What you are about to read is disturbing and shocking, especially if you have children who attend a church youth group. Please be aware that what is detailed below is happening in many churches in America, and may be coming to yours very soon. Prepare to be outraged.
Those churches who rely on their slick marketing schemes to “draw a crowd” have sunk to new lows as of late. This is especially evident in the area of the foreign-to-Scripture concept of the church youth group led by the ever-so-popular (and equally absent from Scripture) youth pastors.
For those who have no idea what kind of shenanigans have been going on in the name of “youth ministry,” here are a few samplings that DefCon’s addressed in the past:
But these past examples are mild compared to what’s taking place now. Countless churches are going out of their way to pander to the youth culture by means of the basest of juvenile humor (the very humor formed, cultivated, and driven by the world).
Because these so-called churches are constantly chasing after the hem of the garment of their elusive mistress of cultural relevance, they must constantly come up with something new, something more radical, something more shocking, something more like the world in order to attract and keep their “customers.”
But as with all fads, what was hip, cool, and relevant yesterday loses it’s impact tomorrow, so something even more vile, shocking, and wicked (yes, wicked) must take the place of yesterday’s flavor of the month.
To see this spiral into depravity I submit two articles for your consideration. One was written by a Christian journalist for a Christian news source from August 2002, the other was written by a secular journalist for a secular news source in September 2009.
The following is the 2002 article from World Magazine’s Gene Edward Veith:
Stupid Church Tricks
by Gene Edward Veith
Four sets of parents are suing a church in Indiana for what happened at a New Year’s Eve lock-in. A youth leader chewed up a mixture of dog food, sardines, potted meat, sauerkraut, cottage cheese, and salsa, topped off with holiday eggnog. As if this spectacle were not disgusting enough (let the reader beware), he then spit out the mixture into a glass and encouraged the members of the youth group to drink it!
Some of those who did, of course, became sick, whereupon their parents sued the church. According to the Associated Press account, the youth pastor said that the “gross-out” game, called the Human Vegematic, was just for fun and that the church forced no one to participate. The lawsuit accused the adults in charge of pressuring the 13- and 14-year-olds into activities that caused them physical and mental harm.
Such “gross-out” games have become a fad in youth ministry. Since adolescents are amused by bodily functions, crude behavior, and tastelessness following the church-growth principle of giving people what they like as a way to entice them into the kingdom many evangelical youth leaders think this is a way to reach young people.
The Source for Youth Ministry, a popular and widely used resource center, posts scores of games on its website, many of which were contributed by youth group leaders in the field. There is Sanctuary Softball, which involves whacking a Nerf ball in church, with home plate being the area of the altar, and running through the pews, as the fielders then try to hit the batter with the ball to make an out. Another fun activity is Seafood Catch, which involves putting minnows in the baptistery, then catching them by hand. (“Extra points for eating them after it is done.”)
Then there are games designed to appeal to adolescents’ hormones. These include kissing games like “Kiss the Wench.” “Leg Line Up” has girls feel boys’ legs to identify who is who. Some of them have odd homosexual subtexts, like “Pull Apart,” in which guys cling to each other, while girls try to pull them apart. Another has girls putting make-up on guys, leading to a drag beauty show. Then there is the embarrassingly Freudian “Baby Bottle Burp,” in which girls put a diaper (a towel) on a boy, then feed him a bottle of soda, and cradle him until he burps!
These are presented as just ordinary games, good ways to break the ice at youth group. But there is another category of “Sick and Twisted Games.” Many of these involve eating and drinking gross things, like at the Indiana church. (“Toothbrush Buffet” has youth group leaders brushing their teeth and spitting into a cup. Each then passes it along to the next in line, who uses what is in the cup to brush his teeth. The last one drinks down everyone’s spit.) Others are scatological, and are too repellent to describe.
What do teenagers learn from these youth group activities? Nothing of the Bible. Nothing of theology. Nothing of the cost of discipleship. But they do learn some lessons that they can carry with them the rest of their lives.
*Lose your inhibitions. Young people usually have inhibitions against doing anything too embarrassing or shameful. These exercises are designed to free people from such hang-ups. For some reason, post-Freudian psychologists whose “sensitivity groups” are the model for these kinds of exercises maintain that such inhibitions are bad. Christians, though, have always insisted that we need to feel inhibited about indulging in things for which we should feel ashamed. This is part of what we mean by developing a conscience.
Though being “gross” may not be sinful in itself, overcoming natural revulsions can only train a child to become uninhibited about more important things.
*Give in to peer pressure. Defenders of these kinds of activities maintain that they help create group unity. The way they work, though, is to overcome a teenager’s inhibitions with the greater desire to go along with the group. In other words, these exercises teach the teenager to give in to peer pressure. Instead, youth groups need to teach Christian teenagers not to go along with the crowd and to stand up against what their friends want them to do.
*Christianity is stupid. Status-conscious teenagers know that those who are so desperate to be liked that they will do anything to curry favor are impossible to respect. Young people may come to off-the-wall youth group meetings, but when they grow up, they will likely associate the church with other immature, juvenile phases of their lives, and Christianity will be something they will grow out of.
Teenagers get enough entertainment, psychology, and hedonism from their culture. They don’t need it from their church. What they need and often yearn for is God’s Word, catechesis, and spiritual formation.
Reprinted from FCF World Ministries.
And since 2002, the pied pipers of pragmatism have taken yet one more steep step down the rung in their worldly, Christ-less social gatherings.
The Berean Wife alerted me to an article from Folio Weekly (in PDF format) detailing the atrocious behaviors of a “church” youth group. This unbelievable article is entitled Peanut Butter Salvation: Why a Southside MegaChurch Thinks That Goldfish Swallowing and Toe-Licking Will Lead the Next Generation to God.
Here are some quotes from this article along with my commentary interjected in red.
As the youth leader held his arms aloft, the teenagers gaped at the hair, furred into a strip matted by sweat and deodorant. They watched as Pastor Turner dug into a jar of peanut butter and smeared gobs of it onto the exposed underarms, then turned to the audience. Did anyone, he asked, have the guts to lick it clean and swallow it down without puking? He got two volunteers. As the audience roared with excitement and disgust, the two male teenagers approached the youth leader and began to lick his armpits, burrowing their faces in the peanut butter and eating it. Neither puked. Their only prize was bragging rights. [This one needs no comment.]
It may seem hard to believe, but the genesis of the “Fearless” program was a marketing impulse.[No, it’s not really that hard to believe. It’s what we’ve come to expect from those who think they can “do church” better than God.] Pastor Turner and his creative team say they wanted to do something that would shock and astound their teenage audience. [If you really want to “shock and astound” the teens, try preaching the Word!] They hoped to get students talking about Celebration Church and about the Wednesday night service. [Because talking about Jesus and His finished work on the cross just isn’t as cool.] They wanted a buzz that would go viral, that teens would text and Twitter about. They wanted the kids to share their cell phone pictures and videos. Ultimately, they wanted hordes of kids to show up the following Wednesday to see what crazy things the youth ministry would think up next. [Makes the church leadership feel good seeing all those kids show up to see what crazy world-mimicking things the youth ministry would think up next. What about the novel idea that kids should be showing up to church to learn more about God and to fellowship with the brethren? Oh, and don’t forget, what you attract them with is ultimately what you have to keep them with. And here’s the paradox: Take away the contrived entertainment and you lose the kids, “They’re not doing what attracted me, dude, so I’m outta here.” Keep the same level and you lose the kids, “They’re not cutting edge, they’re like so 5 minutes ago, I’m outta here.” So the only solution is to push the envelope more and more.]
The program isn’t confined to the church’s Deerfield Boulevard campus. [Why not just say church? What is so offensive to all these megachurches that they hide behind the name “campus?”] Across town, at the Orange Park campus, another youth minister was hosting his own “Fearless” event. . . . Instead of an armpit, [22 year-old Pastor Shawn] Kelley smeared peanut butter on a youth leader’s feet and challenged two teens to lick it off. It was pretty gross, the pastor assures. “This leader’s feet are pretty bad.” . . . Still, Kelley says he did not, as Folio Weekly heard from a concerned parent, spread the peanut butter on his own feet, or between the youth leader’s toes. “We didn’t want to put it in between his toes,” he says. “That would be pushing it.” [Oh, so now we’re taking a lesson on morality and what is and is not “pushing it” from Mr. Kelley. We’d love to know by what standard you rely on to define what’s “pushing it” and what’s not.]
Pastor Turner wants to send kids home from church thinking, “I don’t believe what just happened here tonight.” [Not thinking about their utter sinfulness before a holy God and the only propitiation for their transgressions being the spotless Lamb of God nailed to a cross because without the shedding of blood their is no remission of sins.] That’s a fair approximation of what one area mother felt when her son came home from the Orange Park service with video footage of the toe-licking. . . . She was so upset that the next morning she contacted Pastor John Wyatt, the head youth pastor for all six Celebration locations. She was stunned when he didn’t agree that having a child lick anything off an adult’s feet was inappropriate. . . . [She may have been stunned, but we’re not. In fact, just wait till you see the comments start pouring in on this post defending this foolishness.] The mother suggests that the act between a minor and an adult in a private home would seem not only inappropriate, but perverse — and possibly illegal. [Wow, she hit the nail on the head!] But she says Pastor Wyatt, 37, and other church leaders didn’t concede there was anything wrong with what they’d done. [And they never will.] The woman decided not to allow her son to attend the church again. . . . [Although I question why she let him attend in the first place, this decision is wise.] “When you send a kid to church, you aren’t expecting they are going to be exposed to something like that. It just does not really make sense how Bible study turns into fish eating and eating peanut butter off a grown man’s toes.” [We’ve been trying to make sense of this foolishness too, but in the end, it’s just silly men who have never grown up, getting paid to play silly games with kids who will eventually be inoculated against true Biblical Christianity.]
“The idea is to get students here to meet our Savior. They are getting all this crazy stuff out there in the world all the time. We are trying to show them that God is cooler.” [1. No, no, no. The “church” was never meant to be the place for people to “meet our Savior.” The church is for the Believers, not the unbelievers. If an unbeliever attends a church service and he “meets our Savior” then great, but this was not the purpose of the assembly of the brethren. Actually reading your Bible would clarify the confusion.
2. So you’re essentially using the old “bait and switch” tactic to sucker teens into your church? I guess if you’re offering a fuzzy, non-offensive, feel-good Jesus then you can get away with it.
3. You’re “crazy stuff” is somehow better than the “crazy stuff” in the world, how? Because you’ve “Christianized” it?
4. God is not “cool.” For crying out loud, if you can’t comprehend or even remotely understand the nature of God you have no business being a pastor. Have you forgotten that “cool” is defined by the world? Your god is an idol formed in the imaginations of your “creative team.” You can keep your god. I’ll stick to the true God revealed in Scripture who is not hip, cool, or what’s happening now, but who is holy, holy, holy.]
Asked whether there was a religious lesson behind the grotesquerie, Wyatt offers, “It’s all about what it means to be fearless and know God is with you.” Pastor Kelley describes the “Fearless” stunts as metaphors for the courage it takes to be young and openly Christian. “It’s about being fearless, by allowing them to do something that took boldness, that they might possibly get made fun of for doing,” he says. “Standing up for Christ in the world requires you to be fearless.” [So let me get this straight. Standing up for Jesus requires boldness and fearlessness, but instead of instilling that in the youth by having them actually stand up for Jesus, or even showing them by example, instead you have them perform sick, twisted, and erotic games and this will somehow help them stand up for Jesus? And if they need to perform these juvenile games to stand up for Jesus then does that not mean that you’re suggesting to them that their source of strength comes not from God but from them and their willingness to act like fools? Here’s a novel idea: Try having them become “fearless” by actually proclaiming Jesus Christ, and start with you by boldly preaching Jesus Christ. Then encourage the one’s that are really sincere to take missions trips to countries where standing up for Jesus will get you imprisoned, tortured and/or killed. Somehow I don’t think the countless martyrs throughout church history and today needed to lick peanut butter off someone’s toes in order to stand up for Jesus.]
Wyatt also points out that it’s much easier for a kid to talk about church with other teens when the conversation is about chugging a Happy Meal or bobbing for chicken feet. “They experience God here on Wednesday nights,” says Pastor Wyatt, “and they can’t always articulate that to their friends. This gives them something to say. ‘Wow, you’ve got to come to church, you’ve got to check this out. This is amazing! ’” [Of course it’s easier to talk about Happy Meal chugging or bobbing for chicken feet if you’re unregenerated. Preach the pure, unadulterated, hard truth of the gospel then sit back an watch the kids talk to other kids. A word of caution though, if any of them do get truly converted, they’ll probably be telling other kids about Jesus Christ and his sacrifice instead of your church, and they probably won’t remain in your church for very long either.]
“Unfortunately, somebody was offended, and we apologized right away,” says Pastor Wyatt. “But the other side of that is, there was a whole bunch of kids who gave their life to Christ that night. Ultimately, our goal is to get people into church and into a relationship with Jesus.” [Ah, the old “someone gave their life to Christ” card. Always employed when someone questions the worldly, Chirst-less, and wholly unbiblical marketing tactics of today’s cool, hip, and relevant social clubs. Somehow, we’re told not to judge them, but they are quick to judge others, claiming to know the hearts of these kids and pronounce that they’re saved. Here’s an experiment I suggest trying. Take these kids who you claim to have “given their life to Jesus,” separate them from the toe-licking and armpit licking shenanigans, and teach them the hard things. Teach them the whole counsel of God. Teach them doctrine. Teach them that they are expected to lay down their life daily, that they’re to die to self, that they’re to take up their crosses daily and follow Christ. Teach them that those who choose to live holy lives will be persecuted. Teach them that friendship with the world is enmity to God and that those who love the things of this world are enemies of God. Then we’ll check back in with you in six months and see where those kids who “gave their life to Christ” are. If they were truly converted they will be right there desiring more of the meat of the Word. If they were false converts they’ll have left for the other megachurch down the street who has bowling/pizza nights, whip cream fights, rock concerts, gross-out games, and the weekly “rededicate your life to Christ” alter call.]
This article also interviews Karen McKinney, a director of youth ministries and associate professor at Bethel University who opposes the foolishness of what you’ve just read above. But just when you think there’s a voice of reason, we read this:
McKinney finds programs copying “Fear Factor” and other puke-inducing events to be a contradiction to the church’s message of stewardship. “What did we just teach?” she wonders rhetorically when told about the youth program. “What value is it when we know there are kids starving? … There are ways to teaching young people to be bold without wasting food.” [McKinney is about to offer an example of how she taught teens valuable lessons by means of a much better technique. Brace yourselves.] As an example, McKinney remembers how she was invited to speak about sexual boundaries to a teen group at a church in downtown St. Paul. After brief introductions, she broke the 12 students into two groups and told them they were going to play strip Pictionary. For every round lost, the losing group would have to take off an item of clothing. Before they even started, she says she could hear a 13-year-old girl say under her breath, “This is wrong.” But she said the group went through three rounds before the 13-year-old stood up and said, “I thought the topic was boundaries. We should not be playing this game.”McKinney then asked the other students if they also thought the game was wrong and why they didn’t voice those concerns. “They got the message loud and clear what it means to stand up when it comes to crossing these kinds of boundaries,” she says. Licking peanut butter off somebody’s armpit, she observes, crosses those boundaries without drawing valuable lessons for the Celebration students. “It’s just totally inappropriate,” she says. [So it’s all right to “cross boundaries” as long as a lesson is learned? And encouraging 13-year-olds to play strip Pictionary is an acceptable ends-justifies-the-means lesson? Good grief, the inmates are running the asylum!]
Welcome to the American Christianity where worldly wisdom reigns from the pulpit and rules the day. Those who lower Christianity to such base levels are showing that they do not believe that the Gospel is enough to save as the Apostle Paul believed it was when under inspiration of the Holy Spirit he penned Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . .”
Faith comes by hearing the Gospel, not by quaint little stories about how to be bold like Daniel while having kids perform gross and even erotic acts before their peers.
The defense commonly used by proponents of this worldly behavior in church is usually that they’re trying to reach a certain group, and in order to do that, they say, “you must first relate to that group and become like that group.” But I have to ask: If you have to reach people where they’re at, tell me, how do you reach the abortionist? How do you reach the homosexual? How do you reach the intravenous drug user? How do you reach the pedophile? I’ll stop there as I do not want to give these youth leaders any new ideas for their next big thing.
In seven years we went from teen girls feeling teen boys’ legs in youth group, to teens licking peanut butter off an adult’s feet and playing strip Pictionary. I can only imagine what the next seven years will bring.
I conclude with a quote from Gene Edward Veith who summed up the whole problem in his article posted above:
Status-conscious teenagers know that those who are so desperate to be liked that they will do anything to curry favor are impossible to respect. Young people may come to off-the-wall youth group meetings, but when they grow up, they will likely associate the church with other immature, juvenile phases of their lives, and Christianity will be something they will grow out of.