The Minority Report: When Youth Pastors Should Go to Prison

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.

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About Drew Dixon

Drew is an editor at Christ and Pop Culture and editor-in-chief of Gamechurch.com. He is also a pastor, soccer coach, and writer. Drew also regularly writes for Think Christian, Bit Creature, and Paste Magazine. He has also written for Relevant Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @drewdixon82

  • http://nickrynerson.com Nick Rynerson

    I just plain don’t get some of the things we evangelicals do. Sometimes I think we are all just a bunch of spiritual Michael Scott’s- well meaning, but with zero self-awareness. This is embarrassing!

  • http://joannamuses.com/ Joanna

    I can’t believe someone would think that it is okay to do. That would be quite traumatic for anyone but if there was anyone there with some sort of anxiety disorder or past experience with (real) gun crime or kidnapping that could be particularly unhelpful.

    I agree with you that it is questionable how much it will teach people about persecution. For someone under threat of real persecution, they’d be facing the challenges of living knowing all the time that something bad could happen to them any time and that something bad could take all sorts of forms. Having to constantly live life in that environment I suspect would be a quite different experience to one night of drama.

  • Daniels Angel

    Being that a certain darkness Is most certainly on its way, Right here, in good old U.S.A, I believe that we should definately be made aware of the times just ahead…. maybe a couple years away, maybe a few, but we ARE entering into the dawn of a “new age” pun intended.. if we were under persecution right now, I would say that the whole drill idea would be an excelant one. However, since most non-believers don’t believe such an extreme persecution could ever take place, even though its a known fact that it does around the world today and always has… “they believe America is still this beautiful beacon of hope” in some ways it still is, but that’s on the way out the door. “Forgive my run on scattered sentences” ;-) what I’m saying is that YES, since people have this false Idea of America, it makes christians look absurd and crazy to pull such Radical stunts, and to pull those stunts today is highly unecesary. BUT, MAYBE CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE MADE AWARE THAT ONE DAY SOON, IN THIS LIFE TIME, SPEAKING THE NAME OF CHRIST WILL BE “A HATE CRIME” AND PUNISHABLE TO THE EXTENT OF JAIL AND POSSIBLY EVEN DEATH… why should we be made aware of this TRUTH? Because everyday we take for granted the freedom that we have to be able to share the most important fact in the history of mankind. Period. Jon 3:16 Amen. Please comment,id love to hear some thoughts.. but b4 u think, know this: WE ARE, at the dawn of the New World Order, Obamas Evil, check youtube under “obama refutes the bible” in a public speach in 06′ and also that I am a bit prophetic and all the above stated is on its way… in every way I say this in Love for my fellow believers, and may the Grace and peace of the Lord rest apon you all. Daniel

  • http://kschaub.wordpress.com kschaub

    Excellent points, Drew. Cannot believe this actually happened … no, wait, yes I can. I hope it never happens again though.

  • Tim Lockwood

    Amazingly stupid and that is the nicest thing one can say about this simulated persecution It sounds like something Bill Maher would write as part of a parody skit mocking evangelicals. I agree crinimal charges should be pressed against the people who planned and participated in this

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    Thanks guys–yeah there is no way to positively spin this–just foolish all around.

    @daniles Angel I would kindly encourage you not to believe everything you see on YouTube ;)


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