war metaphors in youth ministry

i’ve been complaining about this for awhile. but steve argue has a great, articulate article in the new issue of the journal of student ministries on this very subject, and it’s now available as a free download (in pdf form). here’s a tease:

War is everywhere. We can’t ignore this reality in our western comfort zone. War comes close thanks to instant news, relatives and friends serving in the military, and relationships with others around the world.

War is a reality in our world. And it’s not cool–unless you’re in youth ministry, it seems.

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17 thoughts on “war metaphors in youth ministry”

  1. That is one of the finest statements on the topic of using meaningful metaphors rather than inflammatory or de-humanizing ones in “our” (student ministry) literature.

    The Journal is one fine publication!

  2. The war metaphors make me think of the Jesus Camp film that’s in town right now. The kids look like they are being trained in some type of tribal militia, and the camp director practically admits she’s competing with radical Islam by training up soldiers for God. It’s really strange from a western cultural standpoint, and I understand her motivation. I just question much of what is portrayed in the film. Sorry to go off topic- the war metaphors struck a nerve for a second there.

  3. I heard Spencer Burke speak at College briefing a year ago. He casually mentioned in the middle of his seminar that war metaphors were going to have to be changed because they were no longer relevant. He went so far as to say that Campus Crusade for Christ would be done as an organization within 10 years if they didn’t change their name. You should have seen the uproar (many crusaders in the audience) and the swords were drawn :) Anyways I agree with him, you and the Journal that war metaphors are no longer helpful in building relationships which ultimately lead to Christ.

    Umm I feel the same way about sports metaphors but that’s because I’m jaded I never made it to the NBA…….

  4. I have struggled with a BATTLE CRY mentality in terms of youth for some time. It strikes me that the battle here is generational – Boomers & Busters “fighting” for relevancy & control, pining for the comfort of a monoculture that nurtured them.

    The kids I am around every day are not engaged by talk of being Warrior for Christ, of a culture war, of battle cries for revolution. Instead, they wonder why faith communities choose not to tap into their passion for the Prince Peace, for the one who spurred change not by violence, but by subverting death into new and abundant life.

    I think you can see that I am VERY unlikely to be at the next ATF event in the Bay area – it just demeans my experience of following God in a Jesus way.

  5. Thanks for the mention, Marko. When I first read Steve’s article proposal, I was stoked. I couldn’t wait to get this one in print. Though I don’t agree with everything I print (sometimes an article I disagree with still offers provocative insight that’ll lead to valuable dialogue), this is one article I agree with wholeheartedly. And can I tell you how nice it was to get to publish it without having a long, drawn-out debate about it first? :)

  6. i speak against using a war metaphor within our ym and i’ve gotten some flack from that. it’s amazing how many folks really like it. my standard response is that we don’t need war, unlike old testament tribe wars, or saint paul speaking to a roman empire. i ask folks if we are fighting for land? no, are we the roman empire? no (but we could be a modern version)

    i refuse to associate with a group that uses a war metaphor because for youth ministry, battle cry comes to mind. i believe that Christ taught a different way. so why go back to use the way of the oppresive roman empire.. backing off before i get way to involved in this.

  7. Personally I do not really understand where all this war talk started. I mean in the wordly, country sense war is needed. But in spreading the Gospel it should not even be a part of it. At least in my opinion.

  8. I agree and have loved Spencer Burke’s changing metaphor from Warrior to Gardener. However, in response to Randy – there is quite a bit of war metaphor in the Bible. that’s where we got it. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, etc. The sword, the breastplate, etc. Even with that in mind, I still am trying to use the gardener metaphor more often. That sense of nurture and care is so much more real and meaningful than fighting and forcing.

  9. Eric,

    I understand that part, I just don’t think the war analogy is how we are supposed to be reaching the student ministry.

  10. Hey Marko, I was coming up with a game for my youth group this weekend, and we have paper airplanes that need to go and land in a special circle while the other team tries to blast them out of the air with Q-tips shot out of straws. I was going to call this game, Attack on Pearl Harbor, or something, but does that make it too warlike? Just wondering what everyone else thinks…

    (I don’t intend to use war rhetoric for anything other thing making the game more dramatic.)

  11. andy — this article (and this post) is about the theology of using war metaphors for ministry and evangelism and culture and stuff like that. i’m sure plenty of pacifists would not like your game; but it’s not really what we’re talking about here. i don’t know that there’s any reason for you to ‘name’ the game with an actual battle, which seems to belittle what took place there, however.

  12. good point… i don’t want to do that… oh and I’m glad that you’re going to be taking a break from outside speaking stuff for your family. that’s really cool… (sounds like you have a pretty cool kids, at least from their occasional posts)

  13. Hi MarkO

    I read Steve’s article and he is clear that we should stop using war metaphors and war language “when guiding and motivating students”.

    To strengthen his argument Steve writes,

    “If the way of Jesus is about going the extra mile with our oppressors, serving the least of these, praying for our enemies, turning the other
    cheek, and believing that the peacemakers will be blessed, then war metaphors and war language is inappropriate. The Christian “battle,” it seems, isn’t about militancy—it’s about the struggle we all face daily as we stumble toward personal and worldwide shalom. It’s about living like Jesus. It’s about the cross. War language is antithetical to Christianity.”

    Considering such remarks, would it be a problem then if someone wanted to encourage a friend by saying, “endure hardship like a good soldier of Christ?” Or, “be strong in the Lord and his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

    These phrases are an embodiment of war terminology. Furthermore, they originate from Scripture and a man very familiar with “turning the other cheek”, Saint Paul.

    Maybe another good way to think of things is like this: you work as a youth minister with many people who have a great many struggles. Would it be wrong to say your desire is to help them “conquer” their struggles by pointing them to the Lord?

    Truly, the Gospel of our Lord is restored lives! The Devil seeks “to kill, steal, and destroy”! Christians should view them themselves as being “enlisted” on the good side; soldiers who are willing to do the will of their Lord so that His name would be glorified and some might be saved.

    Again, Steve writes, “War language is antithetical to Christianity” and Christians should stop using such terms. Truly, if we consider Paul, a Devil who purpose is to kill, steal, and destroy, and most of all, a Lord who has “conquered” the grave”, is this so?


  14. If we are not involved in a battle then why are we told to put on our spiritual armor? In fact we are told to put the armor on and then “stand.”

    While it is true that some may take the “War” mentality a bit far, I think it is in error to say that this is a wrong philosophy for youth ministry. These students are in a war. It is a battle against sin. Describing it as such is not “…antithetical to Christianity.” In fact it is straight from the Bible. There is no doubt that the enemy is fighting for the hearts and minds of this generation. Regardless of our willingness to articulate this battle, it rages on. It’s not a matter of being cool…it is a matter of stating the truth.

    Using war metaphors as a matter of evangelism is definitely out of the question. No ministry should ever portray that the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be spread by force.

    But seriously, to say that “War language is antithetical to Christianity” means that much of Scripture itself is antithetical to Christianity.

    Great discussion!

  15. I have no problem with battle cries or some war like metaphors. It has been well stated by CC. The problem is perhaps with: who people think the enemy is? Our enemy is not “flesh and blood” but “rulers, authorities and powers of this dark world”. We do not battle the “unsaved” we fight FOR them. They do not have the weapons that Christians have and thus battle (if at all) ineffectively. And again, let us not be confused as to what our weapons are…they were given to us by the Lord God Almighty, Conquerer, Prince of Peace. Our weapons are the Sword: The Word of God, not a piece of metal, as Peter learned in the garden! Our armor is not outwardly visible: but inwardly “put on”: Righteousness, Truth, Salvation, Faith, Readiness, Prayer. I think you do a great injustice to the Battle Cry or similar movements if you think they do not understand this concept! They are trying to awaken a generation that has been lulled to sleep with false perceptions of tolerance as acceptance, no truth except one’s own “personal truth”…not too far from Pilate’s challenge: “What is truth?”. Perhaps battle fatigues are a bit much, but let’s not fight our brothers and sisters in Christ in meaningless quarrels that generate division…but accept the reality of a spiritual battle for the souls of men, and that Christ engaged in that battle: His manner of speaking was very different to the victims of the battle: the woman at the well, the ones in need of healing etc vs the “authorities and powers” of the darkness that ‘bring on” the battle embodied in “warriors” of that age: Pharisees, “broods of vipers”. Let’s use our weapons appropriately: with understanding and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And let’s not tell our youth that there is no war, let’s just make sure they understand how to go to battle (and how not to). Yes, war is bloody and ugly and results in death…exactly the picture of Satan. And exactly why we need to engage!

    In Christ, Susan

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