Archive | May, 2012

Is Young Life a Cult?

4 May

Young Life is a para-church ministry that focuses on running clubs and summer camps for high school students.  They exist to introduce these students to Jesus Christ and the Bible.  I got involved with Young Life during high school, attended numerous camps, and served as a volunteer leader for five years.

Occasionally, I would hear someone accuse Young Life of a being a cult.  At the time, I dismissed it as a misunderstanding, or an angry denial of the truth of Christianity.  But I never considered it a cult….even after having been in a verifiable cult, I still thought warmly of much of my time in Young Life.

Now that I’m many years removed from my time at Young Life, and raising my own teens, I have been brought  back in contact with our local Young Life.  And it has made me wonder if one of the reasons I was ripe for a cult was the fact that many of the same cultic dynamics were present in Young Life?

Love Bombing

One of the tactics identified as cultic is Love Bombing.  Love bombing occurs when a religious group intentionally showers praise, friendship, and attention towards new members of the group.  They do this to try to emotionally connect these new members BEFORE fully disclosing the requirements and/ or theology of the group.

This is certainly a tactic that Young Life is guilty of  –  no doubt.  Most of what Young Life leaders and their campaigners do would fall under the category of Love Bombing.  As a leader, we would discuss our weekly “contact work”.  Contact work was the amount of time we spent hanging around the local high school or area teen hangouts, in hopes of making contact with students outside of Young Life.  Some leaders would organize sports events, or have teens they know intentionally invite other kids to an event, (like watching a football game on TV) so that the Young Life leaders could make contact and build a relationship with these students.  The sole intent of all of this was to then invite the students to attend a Young Life club or camp.  As a leader, I saw my motives as totally pure and godly.  But I was just in my late teens and early 20’s.  As a parent, I realize now, that I was evangelizing other people’s underage children without their consent.  This is another sign that Young Life might be cultic.

Young Life Club

Young Life club was a fun place to be during my high school years.  The skits were fun, we sang a lot of “oldies but goodies” from the Young Life Songbook, and I got to hang out with kids that I didn’t normally relate to at my school.  It also felt really cool to have guys in college taking the time to get to know me and discuss faith, music, politics, etc…I was a lonely teenager and Young Life helped me not feel so lonely.

As I got involved as a student leader, the dynamics changed.  I wasn’t just a kid at club anymore.  I was now involved with inviting my friends, going out of my way to be like Christ to others in my school (student version of Love Bombing), and was also given tips on how to help hype the club by always clapping and singing during songs, which included being told that we needed to scream like crazy when the leaders talked about Young Life camp.  In other words, we became a part of the backstage production crew that helped pull off a successful performance at clubs and camps.  We also spent a lot of personal time doing things like quiet times (anyone remember those Ty Saltzgiver booklets on quiet times?), memorizing scripture (NAV press anyone?), and journaling about our relationship with God and who we were going to reach out to for Christ.  Many times, our time as a campaigner was spent discussing with leaders how we could better improve on these three areas of life.

Young Life Ministry Strategy

One of the strategies that was often discussed at leadership meetings was that of making contact with “the leaders” in the schools.  This meant that as Young Life leaders, we would intentionally try to recruit the most popular and influential kids at a high school.  The thinking was, that if you could get the cool kids to attend, then other students would follow.  In other words, Young Life was gaming the pecking order of the high school cliques in order to try to build a platform to evangelize the school.  In this case, I would call this the “cult of cool”.

In the “cult of cool” thinking, the appearance of Young Life being cool was tantamount.  This meant that the Young Life leaders needed to be good-looking and in-touch with the latest fashions.  Star athletes and cheerleaders were often the focus of attention by Young Life leaders.  The good-looking people were often “randomly” chosen to be in the skits or brought up to help sing a song.  Were these things explicit?….not really.  It’s not that anyone said, don’t go after the ugly kids, or the girls that are overweight, or the punk rock kids with the Misfits t-shirt.  But if you focus on going after “the cool kids” in the high school, then usually these “un-cool kids” are quickly excluded from your ministry strategy.  It didn’t mean that those “other” students couldn’t be involved, they could.  But it was usually the result of them wanting to follow and be part of the “in crowd” that the more popular students represented.

This ministry strategy of Young Life does not make them a cult,  but it does make them appear to be more closely related to an advertising firm than a ministry.

Young Life Camp

Young Life camp was an incredibly fun time for me as a student.  Everyone seemed so open and loving.  The food was great, the outdoor settings were beautiful, and the nightly meetings were full of energy and emotionally charged talks about life, love, and Jesus.

But here’s the rub; so much of what I assumed was a result of  really loving people, was orchestrated.  Love Bombing and emotional manipulation would be an apt description.  Young Life camps are orchestrated to heighten ones emotions and encourage the students to make a highly emotional “decision to follow Christ”.

There were nightly talks about Jesus, including an emotional presentation of  his crucifixion that was followed  by a mandatory 10 minutes of silence to think about what we had just heard.  In my experience, the silence was  followed up by an hour of singing (mostly worship songs) by the volunteer staff.  Campers would then return to their cabins, where their leaders would lead an hour or more discussion about the talks and about where each student stood in regards to their relationship to Jesus.  Every activity was intentional in trying to persuade students to make a decision for Christ.

The final activity at a weekly camp was the “say so” meeting.  The verse about letting the redeemed “say so” was the basis for the name.  Kids would be encouraged to stand up among the hundreds of students and “say so” if they had committed or re-committed their lives to Jesus.  It was an intense display, full of emotional stories, lots of tears and hugs…followed up by more tears and hugs as we said goodbye to the many friends we had made during the week and got on the bus to travel home.

Again, I don’t know that the camps are intentionally cultic.  But they are intentional in their efforts to persuade every camper to make a decision for Christ during that week.  We would often times get complaints from parents whose children came home and were all the sudden “different” or “zealous” about their Christian faith.  Sometimes it was a change for the better; many times it was to a parents dismay.  Their child was now quoting the Bible to them and telling them that they were not real Christians and were hell bound.  Needless to say, some parents regretted having given permission for their child to attend.  They were told about the water tubing and sailing and all the fun their kid would have (which was true) but did not realize the amount of evangelizing that would be occurring (which was not highlighted in the brochures).  The fact it was a Christian camp was mentioned, but again, it was not the main focus of our pitch when convincing  parents to give their kids permission to attend.

So, is Young Life a cult?  I’m not sure, but I think they skirt close to the edge….My kids won’t be attending Young Life meetings any time soon.

Story of Child Abuse from the Mothership of SGM-featured at

3 May

exCLCer has posted her story of abuse at the hands of two pastors from CLC.   For those not familiar with Sovereign Grace Ministries, CLC (Covenant Life Church) was the founding church of the cult.  One of the founding pastors is CJ Mahaney, author and speaker in many of the new Reformed conferences.  CLC’s current  pastor is Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

I attended SGM churches for almost a decade, including a brief period at CLC in Gaithersburg, MD.

I’ll let her story speak for itself:

Christian Bookstores-Random Memories, part 3

2 May

Christian Bookstores are an interesting slice of life, for sure.  The following is less of a stereotyped discussion, and more of a random re-collection of some of my experiences at the store.

Study Bibles

Study Bibles are interesting creatures.  Not only do they have the Biblical text, but they usually include extensive study notes.  Some are just your basic Study Bible, meaning that they discuss different possible meanings of difficult passages,without too much of a slant.  Often times the study notes refer you to the original languages, or to the historical context, to help the reader fully understand a passage of scripture.

On the other hand, there are a plethora of Study Bibles that are pretty much nothing but slant.  By slant, I mean that the study notes will almost never stray from the systematic theology of its editors.  You have The Reformed Study Bible, The Baptist Study Bible, The Women’s Study Bible, The Men’s Study Bible, The Ryrie Study Bible, The Dake’s Annotated Version, The MacArthur Study Bible, The Jewish Study Bible,  ….. last I checked, there are over 100,000 listings for Study Bibles on

We often joked with customers, that the new Star Wars Study Bible was about to be released.  Of course, some of our customers would have gladly purchased a Study Bible mixed with quotes and pictures from George Lucas.

Occasionally, customers would come in and ask for the HIV Study Bible!  Not wanting to be rude, we’d lead them to the NIV Study Bible section and then quickly exit to the back room for a quick bellowing of laughter, before returning to assist our misspoken customer.

The Store’s on Fire (Can I Still Buy This?)

It was a Friday night, about 15 minutes before close, when we noticed an odd smell in the bookstore.  That smell was the smell of burning wires…an electrical fire had started and I wasn’t sure if we were about to go up in flames.  After a few minutes I saw smoke starting to come out of the ceiling, right over the CD section.  Then the fire alarm kicked on with flashing lights and a screeching sound blaring into the store.

I quickly ran over to a couple in the music section and told them that we had a fire in the store and we needed them to leave immediately.  They looked at me, paused, and then asked if they could finish shopping and check out first?  WHAT…There is a FIRE!  “Please,” I said, ” just take what you have in your hands and leave the store; do not worry about paying.”  They again shrugged and slowly made their way out, while smoke filled up the store.

I then ran up front to the registers where two employees were counting down the cash drawers and preparing the bank deposit.  “Please stop what you’re doing and leave the store!” I said.  “We have a fire!” I yelled, as I motioned them towards the door.

“But won’t our boss be mad if we don’t have the deposit ready?” said one of my employees.  What is wrong with you people, do you have a death wish?  “I don’t think he’s going to care about the deposit if this place bursts into flames and you’re still in here-GET OUT RIGHT NOW!”

“Good point!” one of them quipped.  They put down the cash drawers and exited the store.  Luckily, everybody was cleared from the building and the fire department came before it developed into a major fire.  There was only minor damage and the store was not even closed as they replaced the wiring in the ceiling.

I’m still shocked at how nonchalant everyone was in the face of a possible fire.  Did they not understand that fire can spread in seconds?  Did they think an angel would come to extinguish the flames because we were in a Christian bookstore?  I still scratch my head at this one.  I’m just glad nobody got hurt on my watch!

Rogue Employee of the Month

We didn’t really have an employee of the month, but if we did…here’s some of the folks that would definitely NOT have been nominated.  Instead, they might have won a rogue employee of the month award.  Considering most of them didn’t last much more than a month, I guess it would have been pointless.

I hired one guy, middle-aged, extremely polite and likeable.  And utterly unable to use a cash register or count out change correctly.  It was painful to have to hover and make sure he didn’t give back extra change.  He was always apologetic; he even fired himself when he realized that retail was just not his thing.  He would have received an honorable discharge as a rogue employee.

Then there was my “loafy” teenager that I hired to close the store.  I received a call from my boss, soon after I hired my teenage friend.  He showed me a tape from the in-store cameras of the night before.  It showed my teenage loafer sitting on the check out counter, facing away from customers in the store, occasionally picking his nose.  My boss actually made me show him the tape.  It was not a comfortable situation.

He did improve slightly (at least he stopped picking his nose), but he did get into a row with another teenage employee.  He called her fat.  Needless to say, his hours ended up being reduced. When he came back the next summer for a job, I politely informed him that I suddenly didn’t need any more employees.  He was rogue, but immature.

Another employee came to me after the store next door closed.  She was well liked, very friendly and older in a grandmotherly way.  I really thought she was going to help us out.  What I didn’t know was that she was almost legally blind and had a bad habit of just making things up for customers, instead of finding out whether something was available or not.  This was hurting business.  If that wasn’t enough, she also was in the advice business. As in, I corner you during your break and tell you what you need to do with your life sort of advice.  It had gotten so bad (unbeknownst to me) that my most trusted employee was in tears and about to quit.  I actually had to fire Grandma, because she wouldn’t stop cornering people even after being warned.

Last but not least, the roguest employee of them all was a seasonal hire from the local Christian college.  He was nice enough, still a little green, but trying his best.  He came in after about 2 weeks and was sick as a dog.  He sneezed and coughed on everyone before we sent him home, but within days, all of us were now fighting a cold.  He was due to cover me for the weekend so that I could take my wife out on a date.  He had been in earlier that day to cash his paycheck, so I was sure that I was good.  Just as we were dressed and heading out the door,  I received a call that he had not shown up for work and that the store was mobbed.  Ugh….I went into the store to help, and tried tracking down my rogue employee.  He never did answer his phone.  I had his folks number on his application, so I gave it a try. His mother, very apologetically, informed me that she had just received a call from him.  He was half way to Florida for spring break.  Yep…not much chance of that date happening now.

That’s what happens when you hire rogues…