Sharing a Sacred Story

Titles like bestselling author, Dove award-winning singer/songwriter, speaker, Enneagram expert and therapist make for an eclectic (and long) business card. Ian Morgan Cron has found success in each of these occupations, drawing people to Jesus through this unique mix of gifts and abilities.

He’s also starred in some roles that might surprise you: hurting child, angry teen, recovering addict and Young Life volunteer/staff. This second list has informed the first, helping Ian to minister out of a healthy, honest heart to countless kids and adults.

“When I think about it,” Ian said, “all the things I do are in service to the same end: helping people enter into conversation with the mysteries of faith and their own lives.”

In many ways, he’s in the perfect position to help. For as long as he can remember, Ian has been engaged in his own mysterious conversations.

INTOXICATING

Born in 1960, Ian’s early years growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut, reflected the tumultuous times of what many call the “decade of discontent.” He writes candidly in his memoir (see sidebar on page 18) about his father’s alcoholism and the repercussions for the entire family. Trying to find some semblance of normalcy throughout a “train wreck of a childhood” left Ian lonely, confused and eventually battling dependency like his father. Wondering where God was in the pain, Ian’s story was marked by anger, rebellion and tears. It was during these turbulent years his best friend invited him to club.

“Tyler picked me up and took me to Young Life. Despite my efforts to not look amused, the ridiculous stuff going on up front made me smile from time to time. I’d forgotten the goodness of laughter when it wasn’t tethered to cynicism.”*

His initial impressions of club were mostly positive, but the real hook for Ian became the relationships he made at club, most notably with the leaders.

What brought me back to Young Life every Tuesday were Mike and Derek. Mike was the area director. Derek was a carpenter by day to support his work as a volunteer. I couldn’t wait to see the two of them every week because they made me feel as if they couldn’t wait to see me. In a room filled with 100 kids, one or both of them sought me out. It was intoxicating to have two older men see me — I mean really see me. If they’d just left out the talks about Jesus, club would’ve been perfect.

Disillusionment with God plus severe trust issues with his parents and the downward spiral into alcoholism made the journey a slow one. Over the next several years, the Father patiently wooed his child through the relentless love of Ian’s leaders and friends in Young Life and the church. Their gentle care proved to be a soothing balm for his blistered soul.

After graduating high school, Ian’s heart softened to the message of Jesus’ love and he began walking with Christ during his time at Bowdoin College. As he processed his newfound faith, Ian began thinking about his career, and what God might do in this next chapter of his life.

BECOMING A PERSON

Upon graduation from Bowdoin, Ian floundered until Mike invited him to volunteer with Young Life in Greenwich. For the next two years, the other leaders on the team poured into Ian, as he learned to pour into kids.

Mike became my champion. He tended the long-neglected garden of my talents with great love. He blew on the glowing embers of my passion for writing and performing music, my gift for communicating the gospel with humor and my increasing love for God. What I thought would be a brief stint helping out a youth group turned into a vocation.

Ian sensed the Lord calling him to more, so he joined Young Life staff in 1984. “The transition from volunteer to staff person came about because the first men who really loved me cast a vision for my life. They encouraged me and saw my particular gifts and said they were valuable. Their deep care for me catapulted me in that direction.”

These years proved formative — Ian’s love for songwriting found an outlet and Dick Bond, the area director in Greenwich, encouraged this gift.

“Dick was so invested in me; he was my biggest fan. I can remember being on a Young Life weekend at the Harvey Cedars Retreat Center in New Jersey. He had me play a one-man concert of songs I’d written. I remember him telling me the particular gifts I had were special and in the hands of God could be used for some good things. I so desperately needed to hear that. He was one of the many people who loved me toward becoming a person.”

Ian spent eight years (1984-1992) on staff — two in Wilton, Connecticut, and six in New Canaan. Here he learned the slow, beautiful skill of building relationships with kids. Often it happened far outside his comfort zone.

“I remember trying to play basketball with kids and being a complete failure. I was the comic relief on the court, but it gave them a chance to teach me what to do. I didn’t care if I was good or not and I think that helped them not take themselves too seriously.”

Alongside his growing relational skills, Ian grew in the art of communication, specifically speaking and listening to kids with empathy and compassion. “One of the things I did well was I knew how to sit with kids in pain and be OK with it. I didn’t have to come up with solutions or fix them.

Upon leaving Young Life, Ian followed the call to pastor a church in New England. Since then, among his other aforementioned roles, he’s become a volunteer Episcopal priest who now calls Nashville his home. Neither age, nor geography have proven to be barriers to his ability to connect with people in need. “I just did Young Life for adults and it wasn’t much different,” he said matter-of-factly.

HIGHLY ATTUNED

Ian has been in recovery for more than three decades. Over the years he’s learned the importance of his story — of every person’s story — and how we’re all longing to be known and loved. He’s quick to share this memory:

“I was in a 12-step recovery group meeting once where a woman spoke and her story was so sad. It involved selling her children for crack. When she finished, her story brought the room to silence. Normally there’s applause, but the people were so stunned by how far this woman had gone.

“This poor speaker is standing up there in shame and an old woman sitting in the back of the room broke the silence. She yelled out, ‘The Word of the Lord.’

“And all the Catholics and Episcopalians in the room replied, ‘Thanks be to God.’

“That old woman understood the gospel of this woman’s story — the good news of her life. In saying what she did she recognized her story’s sacredness in all of its brokenness and beauty. And it brought us to our senses.

“I think our stories are sacred and we don’t fully understand the power of the stories we inhabit. Often our stories are supported and perpetuated by wrong beliefs about ourselves and the world that we need to root out.”

These are truths he shares today through podcasts, sermons, seminars and songs. He’s thankful for his lifelong connection to a mission that was there for him during those critical years.

“Young Life taught me how to talk about faith in ways highly attuned to the audience. I learned how to present the gospel in ways winsome and heartfelt. I could read a room and speak directly to people’s objections and also to their pain. Through Young Life I learned how to bring reason and heart to this message.”

*Italicized text taken from Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me (Thomas Nelson, 2011).