Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    What's Wrong with "See You at the Pole?"


    The "See You at the Pole" controversy rears it's head in the blogsphere once again. Stuart Delony got many of us thinking critically about this issue right here about a year ago. My response at the time was to write:

    This yearly program asks students to meet at the flagpole outside their school and stand together holding hands and praying -- in a display of self-righteousness for all to see. Perhaps more bothersome: it centers itself around a flag, a symbol of nationalism, further commingling faith and country in a way that I believe dilutes our faith and is downright dangerous for the health of the Church. Some might argue that these youth are witnessing to their faith. But I would hope we are leading them to understand that we don't witness to our faith by making public spectacles of our piety. We do so in the way that we live and love others, in the way we work for peace and justice, in the ways that we care for creation, and in the ways we practice reconciliation.
    Now Johnathan at THESOURCE4YM takes up the argument saying :
    The question I have is simple. Where is the Biblical basis for this event? Because if we look at what the Bible says about prayer, I only find passages talking about how we should NOT pray to be seen by others. Jesus himself said that we should go and close the door to pray.

    Read the
    rest. What do you think?

    Update:
    There's quite a growing consensus of similar responses to "See You at the Pole" over at Pomomusings. Maybe it's time for some enterprising youth minister to come up with a better alternative. HT to Joel at the Mayward blog.

    --Brian

    13 comments:

    Joel Mayward said...

    Just to add to the conversation, a similar discussion is happening at pomomusings.

    http://pomomusings.com/2008/09/26/why-i-wasnt-at-the-pole/

    Marv Nelson said...

    This is a GREAT post, and will cause me to "RETHINK" why I do this event. I think the arguments AGAINST it are true. It goes against the "Living out your faith" as well because we are being like Pharisees in a way...thanks for the thought provoking brain food

    Brian said...

    Joel. Thanks for the heads up. I'll add that to the post. Marv, glad to hear your reaction and also enjoyed getting to check out some great posts at your blog on authenticity!

    Marv Nelson said...

    Thanks Brian! Great Blog you guys got going on here, yall are on my rss so I check it out every new post!

    Matt said...

    The problem is, the alternative is not an "enterprising" scenario. It is regular, secret, committed prayer either in small groups or individually. I don't think you can sell T-shirts that say "You don't see me doing it out in the open, but I pray for you everyday" or host rallies about doing things where no one can see them (see the irony there?).

    The problem is that youth ministry worships at the altar of the enterprising youth minister who then commoditizes whatever he or she comes up with. We need a non-enterprising solution to this and many other issues.

    Jeremy Little said...

    Are we not over thinking and over analyzing this just a little bit? Our students are gathering together to pray for their fellow students and their school! What's wrong with that? Maybe some of them have the wrong motivation, but the motivation is supposed to be simply to gather and pray. Not to show off or pretend we're evangelizing simply by being there, but just to gather and pray together.

    Brian said...

    Matt, great point. Perhaps I should have used the word "thoughtful" or "creative." And I completely agree that the problem here seems to be that we look for marketable "events" rather than simple sharing with youth an understanding of spiritual practices.

    Jeremy, thanks for weighing in on this. I guess I wonder if how we as adults perceive this event is somewhat different than how a teenage brain perceives it. We see it as a chance to pray together in community. But I wonder how the more developmentally/socially immature, self-focused, identity-conscious teen (which is, naturally, most of them) understands the purpose of the event.

    Ish Engle said...

    While the points against SYATP are good, strong and Biblical, and the point about teen psyche is more reality than many want to acknowledge, I still think this CAN be a useful event.

    I think as youth pastors, we need to remind/teach/inform/explain that SYATP made our kids "visible" as Christians, sort of a "coming out of the prayer closet". OK, everyone knows you're a follower of Jesus now: that means how you live reflects your faith EVEN more than before.

    If our kids are willing to live for Christ and wanting people to see them as different because of the difference He makes, then an event like this is an attention getter and a good thing. IF, however, they just want to be "in" with the popular Christians, they just want to be cool and Christian for once, or they just want to be Pharisees, then we'd better get a new idea.

    Just my $0.02.

    Jeremy Little said...

    I agree with ish engle... how our students are viewing this event, could have a lot to do with how we're promoting it. Are we billing it as a, "Hey let's show everyone how good we can play guitar and pray" event? Or are we saying, "I follow Christ no matter what you think of me."

    I agree that some students and youth pastors have this all wrong. They have wrong, and maybe even selfish intentions when it comes to SYATP. But I don't think that means the event itself is bad, outdated, or hypocritical.

    I think SYATP is whatever you make it for your students. If you can tell your students that this event is to make a stand saying they're Christians, then great! If you can cast the vision to your students that by standing up for Christ at SYATP means they have that much more of a responsibility to live like Christ, excellent! But if you're telling your students that SYATP is just a morning to "show off," then ya, there's something wrong there.

    I still believe SYATP has some great value and I continue promote it with our students and even attend and participate in the morning if asked to. In our city there have already been dozens of smaller weekly prayer groups born out of what happened at SYATP. And I don't say that to brag, just say that it's still a good ministry.

    Brian said...

    Ish, thanks for weighing in. I think you and Jeremy both hit the nail on the head: the issue here is more how adults "frame" the event, and that frame can be positive or negative. If you check out my later post on this issue with the link to the "Church People are Stupid" blog, you will see that they are agreement: the teens aren't the problem. The adult leaders ARE the problem.

    Lily Chartier said...

    I started a prayer group at my school. We don't meet to show off, or to bring down others. We meet for the fellowship, and to support each other and the school through prayer. The Bible does support Christians meeting together. We asked permission form the school first. We also just hang some fliers around, just like any other group is allowed to. If I know someone who might be interested in joining us, then I ask them. if they say no, then its no. I have seen people coming to our group that don't have the same beliefs, but they are searching.

    I guess what i am trying to say, is don't condemn the all the prayer groups. Personally I believe this is a great ministry.

    Henry Charles Windham said...

    Our Middle School Christian Club called Comets for Christ meets early every Wed. Morning. After this last SYATP (95 people) our meetings increased from 12 to 25. Yea God!

    Ryan Simmons said...

    I just have to question this: If public prayer is acting like a pharisee, then what is a pastor doing on Sunday morning? How about a biblical televangelist ministering to a shut-in? Radio sermons with a prayer at the end?

    I think you've over-thunk the issue. There is not reason what-so-ever that teens should not meet at the pole and pray. For some lost soul, it could be the way to discover Christ in a comfortable place.