In the last 24 hours I’ve watched Divided, thought about it, read Tim Challies’ review, have done some research and now have some thoughts. I basically agree with Tim Challies, but I’d like to make some comments:
1. Divided makes a good point when it says that the modern youth ministry isn’t biblical (meaning explicitly taught in the scripture) and is doing far more harm than good. I’m not convinced that age segregation isn’t “biblical”, but modern youth ministry is definitely not defensible from scripture.
2. Divided is a very well done movie, but it’s clearly a propaganda piece for the National Center for Family Integrated Churches. I mean, where did Philip Leclerc get the time and money to do a professional documentary where he just gallivanted around the country for 6 months or so, interviewing influential evangelicals and going to major youth events? Why does the website have quotes from one book (the one that’s conveniently for sale on the same page) as answers to all the FAQ’s? Divided is a movie that involved a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of phone calls from someone with far more influence than Philip Leclerc. People like Voddie Baucham have schedules where you need to book time with them 2 years in advance. Somebody made phone calls for Mr. Leclerc, and it wasn’t his secretary.
3. I agree with Challies that the movie basically half-recognizes the problem (youth ministry isn’t producing believing kids who stay in the church) but really stacks the deck when presenting solutions; namely one and only one. The movie presented false dichotomy (youth ministry or no youth ministry) that let me know that Leclerc knew where he was going with the movie long before he started filming. The movie was not the journey of one man searching for answers; the movie was the journey of one man selling someone else’s’ answers. The whole “Sunday School comes from evolution” idea was a genetic fallacy that made me actually laugh out loud, knowing that in certain Christian circles, admitting that you believe in evolution (or even aren’t violently opposed to it) is akin to admitting that you openly worship Satan. The whole “age segregated education is pagan thought” was another genetic fallacy that was essentially targeted to produce a knee-jerk response from the kind of people who, let’s be honest, if they lived several hundred years ago would have loudly applauded a test for orthodoxy involving an accused witch, a scale, and a duck.
After watching Divided, I was wondering why Leclerc did not interview people like John Piper, CJ Mahaney or John MacArthur; people who have huge and highly effective youth ministries that produce mature disciples of Christ without usurping the role of the fathers. I’ve been involved in multiple components of the youth/children’s’ ministry at Grace Community Church, and I know a lot of kids who come out of 18 years of youth/children’s’ ministry there with far better theology and mature faith than I had when I graduated with my B.A. in Youth Ministry.
4. Though I’d agree with Leclerc that the whole modern youth ministry is a huge problem in the church and men have generally abdicated their leadership roles in their families, the solution offered in Divided was overly simplistic and will easily turn into a pat answer.
What do I mean?
Well firstly, Divided basically suggested that we need to axe youth ministry and get all the kids into the main worship service.
What happens when you force a 7 year old, with a 30 second attention span, to sit through a 56 minute sermon told by a confusing and boring preacher? I know plenty of ex-Anglicans/Lutherans/Presbyterians who were forced to sit through hundreds of boring and confusing church services and ended up leaving the church because it seemed like the old people had meetings simply to plan how to make church more unbearable.
Secondly, Leclerc didn’t do anything to help people watching the movie know exactly what to do to train all the men who are lousy fathers.
How exactly do you train them?
I know of a fair amount of people that may try to eradicate youth and children’s ministry and then try to get the dads of the church to start reading Paul Tripp books and puritans, hoping that they develop “good theology” that will somehow ooze over into their lives in practical and thoughtful ways and lead to national revival. Hooray!
Good luck with that.
Thirdly, I know more than a few people who will watch a movie like this, believe it in good natured trust, and think that changing the model will solve the problem. They’ll make a huge stink in their churches, push for the church to eradicate all children’s and youth ministry and embrace family integrated ministry, and then think “finally, things will start getting better”.
I predict that there will be another movie in 10-15 years from now to show how the whole “family integrated ministry” idea didn’t work either.
5. Regarding the problem of youth ministries, I’d suggest that the problem isn’t so much with the issue of integrated ministry as it is with the whole concept of “youth pastor”. I studied the contemporary youth ministry model under some of the best Youth Ministry guys around. I went to Briercrest and sat under the tutelage of Marv Penner and several other influential fellows (like Ron Friesen), and I’m well familiar with both the model and the underlying theology.
I’d strongly suggest that modern Youth Ministry doesn’t work because it doesn’t really train youth pastors to be “pastors” by any stretch of a biblical understanding of what a pastor is. We currently have a bunch of youth pastors who are taught that pastoring involves:
a. Relating to kids and being cool (Acting immature and stupid so that the gospel is “made relevant”)
b. Understanding youth culture.
c. Organizing and planning events.
d. Giving encouraging talks.
e. Referring basically any problem to an expert (i.e. theology questions to the senior pastor and life problem/counseling questions to your local secular psychiatrist/psychologist)
None of that makes one a pastor. None of those skills have anything to do with the skill set needed for an elder in the church. A man who isn’t elder qualified (i.e. 1 Tim. 3 & Titus 1) isn’t a pastor. A large amount of youth pastors that I’ve known aren’t pastors but eventually climb the ladder to “real ministry” once they get experience so they can be a “real pastor”. I hear that kind of talk all over. Somehow, many churches think that a poorly-trained guy who’s not biblically qualified somehow magically becomes both well-trained and biblically qualified once they have 5-7 years experience. I don’t know who ever got the idea of “relevant experience is a suitable replacement for proper training and qualifications” into the church.
Doctor – “Well, I got your x-ray results back, and I think it looks like you’ve got a problem there under the dark spotty thing. See that white lump? That’s definitely bad. Maybe we should operate and cut it out, though I might give you some Dulcolax or Risperdal and see if that changes things.”
Patient – “Excuse me? ‘Dark spotty thing’? The white lump is bad? What is it?”
Doctor – “Well, I’m not sure…but the last few people that I saw with that lump died. I don’t want to take any chances, so we had better cut that out.”
Patient – “WHAT?! You don’t know what it is but you want to cut it out from me?! What the HECK is wrong with you? What kind of Fisher Price medical school did you go to?”
Doctor – “Sir, please sit down and stop raising your voice. I didn’t go to any medical school named “Fisher Price”! Medical school was far too expensive, so I got a degree in biology at a community college instead. I have 30 years experience, I’ll have you know, and I’ve learned a thing or two about the dangers of white lumps in that area!!”
What would you think in that situation? Would you think that 30 years experience meant anything if he learned by trial and error involving lives?
As I see it, the real problem with youth ministry is that we’ve got a whole load of “pastors” who either don’t have the calling or skill set for ministry, and we all recognize that they (for some mysterious reason) are failing miserably. We’re literally watching “trial and error” with the spiritual lives of our youth. Our youth are dying by the truckload on the operating table because we’re not heeding God’s directions for men who are entrusted with spiritual authority and leadership.
To say it simply, the problem with youth ministry isn’t that we have youth pastors that take all the kids and go to a Christian rock concert.
The problem with youth ministry is that we have youth pastors that take all the kids and go to a Christian rock concert and expect spiritual growth from the exercise.
I don’t mean to be unkind, but after being around contemporary youth ministry for many years I find it hard to believe that only 80% of the kids are abandoning the church. I have no idea what’s keeping the other 20%…and I know that far less that 20% of youth pastors are properly trained, elder qualified men who are teaching biblical doctrine, doing biblical discipleship and giving their kids the biblical gospel.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “put the PASTOR back in ‘youth pastor'” Unger
P.S. – On the Divided extras (Church Leaders Who Permit Carnality), what in the WORLD is with Paul Washer making the illustration about Pastors letting the church be misled? When he made the point about going looking for the men who assaulted his wife (for the purpose of unleashing violent vengeance upon them) and then going looking for the spectators (for the same purpose), did he not sound frightening or even slightly psychotic? I don’t know much about Washer except that he’s preached some fairly hard sermons (and I’ve only listened to 1) and is a Calvinist of sorts, but with the buggy-out eyes and that illustration, he went down a few rungs on my “people I have to check into” list. Romans 13:1-5 says that the government, not Paul Washer, holds the sword of justice. Deuteronomy 32:35 suggests that no Christian, let alone a pastor, should ever talk positively about exacting vigilante justice. On that extras clip, Paul Washer sounded and looked quite unstable.