.::Divided on Divided

I just finished watching the documentary “Divided” that details the idea that modern youth ministry is contrary to scripture and goes so far to suggest that is has pagan roots.  I agree with Marko in that I wanted ot like this movie, I really did.  However, the young filmaker, Philip Leclerc presents an unpolished, wandering argument that is less documentary and more heavy-handed propaganda for the organization that he represents (National Center for Family Integrated Churches).  I came away thinking that the Leclerc brothers who made this file come off more as a Christian version of Michael Moore in how biased they were in their presentation.  However, their main difference is that instead of wearing a baseball cap and crumpled wardrobe, Phillip’s standard attire was an dapper assortment of tight fitting vests and slim ties.  Here are my initial thoughts on the file:

  • First and foremost, the main thesis that the Leclrecs propose is an important and vital question that the church has to ask and address, “Does modern youth ministry steal the responsibility away from parents?”  This is a question I have been struggling with for that past ten years and am just now seeing this enter the popular area of youth ministry.  However, we are so entrenched in the way we have done youth ministry, we do not know how to successfully navigate in the waters of intergenerational youth ministry.
  • Second, Divided, also asks another important question about youth ministry that also needs to be discussed, “Has modern youth ministry watered down the biblical narrative to games, theatre, social clubs and activities leaving our students biblically illiterate?”  I do believe that the inclusion of XBox 306s, couches, donuts, lock-ins, laser tag trips, youth group videos, christian t-shirts and the like into youth ministries, while good in and of themselves, may have been distractions that many youth workers have used to keep away from the deep biblical truths of God.  Let’s face it, it is easier to take a group of kids to Six Flags and ride rollercoasters then wrestle with the deep truths of Romans.  I’d rather stand in line with a student and learn their story (which is a vital and important part of the ministry of presence) than dig into the Greek text and Fiztmeyer’s commentary in the loneliness of my office.
  • New Earth Creation and Other Rabbit Trails--Unfortunately, Leclerc tips his hand by presenting several different rabbit trails such as presenting New Earth Creation as a litmis test for orthodox churches and true Christians.  His argument would have been better served by truly presenting more moderate church leaders to present their takes on the need for intergenerational youth ministry.  A five second clip of Marko taken out of context (and without permission) and Walt Mueller and Jeanne Mayo is not a balanced apporeach to presenting your case.  This is a shame, but I do not believe that this takes away from the usefulness of a movie like this.  While Divided is far from perfect, it at least raises the bigger issues modern youth ministry and church leadership needs to address.
  • I would suggest screening this to parents and leaders in the midst of a series on adolescent development, the tightrope of adolescence, abandonment, and family-based youth ministry, intergeneration youth minsitry, Think Orange, etc. to start a vibrant and exciting discussion.  What I mean is that something this inflammatory and will work to create exciting and important dialogue (perhaps even more than something that is perfect could or would).  This can work to get parents and leaders riled up enough to vocalize what they don’t like about this file (and there is plenty of material for that) so that you can talk about the bigger issue of systematic abandonment of adolescents by modern youth ministry, children’s ministry and church structures.
  • I do think that the connection between our modern educational structures and youth ministry educational structures is a great point made poorly by Leclerc.  I won’t go so far as to say we are being pagans by structuring our educational programs after the public schools, but it does bear investigating and asking the question, “Is this the BEST way for us to educate our children in the faith?”  Survey after survey pointing to parents as the most influential person in a young person’s faith development (See Soul Searching by C. Smith for starters) begs the question, “Why have we constantly separated and segregated our students from the most important influence in their lives on a Sunday morning?”
  • I agree with Walt Mueller who says, “I believe that the film asks good questions about age-segregation in worship. It just shouldn’t happen. I’ve been trumpeting that for years and so have many others in the youth ministry community. But again, there are times when we can separate from each other to be nurtured in age-appropriate ways.”  I want to worship WITH my family on a Sunday and am frustrated with the battle that a youth group section in church causes on the drive to church Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

I do hope you give Divided the 54 minutes of your day soon and begin to think about some of the more salient issues that it brings up.  Overlook the young earth creation junk, Leclerc’s snappy vests and prepubescent looks, Ken Ham’s meaningless rants, the way that Leclerc sets up students at the Christian music festival (Carnival?) and youth ministers at Simply YM conference.  It is obvious that the Leclerc brothers are young, young, young filmmakers who need seasoning in order to present such arguments more fairly in the future.


2 Responses to “.::Divided on Divided”

  1. I really appreciate your thoughts on this film. As a youth minister, I wasn’t sure how to take it.
    One thing I really despise (whether done in films like this or books by other people) is when someone tells me something is wrong with youth ministry, and then fails to give a roadmap on how to fix it. At least give me some ideas!
    After much thought, I too surmised that the interviews at SYM Conference were either not used by permission, or used in such a way as to push the filmmaker’s agenda.
    I told my elders about this film, and that I was depressed after watching it.
    One of them reminded me of a student we have in our youth ministry whose mom drops him off and dad is an atheist.
    Then he said there were several more teens he could think of that probably would not be attending our church if not for the youth ministry. (Thank God for good, supportive elders!)
    I know several of the parents in our youth ministry have seen it. I’m hoping to open up a dialogue. At least it’s got some people passionate again!!!

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