Tag Archives: spirituality

Young Life-How the “Cult of Cool” Crushed a Teen’s Faith

7 Aug

I was a Young Life volunteer leader for 5 years.  As a leader, we were encouraged to go after the “leaders” at our school.  The kids that everyone looked up to.  The ones that led the pack. Decades of ministry experience showed that if you could get a “leader” to come to Young Life, their followers would come as well.

In High School, the “leaders” are almost always the popular kids.  Kids with good looks, talent, or charisma.  In other words, they were cool.  I’ve dubbed Young Life’s method of targeting popular kids the “Cult of Cool”.  Meaning that there is an unhealthy emphasis on reaching “cool” kids and making sure that Young Life and it’s leaders are “cool”.

I know, I know…cool kids need to be loved too.  And I’m not saying that they shouldn’t.  But there are some unintended consequences that follow when you focus on cool.  One of them, is the kids that aren’t as cool, feel left out or marginalized.  For a ministry that claims to love all teens, it sure seems that the “cool” ones get most of that love.

You’re free to disagree (as I know many of you do), but I want you to understand how that played out for one Christian family whose daughter attended Young Life.  Here’s a brief summary from randall’s comments that I don’t want you to miss:

Young Life crushed the spirit of my younger daughter. She was “heavy” in High School, and some of the “top students” they target didn’t like her. So, after being involved and going to the former Soviet Union, she was told she could not be involved any longer. She has never recovered from the disappointment.
Are they a cult? I don’t know. Are they cold, insensitive and cruel? Without a doubt.

Responding on another post randall added this:

I don’t believe it even for a second. My daughter was/is still a victim of YL.

It wasn’t fun for my daughter when she was told she couldn’t participate because the “other” kids didn’t think she fit in (she was overweight and not part of the “popular” crowd). When we approached the Leader, she had no answer; she just walked away.

More recently, he shared this:

You should take the time to read my comments from previous discussions. I am still dealing with a brokenhearted daughter who has turned her back on Jesus because of  Young Life.

Stop drinking the Koolaid…

I highlight what Randall has shared because I think it’s important to see what Young Life did in the case of his daughter.  She was a normal Christian kid, willing to travel overseas to share her faith.  But because she was overweight and didn’t “fit in” (read-not cool like us) the Young Life leader asked her to not come back to Young Life.

This is where the “cult of cool” can lead you.  Instead of showing love and acceptance, this Young Life leader showed shallowness and conditional love.  And that is a far cry from the mantra that Young Life exists to show every kid the love of God.

In the end, Young Life not only crushed this girls spirit, but they shipwrecked her faith.

I know this may sound odd from someone who no longer has faith.  But it’s wrong to treat families this way.  Randall was raising his daughter to be a Christian, and Young Life’s “cool” version destroyed it.

It may be a sin to bore a kid, but it’s even worse to destroy their self-esteem so that your club can stay “cool”.


PS from Randall-

It is not my desire to destroy Young Life. I hope that, if they read these comments, that real change will come and that everyone would be welcome. Ministries that “target” certain types of people (young or old) almost always damage those who “don’t fit in.” I’ve seen it and personally spoke with those who have been ignored because they were in the “target group.”

I pray that para-church groups will realize that they have responsibilities not to offend the least of these and respond accordingly.

Nobody Expects An Inquisition!

26 Jun

It was almost closing time and I was out on the sales floor straightening up my department.  When all of the sudden…..

Jesus Tweaker

I was approached by a young man in his twenties who began to barrage me with questions about my beliefs and the Lord.

The following is my best recollection of that conversation…

The Inquisition

Jesus Tweaker:  “Do you know the Lord?”

Me: “Uh….that’s a complicated question.”

JT: “Well, I’m here to tell you that the Lord loves you..I’m a messenger of love.”

Me: “Well, I won’t fault anyone who wants to share love.”

JT: “Do you believe there’s evil in the world?”

Me: “Yes, but I don’t believe in thought crimes.”

JT: “Did you know that Jesus talked about our thoughts and said if we even look at a women lustfully we have committed adultery?”

Me: “Well, that’s what I’m talking about.  I think that Jesus is teaching a form of thought crimes.  I personally think morality is based on consent.  If you harm or do something to someone without their consent, you’re immoral in my opinion.  Demonizing, natural sexual attractions is a form of thought crime and I think it’s only purpose is to make people feel guilty, even though they haven’t done anything wrong.”

At this point Jesus Tweaker seems confused and begins to talk about right and wrong.  He’s talking so loud and with a huge smile…that it reminds me of when I’ve talked to people who were massively drunk.  After skirting some more on morality, the inquisition continues.

JT “Do you believe in a higher power?”

Me “No”

JT “No…why not?”

Me: “Because, I don’t have any evidence that sems to indicate a higher power exists…”

JT “But do you have a wife or kids?

Me: “Yes”

JT “You love them don’t you…well, how can you explain your love for them?”

Me “I’m not sure how that’s relevant.”

Again, my answer seems to have thrown Jesus Tweaker a bit off track and he changes course.

JT “Well, I’m just here to tell you that God wants a relationship with you.”

Me: “And how do you know this?”

JT: “Because the Bible is God’s word and it tells us about God’s love.”

Me “OK…but why am I speaking to you and not God himself?  Doesn’t he have the ability of making that clear to me.”

JT “Well…I’m a messenger of the Lord, a messenger of his love.  I don’t believe it’s an accident that we’re speaking right now.  I didn’t come here on my own.”

Me “Hmmmm…..but you did walk in on your own 2 legs?  You did come in here by your own choice, didn’t you?

JT ” I just want to tell you God loves you and sent his Son, Jesus to die for you.  I’ve seen demons cast out and I believe that I will see the dead raised.”

He then proceeds to tell me about how he prayed for a woman with one leg shorter than the other.  She asked for him to pray for her back, but he refused and they prayed for her leg and it grew out 2 inches.

Me “So it grew out 2 inches?  What about an amputee, have you ever seen one healed by having their leg grow back?

JT “No…I did ask a couple of amputees in the city if I could pray for God to heal them.  But they seemed offended and wouldn’t let us pray.”

At this point, a concerned shift leader stops by to make sure I’m ok.  I indicate that I am and I begin to try and wrap up the conversation.

Me “Well…it’s been nice chatting but I need to close up my department.”

JT “Can I just pray for you?”

Me “No..I don’t think that’s appropriate since I’m on the clock.  You can feel free to pray on your own time.”

JT ignores me and prays loudly “I just bless you in JESUS name. THANK YOU FATHER! I bless you”

At this point he walks away to a cash register, where he loudly proclaims his love for the Abba Father, and begins asking employees and customers if they beleive in God.

I turn away and wonder if I was ever that “crazy” for the Lord.

Speaking of tongues

20 Apr

I remember the first time I ever heard about the gift of tongues.  I was in Sunday School Class and we were studying the Book of Acts.  The story of Pentecost was read and the account states that all the disciples were in an upper room praying.  While they were praying a sound of a mighty wind was heard and tongues of fire were seen to come down and rest on all present.  The disciples began to speak in tongues, meaning that they were praying and prophesying in languages that were unknown to the disciples.  In other words, they were miraculously empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak in these unknown tongues.

It was at this point of the story, that my Sunday School Teacher interrupted the lesson.  He got a very serious look and he spoke with a raised voice (he never spoke with a raised voice).   He sternly warned us that the gift of tongues was a one time event for the apostles.  He continued, telling us that if anyone told us that THEY spoke in tongues, that they were lying.  He said people who speak in tongues today, are doing so by the power…..of the DEVIL!!!!!!!!!!

Oh no!!!  Not that guy again, I hadn’t thought much about him since sweating it out over my Eternal destiny, the previous summer.  But this intrigued me, this idea that there were Christians who were being led astray by the devil and doing black magic stuff by speaking gobbledygook and shouting “Praise-the-Lord, Hallelujah,AMEN!”  I guess my teacher’s warning worked, anytime someone started talking about that crazy black magic stuff, I hightailed it or suddenly got sick and couldn’t go to their “Youth on Fire” event.  I avoided the Charismatic world all the way through my High School years.

At college, I began to meet Christians from all sorts of churches, including Charismatic and Pentecostal.  And you know what?  They were decent Christian folks who certainly didn’t act like the devils spawn.  Intrigued, I began charismatic church hopping with a very good friend who had gone full force into the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongues experience.  I was still scared that maybe the Devil was just fooling me….but I tried to keep an open mind.

I ended up spending the better part of my first college break, reading scripture and trying to figure out if I was supposed to speak in tongues or not?  The Scriptures sure seemed to speak highly of tongues, so I told God, if he wanted me to pray in tongues, he could do it.  Laying there in bed after my prayer, I opened up my mouth and tried to pray in tongues.  And to my surprise, I was able to mutter some words that sounded like the soundtrack of a Japanese film.  Though, in fairness to Japanese films, I seemed to repeating the same phrase over and over again.

At the time, I became convinced that I had been Baptized in the Holy Spirit and was speaking in an unknown tongue.  I was ready now,  watch out world…..I’ve got a secret tap of that Holy Spirit power flowing through my tongue!  It’s funny to me now, because I can look back and see how I got caught up into a very emotionally based experience to try to validate my faith in God.  But back then, I was completely earnest in my belief that this tongues thing, was empowering me and drawing me closer to God.

I went to every Charismatic church and prayer meeting I could muster.  It gave me an almost gnostic drunkenness when I spoke in tongues.  I really felt that it was the key to many of my spiritual and every day challenges.  I remember leading a Young Life bible study (Young Life wasn’t all that comfortable with the Charismatic thing, so I kept it pretty quiet) and excusing myself to go the bathroom so I could pray in tongues.  Brings new meaning to the phrase “Going into the prayer closet”-more like babbling in the water closet.  I went in there to pray, because I was nervous about leading the study. I was convinced that this would help me overcome my fears and see it bear fruit as a Christian.

Another random tongues moment, is when me and a Charismatic roommate decided to watch  Evangelist Robert Tilton on TV.  He told us to put our hands on his hands (meaning the image of his hand on the TV) and start to pray in tongues.  We did and started praying, but the camera angle had changed and now we were laying hands all over Mr. Tilton’s face.  He didn’t seem to mind, so we kept praying until we were prayed out.  Proof positive that I was becoming a little whacked out.

As the years followed, I would occasionally pray in tongues.  But the emotional charge it gave me at first, began to wear off.  Realistically, I think it served more as a nervous release of emotion but was of no spiritual significance.  I never saw any prayers answered, heck, I didn’t even know what I was praying-if at all!  It started to seem just as ritualistic as saying the  “Our Father” or “Hail Mary”.  Charismatic ritualism, but ritualistic none the less.

Now that I no longer have faith in Jesus or the Holy Spirit, there is really no reason to speak in tongues.  But ironically, I still can.  Which I think points to the fact that tongues is just a human experience.  Not a spiritual experience empowered by God ( or Satan-like I was warned in Sunday School).