Teen Mania turmoil continues

Religion | Board member resigns following WORLD report
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 5/16/14, 12:10 pm

One of only six independent board members resigned this week from Teen Mania, one of the nation’s largest Christian youth ministries.

Nathan Moody, a scientist at the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, would not comment on why he chose to step down, but his decision came in the wake of a foreclosure on the ministry’s property and a WORLD report detailing some of Teen Mania’s ongoing management and financial challenges. Following the story’s publication last month, Moody requested and received a copy of the comprehensive third-party audit, conducted before he joined the board, mentioned in WORLD’s report. 

Moody, an Honor Academy alumnus, told me in an email that his resignation included a commitment to be “fully transparent” to Teen Mania founder Ron Luce and the remaining board members, and agreeing to an interview would be interpreted as “violating the commitment I just made.” 

In a statement released to WORLD Friday afternoon, the Teen Mania board said, “Nathan Moody resigned the Teen Mania board on May 14, 2014, stating his current time constraints would not allow him to accommodate the increased level of board involvement that will be required going into this new season of ministry. Prior to his resignation, Nathan provided important guidance related to the change process ahead, and we appreciate his input as we move forward in this exciting time for Teen Mania.”

Moody’s departure leaves five independent members on Teen Mania’s board of directors: George Babbes, a professor at Azusa Pacific University; Chris Hill, senior pastor of The Potter’s House in Denver, Colo.; Jennifer Labit, founder and CEO of Cotton Babies; Steve Riggle, pastor of Grace Community Church in Houston; and Marcos Witt, a musician and former pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston. 

Babbes has been on the board since 1995, but Labit didn’t join until 2012, and Hill, Riggle, and Witt all joined in 2013. Ron and Katie Luce also serve on the board.

The Teen Mania board was small even before Moody’s resignation. Following the completion of a strategic and operational audit, Calvin Edwards & Co., an Atlanta-based consulting firm that has scrutinized more than 600 organizations in 50 countries, in early 2012 recommended the board have between 7 and 15 independent members—which would have included replacing Luce’s wife Katie as a voting member. That never happened. 

Teen Mania in February announced it would vacate its 472-acre property near Tyler, Texas, and move to Dallas. Luce cast the decision as the result of long-range planning and an effort to go global, but the ministry has yet to announce a new location. Teen Mania has continued to lease its land after the bank repossessed it in March. 

WORLD’s previous story was the result of extensive interviews with current and former employees, and a review of internal documents and recent IRS Form 990s available on GuideStar. Luce blamed the article on former employees eager to bad-mouth the organization. He wrote to Teen Mania alumni a lengthy response to the article, saying it contained “false statements, errors and misperceptions regarding the current state of our ministry”—although he did publicly acknowledge for the first time the foreclosure on the ministry’s East Texas property. Luce has declined to identify any specific error in WORLD’s article. 

To throw further light on Teen Mania’s situation, WORLD is releasing one of the documents it obtained: A list of 32 specific recommendations from Calvin Edwards & Co. We originally had no intention of releasing this document, but since Ron Luce questioned WORLD’s credibility, we present it to allow our readers to decide for themselves.

Calvin Edwards, the organization’s founder and CEO, did not supply the document to WORLD—it came from a former Teen Mania employee—and a binding contract prohibited him from authorizing its release. But Edwards stands by the recommendations and told me publishing them “could help other ministry boards” examine issues similar to the ones Teen Mania is facing: “If you release it, I only hope that good comes from it and that it serves kingdom purposes.”

Edwards said the Teen Mania board sought to implement the report’s recommendations, but “it was met with strong opposition from Ron Luce, who sought to maintain the status quo.” He confirmed that several board members and at least two key executives subsequently left the organization. 

The memo provides documentation for several facts cited in WORLD’s story (see Nos. 19, 22, and 31). Readers will also find key issues WORLD did not have space to address, including recommendations to review Katie Luce’s compensation—she works in the office one day per week, according to the report, and earns $50,000 annually (No. 9)—and the “appropriateness” of Ron Luce’s travel policy allowing him to take one family member on every trip. “A less generous benefit may be sufficient,” the document reads (No. 10). 

The memo also recommends Teen Mania post IRS 990s and audited financial statements online (No. 26) and require His Work Ministries (HWM), another of Luce’s operations, to provide financial statements and IRS Form 990s “in a timely manner” to judge HWM’s ability to repay its debt to Teen Mania (No. 25). You can read all 32 recommendations here

(Editor’s note: This article was edited to include a statement from the Teen Mania board sent to WORLD Friday afternoon.)

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD Radio’s managing editor. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012 and eventually becoming WORLD’s Washington Bureau chief. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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