June 2004: The Associated Press
The Associated Press State & Local Wire
June 26, 2004, Saturday, BC cycle
Like father, like son? Two Ed Youngs, two Texas megachurches
BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., AP Religion Writer
SECTION: State and Regional
LENGTH: 1427 words
DATELINE: GRAPEVINE, Texas
On a recent Sunday morning, Ed Young titled his sermon “RPM,” for Recognizing Potential Mates.
The hip, 43-year-old pastor arrived on stage driving a green Ferrari Spider 355, which he used to illustrate how defective daters ignore dashboard warnings.
“Dating is sort of like a lease with an option to buy, wouldn’t you agree?” asked Young, founding minister of the fast-growing Fellowship Church in this Dallas suburb.
About 240 miles away in Houston, his 67-year-old father, also named Ed Young, delivered a traditional gospel sermon at Second Baptist Church.
At the end, the lights dimmed and soft music played. He invited anyone with a need to respond to the message to “just stand up and come to Jesus Christ.” Two dozen congregants, some wiping tears, marched forward to acknowledge sins.
While their approaches differ, father and son share a passion for ministry and influence how generations of faithful worship at the Texas-sized megachurches they built from small congregations.
“They’re both in clearly evangelical, very large church settings, and it’s just different expressions of a similar mentality,” said Mark Miller-McLemore, an expert on congregational culture who teaches at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn.
At Second Baptist Church, men and women in their Sunday best – many with gray hair – fill a three-level sanctuary with elaborate stained-glass windows, an opulent chandelier hanging from a rounded ceiling and a loft that can squeeze in 500 green-robed choir members.
Red-lettered New American Standard Bibles and green “Celebration Hymnals” rest in the pew backs. An orchestra provides the instrumental accompaniment as the congregation sings “How Great Thou Art” and “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.”
After the altar call, the dad scurries out of the mammoth red-brick building. He jumps into a sleek beige Cadillac Escalade, whose driver whisks him to a satellite church – and his next sermon – 15 miles away.
As the sport-utility vehicle cruises down the highway, he slips out of one crisp white dress shirt with an “EY” monogram on the pocket and into another.
“We don’t trust preachers who don’t sweat,” said the elder Young, who preaches at three of the 10 services that draw up to 24,000 each weekend to Second Baptist and its two satellite locations.
The scene is strikingly different at Fellowship Church, where 20- and 30-somethings in khakis and jeans fill 4,000 theater-style seats in a darkened auditorium.
To the beat of drums and electric guitars, a singer wearing a black T-shirt and leather jacket opens the service with a contemporary Christian hit.
The words flash on two big screens as the audience sings along: “I love you yesterday, today and tomorrow. I’ll say it again. I love you. Shine for me.”
The younger Young wears an untucked gray shirt and black shoes fastened with Velcro as he shares his faith at five services that draw a combined 18,000 each weekend. (He also changes shirts between sermons.)
After parking the Ferrari, he holds up a yellow “Slow” sign as he touts the importance of taking time to develop a relationship God’s way.
He recounts how Jacob in the Old Testament “saw this biblical babe named Rachel” and worked for her father for 14 years to gain her hand in marriage.
“Man, when guys start coming around my daughters, I’m going to direct them to Genesis 29, verse 20, and I’m going to put this sign on the front door: ‘Slow!’ ” jokes Young, a father of three daughters and one son.
When he’s done, there’s no formal altar call. He only does that about three times a year.
Rather, a soloist performs Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is.”
Backstage after the service, the son laughs when asked if folks at his church would feel comfortable at his dad’s church, or vice versa.
“No!” he replies.
But he’s quick to add that it’s just a matter of serving different demographics.
Even at Second Baptist, old-time religion mixes with a 21st century packaging of the gospel.
The older Young’s church offers a variety of worship formats and styles, including a contemporary 11:11 a.m. service on Sundays led by his middle son, Ben, 40, an associate pastor at the church.
“The message doesn’t change,” the dad said. “The methodology changes with every generation.”
It’s a lesson the younger Young learned from his father.
Thirty-five years ago, his dad served as pastor of the First Baptist Church in the small town of Taylors, S.C.
Ed Jr. – as he was known then, even though his full name is different from his dad’s – was in elementary school, but memories of that time still influence him.
“So many things that Dad did … were so ahead of his time,” he said. “I remember when I was like in third grade, Dad asked an acid rock band to come to our church on Friday nights after the football games. Hey, man, the place would be jammed with high school students.”
As his dad recalled, the lead singer of a local rock band had converted to Christianity and wanted to use his music to serve God.
“So we took what was then rock music and wrote Christian words to it,” he said, remembering that the church bought a barn-like building for youth parties. “After football and basketball games, they’d play that music that everybody thought was demonic.
“But we’d baptized it, and it became Christian music.”
The first Ed Young grew up in Laurel, Miss., where he became a Christian at age 12 and started dating his future bride, Jo Beth Landrum, in junior high. They celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary on Monday.
After high school, Young entered the University of Alabama as an engineering major. Midway through his freshman year, an atheist in his dorm questioned Young’s belief in God, prompting him to seek his purpose in life, he said.
Six months later, he “surrendered to the call to preach the gospel,” according to a biography on his church Web site.
His three sons – Ed, Ben and Cliff – were born while he pastored churches in North Carolina and South Carolina. Cliff, 31, is the lead singer and guitarist for Caedmon’s Call, a contemporary Christian band.
When the Youngs moved to Houston in 1978, Second Baptist averaged a weekly Sunday attendance of about 400. But it grew quickly after Ed Young’s arrival.
Both Ed Youngs, it seems, have a knack for drawing people to them.
“They have never gotten away from preaching the word of God,” Jo Beth Young said. “And in doing that, then of course, you’re holding up Jesus. … And I think that is the secret.”
Ed Jr. played basketball at Florida State University in Tallahassee before returning home to Houston to contemplate his future. When he asked his dad about going into ministry, his father urged him not to do it – if he could be happy doing anything else.
“To go into ministry, you have to feel led by God himself,” his dad said.
After completing his religious education, Young joined his dad’s staff at Second Baptist. One Christmas, his wife, Lisa, gave him a pair of new shoes, which he used in a sermon to illustrate a personal relationship with God.
“And after the message, I remember Dad saying, ‘Man, you might want to calm down using those visuals. I’m not sure you can do that.’
“What’s so funny is I did kind of tone it down,” said Young, who wore a suit like his dad when he started Fellowship Church in 1990. “But since I’ve been on my own, you know, I’ve toned it up. What’s been interesting is to watch Dad use more and more visuals, I think, because of what God has shown us.”
As the son’s visuals became more bold, he drove a British Scorpion tank on stage for a sermon on spiritual warfare. He taped an introduction from the Bahamas – with yachts in the background – for a message on self-esteem.
“Ed Young is so funny,” said church member Donna Trevino, 34, wearing a pink Fellowship Church T-shirt and drinking a grande Caramel Macchiato in the church coffee shop. “He gets up there and he gets his points across. And he does it in a way that keeps you entertained.”
Nobody is prouder of Fellowship Church than Young’s dad.
“He’s reaching a clientele that’s so hard to reach,” he said. “He’s doing that second to none. He does it genuinely. He uses screens and props and lots of music, but also the good news of what God has done in the name of Jesus Christ.”
On the Net:
Fellowship Church: http://www.fellowshipchurch.com
Second Baptist Church: http://www.second.org
Bobby Ross Jr. has covered religion since 1999. He can be reached at bross(at)ap.org.