Tag Archives: Young Life Club

Another Young Life Area Director Arrested-Ryan Soderburg-Wauwatosa (WI)

4 Dec

Young Life Watch

Ryan Soderburg, ex Young Life Director of Wauwatosa, WI- has been arrested on charges of posing as a woman online and supposedly soliciting nude photos of underage boys.

You can click on the following links to read the local media reports surrounding his arrest: here, and here.

I’ll post any updates as I become aware of any additional info on the case.

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Former VA BeachYoung Life Area Director Arrested for Sex Crimes

11 Mar

Yet again, another Young Life (former) Area Director has been arrested for allegedly having sex with a student.  Jeffrey Bondi, former Virginia Beach Young Life are director, was arrested and denied bond, for alleged sex crimes with a then 18 year old student who attended Mr. Bondi’s youth group.

You can read some of the local press concerning this latest sex scandal involving a Young Life leader at the links below:




Bond denied second time for former ministry leader accused of sex crime in Virginia Beach

Former Virginia Beach Young Life employee indicted for sex crime



Young Life Leaders Wanted: Gays Need Not Apply

1 Dec

Young Life Watch

Image result for Gays need not apply

(Photo source: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/indiana-gov-mike-pence-signs-gay-discrimination-bill)

For a long time I’ve wanted to highlight the fact that Young Life is strictly anti-gay.  It is YL’s position that being gay is a sin and in direct opposition to God’s will and word.  It’s not an uncommon belief for Christians who believe the Bible is the literal word of God.

A couple times in the history of this site, I’ve had YL folks comment that YL is for everyone and that gays are welcome just like anyone else.  What I think they really mean, is that you’re welcome to attend club or camp in the hopes that you will see the light, confess Christ and renounce your sinful sexual orientation.

A recent comment at Young Life Watch had this to say:

I was in YL in highschool and decided to quit my senior year because they would not allow a gay man on the trip to…

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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?

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.