Let me start out by acknowledging and commending the good folks who organize the national SYATP youth day of prayer. Let me also state that this was the first time in over 10 years that I did not participate, nor did we actively promote this event with our students. I mention these two things right away to clear the air about what shall follow.
Since I am an equal-opportunity blogger….feel free to click the link below to learn more about this event.
When I was in highs school, my youth pastor encouraged me to go to the flagpole that one Wednesday a year and take a “stand for my faith”. I went and stood there by myself the first year and we had over 30 students and teachers by my senior year.
Naturally, when I became a youth pastor I motivated, or better stated “challenged” my students to show their faith by praying at their school. I used phrases such as “If you don’t stand up for your faith, you will fall for anything.”
I am ashamed to admit, but I would use Matthew 10:33 as fuel, “But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”
We purchased all the gear, held youth rallies weeks before, got our leaders to sign up to attend various schools, took pictures and videos and then celebrated that evening by having the students who went to the infamous Pole share testimonies.
Now, at the time , this was good and probably right the group and our students. But something happened over the years. The enthusiasm from students started dwindling and I began to notice a subdivision of students forming as a result of this one-day event. The students who went to the pole were praised and put on platforms. But what happened to the ones who did not go?
Some would make excuses claiming they slept in. Others could not get a ride. Some just did not want to go but felt pressured by their youth pastor (me). Some excuses I am sure were valid, others were not.
On those particular Wednesdays each fall we had everyone stand up who went to the flagpole to pray, sing, or simply stand. As one would imagine, all eyes would turn to those still sitting down and questions such as “Where is your faith?” or “Are you ashamed of what Christ did for you?” were often assumed and even publicly asked at times.
I always felt uncomfortable for those students, some of whom were Christians and others not. But they were meant to feel like outsiders simply because they did not stand outside of some school flagpole at a ridiculously early hour of the day.
But the more I have been thinking about the bigger issue at hand, I am not sure that standing at the flagpole or “standing up for your faith” once a year is a good indicator anyways of spiritual formation and affirmation. What about the other days of the week? What about those students who actively fight for what is right and engage in promoting justice and seeking peace and unity at their schools?
What about the students to stand up for the oppressed, made fun of, and discriminated at their schools?
Are they not following God’s commands and pursuing the Kingdom of God as much, (if not more) then the students who publicly pray?
Listen, if you asked me what I would rather:
1) 75% of my students going to their flagpoles today to make a statement
2) the same % living out their Christian ideals in tangible and visible ways each day within relationships….
I think you know what I would choose.
The flagpole works for some students, but not necessarily because of where their faith is at, but perhaps based upon their personality and whether they are extroverted or introverted, or if just a bunch of their friends will see them or not
For more students, this event is not a natural statement of their beliefs or faith. Now I do believe that students need to “step out of their comfort zone” from time to time, but I have witnessed that happen by teens embracing someone with AIDS, feeding the homeless, befriending someone who is homosexual, or confronting forms of social evils. These “statements” seem to line up more with Jesus’ dream for the kingdom of God to become a reality here on earth.
Let me end with this thought (especially for all you youth pastors who were at the flagpole today)
I admire and respect the event…I truly do.
Just reflect for a moment on two questions:
1) What about the students who do not go?
2) What about the other days of the week and year?
As an interesting way to follow-up with this event, perhaps considering look into something like Credo Journal for students. It is a great daily reflection and spiritual exercise aimed to help students live out their faith for the mission of God in very real and concrete ways.
May we all agree that living the Christian faith is deeper and fuller than simply standing at a flagpole. Hopefully today’s event will motivate students to daily live out their faith, and for that I am glad. I have no doubt that God will be honored and will stand with those who stand up today.
But let’s remember and celebrate that God is equally honored by those silent students working in their own way to bring His love, peace, and blessing to the world. And he equally loves those who care less at the moment, because in the end they too are created in his image as sons and daughters.