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A man came up to me after service, clearly irate.  He wasn’t mad at me, but he clearly needed to vent.  We found an empty room.  Barely able to contain his seething anger now, he told me he’d just spoken on the phone with his 14-year-old son, Vince.  Vince was in Orlando with the church youth group, attending a just-finished conference for young teens.  On the last night of the conference, Vince had apparently stood up in response to an altar call and dedicated his life to becoming a missionary to Africa.Vince’s father was angry for a number of reasons.  He was angry that such a momentous, life-altering decision had been made without his input.  He was upset that the organizers had the gumption to ask mere kids to make a decision on the spur of the moment, without even bringing the parents into the picture.  These were mere teens, he said, young kids who could not be trusted to even take out the garbage consistently.  And this was his very own son, one whom he anticipated spending months and years in guiding, advising, as to possible colleges to attend, majors to study, careers to pursue.  He did not like the fact that his son was coming home that night on a life-path that he had no say in.  He felt hijacked.  In one fell swoop, some stranger had just stepped in and usurped him of his God-given duty of fatherhood.

As I sat listening to him, I found myself strangely agreeing with him.  Who did these organizers think they were, to ask young kids to make such a radical decision?  Making a decision to become a missionary was no less momentous than making a decision to join, say, the military, after all.  No parent would have been happy if their 14-year-old came home having signed his life away to the military without any consultation.  Or had come back engaged to a girl he had been set up with.  But that is exactly what these youth speakers do, all the time, only they demand a life-decision far more drastic than the military or marriage.  They ask kids to commit their lives to full-time ministry.  And they do all this without once consulting with parents first.  It is an absolute encroachment upon the sacred family bond between parent and child.

Who are these speakers who trespass so callously on the domain of parents?  Who prey on the naive, impetuous, and gullible youth, who emotionally manipulate them into making life-long decisions?  They are the ones who speak with maudlin voices, whose faces are streaked with tears, and whose feet trample roughshod on the sacred parameters of the Christian family.  These speakers justify their actions with religious jargon, and are invariably interested in impressive alter-call results for the sake of earning a certain reputation. 

Would you like to know what I said to placate the man?  I told him not to worry, that young teens make all kinds of impetuous decisions.  I even told him that nobody really takes these decisions seriously – especially not the organizers.  And that his son wasn’t going to start enrolling in Swahili language classes any time soon.  I could have said more.  That deep down, nobody really takes altar calls for what they are meant to signify; they are for show, they are the religious bottom-line to justify ridiculously expensive conferences and youth retreats.

The man looked at me, honestly dumbfounded.  “You mean,” he told me, incredulously, “we’re teaching our kids that commitments are meaningless?”

I flicked my eyes away and half-nodded, ambiguously.  I didn’t want to commit to an answer.




  1. As a veteran youth worker, I reallly appreciate this article. I would love to dialogue about it. I rarely leave comments but this post really compelled me.

    • believer@redeemer
    • Posted February 15, 2008 at 8:35 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    agree with u on that

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