**Non-Disclaimer: I wrote this today as a response to a camp that I’d recently participated in. I love the leaders and the campers dearly and see in each of the the hope and belief that what they’re on about is what Jesus was on about, their faith is unswayable and not self serving. Yet, their style of worship and bible study smacks of manipulation, spiritual and emotional manipulation that makes me ill and makes me want to throw it all in. They don’t see it as such, but as someone who grew up in a culture of camps that had leaders “slaying in the spirit” and “speaking in tongues” as well as laying on hands and the occasional “exorcism” I’m extremely hyper-aware of the way youth ministries can be manipulative.
And, after failing to find any resources by people who may have tried to work with more conservative/fundamental/pentecostal youth ministries in order to name our manipulative patterns and work through them I’ve sat down and written this. It’s entirely off the cuff, straight from my heart to paper, yes I’m angry, but perhaps it’s time that a number of us became angry…
It’s a definite temptation in youth ministry, the temptation to be even just a little manipulative, after all, everyone else is doing it to get their message across, so why not me? What’s stopping me from using the same manipulative patterns that say, Coke or Nike may use, what’s so wrong about using a little bit of our own form of manipulation to get the message of Jesus out?
Or perhaps it’s never crossed your mind and you’re simply involved in manipulative youth ministries because it’s what you’ve grown up with, or what you’re employed to do, or, perhaps you’re too scared to question the old ways and suspect the majority may just drop you if you say anything.
Perhaps you or your leaders sill think that playing slow, emotive music during a hour long “alter call” is innocent and not in the slightest way manipulative, perhaps you think that since every television advert has a sign off of “just do it (buy our shoes)” or “The Thirst Quencher (go and drink our liquid)” or “The real thing (everything else is an imitation)” then every time you present the gospel it’s got to have a sales pitch and a final liner that says “Say the prayer (because if you don’t you’re going to hell).
After all, it’s not manipulation if it’s the Lord’s work..
It’s not abuse if their souls are saved for heaven….
Lie to yourself as long as you want, heck lie to your church, lie to your young people and lie to those leaders that you minister with, but know that the truth is that Jesus was not on about abuse, Jesus was not manipulative, Jesus’ words didn’t end with a sales pitch and they definitely didn’t end with an hour long alter call with the disciples singing “Jesus Lover of my Soul” until everyone had said “the prayer” and perhaps even spoken in tongues as a special bonus to show you that he’d been successful.
That’s right, lie to yourself as much as you want, but I want to tell you something, a truth that many of you probably have been hiding from or ignorant of, or just plain indifferent to…
Your youth ministry is abusive and manipulative, yes, it takes advantage of young people’s emotions, their needs for vocation and meaning, their longing for relationship and their passion for change and manipulates it for your benefit. And, if you want to argue back at me that it’s not about you and it’s all about God then I’ll argue back, it’s all about your need for their tears, all about your need for their response, all about your need for their prayers, all about your need for them to fall at their knees, all about your need to hear them speak in tongues, all about your need to have another hand stuck up in response to the message that you’ve presented to them… it’s all about your need and nothing about God’s need at all.
If this is sounding familiar in any way then it’s very likely that your ministries are abusive and manipulative.
It’s a gut wrenching thing really to know that what you’re a part of can be oh so wrong, oh so hurtful and oh so anti-gospel.
If what I’ve written keeps you up late at night then good, get up and do something about it, change, stop using manipulation, stop being abusive, stop lying to yourself and thinking that it’s all for the greater good.
If your gut suddenly drops, your eyes well up and your headache gets worse then good, use the tears to re-vision your youth ministries so that they cease being havens for abusers and manipulators and start being safe places for young people who have been abused for most of their lives and simply need a place to hang and be in God’s presence where there is no more abuse, no more manipulation and just full of loving people living the Gospel.
If your youth ministries are abusive and manipulative there’s nothing in them to save people who are already being abused from every corner of their world, you’re just proof that there is no safe haven for the lonely and abused.
We all need to change, go and do it.