Thursday, February 04, 2010

    Syncretizing Youth Ministry Pt. 2: Christian Fight Clubs?


    Our recent post discussing the trend in youth ministry to fuse elements of consumer culture with the Church encouraged some interesting conversation. While several readers suggested that there is likely a happy medium to be found here (many youth ministries, for example, make use of popular music and films as teaching aids) there is a temptation to go to extremes (designing youth rooms to look like mini malls) all in the name of doing whatever it takes to make our ministries look cool and get teens "in the door." A few comments from our readers:

    I'm reminded every week that it doesn't matter that our couches are falling apart, our media computer's internet rarely works and there's popcorn embedded in the carpet. Our teens don't see that. All they know is that someone wants to hear about their week.

    Our space communicates how we think about God and faith. If all our energy is put toward cool decor that makes people ooh and aah, then we're really just distracting them from the issues underneath. I love leaders who put a little bit of attention into room atmosphere but then let the rest go and are present with teens where they are.

    I hate it when youth pastors think their main job is making God/Jesus/Holy Spirit cool/cutting edge/relevant. Because if you truly believe this, then you don't truly believe that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit are relevant, and therefore have fallen into consumerist Christianity...which leaves no room for relationship.

    I often wonder if in addition to the temptation to make God "cool," there is also a tragic identity crisis for those churches. I think there are a lot of ministries out there that lost the Gospel and are floating ambiguously in between the Kingdom and the dominant culture.
    One reader suggested we check out a particularly disturbing example of culture clashing with Church highlighted in a New York Times article entitled "Flock Is Now a Fight Team in Some Ministries."  The article describes a trend in some churches to offer kick boxing ministries as a way to attract young males: "The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some machismo into their ministries — and into the image of Jesus — in the hope of making Christianity more appealing."  The article suggests that these sorts of efforts are an attempt to counteract the way in which "churches have become too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility."

    As if the blatant sexism in that attitude weren't troubling enough, consider the issue of whether fighting as entertainment and recreation is an appropriate way to initiate young people into the faith. While some pastors in the article argue that they are simply using kick boxing as a metaphor for teaching young men to "fight the good fight" for the gospel, clearly it is not just a metaphor. They are both viewing and engaging in actual fighting.  How does this square with the image of Jesus we find in the gospel? As one pastor adds:

    What you attract people to Christ with is also what you need to get people to stay.  I don’t live for the Jesus who eats red meat, drinks beer and beats on other men.
    Your thoughts?  Does the idea of Christian "Fight Clubs" go too far in an attempt to make the Church relevant to young men?  Or is this trend simply a way to get youth in door?


    Kitty said...

    I grew up in a house where machismo was king. It is an unhealthy tendency that drives gangs and thugs. Jesus was not part of a posse or a gang. He was the leader of a people. He was the willing sacrifice that gave up his life for our sins. That is what a real man does. He takes responsibility for his family, in his community, and in his work. He is not someone that fights other men for the sake of it. He leads with a loving example. Fights are not won in a ring. We may be warriors, but in a spiritual sense not a physical one. Creating a loving, strong man who takes responsibility is the goal of drawing a boy into Christianity. There has to be a better way to bring them in than promoting an unhealthy desire to be a macho man.

    Graham Buck said...

    I guess it takes the phrase, 'beating the hell out of each other,' to a whole new level.

    On a more serious note, I think that we need to rethink our modern culture's understanding of what is masculine and feminine. To suggest, as many do, that kindness and compassion are more feminine traits and strength and responsibility are more masculine is, I think, a crass oversimplification of gender identity. Each gender caries both sets of these (as well as others), and not necessarily in greater or lesser quantities. The difference exists, rather, in the expression of those traits.

    "Shema Israel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad" - Hear, Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is One

    This God of ours, who is not divided has made both male and female in his image. And insofar as each individual is made in the whole image of God, which is to say that single people are not half-images, then those individuals carry each of his communicable attributes.

    And I haven't even begin to talk about the relationship between Christianity and violence...

    In an effort to not make this a soapbox and/or an essay, I'll just say this, Jesus seemed to fight the good fight by absorbing violence, not being the source of it. Paul seemed to fight the good fight by absorbing the violence he once had spewed on others in the name of God when called Saul. Peter, James, John, all these men we recipients of violence and they were all following the way of their master Jesus.

    What I'm not saying is that Christians can't ever engage in physical sports, that is far too legalistic a statement. Rather, that we ought to be keenly aware of the fine line between physicality and violence. Crassly, there is a difference between a TKO and a KO.

    There's more that could be said, but I think that's enough for now.

    Anonymous said...

    I think this idea of "Christian Fight Clubs" is extremely disturbing. That kind of ministry is turning Jesus Christ into something that he is not: He is not a man who has to prove himself or his worth through physical violence and intimidation. And that is exactly the kind of attitude that fight clubs promote, whether they are in a "Christian" atmoshpere, or not.

    Chad said...

    Anytime anything comes like this through news articles and such we always have to sort through which is really true and which is not.
    First of all, I think we can all agree that a Christian Fight Club (an example as such as the movie is absurd), however, if it is truly kick boxing and/or Karate they are taught not to do so unless there is not other option. I know many men who are involved in such classes and are the most joyful and respectful men I know. I agree with Graham that it is a fine line, but we always forget that Christ said he came to bring division and he came with a sword. I don't know about you all but that sounds like He is ready for action. Does that mean every man should be ready to beat Christ into somebody, absolutely not. But in the true sense of kick boxing and karate, they are always preparing by sparing and such. In the same way is it too much to teach men that Christ was not completely without testosterone.
    To kind of piggy back off of Graham, yes man and woman are made in the image of God. In the same interesting way that Jesus was the flesh image of our creator. There fore is it a stretch to say that man inherently seeks to "fight" for something worth fighting for. (not the physical mutilation meaning of the word), and woman inherently seek to be saught after. Again, like Graham, both are apparent in each gender, however they generally tend to be heavy in the areas I mentioned. Just the same, that if we, male and female, are images of God. Then we can see that both characteristics are in Christ, such as the verse in Matt. 10:34, and Matt. 23:37.
    Yes it is a fine line, but often like Paul and Peter had differing views sometimes me might need to be open that God is using others in ways that he would never use us, and there for we would be reaching different groups in order to spread the gospel. Obviously not at the mercy of down playing Christ's character of sacrifice and love. Fine line? You bet!

    Fernando e Yvia = Pitucos said...

    "Jesus Didn't Tap"

    This is a clothing brand that claims to be the first Christian Mixed Martial arts clothing brand.

    The problem I think is more cultural than anything else. If this pastor was offereing TaeKwonDo classes woul dthis issue even come up? Or Judo, Karate or any other more popular Martial Art?

    I've been part of ministries that reached out to young men thourgh martial arts (in Brazil). I actually am amazed that in a country that has a martial arts school in every corner there aren't that many ministries that reach out to this specific niche. Martial Arts teach you discipline, honor, responsibility, character... you name it... if we can get these common knowledge values and show that discipline, responsibility, character are all biblical traits in a man, then boom... people start coming to Christ.

    Violence is two guys fighting on a parking lot or in a bar. Martial Arts aren't that! It's obviously a "guy thing", but that is good to have... I do believe that the church is "chickefied" as Mark Driscoll has said before. People communicate, receive and express themselves in different forms and so should our ministries. Starting a Kickboxing, brazilian jiu-jitsu or mma ministry at church? If there is a demand, then let's do it!

    Unfortunately, as I said in the beggining, I believe it's a cultural deal. People see certain sports as violent. Skaterboarding, snowboarding and surfing were shunned upon in the past by Christians... now it's part of culture. one day people wil lunderstand the difference bwtween fighting and Martial Arts.

    Brian said...

    Thanks all for contributing to this discussion. I do beleive the underlying issue here is the question of violence. Even well-organized martial arts activities in a gym have the air of violence, real or implied about them. It's tough for me to square that with the gospel.

    Secondly, it seems that the argument for such activities is that it teaches young men character, responsibility, and how to take on the role of being good "men." I'm struggling to see what any of this has directly to do with the Christian gospel which focuses on mercy, peace, justice, care for the poor, the sick, and the outcast, and God's grace-filled love for all people (including one's enemy). I wonder that martial arts groups are better left to the venue of the YMCA and the local gym -- the Church has so much more important work to do.

    Finally, can we agree that the word "chickified," particulary as Discroll uses it, is a mysoginistic and sexist term, meant to imply that anything feminine (including men who display femimine qualities) is inherently weak or inferior to masculinity?

    Jay Miklovic said...

    I find myself most agreeing with Chad.

    Brian said:

    "Even well-organized martial arts activities in a gym have the air of violence, real or implied about them. It's tough for me to square that with the gospel."

    Why? I certainly do not see martial arts as Gospel centric by any means... but where is the tension? What about HS wrestling?

    In fact talk with anyone involved in 'hand to hand' type athletics like martial arts or wrestling and you will find a far higher level of respect for the opposition and teammates than 'non-violent' sports. Your opponent's safety is your responsibility and while you "pound" each other.

    Honestly I think a martial arts ministry is a fantastic platform for the presentation of the gospel, and also of genuine community, and most who have been involved in one on one 'violent' sports clubs (martial arts, boxing, wresting, fencing, etc...) would probably agree that the non-gospel assessment of martial arts is off base.