Is Young Life A Cult?: A Parent’s Plea To Their Son

5 Feb


Letters to Aussie MPs - No Clean Feed Please.

Letters to Aussie MPs – No Clean Feed Please. (Photo credit: kattekrab)

It’s funny…but when I wrote my original post, Is Young Life A Cult?, I had no idea how much interest and activity it would generate on this blog.  It eventually led me to start my secondary blog, Young Life Watch, to serve as a single resource for anyone wishing to know more or discuss Young Life.

Another recent trend, has been a lot of comments from Young Life leaders (past and present) that think its unfair that I even raise questions about Young Life’s methods.  Many say that Young Life does not hide it’s agenda and that any parent can find out for themselves what Young Life is really about….

But in the midst, there are real families that are forever changed when their teen gets involved with Young Life.

One of those parents shared a letter they wrote to their adult son and I’d like to share it here as well.  You can see Don’s orignal comments here.

Here is a letter I wrote to my son. It would not surprise me if others can seriously relate to it in many aspects.

As I said in the text, I was not worried about the 60,000 kids that were in Atlanta. I am only worried about you and how your progression into adulthood seems to have been hampered by your participation in YL activities on a regular basis.
It baffles me as to how you can support an organization with members that bash or have bashed your brother and sister on a regular basis because they choose to not be involved in it. It seems to me that the members of such a Christian organization would be respectful of another person’s wishes and feelings and be understanding of them. Do you ever wonder if their choice to NOT participate in it is because of how they have seen it change you or other kids they have known and the decisions you have made based on YL or based on the fact that they regularly see how these members harass people that choose to not participate? You left our house because of YL. There is no denying it. You did not like our concerns and you ran straight to the house of a YL member. Now, you still live there despite their son having moved out? Does it ever bother you that you have never shown us where you live or the fact that we do not even know where you live and who you live with other than by name? This really concerns me in the event of an emergency. Does it bother you that at the age of almost 21, you do not have a place you can show us as yours? Does it ever strike you as odd that those parents would allow you to stay there after their own son has moved out? This is not healthy for you. How much do you pay in rent or groceries or other household stuff? I am fairly certain it is little to none. In that case, how much have you saved towards getting your own place then? It has been 15 months and I know you are no closer to that today than you were the day you chose to leave. What are you going to do/have when their graciousness runs out? I see you doing this and it makes me wonder if I raised you wrong. It looks like you are a moocher that just sucks off of other people to get the easy way through life. You do not want to work hard to get anything and you feel as if you are entitled to the nice things you have. You have never had to work hard for anything you have and I guess that is my fault.
Please do not get my dislike/concern for the YL organization as a dislike for you wanting to live a Godly life. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am in full support of you if you choose to live like that and I always have been. My concern is the “material” approach to life you’re your YL/religious lifestyle seems to revolve around. Everything about it, that I have seen, is based on the “coolness” or “niceness” of a place/thing. Look at Atlanta (Hyatt hotel downtown), your camps (Rockbridge, Lake Champion, Crooked Creek, etc). They are all held at beautiful locations but have astronomic attendance costs. I know many kids get scholarships but that is just a way for them to maintain their “awesome” status. I am remembering $600 and up and I am certain it increases every year. I bet some are over $800 now. All of the kids I see involved in YL are always dressed to the nines with the newest styles and coolest shoes, cars, etc. I do not recall Jesus needing stuff like that. He was a very basic man (robes and slippers) and chose to let his actions define Him. Am I correct? How come a YL camp never involves a trip to somewhere desolate, destitute, and/or downtrodden? These trips to “lead teens to Jesus” always involve getting the wealthy teens, as opposed to those in more dire situations that may need it more than anyone. I think it is because NO ONE in YL, from top to bottom, can relate to anyone in a situation like that. Does YL ever talk about tithing? Or do they just worry about how much people can give to them so they can continue their ministry? I see links to give to them all over their websites but no real mention of what should be happening in the church. All of this lavishness flashes me back to the Jim Bakker scandal of the late 80’s. I’d recommend you Google that phrase and see what comes up.
Why is it that whenever I talk about these concerns you have NEVER been able to even SEE/HEAR my side of it? It instantly becomes an argument because you think there is NO WAY I can be right on this and you sit there with a disgusted look on your face like you are annoyed or inconvenienced by my thoughts. Why do these “leaders” or regional directors/area directors have to be involved in everything? I was only nice to that leader guy because we were in public. He has no idea what I wanted to say to him but I know you can imagine. It is very strange, to me, that these 35-45+ year old guys want to hang with groups of guys your age. If you ask me, it is because it is their job to make sure no one that disagrees with YL has a chance to get you to see what is actually happening. I guess their plan is working as they want it because that is exactly what is happening. You never want to hear it. A perfect example of this was the other night when we were texting. All you wanted me to do was watch a live stream of what was going on and hearing “your favorite artist”. You did not even reply that you would read my email to you. It was all about what I needed to do to “see what you were doing there”. Do you know how many times you have told me that? It is the exact response I get EVERY time I say anything about how I feel about it. You actually pleaded with me.
YL has had a direct impact on how much you work. I cannot figure out how you manage to maintain a job despite how much time you are able to take off for these activities. There is fall weekend, the summer camp and the Atlanta thing (even though it is not a direct YL happening) this past weekend. I know that since your first job, many of your jobs have been given to you through a connection to YL so maybe that is how and no one there cares as long as it is because of a YL activity. It amazes me that you continue to pass up opportunities to work full time hours so that you can attend their functions. This Atlanta thing REALLY confounded me. You had just gone to your mom’s for 5 days unpaid and then you throw on top of that another 3-5 days unpaid to go there. How do you function with that much unpaid time off? I cannot grasp it for the life of me.
I wish I could explain to you how heartbroken and distraught I have become over this. I have lost my son and I am scared (but basically have seen enough to know) he is never coming back. I hope you get that and understand that and that you care. I have told you what my other feelings are on it. I cannot be around you and have you involved in it because every time you participate in a YL activity I get nauseous and angry because they disgust me so bad. I am at a loss of what to do other than that. That does not mean I do not love you. I hope you get how serious I am about this, buddy. I cannot have that stress in my life. What happens between us from here on out will be your decision.
I have decided to type this as it affects me so I used the word I a lot. I did that on purpose. That way you could not think that I was influenced in anyway by how your other family members feel about it. They each have their own opinions and feelings. I felt I should only type this from the aspect of how I feel, what I see, and how it affects me. They can each share their views on it with you at their own time if they choose to and in their own way. I will also let you know that YL-(enter your city here) may be saying something to you about an email I sent them. I am sure they will recognize my name as the same as yours. I basically let them know what I thought of them. I asked them to pass on to their “leaders” to leave your sister alone. I am tired of her having to vent how frustrating it is to be repeatedly hounded about becoming a Young Lifer. It is also creepy to her that a college age leader(whose name has been removed) sits in the student section at sports events. It really bothers her and eliminates a lot of the fun she goes there to have. I am certain she is not the only one. On top of that, YLers seem to always want to give their testimony to her at sporting events. She did not pay for a sports pass to hear that only to watch the same girls be some of the nastiest ones in all of her school. Actions speak louder than words. I am sure the same can be said for kids at other schools you guys get placed in.
I know that making a change like this is a HUGE step and it may be impossible for you to see that it can be done. I completely understand how easy it is to trust and believe in people that much, especially at your age. It happens in society every day. Your entire life revolves around/in it. All I can tell you is that I’d be there every step of the way to help you however I could. You do understand and know that right? Like I said before, it does not mean I do not love you. I just cannot have the stress of it in my life.


49 Responses to “Is Young Life A Cult?: A Parent’s Plea To Their Son”

  1. christianagnostic February 5, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    Reblogged this on Young Life Watch.

    • Slick August 15, 2013 at 5:19 am #

      Christianagnostic, do you believe in Jesus?

      • christianagnostic August 18, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

        No….I don’t. Used to, until I studied church history and the history of Biblical manuscripts.

    • tmm05 October 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

      I was somewhat involved in YL in High school. I became heavily involved in college and I am in my first year of YL Staff. I went to weekend camp in high school because some of my friends were going. My YL leader was honest about it being a Christian camp and talking about God. When I went home from camp, I was on fire and wanted to know more about Jesus. I loved my relationship with my leader because she was a real friend who gave great advice and loved me unconditionally. I walked away from my faith during my senior year of High school and Freshman year of college BUT my YL leader was still my friend, even though I didn’t care about God at the time. I came back to Jesus in college.. and when I decided to make the choice to take my walk with him seriously on my own, then I connected with my YL leader for guidance. Once I became heavily involved, my family didn’t understand YL or my faith. They considered them selves Christians and thought that YL was a cult and didn’t understand why it took up so much of my time. I didn’t Judge them, I invited them to check YL events for themselves but they never showed up. I also moved in with my YL leader because I couldn’t afford to stay on campus and my family was going through some problems. My family didn’t understand why I moved and they took it very personal.. They blamed YL. But it wasn’t YL’s fault at all. I was growing into my own person. I’m different from my family and I didn’t go in the money making direction they expected. Does that make YL the bad guy? No, it just means we (my family and I) disagree on how I chose to live my life. YL just happens to be a part of it.
      I’ve been leading for almost 5 years now. I don’t believe that I love bomb. I like to think I just show up and talk to people (not just Teens, but everyone) while building real friendships. When I invite kids to YL club, I am always honest about the fun they will have, but also that they will hear about God. I think as a YL leader it is true that we don’t force kids to accept or even hear the gospel for that matter, we do want to make sure we’ve earned the right to share our faith… but even if a kid is not in the least bit interested in hearing the gospel with their ears, our prayer is that they would see it in our lives and in the way we live.
      I lead in an Urban (inner city) area. The kids coming to club and camp are not dressed to the nines, they can’t afford camp so we raise money by participating in fundraisers in which the kids that come to camp raise their money. There’s no targeting of “cool kids”, it’s just open to everyone.

      I’m sorry to hear about your experiences. Discord is not the heart of YL and I pray for redemption and healing in those relationships.

      Quick question for the parents: have you ever checked out a YL function for yourself? a campaigners? club? adult guest at camp? been to a banquet? (many of these options are available for parents to check out. Pretty sure area directors would love to let parents step in and check things out. This may also be neat for you and your children.) I suggest this because as someone who is involved in YL and having a family that didn’t like/agree/understand it would mean something if they had tried to see what it was for themselves and then made their decision.

      • christianagnostic October 12, 2013 at 1:58 am #


        Thanks your response and for sharing your perspective as a Young Life Staffer.

        I wonder if I can ask you a few questions….

        You say your family considers themselves Christian, but do you consider them Christians?

        You say that you do not “love bomb”, but I wonder when in your relationship with teens, you inform them of your intentions to convert them to Christianity?

        And along those same lines, when do you inform their parents about Young Life and it’s Evangelical theology and desire to see their child convert to YL”s Christian message?

    • Sam November 27, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

      My son has gone from being a catholic at college and working on a double major in the business field to now not being a catholic to wanting to change majors and become a teacher instead. All in three short months. If this isn’t manipulation and control I do not know what is. I will work on getting him back but I fear he could be too far gone. He has been on a retreat. He seemingly has a meeting 3-5 times per week and instead of staying home until Monday, he “needs” to be back on Sunday. He will rationalize everything about this to support his decision. Any suggestions on how to get him back are appreciated.

      • Rob smith May 1, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

        Your son was given his own life, its not yours to control and neither is his decision in faith, god has a plan for everyone and your son is living out his

      • David May 2, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

        I would agree with Rob to a point. If your son is over 18, he is free to choose. My son on the other hand is 12 and I will do what I can to teach him how people use the lure of “fun” as a tool to indoctrinate them into a belief.

      • Sandra Gross June 26, 2016 at 2:12 am #

        My suggestion is that you don’t get him back. Because your Catholic faith never moved you to fully live for God does not mean that your sons decision to do so is a bad thing. Maybe YOU should look into what he has going with God… Not just a weekly routine of going to church – but a life fully dedicated to the Lord. And you want him back? Back to what???

    • JMX September 22, 2014 at 11:52 am #

      Dear blogger,

      I would disagree with your statement that Young Life only reaches the wealthiest of teens. That is probably the only side of Young Life you saw because of the community you are exposed to. I was a Young Life kid and YL came to my beaten down and extremely dangerous neighborhood in CA. I lived in a neighborhood in which there were shootings on a weekly basis due to the heavy gang control. After high school I served for years as a YL volunteer working to help kids involved in gangs. YL urban works with poor kids in neighborhoods all across the country. As a matter of fact YL’s work outside of the USA is mainly in very poor communities. I respect the questions you raise in your blog but i respectfully disagree that YL was what drove the child of the person in the letter out of their home. A lot of times as families we fail to see the brokenness and how it affects our children. I also read a comment below where someone said that YL brainwashed their kid from a high paid future profession into to being a teacher. It’s sad that people would think that a profession to serve our youth such as being a teacher is a negative thing.

      I think that your blog is healthy in continuing to raise questions about anything our kids are involved with including YL. I whole heartedly believed though that the lives that have been transformed through YL’s work across the world in the past decades is undeniable. Someone in the comments previously said that yes YL is not perfect and no one individual or organization is. I would love to hear your opinion on this issue after you spend a few months at least living in the world of teens and seeing and feeling the hopelessness and loneliness that our kids from the very rich to the very poor have to deal with every day.

    • Lily March 2, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

      This is a truly baffling story. However, that particular YL team must’ve had internal problems. Bashing the siblings for not participating seems very unusual. I participate in YoungLife at my high school, and my brother does not. My leaders have never pressured me into inviting him or forcing him to come. There are definitely some screwed up things going on in this story, especially the moving out. I can’t imagine a child would flee their own home because their parents didn’t support YL. However, I can imagine a child fleeing their home because their parents bashed them about YL. There’s two sides to every story and I would love to hear the point of view of the child, now adult.

    • Worried August 17, 2018 at 4:03 am #

      My Daughter has been involved with young life for over 3 years. I just thought it was some kind of Christian Youth Group. However Young Life has totally changed my daughter. She is a star athlete and has been offered scholarships by college coaches. She has always been excited about her sport and planned to play it in college. She has now decided to quit her sport because she wants more time to do young life. Free college is now gone. She has also decided to go to a specific college simply because there is a Young Life house there with her friends. The college doesn’t even offer a program related to her interest. Everything she does is based on young life and being with her young life friends. Her major life decisions are directed by her involvement in young life because it has consumed her and brainwashed her into their program. I can’t even talk to her about it because she shuts me down. She is throwing away a fantastic opportunity at a great education because of young life. What do I do? I have considered contacting my lawyer and getting some kind of cease and desist or a restraining order against this organization.

      • ... Zoe ~ August 19, 2018 at 12:53 pm #


        I wish I could give you some ideas of what to do. Contacting a lawyer sounds like a possibility but I am unaware of anything related to that. Maybe someone will see your comment and be of help. This blog is not very active so not sure how many people are reading.

        Have you done any reading on cult sites that may be of some help at considering the legalities?

        It is sad to see the changes that happen to our youth when they give up their dreams for Christ. I imagine that’s how her friends and associates look at it and present it to her. So often in cult-like situations noses are turned down at higher education and former goals.

        As for shutting you down, it’s common. Cultish teachings alienate followers from their families, talents and community. They teach that anyone outside the group (you) doesn’t understand, can’t understand and won’t understand. They see themselves as the highest ideal and others as non-enlightened.

        Then it becomes all about getting everyone else in the group. In other words, the cause of Christ. They martyr their own identity and authenticity believing they will be rewarded here and in the after-life. It’s insidious and over-whelming and it becomes the focus.

        It’s so sad that she can’t see that she can still be a believer in Christ (if that is her choice of belief-system) and still be a fantastic role model within the context of her sport and education.

        My heart goes out to you. I know others here have had similar experiences but I’m not sure how many people still read here and how those situations have turned out.

        I just wanted you to know I acknowledge your comment here and your pain/frustration and disappointment. ❤

  2. unkleE February 5, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    Hi CA, can I ask you a couple of questions please?

    1. Am I understanding this letter correctly to be saying that Young Life members regularly bashed = physically and harmfully assaulted non-believers?

    2. Just curious, was there any reason why you used a photo of letters to Aussie politicians as an illustration, or was that just what was convenient?


    • christianagnostic February 5, 2013 at 9:57 pm #


      Not sure how bashed is used in Australia…but in the states, it simply means to strongly oppose someone verbally, usually in a dismissive tone. Very seldom does bash mean to actually assualt someone physically. The only time it’s used is in the phrase “Bash in the head or face”…would imply physical violence. Sorry if it came across that way, but I doubt very much that the author of this letter was referring to physical violence.

      As for the picture, it was the first one available for my post…

  3. unkleE February 5, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

    Thanks for the clarification. “Bash” in Australia would usually mean physical assault. Verbal “bashing” is bad enough at times, but physical assault would have been totally indefensible – I’m glad to hear that it wasn’t that.

    I don’t know anything about Young Life. It exists in Australia but I have never come into contact with it, so I cannot make any judgment. But I would be surprised if it was as divisive as portrayed here (but I have been surprised before!).

  4. Sammy51 February 12, 2013 at 5:42 am #

    Dear Christainagnostic,

    I’m sitting in my car after a YL club reading your blog. I’m on staff with Young Life. I have worked with YL for over a decade. My faith started in YL many years ago.

    I have a lot of respect for what you are doing and what you believe. Young Life is by no means a perfect organization. It is full of flawed people as are most religions, churches, and organizations. we need to held accountable for mistakes that are damaging, you are doing a good job of that. I don’t think I have ever in my life love bombed anyone. I believe and have made genuine friendships that have stood the test of time. I have life long friends that are just like you and have renounced there faith or never “converted”. Forgive me if I’m wrong but love bombing is contingent on control or loss of freedom. I honestly believe that most YL employees and YL volunteers work the same way I do. I was wondering if you have ever thought about doing a post on what you gained that was positive from your experiences? You say that most were good but your focus seems to be negative?

    As for deception and being devicive I can’t tell you how much I hurt for those families torn apart by individuals involved with YL. As a believer of the Gospel I see our purpose as working toward unity. We should be bring healing into homes and churches. I pray that that the YL people involved with the son/father above are actively pursuing reconciliation. I hope that I am transparent about my intent to share the Gospel, it’s at the forefront of my mind and I pray it will be for others on staff and leading volunteers.


    • christianagnostic February 12, 2013 at 4:55 pm #


      Thanks for your comment….I appreciate that you desire to be transparent about your intentions.

      You’ve raised some interesting questions that I’ll try to give you my best take….

      you said

      “Forgive me if I’m wrong but love bombing is contingent on control or loss of freedom.”

      I’d have to disagree with you, love bombing is the showering of attention and affection on someone, as a recruitment tactic for a cause, commercial or religious. The reason it’s considered a cultic tactic is because it is an intentional tactic designed to gain someone’s trust before you introduce them to your ultimate intentions (in Young Life’s case-to convert them to YL’s Evangelical understanding of Christ).

      Young Life’s whole basis for contact work and the way they instruct campaigners to reach out through friendship first, lines up pretty well with most definitions of love bombing. Your sincerity is not the issue, your transparency about your ultimate intentions are the issue.

      How soon does a teen know that you are befriending them with the hope that they will get involved with Young Life and come to faith in Christ?

      How soon do a teen’s parents know your/ YL ultimate intentions?

      If it is not before their first club or their first camp, then I’d say that you’ve failed to be transparent.

      I’ve written a few posts on this topic that you may not have seen…

      you said

      I was wondering if you have ever thought about doing a post on what you gained that was positive from your experiences? You say that most were good but your focus seems to be negative?

      I have thought about it, and will probably do so in the next month or so…at least I’ll try. My writing time has been pretty limited because of some overtime at work and attending my son’s basketball games (I know you didn’t ask, but he is an awesome defender and I love watching him play).

      Thanks again for your thoughts and the conversation….

      Lastly, please read Janet’s post below….excellent example of what I am trying to say on this topic.

    • Maris July 20, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

      Nothing will be done. A real parent or christian would know that we should strive to bring families together not tear apart. God will not allow Yl to continue this path. In time directors and leader will fall.

  5. Janet February 12, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    I can so relate to this. (though I appreciate the comment above). My daughter – the one who I originally posted about last September, is now a leader. Some parts of it I see as perfect for her – she loves working with young adults, whether it be in sports or religion, and she’s actually very good with them. But I, coming from a Catholic upbringing, just don’t understand the devout, evangelical nature of both YL and the religious groups that she’s now a part of.
    I’ve chosen to not confront her on this, since I don’t want us to be torn apart. I worry, however, about what she’s being taught (forced to learn??). She attended the Passion Conference, she attends some kind of Church, YL, bible study, etc. almost every day. She has no time for anything else College -related – no school spirit events, etc., and barely enough time to study. And, I’m worried that they are instilling in her values that are very different from what I’ve taught her all these years. Primarily, acceptance for those who are different.
    When we got in a huge argument over Christmas – when she told me that I was not a Christian because I was not spreading the word, it about broke my heart. She was outright judging me – something she had never done before, and looking down on me because I wasn’t like her and her “new” friends. And to think that she’s now teaching these young, impressionable kids these things. Well, it scares me.
    We went to church with her when we went to visit (and she does go to school in the bible belt), and the entire time the Pastor was talking about how the wife must “submit” to her husband. I was horrified that she’s being taught this. Nowhere did they mention a marriage being a team, making joint decisions. He likened it to a military leader, where someone has to be in charge. You should have seen the smiles on the college aged boys, leaving that sermon. And that’s what she’s now learning, and taking as the truth….

    She IS still hanging with all the YL leaders – that is ALL she hangs with. She doesn’t have time for anything else. And they ARE still nice………. I really do like them, but I also really wish I had the daughter I had for 18 years back. 😦

    • christianagnostic February 12, 2013 at 5:02 pm #


      For what it’s worth….I’m sorry that your daughter chose to judge you so harshly. I know that has got to hurt….

      Your description of her church is even more alarming…I know from first hand experience how damaging a militarized version of marriage can be…it’s an awful vision of relationships that can lead to no good.

      Thanks again for your thoughts….

    • Sandra Gross June 26, 2016 at 2:14 am #

      This one will grow to be a better version of herself… you should visit a Young Life Camp before you decide what you really want for her.

  6. graceone February 22, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    I can understand this father’s concerns, but I’m wondering if the best way to handle this is to cut the young man out of his life because of “stress.” It feels manipulative to me. Why not simply voice the concerns, listen, agree to disagree if needed, and then trust God?

    Easier said than done, I know. But, it does seem to me that young people in order to mature need a certain freedom to walk out their own choices, and then handle the consequence. That’s part of how we all grow and mature.

    It maybe that the father’s strong approach is simply pushing the young person further away.

    I’ve worked with kids with serious behavioral/mental health/drug issues. In all honesty, I think there are plenty of parents out there who would be thanking God if the most concerning issue they had to deal with in their child’s life was an involvement with a group like YL.

  7. Diane April 23, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    For the first time in 4 years, I feel like I am not paranoid! Our son, now 26, got involved in YL during middle school. We also thought that it was harmless initially however he began attending nightly bible studies his senior year of high school which seemed unusual for a 17 year old. After graduating college with a degree in Civil Engineering, he moved to a city that had a strong YL presence and also thousands of miles from his family. He chose to not persume a career in engineering in order to spend two summers volunteering at a YL camp. He met a girl through YL connections whom he married. Four years later, he is still working in the food service industry, a job that he aquired through YL connections. All of his social activities and leisure time revolve around YL. He has cut off contact with us and when we try to contact him, he is always too busy and abruptly ends the conversation. What really bothers me the most is that he has been in some type of “therapy” through YL for almost 3 years to “break free of his family”. Whatever that means? I have been feeling that these may be some sort of mind control sessions because of the extreme change in his personality and behavior.I feel that our child has slipped away from us and it is a horrible feeling.


    • christianagnostic April 23, 2013 at 6:51 pm #


      I am sorry to hear this. I am at a loss as to explain the hows and whys of your son’s decision, but hearing that he has cut off contact is painful.

      I’m wondering if your son has ever tried to explain why he feels the need to “break free” from his family of origin? I am assuming that your son and wife are volunteer leaders for Young Life?

      I know this is all very personal, so please feel free to ignore my questions if don’t feel comfortable discussing it.

      Best Regards-CA

      • Diane April 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

        Thank you for your prompt response. Yes my son and his wife are leaders and my son has been asked to be a regional director. The “therapy” sessions are about his anger towards us and to resolve “boundary issues”. Trust me, he had a normal middle class midwest upbringing with two loving parents and a golden retiever. Couldn’t be any more Norman Rockwell if you try. He was a happy kid until 7 or 8 years ago when YL infected his thinking.

    • Janet April 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

      Wow, Diane. I can actually relate to your story, since I’m afraid my daughter will end up following that same path. She’s now a leader at school, and spends much more time with all of her young life and church activities than she does on her schoolwork. It’s definitely her priority. I was worried about it when I started seeing how they smothered her when she got there, and it hasn’t stopped. I’ve met a few of the girls, and they are sweet and very nice and caring, but I’m afraid of what she will do, since more and more of her time is with the YL organization.
      She decided not to major in what she planned (which is what convinced us to send her out of state), and I think it’s because she realized it would take more time away from her true passion – Young Life.
      She is friends with all the adult leaders, and thinks it would be wonderful to have that as a job after school. My feeling is that I wouldn’t be sending her to college and paying out of state tuition, if she’s going to end up as an office worker for YL. I can definitely understand where you are coming from with your son.
      As to the therapy and breaking free of his family, did he tell you that? Is that something that Young Life does? I can’t tell you how much that scares me.
      Best of luck to you. I hope your son “grows up” and realizes what he’s leaving behind. And I so hope the same thing doesn’t happen to us.

      • Diane April 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

        When I read your posting, I felt your pain immediately. I can completely relate to your story. Our son also went out of state to college perhaps this is another YL tactic in initiation.
        As for the therapy, I am not really sure how or when it all started. I do know that through this therapy he has come to the decision to disassociate completely with his family. I pray that this never happens to any other family but especially to yours.

        Helpless, hopeless and heartbroken,


      • Cassie May 5, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

        Excuse me, but you sound like a convenient Christian. I’m sorry you feel so strongly toward your daughter being a Young Life leader, however we as Christians are called to evangelize. Not when it is convenient, not when we are finished with school, but each day of our lives. If you are truly a believer, you would understand this.
        Last time I checked, Jesus being crucified on a cross for our sins was a little more important than our “schoolwork.” Do you realize how ridiculous you sound?

        And to Diane as well, maybe he chose to disassociate from his family because you are clearly unsupporting of his decisions in life, and maybe he didn’t want that negativity surrounding him.

      • BillSan June 15, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

        Hello friends,

        I am an Area Director with YL and after reading these comments, I felt the need to make a few things clear. The Gospel in its essence is about reconciliation between God and His people. Broken relationships being restored because of Jesus. As Young Life makes all efforts to model itself after the Gospel, YL in its essence is all about reconciliation. I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had with young men directing them to bury the hatchet and find peace with siblings and parents because that is the very nature of Jesus coming to Earth. So, for there to be a notion that someone representing Young Life is instructing leaders, kids, staff to break free of their parents, I just have trouble believing it. Not discrediting your story or your pain, I just wonder if things have become miscronstued in communication. That would never fly where I am from and there is intense accountability within the organization. I promise you division and brokenness is not something YL stands for, especially within families. I am sorry for how much this process has hurt each of you. Your hearts to be in deep relationship with your children immediately reminded me of the Father in the story Jesus told about the Prodigal Son.

        Don’t lose hope and if you haven’t already done so, please contact the Young Life staff directly that work with your kids. I am sure they would love to talk about it further.


      • Worried August 17, 2018 at 4:16 am #

        This is happening to my 17 year old daughter right now. She is giving up her sport and athletic scholarship so she can focus on young life. She wants to attend a college where her young life leaders are and the college doesn’t even offer her major so she is trying to find a new one at this specific college. I had no idea she was sucked so far into this organization that it is controlling her major life decisions.

  8. Travis May 5, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    “Last time I checked, Jesus being crucified on a cross for our sins was a little more important than our “schoolwork.” ” Really? and THAT doesn’t sound ridiculous to you? If anything it seems that the “negativity” is coming from YL and the actions by its leaders. If you’ve read all these stories, how can anyone say it doesn’t have anything to do with what YL is or is not doing?

    • Janet May 5, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

      Seriously, Cassie? I’m paying over $100,000 for my daughter’s education, so it sure is important to me. If school is not her focus, than so be it – she can drop out and become an Evangelist. I WANT her to get the opportunities that college offers her, and if Young Life is a part of her experience, I’ve accepted that. But I am not willing to work 10 years past when I could retire to send her to college, when she may be there just to be a part of young life.
      Being “called to Evangelize” should not come at my expense, and is ridiculously judge mental. Being a Christian means understanding and being accepting of others, which clearly you are not. It’s what drives me crazy. Jesus would never have judged, like you so obviously do. I’m certain that you don’t consider me a “true” Christian either, since I’m a Catholic.
      If what you say is true, will you pay my daughter’s tuition for me? I’,
      M paying for an education. I’m NOT paying for her to go to Church.

      • Sam November 27, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

        Janet, has anything changed since May 2013? My son is 90 days into this and this needs to end so he can go back to focusing his time on schoolwork and not have an unpaid part-time job working with YL.

      • James June 24, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

        I understand how as a parent paying for your children’s tuition, you would be frustrated with them if they dropped out after 3 years or slacked off, etc. But them choosing to go into a job they enjoy is their choice and it is the risk you take as a parent… if your daughter decided to be a starving artist, it wouldn’t be because art is a cult, but it would still be fairly frustrating having spent all that money.

  9. Travis May 5, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    I applaud you Janet. You are 100% correct. If you are paying so much money for an education, it SHOULD be the #1 priority. For someone to even call your statements ridiculous definitely doesn’t know what they are talking about.

    • ... Zoe ~ May 6, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

      I appreciate your concern Janet and you have every right to be concerned as her parent.

  10. grace January 25, 2014 at 4:08 am #

    I can definitely relate to this dad’s feelings regarding YL. My children became active in the group about two years ago and I am concerned by the expense of the camps and weekend retreats. It seems far too exclusive and high-end to be authentic Christianity. The parent group which has sponsored this YL is very exclusive and wealthy. It seems as though they have attempted to create (buy) a safe space for their kids and their kid’s friends.

    The leaders are kind and seem to shepherd the children in loving ways, but
    my children never got too close to the leaders because the leaders are focused more on the children of the rich patrons. I can see how this group could feel like a cult. The leaders do show up for sporting events and open their homes. But for my children, they always felt a bit uncomfortable because it was pretty obvious that they were outsiders.

    I was drawn to YL because I am always looking for healthy, Christian youth groups but the cost of the camps and the constant expensive retreats make YL unrealistic for most middle-class families. If they want to be truly Christian, perhaps they should have their donors completely sponsor all retreats for all of the active participants. At some point the group started charging for pizza to attend the weekly meetings. I felt like that was one subtle attempt to discourage certain people from showing up.

    • James June 24, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

      I can see how people see it this way, but I’d have to disagree. I hated YL in highschool and did not care for the people (other highschoolers) involved, as they did fit the type you just outlined: exclusive friend group, upper middle class, etc.

      But you have to realize that that feeling is something they try to avoid 99% of the time. If you can’t afford camp, they will wok with you – be it paying for camp (with donor money, as you suggested they ought) or figuring out another plan. I assure you, anybody who wants to go will go, given the spots exist and the area can afford it. And that’s a big if, but in my city the richest area of town donated a ton of money to the poorest area of town for those kids to go to camp, get fed for free at YL club, and get rides home.

      The leaders themselves work tirelessly to destroy clique barriers. If the leader tries to bring outsiders in, but there are 10 kids who want to keep them out, then it’s nearly impossible to make the outsider feel at home. That’s just the nature of people, really, not YL in particular. It’s a hard situation to fix.

  11. Maya March 8, 2014 at 1:18 am #

    YL is an amazing group and a good way to make friends with people who are as level headed and Christian as you.This blog is just ignorant hatred to a group that does nothing wrong. YL doesnt force you to become a Christian. It is a place for fellowship.
    Also, there is no “certain type of person” that goed to YL. Don’t try to scare people with your fear of YL. It is truly amazing.

  12. Riley September 17, 2014 at 4:52 am #

    I’m a high school student I went to the first of the young life club meetings this school year and it did seem to be filled with more popular people, not many fat people, maybe one but probably not any scene/emo kids. I’ve been a Christian for a little less than 2 years now and I know it was a legitament experience I had (and continue to live) because it wasnt during some typical emotional Christian summer camp thing that I became saved (doesnt mean camp conversions cant be legit, but often it can be just emotion) Some guy on youtube was willing to put up videos that convicted me to the bone and led me to repentance and faith in Christ. Some of the people at YL (not the leaders) I instantly recognized that would probably say they are christian, but the things I’ve heard them say and things they do are contrary to what Jesus taught. YL does also seem to take being fishers of men to heart. YL was a completely social event and entertaining for the most part until the end where they played one worship song and were pretty clear about talking about Jesus for like 5-15min at the end of every meeting. They also showed a video for a weekend event that portrayed the event completely as fun, but as evidenced by a guy speaking into a mic on stage in the video (no audio of his words) I can conclude that there will be at least some sort of preaching/ talking about Jesus and I just confirmed that the property for the event is owned by YL by internet search, but the talking about Jesus part was not advertised (I love to talk about Jesus, but I really prefer people to be straight forward about things) I have the paphlet/form thing thing that needs to be signed in with me and it doen’t say anything about God, Jesus, or Christianity unless you count “good times with your friends, & MUCH MORE!” I’ll probably go to the Monday night meetings still because it was fun, maybe the weekend thing, but if I go it will probably be to prevent lies, deceptions, or any obviously wrong teachings( essentially I could show 2 or more verses in the Bible that run contrary to the teaching). I cant see myself as being proud of young life or of being a young lifer considering what I’ve seen and experienced up to this point( doesnt mean I wont invite some of my friends though because it is fun and entertaining and maybe the short message will stimulate some sort of conversation about God and Jesus in addition to the amount I already talk with my friends about Jesus on occassion. As far as I have seen though so far people who choose not to do anything related to YL arent bashed or anything at least in my school.

    • christianagnostic September 22, 2014 at 6:01 am #


      Thank you for sharing your thoughts as a current student that attends Young Life.

      Best of luck to you in High School!

  13. Mike January 19, 2016 at 4:11 am #

    As a current leader I can totally see people falling victim to the concerns in the article as well as the comments. Thinking that you lost a kid to anything is extremely heart breaking and not knowing that much about the situation I wont comment. I also see a lot of what is being said everyday as a leader. People complaining about how their parents arent real Christians, or how they change their major and things to other things.
    I just have a few things to say about that. When people change their major say from business to teaching, it probably isnt only because of an organization no matter how big, it could be just because they see that money isnt everything, and that a man/woman with love is still one of the happiest people in the world. And i agree that the camp costs are too high, even for me as a leader i have to pay and it annoys the crap out of me knowing that some leaders/kids wont be able to go to camp or think its out of range because of said money. Thats not the way Jesus would have wanted it, but it is the way the world works. So sure people might fall victim to things you dont like or understand like the things above, but you have to remember these people are people like everyone else, they will fall.

  14. Karshia craft June 29, 2016 at 2:47 am #

    I can see that this is ank old post, but my family is going through the same thing right now. I would be forever grateful if we could talk to you about how things turned out for you and your son.

  15. Karshia craft June 29, 2016 at 2:50 am #

    I can see that this is an old post, but my family is going through the same thing right now. I would be forever grateful if we could talk to you about how things turned out for you and your son.

    • christianagnostic July 10, 2016 at 4:11 am #

      I am sorry to hear you are going through this….

  16. Mary Lisette September 6, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    I found this forum when searching for more information on Young Life. I’d really appreciate your thoughts. I have a son who is in college and he went through YL training last year. He is an outstanding young man who is very friendly and committed to Christ. He is great with younger kids and has spent several summers working at a Christian youth camp. He was the only one of his friends who went through the training who wasn’t placed and he was very hurt. Here’s the thing…my son is recently disabled. He was badly injured several years ago but through God’s grace, has made a miraculous recovery and is in college, living in the dorms, and doing very well. He has made many friends and once people get to know him, they almost forget about the fact that his walking is a bit different. My son followed up with the area director who said s/he “prayed about it” but then decided not to place him. Neither my son nor the director mentioned my son’s disability but to me it’s obvious that that’s the issue here. My son has moved on from YL thankfully and is involved in another campus-based group. I do understand the real world and that selective organizations choose their members, sometimes for reasons that include appearance or image. However, I expected more of YL and am so disappointed in this director. In my opinion, this doesn’t reflect the values of a Christian organization. I do want to point out that the leaders who were selected are wonderful young people and their schools are blessed to have them. My son continues to be friends with them.

    • christianagnostic December 1, 2016 at 11:10 am #


      I’m sorry to hear about what your son went through. Though I don’t share your enthusiasm about YL being in schools, I do wish you and your son the best.


  17. sarah October 9, 2019 at 7:01 pm #

    God can use us for his plans for good even if we don’t always believe in him or the one he sent to us. Again, I thank you for the steadiness of your commitment to the blog. And the thoughtfulness of your responses to comments. Both are so helpful. The Holy Spirit works through us so that the truth can be exposed for all to see. Ghandi once said, “I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” That is a humbling and true statement. I believe Jesus was a real historical person and the four gospels are eye witness testimonies of his life. There is evidence outside the Gospels for Jesus’ life. He came for a purpose and that purpose has the evil one desperately trying to destroy his church and twist his message for over 2000 years. Young Life, for all it’s good intentions, are just as affected by the evil one- they are only the newest and most hapless victims. I don’t know why are still surprised, it’s been happening to the Church for thousands of years. I think the fact that the Catholic Church is still around for 2000 years, when no other human organization has been, is, it self, evidence of divine protection and blessing upon Christ’s beloved Church- beleaguered though it has been. We see history repeating itself over and over again…

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