Tag Archives: Love bombing

Young Life…From My Inbox

21 Nov

It’s funny, I’ve had very little time to blog recently.  Despite my inability to continue blogging, I’ve had many new readers and quite a few email conversations about my posts on Young Life.  You can read some of my previous posts about Young Life here, here, & here.

One of my email correspondents shared some of their perspective on Young Life and I thought it would make a nice guest post.  When I asked, they gave me their permission to post their thoughts.

I don’t mind sharing my experience with Young Life at all.

I was involved with Young Life during the first two years and a tiny bit of  my third year of high school before I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to be associated with. I think there’s this potential threat of causing division among students, and that’s just not right. Young Life basically divided my school into cliques and we all know the last thing a high school needs are more cliques.

Something else that occurred with Young Life, in my grade, was the ending of many relationships. The female Young Life leaders at my school preached that God should be the only man in our lives. Although I tried understanding where the leaders were coming from, I didn’t see the issue in dividing time between religion and boyfriends. The female leaders influence on many girls in my grade caused them to end relationships with long time boyfriends. One of my good friends was broken up with by his girlfriend. Her explanation was that she needed to give her time to one man, God.

I also recall during sophomore during club when one of the girls in my grade was crying to one of the leaders. The girl was dating another boy in our grade whose family practiced Hinduism. I wasn’t aware of what he did to make her cry, but the female leader’s response was, “Well what do you expect? He’s not a Christian boy.” Even though I didn’t know exactly what the boy did to make her cry, I know for a fact that his religion isn’t the reason for his actions. I thought it was completely unfair for the leader to accuse him of his wrongdoings based on his beliefs.

It wasn’t until Rockbridge, the winter camp during my junior year that I realized I had to quit this organization. During cabin time one night, our leader asked everyone, “So how does everyone go about trying to convince new people to attend club?” And the second she said that, it hit me. If people don’t want to come, then they should simply be left alone.

School is a place of education, not a place of religious education. One of the girls in the cabin replied, “I usually just give everyone a flyer, even if they’re Jewish because I still want to see them in heaven.”  That was when my personal beliefs started to initiate. I personally don’t believe anyone else’s religion is above another’s. It is no one’s place to tell someone who is Jewish or any other religion that they need to attend Young Life because they won’t end up in heaven.

Young Life caused so much division in my high school, I couldn’t wait to get out. Most of the people from my grade are leaders in college now. A lot of what you said in your blog about Love Bombing and the fact that you were to go after the “popular and more influential kids first” was very eye-opening. I realize now that’s exactly what took place in my high school.

Sorry this was so long, I really could talk about the negatives of Young Life for hours on end.

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5 Jul

Ok…I promise this is my last Young Life post over at the Christianagnostic. Still getting an unbelievable amount of hits from searches for “Young Life Cult” or similar type phrases and trying to move the discussion over to Young Life Watch. Not sure it’ll work, but here goes…

Young Life Watch

I think it’s important to highlight instances of area directors that have been convicted of sex abuse with minors and molesting teen boys.

Does it make all of Young Life staff guilty of similar offenses?  No and I’m not equating all staff with these few men that have been convicted.  But I do want to point out the fact, that such abuses have occurred.  Especially since they involve  area directors.

Area Directors are paid full time staff.  They are responsible for recruiting and training volunteer leaders.  Usually run at least one Young Life club in their area.   And are responsible for organinzing Young Life weekends and weeks at camp.  Many times, area directors will be a camp director for 1-3 months of the summer.

All this to say, Young Life area directors affect a lot of people and are in constant contact with teens through club, weekends, weeks, and…

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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.