In the world of Youth Ministry blogging over the last few months there has been some discussion over whether youth ministry is manipulative, whether it is child abuse? I want to put a case forward to say it is not manipulative, nor is it child abuse to be involved in sharing the Good News of Jesus with young people. Contrary to what some might argue, I believe that the abuse, the neglect, the manipulation, is to say nothing and watch our youth continue to live in unrepentant rebellion against their maker.

Let me change tack for a moment and comment on a secular view on this issue. Catherine Deveny said in an article in The Age (15/4/09) recently that:

Indoctrination of children into religion is child abuse. Children should have the right to be raised free from their parents' superstitions, prejudice and mumbo jumbo. Let them make up their own mind when they're adults. Instead, let us use our powers for good and brainwash our children with tolerance, acceptance, rational thought and unconditional love.

My problem here is that this is clearly subjective. Her argument? That it is child abuse to 'brainwash' your kids to have views or values different from her own. It is not child abuse to 'brainwash' your kids to believe in those things she clearly values, the values of tolerance, acceptance, rational thought and unconditional love (as a further aside what the hell is unconditional love anyway? Is it love that doesn't judge anyone for anything? Oh except for child abusers or people with a different view of religion to me, looks like they breach the conditions of unconditional love!) If you reverse this logic, and make Chris Bowditch the objective standard of what constitutes child abuse you could say, if Deveny had children and bought them up to believe the Gospel was false she would be a child abuser because her views are different from mine. I don't think this is true at all, but the logic seems to follow from her argument.

Back to the Youth Ministry world. My problem is this. It seems like some Christians are approaching this issue with the mindset a bit similar to Deveny, that secular godless society is a-moral, that it is neutral, that it isn't inherently sinful and in a state of rebellion against it's maker and that it hasn't removed God from His role as King and placed man in God's place! That is FALSE! Secularism is not value neutral, and it does not reflect the truth of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ lived as the God-Man on earth 2000 years ago and died and rose again so all of humanity could be redeemed and bought into right relationship with our maker!

Advocates of the Youth Ministry manipulation seem to have a problem with telling someone the truth. They have a problem that the Gospel might make you or a young person uncomfortable, scared, intrigued, whatever. Sure there are better and worse ways of doing things, and the hyped youth rally might end up with a bunch of fake conversions, but at the end of the day God is the one who judges the heart not us. The youth I work with are capable of weighing what I say or other youth leaders say and taking or leaving it. In fact I'm interested in teaching them to think theologically and critically about how to understand the Bible and what it means to love and follow Jesus. If I didn't do this, if I stayed silent, then that would be an abuse of my God given responsibility to pastor and care for the youth in my area.

I also do not agree that emotion should be taken out of the equation. If realising what God has done for you through the work of Jesus on the cross doesn't make you tear up occasionally, or feel immense gratitude, or alternatively make you hate Christians for thinking you aren't a good person who doesn't need anyones help to get God's approval, there is something wrong. God made us with our emotions and the Gospel will engage them. I see no problem with us engaging with them, as long as we are being faithful to the scriptures.

Finally, I reckon God is sovereign and in control of this world. He gives those He has chosen grace to see the truth of the Gospel. You can't really manipulate someone if at the end of the day their decision to follow or not follow Jesus is up to God.

So that's what I reckon! Your thoughts?