His name is Dave, but he likes the kids to call him Pastor D.
“I have the greatest job in the world,” Dave (Jeff Ryan) tells the camera. But, of course, he’s lying. I’m sure that being a youth pastor comes with some tremendous rewards, but it just might be the toughest job in ministry, and Dave has it tougher than most. Goth kid Deb rolls her eyes at him every time he opens his mouth. Bespectacled Steven won’t talk at all. And he’s just been given a co-pastor—a pregnant, unmarried, super-nice assistant named Rachel (Tori Hines). And she’s making him a little nervous.
“I’d try to keep the pregnancy on the DL in front of the kids,” Dave tells the very obviously pregnant Rachel.
But no matter. Dave has a job to do! So he consumes about a dozen energy drinks a day, solemnly preaches purity with the help of a trick water bottle and gets psyched up for Camp Changed, which he hopes will be as good as its names. He wants to see his kids changed during the three-day summer camp. He wants them to grow closer to God, to each other, and to him so he can, y’know, keep his job and stuff.
Oh, but most of all, he really wants to win the camp’s traditional three-day competition and humiliate his archrival youth pastor, Jacob (Matt Perusse).
It’s true, Jacob could use a little humbling—and maybe a biblical tune-up. “We can’t possibly lose!” He thunders. “We are Legion!” But perhaps Dave also has his priorities a little out of joint.
YouthMin: A Mockumentary, directed by Ryan and Arielle Cimino and produced on the slimmest of shoestrings, is clever, fun and definitely not a Christian movie. Boy howdy, if any youth pastor would dare show this to their own groups, they’d be in for plenty of surprises.
But while it makes fun of too-cool-for-school purity sermons and serves up plenty of discomforting sexual gags, It’s also—perhaps unintentionally—a great illustration of how youth ministry can go bad … at least if you’re a certain type of kid.
As a teen, I was never a big fan of my church’s youth group. It was invariably led by far more competent versions of Pastor D, and I was a lot like Steven (quiet and uncomfortable) and Deb (cynical and secretly studious). I was not particularly popular either at school or church, and all the high-energy, game-filled nights at youth group increased my sense of alienation and pushed me farther and farther away. If I had my way, I would’ve chucked the pizza parties and dodgeball tourneys and just talked about God. Maybe dig into Scripture or dive into volunteer opportunities. Looking back, it’s gotta be an act of the Almighty that I’m still Christian at all.
Youth groups—at least in big churches like mine—are really built around the cool kids. It’s a strategy, from what I’ve heard from youth ministers: You rope in teen leaders, and the rest will follow. And for many, more attendance equals success. But invariably, adolescence is filled with kids on the fringes. Some would love to be part of the crowd but can’t. Others simply won’t. And sometimes, I wonder if the fringes are a lot bigger than we might think they are.
And even for those who love youth group, faith can be a tricky discipline once they leave it. According to a study by Lifeway Research, 66 percent of youth adults who attended church regularly as teens leave it—at least for a year—as adults.
Why? I think we can see why in Pastor D.
Pastor D—back when he was just Dave—loved youth group. “Youth pastor Jimmy was the coolest guy I knew,” he says. For Dave, youth ministry worked the way it’s intended to work.
But he’s dealing with a bunch of kids who aren’t like him at all. He doesn’t know how to reach them, so instead he digs deeper into what reached him: Fun. Games. Jokes. Sports. Energy. Meanwhile, Rachel just talks with the kids. And they respond.
Dave learns something everyone of faith learns at some point: To truly follow Jesus isn’t a game. It isn’t always fun. It’s about accepting tears with the laughter, about community and sometimes it’s about sacrifice.
YouthMin isn’t a Christian movie. It’s not intended to be a Christian movie. But it gets the nature of faith—real faith—better than you might expect.
YouthMin will be available April 28 on video on demand wherever fine videos are sold online, like iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo.