Tag Archives: Saranac Lake

What to Do When Young Life Converts Your Teen?

27 Aug

When I went to Young Life as a teen, my parents were fully aware of the Evangelical nature of Young Life and it’s desire to convert and disciple teens into their version of Evangelical Christianity.  My own involvement caused no tension with my parents or their religious convictions.

When I was a senior in high school, I invited a girl friend to Saranac Lake.  She went and converted to Young Life’s version of Christianity.  This did not go over well with her family who was Roman Catholic and felt that my girlfriend had been preyed upon by Bible thumpers.

Her family was always kind to me, but they let it be known that they were unhappy with the decision to let their daughter be involved with Young Life.  But at that point, it was done and she continued to be adversarial towards her parent’s church and faith.

Recently, two comments have been left on the Is Young Life a Cult?-Freedom Responds post, expressing worry and one asking for advice.  I do have some thoughts, but I’m certainly not an expert and wanted to highlight their comments.  Please feel free to respond to our worried and Janet’s concerns and what you think they might need to do.

worried left this comment:

So, My question is what to do next? My son is now 18. He has gone to several young life “get togethesr” over the past couple years. It was fun to him & many of his friends also attended. He just graduated high school and a couple friends talked him into going to the camp at Rockbridge. First thing that threw me off was they take their phones from them as soon as they get there. He went there as a free spirit excited about just having a good time before college. He came back six days later praising the camp, letting me and everyone else know (via social networking) that he excepted Christ into his life and that he is a changed man. He’s acting strange and I just don’t like any of it…What now? What happened there? Six days and my son is a totally different person, praising God & praying for me …lol. I want to support my son in every way but something just doesn’t sit right with me.

and Janet recently added this comment:

Worried, I’m having the same fears about my daughter. She started going to a “church” at our high school, which I considered cultish itself. They even allowed her to get baptized at age 17, without us knowing or our consent. I found out about it on facebook! The thing is, she was baptized in a catholic church when she was a baby.
She started going to more and more young life and church related meetings, camps, etc.. She even started reading the bible all the time, and she doesn’t read books ever!
Now, she just started college and of course, not knowing anyone, the young life people she had “met” through twitter and facebook over the summer, swooped in and became her best friends in just a day or two. These over the top Christian kids are the ONLY one’s she’s become friends wtih. The only organizations I see her expressing interest in are Christian organizations – Campus Crusaders, Young Life, etc. And I’m afraid that she’s going to even give up the one thing she absolutely loves – volleyball, because the practices and try-outs are the same night as young life leader training.
I’ve told her that I don’t want her to go to college, just to spend her time at the high schools, recruiting kids for young life. We’re paying out-of-state tuition for her to attend the “school of her dreams”, and little did I know that it would turn into a religious pilgrimage. If in fact she does give up the volleyball, which she’s wanted to play in college since she started playing in middle school, I don’t know what I’ll do. She’s already missed a lot of the freshman fun things to do (a ventriloquist, etc.), because of deciding she’d rather go to a young life barbecue. She went to 4 church events (all wanting to bring college kids to be as one with Christ), in the first 3 days……
When I’ve asked her about friends, she talks about the young life people and how “nice” they all are….
I’m really worried. I don’t know what to do or how to talk to her without her rebelling and becoming even further entrenched. :(
I’m not paying for college – especially out of state tuition – for her to go to church!
Any advice is greatly appreciated. I’m at a loss and worry constantly about it. :(


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?