Every Tuesday in The Minority Report, Drew Dixon takes a look at trends in youth culture and offers some biblical wisdom for navigating them.
If you are my daughter’s youth pastor and you ever abduct her at gun point, I will at the very least press charges–I will probably have to fight the temptation to do much worse to you. I will not care that you were trying to illustrate some greater spiritual lesson to her about the “real persecution” that other Christians face in countries bereft of religious freedom.
Full disclosure, I am a youth pastor. To be fair, my title is Family Pastor, and my responsibilities extend far beyond shepherding teenagers but nonetheless youth ministry is a large part of what I do and I never correct anyone who calls me a youth pastor. I want to be a good pastor to the students in my church. Because I am a youth pastor, I sometimes visit youth ministry websites where youth pastors exchange ideas for games, illustrations, and lessons. On more than one occasion, I have read youth pastors suggest nights of simulated persecution. Scouring the internet this morning, thankfully, I could not find any Christian websites promoting this type of activity but I do remember reading about them in my early days of student ministry.
The idea goes something like this–a group of masked adults barge into the youth room while the youth are having a student service and use fake guns to take some students captive for meeting to worship Jesus. I have seen this idea varied in numerous ways–sometimes the one pitching the “illustration” would at least be semi-cognizant of the ilegality of such actions and encouraged pastors to warn their students ahead of time. This is the sort of thing that I wish I could say that no one buys. Surely no one would read about such a thing and think that it was a good idea for this Wednesday night’s student Bible study. And yet, this story about Good Tidings Assembly of God Church in Middletown, PA, has received national attention:
Adults, including an off-duty cop, brandished weapons and put bags over the heads of the children, ages 13 through 18, and forced them into a church van. The group was driven to the home of an assistant pastor, who was presented before the group with a seemingly bloodied and bruised face, according to Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo.
One of the adults used a real AK-47, though the gun was unloaded, Chardo said.
The church leaders who organized the fake hostage situation later told law enforcement that the event was meant to be a lesson to the children on how Christians are persecuted in places around the world, but the “educational” event may actually constitute a crime, Chardo said.
Legal action is being taken against Glad Tidings Church and the adults involved in this “fake” abduction and I think that is a good thing. The pastor’s job is to care for his flock, not threaten them. If my daughter were made to weep and held at gun point with a real gun, I would want the man responsible to face charges for such foolish, illegal, and damaging action. What about our scriptural responsibility to obey our governing authorities (Romans 13)?
Furthermore, I believe such actions actually fail to teach us anything about persecution. True religious persecution is not something that can be simulated–attempting to do so only cheapens our understanding of persecution and does little to prepare us for it.
Biblically speaking, the way one prepares for persecution is to be “sober-minded and watchful” and setting our “hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). The only preparation that will do any young Christian any good, is to meditate on the gospel, to look to Christ–the “author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
Further this poor young girl who was terrified by this event and scared for her life will probably never dawn the doors of Good Tidings again. She may or may not be a believer in Christ, but such foolish and illegal actions from a church of all things, certainly do not help the cause of Christ. John Lanza, pastor of Good Tidings Church said that they would make sure to notify parents first before doing something like this again but they want to keep “the shock value” because the lesson is too important. For the sake of this young girl and for the sake of the gospel, I hope Pastor Lanza experiences enough legal trouble to reconsider his stance.