Rethinking Youth Ministry
Christian Haunted Houses: Scaring the "Hell" Out of Teens?
Perhaps most disturbing is that churches in 2011 are still using fear of divine punishment as a way to attract and evangelize teens to Christianity. Do we really want youth believing that joining the faith is all about avoiding God's wrath? I suppose this theology fits well with the recent controversial words of Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll who declared: "Some of you, God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you. He doesn't think you're cute. He doesn't think it's funny. He doesn't think your excuse is meritous [sic]. He doesn't care if you compare yourself to someone worse than you, He hates them too. God hates, right now, personally, objectively hates some of you." One has to wonder if Christians like Driscoll and the sponsors of hell houses have forgotten that the gospel is intended to be good news. If the only good news we have to share is that we better pick the right team or we're going to hell, aren't we offering teens a faith that is self-serving rather than self-giving? Aren't we offering them a God who acts a lot like us rather than a Christ who loves unconditionally?
I recently asked the youth of my church, "If you discovered tomorrow there is no afterlife, would you still be a Christian?" In other words, is there more to being a Christian than fear of death or the guarantee of heaven? Would there be any reason to follow the way of Christ without an implicit threat of punishment or promise of reward? Where do feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and working for justice fit into "hell house" theology? Was the writer of 1 John wrong when he wrote "God is love . . . There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love"?
Perhaps it takes real faith to trust that we don't have to use fear to draw youth closer to Christ. The love of God has always been enough.
Rev. Brian Kirk is an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and currently serves an inner-city church in St. Louis, Missouri. He also teaches as adjunct faculty at Eden Theological Seminary, and co-writes the blog rethinkingyouthministry.com.