Is Young Life a Cult?….Young Life Leaders-Behind the Smile

17 May

This is my third post on Young Life You can read the other posts here and here.


One of the reasons Young Life has been so successful, are its leaders.  Young Life seems to have a wide variety of leaders, mostly college aged volunteers, who are able and willing to befriend teens and win a hearing for the gospel.

When I attended club for the first time, I expected to be bored and preached at…I expected it to be a lot like my church youth group.  I was wrong.  We sang songs from top 40 radio.  They ran funny skits that got us laughing.  I was genuinely greeted with warmth and made to feel like I mattered.  I later found out that Jim Rayburn, Young Life’s founder, had said “It’s a sin to bore a kid.”  His philosophy was that Christ and his gospel was exciting, therefore club should be fun and exciting too.

So far, there’s nothing really wrong with making teens feel welcome, singing songs, and keeping kids from being bored.  But from these experiences, Young Life leaders (often unpaid volunteers) use the club setting to befriend teens and share their version of Evangelical Christianity.

Another aspect of Young Life club is the “sell” for teens to attend a Young Life camp.  Often times it is pitched that the trip to camp will be the “best week of their life”.  The hype factor is high, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that many leaders viewed club as a way to convince kids to go to camp.  Young Life camp itself was pitched for its many amazing activities, the water slide, the sailing, the mountains, etc….of course, the open secret was that it would be a great week to hang out with members of the opposite sex.  I know from personal experience, and I’ll just leave it at that….

Behind all these coordinated efforts is your friendly neighborhood Young Life leader.  As I got further involved with Young Life (first as a campaigner and then five years as a volunteer leader), I saw that there is a lot more behind that smiling face than meets the eye.  I don’t share this to say all Young Life leaders are like this (they’re not), but to give folks a better idea of some of the things I saw that concern me about Young Life.

Young Life-High School Confidential

My first year in college I continued into Young Life leadership.  I would meet weekly at our area director’s home for leadership meetings, attended by all volunteer and staff leaders for our county.  It was during this time that my view of Young Life began to shift.  As a campaigner and camp attendee, I was always amazed at my leaders.  They were funny, yet could open up about the important issues in life like God, sex, and relationships.  They always seemed to have some insight and were always pointing me back to Jesus and the Bible as my source of wisdom for life.

An almost constant topic was whether or not I was engaging in daily quiet times.  Quiet times for Young Life leaders were like water for fish.  “My First 30 Quiet Times” a small booklet by Ty Saltzgiver was almost always the first quiet time booklet given to new campaigners or campers that had decided to give Jesus a try.

Imagine my shock upon learning, that my Young Life leader in High School would go months without ever engaging in this spiritual discipline.  In fact, it was very common to hear  leaders confess that they had trouble keeping up with this practice. One that they so readily commended to others.  But this is small in comparison to my next shock wave….this same leader later confessed that they had sex with someone they had met in town.   Not only had they engaged in sex before marriage (something they consistently preached against) but they had sex with someone who was married.  So now adultery was in the mix….

I asked them if the area director knew about their sexual foray with another man’s  wife.  They replied that they had confessed everything to the area director, but nothing of much consequence was done other than to acknowledge that what was done was wrong.  What was even more confusing, is this same club had made a Young Life leader confess and then step out of leadership for getting pregnant.  Again,  I don’t know if it was sexism or circumstance, but there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for making one leader step down and the other continue. Above all, it was hypocrisy to be telling teens that the Christian life was exciting and worth doing, when the main man selling this product wasn’t even attempting to practice what he preached.

This is the same leader that was organizing and taking almost 100 students from the local high school to Saranac Lake for a week.  This is the same leader that was taking teens cigarettes, throwing them out, and chastising them for smoking.  Were they an incredibly likeable person…yes, without a doubt.  But I look back and question whether this person should ever have been around young teens during this time in their life.

Does it make all of Young Life bad or cultic?  No, of course not….but it is something to consider.  Behind the smile of that Young Life leader may be a world that betrays the message they proclaim.  And to parents, how well do you know the people that will be leading your children for 24/7 at your Young Life camp?

69 Responses to “Is Young Life a Cult?….Young Life Leaders-Behind the Smile”

  1. jonnyscaramanga May 17, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

    The “quiet time” thing is so interesting. I remember feeling incredibly guilty that I rarely had quiet times. I mean, Jesus was supposedly my best friend, and I couldn’t even find 15 minutes to hang out with him every couple of days. I felt so guilty, and I’d always promise God I would change. But I never did.

    Eventually, I began to expect that everyone was in the same boat, and just didn’t admit it for fear of being judged.

    The sex thing doesn’t surprise me much. For sure, girls were the major draw of Christian camps. All those southern girls in those incredibly short shorts (at least the one I attended). It was so weird that the last night of camp was an alter call for us to go forward and make a vow of sexual purity. Everyone went forward… and stared at the ass in front of them.

    • shr08 October 12, 2013 at 2:20 am #

      I have never, EVER heard of there being an altar call at camp and especially an altar call for vows of sexual purity. Perhaps you have YL mixed up with some other camp.

      • christianagnostic October 12, 2013 at 2:40 am #

        Cant’ speak for johnny, but I think he was just sharing some of his own experience at Christian camps, not YL camp.

        I never saw anything like an altar call at YL camp. But YL did have a “say so” at the end of ever camp which functioned in a similar way. Much shorter and to the point-but still similar.

  2. freedom May 18, 2012 at 12:53 am #

    Sounds more like Young Lust to me. As far as the sexism, of course it was. It was going to be obvious that the girl got pregnant. A guy sleeping with a married woman (which to me is FAR worse. Cheating is something I absolutely hate), not so obvious.

    • Maris July 20, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

      My daughter also got involved with YL and was betrayed by the Area director and leaders. If you speak out the truth about them or actions they take in certain situations then your no longer cable of being a leader. YL is a good organization but needs to have one on one with some of area students to know what is really going on. Many people live off YL donations and care nothing about their mission. Another Christian organization that soon will be sued, or investigated.

      • shr08 October 12, 2013 at 2:28 am #

        My husband and I have been instrumental in bringing YL to our small town. My husband is now an area director- a part-time/full-time job for which he should be paid, just as a pastor at any church should be paid. He does not, however, receive a pay check and probably never will. To say that many people live off YL donations is condescending and extremely misinformed. Arrogant. Yes, there are many people who are on staff with YL but not one of them is being paid what they are worth. No one does YL for the money- this is not a glamorous job and it’s certainly not easy. If you don’t care about the mission of YL to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to teenagers you’re not going to be on staff for long because the pay simply isn’t worth it. Many people on YL staff go without. They may receive a paycheck but that paycheck is slim compared to what they would make in the secular workforce.

      • christianagnostic October 23, 2013 at 6:28 am #


        I agree that most area directors are not living high on the hog. But what about folks like Denny Rydberg?

  3. christianagnostic May 18, 2012 at 7:07 am #

    To be fair to Young Life, any ministry/social gathering involving teens is going to involve the attraction of the sexes. There was an old phrase many YL leaders joked about, they called it missionary dating. Date a non Christian to get them to Young Life and hopefully they come to faith in Christ. Some leaders allowed, others would discourage it….but it was a reality.

    I agree that sexism is most likely what happened…I just never really pursued the reasoning behind these two events, so I couldn’t say with absolute certainty.

    • X December 7, 2017 at 8:30 pm #

      I was a YL staffer for 12 years (Metro Director of a large city and a regional trainer.) Without question, I believe that YL is a cult. In fact, when I left, I read four books on leaving cults. I would love to discuss in more detail. The higher you go in the organization the more the fold unravels. I was a camp speaker multiple times throughout my tenure with YL. There is a deliberate methodology to the manipulation and brainwashing that occurs. If you want to discuss more, I would love to share my experience.

      • gaychristianblogger December 17, 2017 at 4:18 am #

        I’m interested in hearing more about your experiences

  4. christianagnostic May 18, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    This may end up being a post on it’s own, but here’s a link to a 2011 YL promo video for camp.

    Lot’s of cool things shown….not one mention of Christianity or the time devoted to trying to persuade kids to become Evangelical Christians.

    • Freedom May 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      I can even see in the video how the emotional manipulation works. Create shared memories and experiences from events. Create a rock concert type environment and call it worship. Then, at the end of the week after they have created bonds with others and feel like they belong, you hit them with the sales pitch. The final drive to get them to sign at the bottom line that day. Your new friends are doing it, so you feel the peer pressure to join in. That pressure, along with a week of messages that all gear up to the that altar call.

    • Kelsey August 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

      The main outreach of Young Life are to kids who would typically be nonChristian or “lost” in the first place. Of course a promo video is not going to be the place to persuade a 17 year old to become an Evangelical Christian. A video like this is an advertisement for what really IS the best week of many kids life, and Jesus is in every bit of that mix. So no maybe Jesus is not mentioned in this video, but it gets a kid to the foot of the Cross where they can decide where they want to be an evangelical Christian on their own-after having a week of fun with Jesus throughout the entire week.

      • christianagnostic August 13, 2012 at 6:46 pm #


        But what about the parents? Shouldn’t they be informed of the Evangelical nature of a week of camp?

        If Jesus is in “the mix” of every part of camp (which he is) then why not be more honest about Young Life’s intentions?

    • athenas_aegis November 7, 2014 at 1:37 am #

      We are a spiritual family, but we do not practice organized religion. We allow our daughters to make their own decisions about what paths they want to explore.

      One of the girls was told about Young Life by friends who are members and have been attending the camp for years. My daughter was really excited about it and showed me a video of the camp. Though she didn’t mention it to me, I immediately identified it as a religious based camp and asked her if that was the case. She said yes (and was really surprised, since she didn’t pick up on that fact when she first saw the video herself.) I would say this is the main issue I have with Young Life…I wasn’t aware of this organization and the video does nothing to explain their mission. Why?

      As someone whose beliefs exclude proselytism, I am uncomfortable with Evangelical Christians and I was a bit nervous about allowing our daughter to attend. However, I felt it was important to keep my word as a parent and allow her to participate in the experience as a way to help her in her spiritual quest. I’m glad we made that decision. She had a wonderful time and has made some great friends. She enjoys going to the club meetings and discussing important issues with her peers. I see that she a more mature outlook about the world around her and genuinely is growing even more as a caring, honest, and positive contributor to society. Has she decided to become an Evangelical Christian? No.

      • christianagnostic November 7, 2014 at 3:10 am #


        Thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad to hear the overall experience has been positive.

        Your question is a valid one, why don’t they explain their mission? I suspect they are not more explicit, because they do not want parents or kids to be turned off by the Evangelical nature of their mission.

        But that’s just my opinion on the issue…

  5. graceone August 3, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    I suppose I would look at this differently. It seems to me true of any organization that leaders are going to have “feet of clay.” It is a mistake to put any one on a pedestal. We are all capable of anything given the right circumstances, environment, upbringing, etc.

    This man blew it big time sleeping with someone else’s wife. I’m mightily impressed that he had the courage to actually confess his sin openly. How many would have attempted to hide or cover up this indiscretion?

    I would say that whether he should continue in leadership depends on whether he had dealt with this honestly in his life, made things right as far as possible, and grown in his life and faith through the experience.

    What is his manner of life like right now?
    Some of the most effective people in dealing with teens are those who have experienced major problems and failures in their lives, not those who have never blown it, or struggled with any issue.

    • christianagnostic August 7, 2012 at 5:35 am #


      I hear what you’re saying. As far as I know, this guy went on to be be happily married. But I’ve lost touch and couldn’t vouch one way or another. But he was a good guy and kids liked him.

      However, what he did was wrong. I don’t think a young man who has crossed the line and slept with another man’s wife should be trusted to lead young teens to a week of camp.

      • Kelsey August 13, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

        christian agnostic.

        I am totally with graceone and appreciate your openness to replies. If we do believe that the Bible is REAL here then isn’t every man- Christian and nonChristian alike- a sinner? And isn’t every sin equal? I don’t really know where you are at now in your life but working with any Christian ministry you will see people who fail. David was said to be a man after God’s own heart and screwed up BIG time after sleeping with Bathsheba…but then repented. Same for Saul who later became Paul…if there was no message of grace throughout the Bible-we wouldn’t have one. I believe that someones response to failure when in the ministry realm can determine whether they should be allowed to continue on. I am sad you have had a few bad experiences in ministry. I have heard it said that if people’s actions determined our faith we wouldn’t have any, thank goodness I look to Jesus to determine my faith because He is the only perfect one there is.

      • KT March 6, 2013 at 1:26 am #

        I would love to respond as a current young life leader. I whole-heartedly appreciate you shedding light on the unfortunate reality that the standards of this organization do vary by area and who is in charge. I can not even conceive of the pain/confusion this experience must have caused you at this time in your life. I too had a similar experience in my local church as a teen. In fact the experience pushed me into years of atheism. I can only speak to the area that I am now involved with years later, but we are very open with the religious affiliations of our local young life and parents have a pre-camp meeting they are welcomed to attend which ‘unveils’ the order of talks and purpose behind the camp. The last thing I would want is for a youth—or parent—to walk away blindsided.

        Also, contrary to many areas I have observed, ours has the hope that camp is solely used as a tool to build relationships/friendships with students that we already know and share life with. It is not the end… it ought to be the beginning. A mountain-top spiritual experience will not carry you through lifes many ups and downs. I would much rather a student—or anyone for that matter— make a sober-minded decision to follow Christ. To weigh the pros and cons, as there are many, before choosing to become a Christ-follower. Peer pressure tactics, deceitfulness, or persuasion ought not be the fuel to draw kids to Jesus. We should be able to forwardly, and freely communicate our faith and allow them with an honest choice.

        I do hope that despite your unfortunate experience you will have the grace and ability to consider that one person’s mistakes… one area’s mistakes do not always represent an organization as a whole. Thank you for your honesty/vulnerability in sharing with us all.

      • christianagnostic March 6, 2013 at 9:20 pm #


        Thanks for your comment….I am glad to hear that you actually inform parents in advance about the nightly talks.

        But I wonder if your area is the exception to the rule….this is the first time I have ever heard of an area doing this.

        In my own experience, we almost never talked about the specifics of camp, other than the water sports and the ropes course.

      • Bridget November 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

        I’m a current Young Life leader and in my area, parents are very much aware of the nature of club and camp. Camp is not the big unveiling of “Oh surprise, this is actually a Christian organization”. We, as leaders and the occasional students, get up at club and give a talk that is specifically about Jesus. We also have a bible study every Sunday night that any high school student is welcome too. So when camp is promoted, its very much known that this is going to be a camp where Jesus is talked about.

        As far as parents not knowing the leaders, in our are, we are extremely encouraged to get out of the car if we drop off a kid at their house and go and at least introduce ourselves to their parents. We try to make ourselves as available and open to the parents as we can. If I’m making plans with a girl to hang out, I tell them to give my number to her mom or dad in case they need to call me.

        We do not by any means hide the fact that we are a Christian organization to get more sign ups for camp. Most kids hear about camp at club where there will be a talk. So they can assume that it will be a Christian camp. I’m extremely sorry to hear about your experience at Young Life but to give the assumption that all areas are the same is very inaccurate. Hopefully you can understand that most leaders take their position very seriously. Before we become leaders, we have to go through training and in fact some of my friends did not get placed at a school because our area director felt that they weren’t spiritually mature enough. God has given us the greatest blessing ever: to allow us to share His story with those who have never heard it. So just know that there are those of us out there trying to make a difference in these kids lives.

  6. christianagnostic August 13, 2012 at 6:56 pm #


    Thanks for your kind response. I appreciate your empathy towards my bad ministry experiences.

    To be clear, my bad experiences weren’t the main reason I lost faith. My main reason was studying the history of the Bible and how it was formed.

    As for Young Life, I had always viewed it as a really good experience. It wasn’t until I became a parent with teens that I began to question Young Life and it’s methods.

    At the time, I trusted my leadership without question. I was too young to understand some of the more subtle issues of parental consent and the manipulative nature of “relational/ incarnational” evangelism.

    Thanks again…

  7. Bow September 5, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    Kids are never FORCED to beluieve in anything. At camp, they are put in the postition to where they are learning about christ and can decide wether or not they want to follow that path or if they dont. in fact this summer i was at a camp and on of the girls there went home not believing in christ or wanting to follow Him and no one treated her differently or acted differently, but they respected her beliefs.

    • christianagnostic September 5, 2012 at 7:52 pm #


      I agree that kids are never forced to believe. I’m glad that no one treated this girl differently and was respectful.

      On the other hand, the environment at YL camp is very controlled and some of the tactics border on being coercive.

      First off, many kids (and parents) are unaware that so much of their camp experience will involve talks and cabin time. The emphasis when trying to get kids to camp is on the fun they will have. The videos show ropes courses, water events, and other cool things that teens will enjoy. Very little is shown or talked about in terms of the Evangelistic talks and meetings that occur at least 3 times a day, when you include cabin time.

      Even a kid that goes to club and knows that they talk about Jesus is in for a surprise. At a normal club, songs and skits are the bulk of it, with a 5- 10 minute talk at the end. At camp, they will attending at least 2 clubs a day and cabin time. Plus as the week rolls along, they’ll have clubs, song time by the staff (including worship songs), optional seminars, and a very public and emotional say-so time.

      Very little of what I just described is ever talked about before a kid goes to camp. And it borders on being deceptive, in my opinion. Kids and parents should be made aware of just how Evangelistic in nature a week at camp really is….

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Laura April 24, 2013 at 3:42 am #


        It sounds like you were in an unfortunate Area, and I’m guessing that your area director was let go, and the regional area director stepped in. I want to thank you for pointing out all the mistakes that this man made, and all the mistakes that YL makes. It helps knowing that there is someone out there that is pure and blamesless like yourself to help us to perfect our ministry!

        ps, I’ve been going to camp for almost 11 years now, and everytime I talk about club, campaigners, or camp yes I talk about the exciting things that happen but I always end and summarize on the fact that this is about Jesus. That is our main purpose. That is what the organization is about. We are not a bate and switch ministry, I have never met anyone who has done that, or thought that they were a victim of that.

        I hope that one day this bitterness that traps you will be freed from you, because it is just a debilitating way to live life…

      • christianagnostic April 24, 2013 at 5:49 am #


        Thanks for the comment (love the sarcasm by the way)….

        you said

        ” I’m guessing that your area director was let go, and the regional area director stepped in”

        Sorry, he was not let go after this incident and was not replaced by a regional director. He conitinued for at least another four years in our area.

        ” It helps knowing that there is someone out there that is pure and blamesless like yourself to help us to perfect our ministry!”

        Hmmm….this backhanded slap in the face smells like a “shoot the messenger” type of comment. You don’t like what I’ve said so now you imply me that I am being arrogant and judgemental. That’s fine, but what about the many posts from parents or the sexual abuse and crimes committed by Area Directors? Is it not fair to point out that there have been more than a few abuses by leaders? As a parent, am I not allowed to ask questions as to how these things occurred?

        “I hope that one day this bitterness that traps you will be freed from you, because it is just a debilitating way to live life…”

        Again, when have I ever expressed bitterness towards Young Life? Disagreement, but not bitterness.

        I hope that one day that the blinders you wear around your life will be pulled back and you will allow yourself to know the truth.

        You know what they say about the truth…it set’s you free.

    • Emily June 1, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

      I’m a little late to the party, but just found this blog and find that many of the postings reflect my experiences in Young Life, both as a teen as later as a leader-in-training. I was one of those who went to camp and was overwhelmed by the amount of cabin time talks that occurred. I gave my life to Christ after one of these..not perhaps because it was what I was being called to do, but because I felt so overwhelmed by wanting to be accepted into the group of cool girls from my school who I was bunking with. I grew up a Christian, accepted Jesus as my savior when I went through the confirmation process at my church, and always enjoyed my experiences at church, youth group, and summer camp. But when I joined Young Life, I suddenly felt like I had missed something. Evangelical Christianity is a lot more hard core than the Methodism I had grown up with and suddenly, I felt like I hadn’t ever been a Christian at all.

      At camp, all of my cabinmates and I were sitting around in a circle with our leader, talking about when we had accepted Jesus into our hearts and how it had changed our lives for the better. Each girl in my group had a “ta-da!” story about accepting Jesus–they were so confident with their stories. I felt totally inadequate-like, “wait–did I miss something?” I started crying when the conversation came to me and it was my turn to confess when I accepted Jesus. Suddenly, I felt like all of my faith from my youth was meaningless–like I was a loser who hadn’t really had my “come to Jesus” moment. I was embarrassed not to have a story like this. But-ta da!-one of the girls said to me, “THIS. THIS is your come to Jesus moment! This is Him working on your heart!” After hearing that, I felt so INCLUDED. Like–okay!! Here it is! Now I can be part of the in-crowd!! After that session, we all separated into quiet time where I “accepted Jesus” (yet again) and prayed for his guidance. I didn’t feel any different. But boy did I feel relieved to be included with the group.

      The rest of camp was a lot of hugs and tears and the big moment on the last day where you watch that cheesy video of the crucifixion set to “Everything I do..I do it for you.” Those who say that camp is all about fun, fun, fun with just a *little* Jesus sprinkled in here and there are not being honest. It’s a very deliberate/manipulative build up that plays on teens’ insecurities and emotions and encourages them to accept Jesus when many don’t even really understand what that means/entails. That final reveal sums it up–everything has been ratcheting up to this moment. You just WANT to be part of it all. And so you say yes. Again, not because you even understand what accepting Jesus as your personal lord and savior and blah blah blah means, but because everyone is crying. And hugging. There’s important silent moments where you must REFLECT. Pray. Keep thinking. Here’s a video of Jesus dying set to emotionally manipulative (and cheesy as hell) music. JOIN US.

      I have been out of Young Life for 10+ years and an atheist for 5 and I am still shell-shocked over what happened to me. Camp was just the beginning. Then came Campaigners, Campus Life, and Wyld Life leadership training. Once I got to the leadership training part, it all started to unravel for me, culminating in the moment where I had to sign a contract stating that I wouldn’t date a non-Christian, that I wouldn’t live with a member of the opposite sex, and that I would denounce homosexuality as a sin. I have many friends who are still involved in some way and others who, like me, eventually worked their way out of the evangelical nightmare that is Young Life, only to emerge bleary-eyed on the other side. I could tell story after story about this organization (obviously I have a lot of pent-up anger still! ;). But essentially, everything that has been highlighted on this blog reflect my experience almost to a T.

      I think that for most people who go on to be critical thinkers, Young Life is just a phase that they go through. But I cannot state with a clear conscience that it’s a positive organization. It’s the most manipulative form of Christianity I have encountered and I think parents are wise to steer clear.

      • ... Zoe ~ June 2, 2014 at 11:48 am #

        I appreciate this contribution to the discussion Emily.

      • musingsoncp June 3, 2014 at 1:01 am #

        hi Emily. I loved reading your insight about the group. Do you think I could contact you via e-mail to hear more about your experiences with YL?

      • Emily June 3, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

        Sure! I’m not sure how to get you my email address without posting it here, though.. A little help?

      • christianagnostic June 3, 2014 at 10:10 pm #


        First off…thanks for your comment. You’re never too late around here, considering I only moderate about 1/2 a day per week 🙂 .

        Secondly…if you want I can email both of you with each other’s email address. I’ll wait to see both of your consent, because I normally would never just email someone without their permission.

        Best Regards- CA

      • musingsoncp June 4, 2014 at 12:38 am #

        hi CA..I use a different e-mail address now. It’s just my username @ gmail. You are more than welcome to e-mail me.

      • christianagnostic June 4, 2014 at 1:34 am #

        cool…as long as Emily approves, I’ll send her your address, or she can just email you directly. I’ll wait to hear from her and then go from there…

      • musingsoncp June 4, 2014 at 1:38 am #

        thank you!!

      • Emily June 4, 2014 at 2:00 am #

        That’s fine!

      • musingsoncp June 4, 2014 at 2:13 am #

        you can e-mail me if you would like Emily!

  8. Travis April 29, 2013 at 3:32 am #

    I am not a huge proponent of youth ministries in general. I use to manage a Chick-fil-A and the first time I encountered Young Life, was when one of our employees was a leader there. I found out that he was a leader a few months after starting at this location as a manager. Now by his lifestyle and decisions, I was shocked to find out he considered himself a Christian, never the less one of the leaders of Young Life. He was entrusted at times to present messages, and lead other high school aged adolescence, how? I am not sure. I bought him his first actual Bible, because he didn’t actually own one, rather he read a daily devotional type book, and thought that was fair enough.

    After speak to a fellow manager, who was a solid Christian like myself, he clued me into the weak “Christians” this local young life branch produced. I feel from what I have heard from that leader, and several employees that have attended the focus is on entertainment and not making most out of Jesus.

    Of course Paul always had some entertainment before he preached a 5 minute watered down tidbit of Gods word, clearly that is what got him stoned and dragged outside the city….right?

    Granted before you attack, I get it I haven’t had first hand experience, sadly I think I can judge by the fruit it has produced. No one that came from that local YL branch I ever met was fruitful. I think I can call a fig a fig.

  9. Rachel September 18, 2013 at 4:21 am #

    I am sure this goes without saying, but I am going to say it anyways:

    As Christians we never claim to be perfect. We make mistakes (and I agree, adultery is a big mistake) just like the rest of the world. The difference is that we have God’s grace to help us through.

    It is not fair to judge all Christians based on a person’s mistakes any more than it is fair to assume that all Muslims are terrorists.

    The fact that this was someone in a Christian leadership position does make it harder, but that does not mean everyone under his/her leadership is going to do the same. If it did we would all be adulterers, afterall, because Bill Clinton made this mistake and we were all under his leadership, were we not?

    I am sorry you disagree with its methods, but Young Life is far from a cult. Anything that shares the gospel is better than nothing.

    • Zoe Bloomer September 19, 2013 at 11:38 am #

      I had a conversation with a friend once. She had been and was currently still in an adulterous affair with a pastor, for years. When I encouraged her to expose him and stop this affair she told me “She did not want to hurt the cause of Christ.”

      She had no concept at all that the cause of Christ had already been hurt.

      When you say that “anything that shares the gospel is better than nothing” you remind me of her.

      Who cares if they are adulterous? Who cares if they murder, cheat or steal? Who cares if they spiritually abuse you in any way shape or form? As long as the “gospel” goes forth, that’s all that matters.

      In another conversation a senior pastor told us it was okay to lie if it was for the cause of Christ. Of course, this served him well for sure as he was another pastor that was in an adulterous affair.

      Dear Jesus,

      Forgive Mary and I for our sin. We love one another and know this is wrong, not the love but the sex. We repent on our knees and ask you to heal us of this sin and help us get back to sharing the gospel at youth group tonight. May Mary’s teachings touch the hearts and minds of those children tonight and may the kingdom increase as she leads them in song and study. Father forgive me, the leader of this church. Your word says that you forgive us our trespasses. Forgive mine Lord and help me to give up my affair with Mary for Your kingdom. Bless Mary Lord. Make her strong. Help her husband to see her and meet her needs. She’s hurting Lord. Protect us with your angels. Surround us with your love and keep Satan and his demons away from us so that we can serve you with all of our heart. Mary and I thank you for still using us for your gospel. The gospel going forth from broken vessels is better than nothing at all.



  10. Paul C September 30, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

    It is natural, intelligent, and healthy to question the motivation of a group like Young Life when you first experience them. I know I did. Let me tell you what I’ve found in the last couple of years since my daughter found Young Life. I was invited to hang out in the “leader lounge” at camp, so I could see what’s really going on. (spoiler alert) I just spent the weekend at a leadership meeting at a “top secret hideaway in the mountains” Saranac Lake, so I can tell you even more from behind the scenes.

    My regional leader lives in a normal house like mine. No secret stash of money is evident. His boss struggles to put his kids through college, just like I do. Kids go to camp whether they can afford it or not. No one keeps track of whose parents donate. YL fails the “bilking people out of money” test.
    I found Christ after just seeing these folks at work and watching a few of their “clubs”. I figured I should go to church, so I asked. No one would suggest a specific church. “Church is important.” is what I got. YL fails the “signing people up for a specific church/religion test”.

    But the biggest test that impresses me is that YL does not put itself between its members and God. It pushes them to Him and gets out of the way. Catch and release. Young Life is a ministry, not a church. But really, can you say that is true of your church?

    So if these aren’t the features of a cult, then what are? Young life does not seem to possess any of them. Any big organization made of of humans will be imperfect.

    Oh yes, the last words of our secret leadership meeting: “This isn’t about Young Life, it is about Jesus. Young Life could be gone tomorrow and it wouldn’t matter.” “Don’t stop talking about Jesus.” “All these things…the gospel…are true. They are real.”

    If someone fears that Young Life is a cult because they are a bunch of people who love kids (and each other) too much, well that’s a risk worth taking.

    • christianagnostic October 1, 2013 at 5:19 am #


      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Young Life. I spent many weeks of camps and a few work weeks/leadership weekends at Saranac.

      I loved the property and have many good memories from Saranac Lake!

      And I agree that Young Life does not try to sign up people for a specific church (unlike Latter Day Saints or Jehova’s Witnesses). But I think that’s too narrow of a definition….Young Life most certainly approves of an Evangelical/Fundamentalist theology. So while it does not represent a particular church, it does represent a particular type of Christianity.

      As far as money is concerned, I don’t doubt your area leader is a “regular joe” as you described. But are you aware of the National leader’s, their salaries, and fundraising practices? You might want to dig a little deeper, in my opinion.

      Thanks again for reading and taking the time to share your experiences.

      • Paul C October 1, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

        It seems that your arguments are moving targets. So I’m not sure your intent when you broaden the definition of cult so it might still fit, or when you dangle hints of impropriety based on evidence you apparently have, but don’t want to share.

        You are very polite, but use well known ‘informal falacies’ in your discussion. For fun, look them up: hedging, moving the goalposts, repetition…

        I wish you peace. I sincerely hope you find your answer.

      • christianagnostic October 1, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

        Paul C-

        Not sure how you feel I have moved the goal posts. Specific examples might help me see what you mean. Just because I had good experiences at Saranac does not mean I now approve of what they taught me.

        It just means that I am a former Young Lifer that has come to grips with the fact that much of what I was doing and taught to do was unethical.

        Paul, I’ve more than once shared my own experiences of impropriety within Young Life and have linked documented cases of gross abuse by Young Life leaders and area directors when it has been a matter of public record.

        I apologize if you feel I was dangling, but I try not to launch into long rebuttals unless someone genuinely cares to know more than what I’ve already written on the subject.

        You can disbelieve me or disagree with my take on whether Young Life’s tactics are cultic. But please don’t try to minimize what I’ve said.

        I did read your link, but there are so many examples I’m not sure what you want me to hone in on…

        Best to you-CA

  11. ben February 15, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

    No one is perfect it says it in the bible. Everyone makes mistakes the young life leaders are humans just like you and have sexual feelings

  12. Rachel April 17, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

    I feel like this post as well as some of the comments are generalizing YoungLife. I think that with any organization there will always be people who aren’t truly following Christ and living for Him. On the other side of this expecting a YoungLife leader (or any person) to be perfect is ridiculous. We are all going to sin and mess up and yes, this leader should have been chastised and maybe asked to leave but just because this one area didn’t react appropriately (or maybe they did seeing as we don’t have all the details) doesn’t mean YoungLife is a cult just trying to make money off of kids going to camp being told it’s going to be the “best week of their life” (which I have heard many kids say after camp).

  13. David May 2, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    My 12 year old son was handed an invitation to a “Wyld Life” party in public school yesterday from a classmate. It mentions nothing about religion. Apprently the parents who run this just have their kids hand out invitiations and then other children who attend are asked to hand out invitations as well.
    My intention is to call the number on the invitation (it does not give a name) and find out what this is about, despite the fact that the web has already given me the information I need. My issue with the whole thing is, we are not a Chrisitan family and we do not want to others to fill my son’s head with their beliefs.
    What a crappy way to try and indoctrinate children.

    • christianagnostic May 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm #


      This sort of vagueness is what frustrates me about YL. Many Yong Lifers come on this site saying that they have nothing to hide and that parents and kids know exactly what it’s all about. But if that were true, then why do so many parents have to research for themselves what YL stands for?

      Have you considered voicing your concern to the school?

    • ... Zoe ~ May 8, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

      As one who was in youth ministry, not this one, and was a leader and at one time considered full-time ministry in the organization, I’d like to highlight that most people who work/volunteer in a belief system like this do it out of a belief that their God commands them to go into the world and preach the gospel. Why? To save you/your children from an eternity in hell, separated from God forever. You may already be familiar with their intent David but for the sake of a lurker who is researching.

      As one who was a leader (again not in this organization) I can tell you that my motives were purely based on my sincere belief that Jesus was the one true God and Christianity the one true religion (though the diversity within Christianity was so vast I couldn’t keep up with which Christianity was true – another topic). No one sees this from within the belief system as indoctrination. How can they be accused of indoctrination when God tells them to go and preach, because if you don’t, how will they (the children) know about Christ? It’s all done from the concept of “love. If you believe Jesus is God, Jesus died on the cross for your sins and the sins of humanity because He loves you . . . how in the world can anyone speak out against them doing what the one true God asks of them?

      My heart ached every single moment day & night for the unsaved. They were going to hell if they didn’t come to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour. I was a lifeguard for Jesus and never ever in my mind did I ever think in terms of indoctrination.

      This is not to take away from your concern or to let anyone off the hook. I felt like sharing from the perspective of one who has been there, done that.

      I personally think full disclosure should be required on those handouts. They should mention that they are a Christian organization. I’m not sure why they would hide that or intentionally keep that from students &/or parents.

      • David May 9, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

        You used terms that refer to the past. Have you changed your opinions (ie, Who wasin a young ministry, As one who was a leader, My heart ached every single moment). Am I to understand this no longer applies to you? If so, the below may not be as revelent.

        There are a few things from your response I would like to review. You state, more or less, that unless you are saved, you spend eternity in hell, right? So what happened to people before “Jesus”? Did everyone go to Hell? Because all other religions basically believe in “Paradise”. This would be one belief over another.

        If Jesus is the one true god, then why is he seated at the right hand of the father? and if he and “god” are not the same, the whole Monotheism goes out the window.

      • David May 9, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

        Oh, disregard. I just checked your blog.

  14. Sarah June 11, 2014 at 12:05 am #

    Well I am signed up for a YL camp for this summer. It will be my first time. It sounds pretty cool. A pastor at my church got into trouble for not doing his job. Everyone makes mistakes, and the right thing to do is ask for forgiveness.

  15. Hannah July 20, 2014 at 4:16 am #

    Everyone makes mistakes and there are always examples of situations that are mishandled. However, making mistakes is a part of being human. God gave us Jesus because he knew the evil that we often fall into, the mistakes we can make. Christians around the globe sin, but it is the way they deal with their mistakes that makes them christian. I personally was saved at a Young life camp, so I admit that I am biased. I also have a lot of friends who have come to know Christ through this organization and our leaders are great, amazing people that have always led us by example. As for the YL Camp ad, one of the goals of young life is to show that teens can have fun in their christian journey. YL shows that you do not have to drink, have sex, or do drugs if you want to have fun.

  16. Lisa April 16, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

    You folks need to listen- REALLY listen to what CA has to say. I was involved with a YL group in high school in the early 1970’s in one of the original locations ( Monument, Colorado). It’s a very charismatic group with one purpose in mind- cultivation of young, impressionable minds. That is not to say that they were deceitful about the “christian” angle. What was completely deceptive was that they “cared about you”- via “mutual love for Jesus” ( Jesus had nothing to do with it- it was about CONTROL). In this particular town, it WAS a cult, and a very psychologically dangerous one.

    • christianagnostic April 16, 2015 at 11:42 pm #


      Thanks for the comment.

      Do you mind explaining further what happened in this YL that leads you to say that it was a dangerous place?

      Best Regards-CA

  17. John Balmat February 5, 2016 at 4:39 pm #


    I work for Young Life, and have been associated with it for more than a decade. A few of our regularly attending HS students stumbled across your blog while searching Google for YL songs. They read the entirety of your first blog on YL possibly being a cult and were confused, so they reached out to one of the leaders on our team. A healthy discussion followed, the theme being centered around 1 Cor. 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”. Both the kids and the leaders involved in the discussion believe YL aspires to the idea displayed in this verse, and doesn’t “persuade” kids to accept Christ, but instead allows them to make a decision. They see the verse as fitting because it doesn’t say follow this YL leader because they are perfect and don’t make mistakes. They decided that YL leaders won’t make a kid feel excluded or unwanted if they don’t want to start a relationship with Jesus, but will instead continue to be their friend, attend their sporting events, graduations, and recitals, and will simply continue to care about them.

    They too pointed out that since you describe yourself as a “deconverted Christian” on your About page, it’s understandable that you’d view YL this way.

    YL was started because Jim Rayburn saw that kids weren’t in the church. It’s aim in 1941 was to get them into the church, and it’s still the aim today. And not just the physical building, but join the the biblic Church, the body of believers here on earth. My biggest takeaway from reading your posts on YL is that we can’t be covert about that fact. I do my best as a YL staffer to be very honest and transparent about that, but we can always do better, out of respect for the parent who wouldn’t want their child attending an event that proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When our aim isn’t made clear, yes, it’s not fair to label YL as misleading.

    On the whole, your views on YL break my heart. In my opinion, in this broken and upside down world, kids need mentors, andI’m guessing you wouldn’t disagree with that. However, I want those mentors to be pointing kids toward Christ. Young Life is a vehicle that empowers Christ-following leaders to own their brokenness, step into mentor-like roles, befriend kids, and point them toward freedom in a relationship with Jesus. If you’re not for Christ, YL runs the risk of looking cultish.

    Appreciate your thoughts and the open dialogue,
    John C

    • John Balmat February 5, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

      *When our aim isn’t made clear, yes, it’s fair to label YL as misleading.

      • gaychristianblogger September 25, 2016 at 1:41 am #

        If you’re on staff with Young Life, you may remember that they updated the Faith and Conduct policy earlier this year and required all staff and volunteers to agree not to disclose any policies or standard practices writhing Young Life. Intentionally hiding the policies and core values from students and parents is nothing but misleading. Those changes were made partly in response to this blog I wrote exposing their policies and actions:

    • mechanicdude February 14, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

      John- The problem with YL is that your mentoring can be in direct conflict with the wishes of the parents and the actual needs of the child. Your i am right and you are wrong attitude can not be hid or sugar coated by being nice to people. It makes YL passively aggressive toward the children and families they are involved with. -MD

  18. Robert A Zanol September 23, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    I attended a Young Life event last weekend with my 14 year old daughter. On the surface it seemed OK. But as the event progressed I noticed something that as a born again Christian concerns me. More and more the emphasis, praise and glory was on Young Life rather than Jesus Christ. Just this is enough to be a deal breaker for me. There was talk of God, but in passing. No Scriptures were read or discussed. So unfortunately what on the surface appears to be a good thing is not something I will allow my daughter to be involved.

    • christianagnostic September 23, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your opinion to the discussion.

  19. Jacob December 18, 2016 at 4:02 am #

    I am a current Young Life Senior leader and WyldLife leader. I recently served on Work Crew at Saranac Village. My parents were Young Life leaders in the 80’s and 90’s, and they both met each other through the ministry. So in a way, I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for Young Life.

    Young Life is very open with the fact that they are a Christian ministry, though it usually isn’t presented that way. If we’re being honest, what non-christian high school kids would want to go to something described as a “Christian thing”. They would want to go because it sounds like fun, not because you get to sit around and talk about Jesus. That’s the appeal of Young Life. It’s a way to have fun in a Christian atmosphere that isn’t boring to high school kids. Obviously, if parents wanted to know what their kids were attending, a Young Life leader would tell them. I understand your situation with your leader, and am aware those things happen. But, we are all lustful, sinful people in this evil world. I know its a cliche excuse that people make but it is true. People are going to go through lapses of faith and judgement and that happens. But, the majority of Young Life leaders don’t behave like that. Many leaders, like mine, are phenomenal examples of Christ in our communities and are changing lives. Being a Christian certainly doesn’t make your life easier, I will admit that. You have a lot to defend when you believe in Jesus, and for some people, it’s hard to handle. But the rewards of being a Christian exceed those of not being one. Having Jesus to lean on is more comforting than having no one to lean on. Sometimes you need to look at it through a lost high school students perspective.

    The “say-so” is an opportunity for new believers to verbally announce their leap of faith and the fact that they have begun a relationship with Jesus. The intent is not to pressure kids that are on the fence to commit to something they are not comfortable with. I understand campers do feel pressured but that is not the intent behind it. It is not forcing every kid in the room to stand, only the ones who feel there life has been changed. So, I believe it is unfair to tell people that YL is guilting people into a relationship with Christ. Psalm 107:2 states “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so”, and that is the purpose behind the say-so.

    A big reason why activities at camp are not released before camp is, quite simply, an attempt to not ruin the fun of camp. It wouldn’t be as fun if you knew about everything that was going to happen. There IS a surprise factor in YL, but it isn’t the gospel that is the surprise. The surprise is all the exciting things you get to do at the camp that aren’t available at home. Campers expect there to be a club talk and a worship song, as it is traditional at both camp and club.

    I realize that you had a difficult time at Young Life, and honestly a lot people do. Young Life isn’t for everyone but its open to anyone, that’s why we don’t shove the message down your throat (on the contrary of what some people think on here). Young Life is a safe, fun place to get away from the stresses of everyday life. We are not a cult, because you are free to come to YL or not. Young Life isn’t forcing you to come, although some people that go to YL do force people to come (which isn’t right). Young Life is far from a perfect organization. Things happen, people make mistakes, and the message sometimes is unclear. But nobody and no organization is perfect. It is unfair to judge YL as if it is a perfect organization that everyone should love and be a part of it. I would love it if everyone could come to Young Life and meet Jesus! That’s the ultimate goal! We offer people the choice to follow Jesus or not. Some people take YL’s offer, and some don’t. Some people don’t feel that YL is for them, and that’s the hard part of any ministry. Obviously, when religion or faith is involved, it’s difficult for everyone to agree!

    Young Life forever changed my life, so of course I am biased but this is my take on this subject. I do not post to argue or hate on anyone else. Simply stating my opinion.

    Thank you

    • ... Zoe ~ January 13, 2017 at 11:23 am #

      Jacob wrote: Young Life is very open with the fact that they are a Christian ministry, though it usually isn’t presented that way. If we’re being honest, what non-christian high school kids would want to go to something described as a “Christian thing”. They would want to go because it sounds like fun, not because you get to sit around and talk about Jesus. That’s the appeal of Young Life. It’s a way to have fun in a Christian atmosphere that isn’t boring to high school kids. Obviously, if parents wanted to know what their kids were attending, a Young Life leader would tell them.

      I think this is very telling.

      First Jacob comments that “Young Life is very open” about its Christian ministry, “though it usually isn’t presented that way.” Why Jacob? Why isn’t it presented in that way? What’s wrong with presenting it as a Christian ministry? You said Young Life is very open. Be open and honest.

      Oh, but then look. You write: “If we’re being honest . . . ” So you are open but not entirely honest then? Why not be open and honest?

      Well, you do answer my questions. Why Zoe, if we are entirely open and honest it’s likely the “non-Christian high school kids” would not really want to come. Sitting around talking about Jesus (our not so subtle purpose drawing them in the first place) isn’t all that fun. We draw them in with “fun.” Yes, we find something appealing so they (the unbelievers headed for hell) will come in for fun. Then over time with friendship evangelism and discipleship, we win them for Christ. Another crown for our Young Life team.

      Here you wrote Jacob: Obviously, if parents wanted to know what their kids were attending, a Young Life leader would tell them.

      Seriously? If Young Life cared about the students AND their parents/family/guardians Young Life would answer the questions without the parents having to ask. If you are to be trusted and believed to actually be open and honest, full disclosure should come right from the start for both student and parent.

      If your mission is to win converts to Christianity, you are not just a so-called “fun” Christian ministry. You are an evangelistic ministry with the full-intention of winning students to Christ. And your lure to do so is fun, friendship and community. Be open and honest about that right from the start with the students and the parents.

      • Mechanicdude January 15, 2017 at 5:28 pm #

        Zoe- Young Life of course has no interest in full disclosure because that would hurt their financial status. Young Life Inc. is the unholiest entity that I have come into contact with in my somewhat long and well traveled life. I have read Jacobs letter till my eyes become sore and I can not believe that he just told us all to go to hell in his well groomed but sly way. Amazing -MD

  20. mechanicdude January 3, 2017 at 3:41 pm #

    Jacob- It is my opinion that most christians are lustful, sinful and evil.. most “people” are just trying to survive and protect their children from people like you. -MD

  21. ... Zoe ~ January 16, 2017 at 11:20 am #

    @ Mechanicdude Jan. 15/17 @ 5:28 p.m.

    I get why Jacob does Young Life apologetics here. He’s in the box. We are outside the box. Even if we were once in the box, now being out, he’d probably think/believe we were never in the box to begin with.

    Jacob writes: ” But the rewards of being a Christian exceed those of not being one. Having Jesus to lean on is more comforting than having no one to lean on. Sometimes you need to look at it through a lost high school students perspective.”

    Zoe responds: Right here we have what appears to be an absolute statement by Jacob. As if he knows everything. Omniscient even.

    Christian – equals rewards.
    Non-Christian – not so much

    Jesus – someone to lean on
    No Jesus – empty void, alone, destitute. no one to lean on, not even your own parents or another single human being

    That last sentence is what ministry hangs on. The lost are always the currency upon which ministry works, evolves and sustains itself. Each human deemed unworthy. Each needing salvation. Take the lost, remind them they are lost, perpetually and their only hope to escape hell is to lean on Jesus via the education and fun of course of Young Life ministries.

    What greater opportunity to capture the lost than to come to the vulnerable “lost high school student.” Who cares if the student knows nothing about the Bible, about the history of the church, Christianity, etc.? It doesn’t matter. Give them fun, love and bring them in. Truth doesn’t matter. Only they will say it does because it is THE truth. There simply is no concept that humanity has had many truths. Countless people have lived and died in their truths. And yes, from Jacob’s mission position it’s likely most of them are in hell. I wonder just how many of those students even think to challenge Jacob’s knowledge of this so-called “hell” and look beyond the boundaries of Christianity to see where the idea/concept/creation of hell comes from?

    I have no idea if Jacob just told us to go to hell. I do know that his belief is foundational on salvation. And to be saved one has to be saved from something. And that something is hell according to the tenants of his faith. So yes, indirectly, it’s hell for us and countless people who came before us, are here now and the many yet to come. Here’s the thing about ministry, especially youth ministry. Keep it fun, simple . . . voila saved! So much of it done with absolutely no depth of study. So much of it done with students thinking their leaders are educated and learned and know what they are talking about. It is a merry-go-round with no end.

    Always enjoy our dialogue mechanicdude.

    • Mechanicdude January 16, 2017 at 5:33 pm #

      Hi Zoe- You know so much more about this stuff than I do. Always good to read you.

      Jacob not only condemned “us” to hell but he openly declared his intention to convert our children behind their parents backs and at their public school! He also declared to my eyes at least that our children belong too him…This man could not do the things he hopes to do and “be honest about it” to those that matter most. Jacob, I am calling you out: YOU ARE A CHILD STEALER A KIDNAPPER AND USURPER OF INNOCENCE. You understand what I am saying right? You know where to find me. -MD

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