unintended sucker punch

i read jeremy iversen’s brutal and insightful book high school confidential last week. posted about it here. one of the primary characters is a christian, and not a bad guy, really. but the thinly veiled references to either young life (probably) or campus life were tough to read, because it was an unfiltered description of so much of what we do in youth ministry. the author didn’t seem to have an axe to grind about christians or christian clubs (he attended every week, he wrote at one point). but the whole thing comes off sounding so much like the pep-rally in the movie saved. here’s one of the sections that made me wince:

that evening after dinner, she received special permission from her father to go to spiriteen and come straight back. parents like the idea of christian youth group; brian’s party the next night would need a much harder sell.

seventy mirador people talked on the couches, chairs, and floor of a living room every similar to alexis’s. she perched on a sofa armrest with her can of cranberry juice.

“you came,” said derrick.

she smiled. the room contained a virtual ‘who’s who of asb leadership and nervous underclass girls who wanted to hook up, but no black people and just one asian guy. she smelled weed and alcohol on a lot of people’s breath.

each spiriteen program consisted of three main segments: a madcap activity, a lesson, and hanging out at a strip mall. the activities owed much more to mtv spring break than to the path of christ as understood by, say, saint maximus the confessor.

“whooooo!” screamed one of teh group leaders, a burly college senior in a biola university sweatshirt. “we’ve got a hypnotist tonight!”

music thumped as the hypnotist jogged out, a slick-looking guy in his late thirties. he clapped to the music and everyone clapped along with him.

“mirador high school spiriteen,” he yelled. “they tell me you’re the party school, let me hear you scream!”

“yeahyahhh!” screamed alexis along with everyone.

7 thoughts on “unintended sucker punch”

  1. Before I became a Christian I worked at a coffeeshop through college. I worked with several Christian high school kids, all of whome drank and smoked weed more than I did. They also shared with me stories about the weekend party where everybody got naked and hooked up with each other at someone’s house. I knew something wasn’t right about it because, well, ANYONE could have spotted something wrong. I felt like a goody-goody around them, and they were christians. One girl continues to use drugs, and another moved in with her boyfriend, got pregnant, had an abortion, and disappeared. They used to invite me to church. I would have loved to hang out with them, but I was afraid I’d get arrested at some point.
    I don’t blame their church for their behavior, but there seemed to be a disconnect somewhere.
    After I became a christian I ended up hanging out with the opposite end of the spectrum: legalists. It did me quite a lot of damage. I think when you elevate spiritually immature people to a position of leadership things can go terribly wrong. There is a desire to be liked by all, or to fulfill fantasies of popularity. There can be much elbowing and vying for authoritative positions, and in the process a lot of attention to younger people might fall to the wayside.
    The passage you included from the book seems to point to a lack of humility and some insecurity. This can occur in any youth group, even one that is centered on Christ. We get in the way of a lot of what God wants to do, I think. A lot of teens long for a quiet place to worship and reflect on God in unison, but some leaders overlook this need and desire in an effort to entertain kids. I think if we listen to a teenager’s needs and true desires we wouldn’t be caught up in providing loud entertainment week after week.

  2. Wow, thats a damaging look. Have you ever seen the book A Fieldguide to Evangelicals? My wife and I own it. It is funny, but also sad, as we look within ourselves and see our lacking. I also appreciate Jody’s comments above.

  3. Marko…Could you please help me with what “made you wince”? As a Young Life leader and also a youth pastor I see much of what we do at Young Life as very intentional and not a “pep-rally” from Saved. So if you could let me know what your intent was that would be helpful.

    BTW hope your feeling better :)

  4. chris — of course i’m not suggesting that all young life (or all youth ministry in general) is like a pep-rally from saved! but does that perception of what a christian club looks like, written by a neutral non-believer, not make you cringe? the whole thing is so very “rah-rah, let’s get pumped for jesus!” the passage from the book sounds straight outa saved! and i think that’s a major indictment on us in youth ministry — we have perpetuated that approach to youth ministry!

  5. I read the book last week. I was also troubled by it as a youth director. It think it gets harder all the time to be a teenager–and even (or maybe sometimes especially) to be a Christian teenager.

    The parts of the book dealing with “spiriteen” that made you wince, also made me wince. As people who work to help teenagers grow in their relationships with Jesus, we have to take care not to simply “pump them up,” but to also challenge them to be in, but not of, the world. May God help us all to live faithfully!

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