of slowing down and eliminating noise to hear God, how media has impacted cyber bullying, and the need to be creators, not just consumers of media.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: You started Teen Mania in 1986 with your wife, what did your ministry look like back then?
Ron Luce: It was Katie and me in our little apartment and we turned one bedroom into our office. We drove our car around the country doing youth rallies at whatever church would take us. The crowds were awesome. We would have ten to 20 kids at a time and we were doing ministry in living rooms across America; then we took an offering and that is what we lived on. I would preach in front of those ten kids like there were 10,000 there. I’d spit all over them [during sermons], do altar calls, and then invite them to go on mission trips with us during the summertime to change the world. That’s how it all started and by the grace of God we’ve been able to reach a lot of kids. Things have grown. We started Acquire the Fire conferences in 1991. We have had over three million kids attend the conferences. We are in 34 cities a year, giving kids a face-to-face weekend experience to take them away from the white noise of all the business and media long enough so that they can hear the whisper of God in their heart.
Risen Magazine: I love that analogy!
Ron Luce: There’s so much noise in the world. People say, “I can’t hear God.” Well, you have to get quiet. You need to do a “be still and know that I am God,” type of thing. What we do is we take the 27 hours that we have over the weekend and peel the layers of the heart like an onion, so that they can say, “Oh, that’s what it is like to hear God.” People get frustrated because they can’t hear God because they have so much noise going in their ears all the time and they have a hard time quieting their soul. It is really exciting to help young people really connect with the Lord.
Risen Magazine: Twenty-seven years later you are still going strong. What would you say has been the biggest change in youth ministry over the years?
Ron Luce: There are so many types of media that is ready whenever you want it. People call it multi-tasking, but they are really multi-using different types of media at the same time. Now it is just harder to get their attention and most media has to do with pleasure. I go from one fun thing to another to another. Then we are asked to think about something serious and we don’t want to. You have to pull them away from the pleasure so that you can show them the really important things that they need to think about. We have such a pleasure driven culture that it is hard to accomplish that. In youth ministry, we are constantly trying to figure out how get their attention long enough and once we have their attention, how do we say it in a relevant way so that it is not quickly dismissed. We don’t want to just be a message people hear on Sundays and then go back to their noise-filled life.
Risen Magazine: What do you foresee as the pivotal issue for this generation to overcome in pursuing their relationship with Christ?
Ron Luce: There has always been sin, but we have such heinous sin that it is so convenient. It is at the touch of a button. It is like quicksand; you dip your toe in it and it sucks you in. It is all around us. This generation will have to learn early on that just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should. Paul says, “I can do all things…” but not all things are beneficial. There needs to be that self-control to realize that it is candy and it tastes good, but it has poison in it and I’m not going to taste it because it is going to pull me into the quicksand and it’s going to be hard to get out.
We are in desperate need of spiritual leaders that have character. They don’t just have a title, they have a life that is worth following.
Risen Magazine: I was reading through some of the stats from your book, Battle Cry: Magnitude of the Crisis, and it blew me away that our culture views 16 to 17 hours of television each week and sees on average 14,000 sexual scenes and references each year. That’s more than 38 references every day. Even if people aren’t looking for it, it surrounds them. What do you say to young adults that want to walk away from this, but it surrounds them?
Ron Luce: What’s even more staggering is by the time someone is 18, they will have seen 40,000 hours of movie and television. They will have spent 11,000 hours in a classroom and only 800 hours of church. In terms of the amount of intake that we have it is not what you say. It is realizing that we are dumbing down our society. Instead of thinking about concepts and being the generator of concepts, we are the consumer of other people’s concepts. It has been said that 98 percent of the culture are followers and two percent are the shapers and creators of it. The 98 percent are being shaped by the two percent. The people that are submerged in all this media, are not the ones that are making discoveries. Grab a book and let it stimulate your mind. Engage in a conversation with great minds who have written great books. Think about the productivity of your life. What type of contribution do you want to make to society? You don’t make a contribution by being a consumer of other people’s creativity. You’ve got to pull away from it long enough to ask the questions, “Why am I here?” and “What can I contribute?” We really have to decide if we are going to be the consumers or the creators of culture.
Risen Magazine: I love how you put that in perspective and you are doing exactly that with creating. Your new movie, Surge uses technology to leverage a powerful message. How did you come up with this idea?
Ron Luce: For several years, there have been these quasi-live events in movie theaters. [Things like] an opera and then it is broadcast around the world. We began thinking two or three years ago, “What would it be like to have a national young adult event where they all converge for a concert, comedy show and you are interacting with all the other people that are at the event through social media?” We wanted to try and leverage the technology to make a new type of event. We do events all the time with Acquire the Fire, but we can only be in one city at a time. With this, we can be in 500 theaters in one night. We can bring a message of hope. At Surge, we are dealing with all of the fears that young people face when they go back to school. The biggest fear is not being accepted. We all want people to like us and to accept us. People often make bad decisions because they are manipulated by that fear. They might decide to take a dare to do drugs or drink. They give away their purity because they want to be accepted. They make these decisions and often times end up regretting what they did. We talk through those issues in the movie. It is fun, interactive and we have some great artists like, Lecrae, Casting Crowns, and Newsboys. It is a life-giving event. Instead of just going to a theater to see a horror flick where you are scared out of your mind, it is an encouraging movie where you actually get some tools and wisdom for life.
Risen Magazine: Over the last couple years, bullying has taken a new twist. We see groups of people ganging up on a student and being able to hide behind a computer or phone [while doing it]. What words do you have for the cyber bully?
Ron Luce: Most bullying comes from people being insecure about themselves and bullying is a way for them to feel like they are in control. We speak to that in the film. Everyone is wearing a mask, some a bullying mask and we don’t want people to see what is going on behind that mask. Girls are ending their lives because they have been bullied online in a sexual way. They are being taunted to expose themselves and then the pictures are shown all over the place. It is happening all across the country. People are being bullied with words. We need to get perspective on this. Teenage life is a subculture. We need to help them to see past this little world. It is just like a movie set that you go to and everyone is playing a role. The lights go off, people go back home, and they return to whoever they really are. It is so important to keep perspective that while it may seem like a big deal now, it won’t be as important over the span of your life. If you are able to get perspective on it, then you are less likely to be manipulated by people’s bullying.
Risen Magazine: There’s another role in bullying; the person that turns the blind eye. Instead of turning a blind eye, what do we need to do when we see bullying?
Ron Luce: We encourage young people when they see someone being made fun of in the cafeteria for how they are dressed, we need to be the ones that go sit with them and befriend them. We need to do what Jesus talked about. The ones that appear to be unlovable or unlovely, that we are the ones to reach out to them and be friends with them. If that means we get persecuted and thrown into the same category, then let that happen. There’s something more important than your reputation, it is that human being that deserves to be treated with respect and love.
Risen Magazine: Growing up, you struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, how did you overcome those things and what encouragement do you have for others who might be in a similar position?
Ron Luce: I was a party animal for part of my teenage years. Everything changed when I had a real encounter with Jesus. I was raised in a church that was dead and dry and boring. When I was 16 years old, I finally heard the message of the Bible presented in a real way that finally made sense to me. I remember thinking, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this? This is the best thing in the world.” Once I really gave my life to the Lord, I don’t know anyway else to say it, but it was a miracle how He changed me. Drugs, alcohol and parties were still there, but they lost their luster. They weren’t fun to me anymore because I found something so much better. No one got in my face and said, “Young man, don’t party anymore.” When you fall in love with Jesus, you fall out of love with the world and everything that it has to offer. I found something better, why do I want a second-class high, when I can get the best high? Why do I want the high that lures me away to something that will hurt me, when I have something that shields me from those hurts and can lead me to a path of wholeness?
Risen Magazine: What words of advice do you have for our readers who are considering going into ministry?
Ron Luce: We are in desperate need of spiritual leaders that have character. They don’t just have a title, they have a life that is worth following. That is where we all need to start. We need to make sure that we are continuing to grow. So many Christians, two years after they accept Christ, level off and stop growing in their character, heart for God, and knowledge of Scripture. If your desire is to be in ministry, than let’s be people of character. We all know someone who was in a leadership position in ministry and was later disqualified because they lacked character. Let’s be authentic, let’s be real, and let’s be on a growth path that takes us somewhere. You will work out what type of ministry along the way.
Risen Magazine: What about those that are in ministry and they aren’t seeing any real change in their ministry and are ready to quit?
Ron Luce: You have to keep yourself fresh. Keep your heart in tune with the Lord and also keep yourself fresh with ideas. Find people that are successful. Whether you meet them personally or you read about them, immerse yourself with creative ideas that are working for them; just adapt it to your scenario. Scripture says, “There is nothing new under the sun,” so just because you can’t see a way right now doesn’t mean there isn’t a way. We all go through those types of challenges, look at Jesus with the twelve disciples. We just need to keep our ear to the ground and stay informed of new strategies.
Risen Magazine: Over 27 years in ministry, you’ve written books, and now the movie. What do the next 20 years of ministry look like for Ron Luce?
Ron Luce: We are very excited about finding new ways of leveraging technology. We have a smart phone app that is a discipleship tool for kids. At Acquire the Fire, we have a video game module. That is just one piece. We are looking at doing Acquire the Fire conferences all over the world. We are getting demand from leaders saying, “Our teenagers in Africa or Asia are more like the teenagers in your country because they watch all of your media.” They are calling and asking us to help them reach their youth because they don’t know what to do anymore. We are looking at doing an Acquire the Fire world tour and come alongside those churches. There are 1.5 billion young people worldwide. We want to do everything we can to win them to Christ and disciple them.
Teen Mania Ministries. “Battle Cry: Magnitude of the Crisis“. Archived from the original on 2006-08-24. Retrieved 2006-09-04.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Winter 2013