Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Ministerial Martial Law

I've always found legalism to be repulsive and death-dealing, but if I were to adopt a "rule" of some kind, maybe even declare ministerial martial law (sort of along the lines of "don't ever do this or you will be shot for treason"),it would be this:

Manipulation has no place in ministry, period. No matter how good your goal may be, it's always completely, absolutely, unquestionably sinful to use manipulation to achieve some end.

Last year, I ran into a "ministry" that used manipulation to "get people broken down so we can build them back up" -- the way it worked was that they would run a retreat, break people down through some pretty heavy tactics, and then love-bomb them into accepting a new paradigm. Some of you are now pulling at your hair and screaming "that's what cults do!", and you're absolutely correct.

Back in my Providence College days in the mid-80's, I wrote a paper for our Cults class entitled "Cultic Aspects of Fundamentalism" (NOTE: this did not make me popular with certain students and faculty, but the professor of the class gave me an "A"). I wrote it after reading a check-list in the (now-defunct) Moody Monthly magazine that listed "eight sure-fire markers of a cult" and I couldn't help but notice that six of the eight markers could be applied to many youth ministry models that I had seen. So, I wrote the paper to point out that, if we really believe that what we believe is the Truth, then our methodology had better be on a much higher level of integrity than the cults on which we are looking down.

The ministry that I encountered last year was an eye-opener. I had quite a long discourse with the pastor who was leading these retreats. He told me that half of his congregation had been through them, all of his leadership team, and -- here's where I get upset as a 20-year veteran of youth ministry -- all of the youth. It was basically an ingrained part of their church culture. Near the end of our two-hour dialogue, he admitted, "Yes, it's highly manipulative, but it's to a good end, so that's okay."


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