Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we looked at a silly self-promotional post by Greg Stier. He’s an aspiring evangelist who sells evangelism products to people who care for and work with teenagers. To do that, of course, he must convince those adults that his products fulfill an important need. And to create that need, he offered this elaborate fantasy recently about teens rescuing Christianity from its ongoing collapse. Today, let’s examine Greg Stier’s first piece of advice to the tribe — and see how well it works with reality.
(Spoiler: It explodes on impact with reality. But it’s hard to imagine anyone actually needing that reveal.)
Questions No Evangelical Actually Wants to Answer.
First, Greg Stier makes his case for teenagers being a powerful force for change for the better. He does this by naming exactly two teenagers, Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai. Notably, neither teenager is a Christian. Also notably, neither teenager seeks societal changes his tribe would even like.
Then Stier whines that his tribe doesn’t seem to like teenagers much. Gosh, he wonders, all wide-eyed and innocent, why oh why that might possibly be? As he writes:
So why hasn’t this same philosophy transferred to our churches? Why do so many church leaders view teenagers and youth ministry as a kind of necessary evil? Why are teenagers referred to by so many Christians as “the church of tomorrow” and not “the church of today”?
Also also notably, he never answers his own innocent just-asking-questions questions. They’re worth answering. However, those answers wouldn’t please his tribe any more than Greta Thunberg’s and Malala Yousafzai’s activism do.
The Handy Listicle That Fails Out of the Gate.
Ah, but don’t you worry yer pretty li’l feather-heads none, evangelicals! Ol’ Greg Stier, the Teen Whisperer, just knows there’s hope for you yet:
But there is hope. I’ve invested my life in mobilizing teenagers for the cause of Christ and am full of hope that this can shift. If believers are willing to take three decisive actions, we can mobilize Generation Z to revive the church and to change the world.
Pay very special attention to the disclaimer in that last sentence. It wasn’t included by accident. This is what that last sentence means:
IF everyone will follow MY instructions, THEN teens will save Christianity’s bacon. But if they don’t, then gyarsh, Shaggy, none of this’ll work and it sure won’t be MY fault. It’ll be everyone else’s fault. I happen to know my instructions will totally work if followed faithfully. Oh — how do I know? Because of JESUS REASONS, so SHUT UP. So if Christianity continues to decline, you can bet I will blame that decline on the lack of compliance with my demands. If evangelicals aren’t “willing” to comply, then gyarsh, Shaggy, that ain’t MY fault!
It’s just amazing to me to see someone with so little power in the tribe acting like this. He’s a legend in his own mind, for sure. (I 10000% guarantee that if he hadn’t gone into fundagelical evangelism, he’d have become one of those cringey “sexual healer” types, in my opinion of course. That’s the level of emotional manipulation we’re talking about here.)
But hey! Don’t worry! He’s only making three demands here! That’s it! That’s all it’ll take to totally save Christianity from decline! IF the tribe is “willing,” of course, to comply.
The First Thing Evangelicals Absolutely Won’t Do.
Greg Stier begins his listicle by demanding this:
1) Start taking teenagers seriously as a spiritual force for change.
What a cringey, useless exhortation that is.
He begins this subsection by name-dropping Jonathan Edwards, an 18th century theologian who was instrumental in the First Great Awakening. Edwards also wrote the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which a lot of schoolkids read in English classes. Greg Stier notes that Edwards lauded the younger people in his audiences for responding so overwhelmingly to his blatant fearmongering.
Of course, Edwards was easily in his 30s when he orchestrated these manipulative events. If anything, Greg Stier is really expressing his admiration for how much easier he thinks it is to manipulate teenagers compared to adults. He’s not suggesting that evangelicals let teenagers give the sermons and do the manipulating. Not by a longshot. The people creating “change,” in his tableaux, are adults.
You know, like himself and Ed Stetzer and all the evangelical pastors buying his bullsit seminars to broadcast to the teens in their own congregations, and the parents pushing their teen kids to attend those seminars.
How Teens Might Create Change, as Evangelicals Define It.
I suppose if kabillions of American teenagers suddenly flocked to evangelicalism and signed on to financially support its many poorly-run churches and fight its horrifically-damaging culture wars, that’d definitely represent some kind of change.
And that really is how Greg Stier sees change as a concept. The teens in this equation are not creating big changes themselves; instead, they respond to the manipulation of older evangelicals in such great numbers and with such enormous fervor that society itself becomes changed. As he writes:
From early Christian martyrs [LOL NO] to great reformers to pioneering missionaries, young people have answered the call to live for Christ and his Cause.
In more recent history, The Jesus Movement of the sixties and seventies sparked a renewed focus on worship, evangelism and prayer among young people.
The funny thing is, he’s not 100% wrong — in a way. Willow Creek very famously began as the church project of some very young, inexperienced evangelicals — and the scandals that followed along in its wake certainly speak to their utter lack of management skills and experience. Same for Marky Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill thing. Similarly, Joshua Harris became an evangelical legend very young for his extremist views on courtship. And I’ve joked any number of times about evangelicals’ habit of giving newlywed men platforms to spew horrifyingly-bad advice about marriage.
But these young evangelicals Stier praises are not doing their own new thing.
If anything, they’re just amplifying, extending, and exaggerating the teachings their elders like best. They are more extremist mini-mes of their elders. And that’s how their elders like it.
Why This First Advice Fails Hard, Primarily.
So Greg Stier’s first advice thing fails completely, right out of the gate. And it fails for two primary reasons:
Firstly, he never actually tells his audience how to do what he’s suggested.
Indeed, he just tells his audience how super-duper-important it is to “start taking teenagers seriously as a spiritual force for change.”
Okay: how? How do evangelicals do that? What does it look like when they’re taking teenagers seriously at all, much less as “spiritual forces for change?” And what does it look like when they aren’t?
Notably, his examples all consist of adults leading teenagers to a more-extreme level of Jesus-ing. More than that, the teenagers who broke loose into the Jesus Freak movement that Greg Stier so admires did not have the approval of their elders. For every one of those young adults who lucked into a Mars Hill, Willow Creek, or courtship empire, dozens more washed out and became the Glenn Hobbs weirdos trying to eke out a living on the fringes of evangelicalism.
I could see not one instance in Greg Stier’s entire post where he models his behavior, though. He points to past examples that seem to bear no relationship at all to his actual advice, just as he points to non-Christian teenagers doing stuff that doesn’t even halfway relate to anything evangelicals care about.
For all the world, it sure looks like Greg Stier doesn’t have the faintest idea how to put his advice into lived reality. If he had any idea how to do that, he’d have offered some concrete, actionable suggestions that model his vision.
The Second Problem: Authoritarians and Change.
It’s probably for the best that Greg Stier hasn’t actually thought through any of the advice he offers. His tribe won’t do anything differently than they already do, except to make it more extremist, wingnutty, and scarily authoritarian. That’s the only direction their wingnut bolts can turn.
Had he taken all that effort, the tribe would have rejected out of hand any suggestion that ran along the lines of serious change.
Change is what it’s going to take for evangelicals to survive as a relevant group in the future, but change is the one thing they absolutely refuse to do. Their Dear Leaders have been busy for the last 20-ish years teaching the sheep in the fold that change means compromise, and that compromise, in turn, instantly sends TRUE CHRISTIANS™ (like themselves) straight to Hell and makes Jesus impossibly furious and thus must be completely rejected.
The Fake Change They Can Accept.
Instead of real change, Greg Stier offers a compromise of his own. It’s something that older evangelicals will like, and something they can actually endorse and embrace:
If you Jesus hard enough and correctly enough for long enough, teens will eventually respond to your recruitment efforts in overwhelming numbers! Yes! And their zeal will return evangelicals back to dominance. Totally and for sure. Annnnnny day now!
No wonder Ed Stetzer was happy to give this numnuts a platform. That’s been the Southern Baptist Convention’s attitude for years now — as we’ll see in a future post next week.
The Game’s Real Win Condition.
It’s hard to imagine any teens actually embracing anything evangelicals have to say. Their bullshit detectors are very finely calibrated, and they can see these hucksters and liars-for-Jesus a mile away.
However, this game isn’t about them and it’s not being played for them. Instead, it’s about older evangelicals and their big Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game.
In their fantasies, they can pretend that the tribe will totally bounce back any day now — while maintaining the form that they like best, and without letting actual teenagers change anything about the game.
And that’s the only real scare-quotes-“change” they can totally love.
NEXT UP: Lord Snow Presides over the 80s movie that taught everyone how bad authoritarianism is — except evangelicals, it seems. Then: The reframing game, now played to manipulate teenagers. Well, gyarsh, Shaggy, will it work? Well, Scoobs, we’ll just hafta see — tomorrow!
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Last notes: This post was originally going to cover all three of Greg Stier’s bad-advice listicle items, but I turned out to have a lot to say about them and I wanted to give ’em each all the time they need. Also, I had to laugh today when I realized I already had a tag for “I’ve officially spent more time on this evangelism tactic than the Christians using it ever have.” Also, here’s a great pronunciation guide for Malala Yousafzai’s name.