When I was in youth ministry, one of the mantras I heard at every conference was that most people convert to Christianity before their teen years are up, and if they don't convert before the end of adolescence, chances are drastically reduced that they'll ever become Christians.
Image by ComingUpNext [is LEGIT] via FlickrThis was always repeated as a warning, and as some sort of an indictment against our culture, so we youth workers had better hurry up and convert all the kids before they become adults. Now that I'm on the outside of the church business, I find emphases like that one shocking and scandalous.
The same adults whose eyes were wide open about the false sense of urgency that our culture places on teens with regard to relationships, sex, worldly status and possessions, were completely in the dark about the fact that this same false urgency was being foisted on to teens when it came to Jesus. Every year, millions of church teenagers sign a "True Love Waits" commitment, vowing to forego the satisfaction that their hormones are insisting that they enjoy for a more measured, reasonable, informed, long-term decision with regard to sex and relationships. Yet, when it comes to Jesus, true love is told to do anything but wait.
Kids are bussed off to "Jesus Camps", inundated with attention, bathed in trance-inducing Christian-rock worship songs, brought to the point of euphoria through emotional and physical exhaustion, and at the end of each night, just before bed, they are invited to commit their entire lives to loving Jesus as their personal savior. This is the exact opposite of what they're told to do with every other commitment, whether it is to follow their dream of becoming the next Tony Hawk or the next American Idol. But, when it comes to Jesus, kids, throw caution to the wind, indulge yourselves now! now! now! and don't you dare wait or take time to research all the available facts, religions, or life paths you could take. Do with Jesus what you feel like you should do with that girl that you feel like you just can't live without. Do it now! Before he gets away! Before you become an adult and learn to think things through! Just do it!
The same adults whose eyes were wide open about the false sense of urgency that our culture places on teens with regard to relationships, sex, worldly status and possessions, were completely in the dark about the fact that this same false urgency was being foisted on to teens when it came to Jesus. Rather than producing a sense of urgency among adults, the fact that kids would not convert if left to their own devices and won't convert as adults should be a red flag. Of course adults understand that teenagers are fickle and that their decision making skills are impaired, to say the least. The same youth workers who chaperone these hormone festivals can be heard making surreptitiously sarcastic remarks about their horny flock throughout the Jesus Camp weekends. Johnny loves Suzie... again... except if Sally is around, then he loves her. Suzie is convinced that Tommy is the one....this week. Part of the job description for any youth worker worth their salt and light must include the ability to convince teenagers not to do what they feel like doing, along with the ability to wield a fire hose on occasions when the little animals get too close to each other. Yet, when it comes to making a lifelong commitment to a relationship with Jesus, unlike making commitments to their other relationships, Christian adults want nothing more than convince teens that time is of the essence. "Hurry up and do it!", but only with Jesus. With everything else--wait, wait, wait. Life is long. You'll look back on these years and realize how immature you were, how impetuous, how you thought things were important that really weren't. Except Jesus. Hurry up and commit to him.
Churches are defined as successful in accordance with the number of adults that are devoted to raising money, giving time, doing research, attending conferences, and so on, in order to strategize about how to convince children and teenagers to make lifetime lifestyle choices about their religion, before they have ever left home or experienced or learned anything about the world. The great panic ensues with each graduating class, knowing that the kids would be out "in the world" and many of them wouldn't be able to overcome "temptation". Temptation, of course, could be to have sex, to drink alcohol, or to stop believing in Jesus, in no particular order.
In any other context, this kind of brain washing would be considered criminal. When impetuousness is at its zenith, Church-going adults are taught to pounce, to secure that "relationship with Jesus", before teenagers go off and learn how to engage in adult, critical thinking. You know, the kind of critical thinking that churches try to instill in kids when it comes to questions about sex and partying, which is the same kind of critical thinking that they're working overtime to exempt Jesus and the Bible from, to say nothing of Creationism.
With the exception, of course, of advertising (where lying to people in order to get them to sacrifice for things they don't need and wouldn't want unless you brainwashed them to believe that they were a necessity) and in torture of detainees (which actually is criminal, except when you ask the same people who believe in being 'born again', then it's not criminal, it's righteous), nowhere in our culture is brainwashing more prevalent than in Youth Ministry. Nowhere else do adults try to get kids to make decisions that will cost them their lives than at the seasonal Jesus Camps that are such a fixture of church life.
True love doesn't wait at Jesus Camp. It runs down the aisle exhausted, with dirty feet from the ultimate Frisbee game, or torn jeans from the broomball tournament, delirious with sleep deprivation after a night of giggling over girl-talk or boy-farts, ecstatic after an hour of trance-inducing music, hot tears streaming down its face after a sermon that can only be described as emotional terrorism (probably invoking graphic scenes about one's death or the death of loved ones), and it runs to the forever embrace of oneness with Christ, the bridegroom, in a little mini-marriage ceremony right there on the makeshift altar at the camp.
For everything else that's good about life, True Love Waits.
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