Friday, July 29, 2011

"Divided" The Movie. . . . Hmmmmmm. . . . .

Over the course of the last couple of weeks I've had several friends contact me for my thoughts about a new film - Divided - that blasts away at youth ministry as we know it. Since I've lived in the youth ministry world my entire life, they thought I should have some opinion. To be honest, I hadn't heard of the film but when time finally allowed, gave it a watch. . . just in the last hour in fact. What's most interesting to me is that as soon as I logged onto the film's site (you can watch it there), I realized that I not only knew the guys who had made the film, but I met them when they emailed me several requests to be interviewed for the film. . . and then they spent probably close to an hour interviewing me on film. And yes. . . I'm in the movie. . . for about 5 seconds!

Let me say that it does strike me as odd that filmmakers who asked to include me in a film they made never contacted me to let me know that the film had even been released, that I should give it a watch, and that they might want to hear my response. That serves to confirm my feeling about the film after one initial viewing - that this is an extremely biased film that was not made as a result of Philip Leclerc's stated desire to embark on a fact-finding journey, but rather that the film was conceived and made with a bias and agenda that existed long before the first clip was ever shot. To be honest, I had forgotten about my interview with film-making brothers Philip and Chris Leclerc back in 2010 at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Chicago. I remember feeling like they never really explained to me what they were trying to accomplish with their film, but I granted the interview anyway. Philip and Chris are genuinely nice guys, but I recall walking away from the interview sensing there was an agenda. . . I just wasn't sure what it was. Now I know.

Divided is a not so much a documentary as it is a promotional piece for the National Center for Family Integrated Churches. . . a reality that left me feeling snookered and manipulated as a viewer. Being conservative and reformed in my own theology, I have been vaguely aware of this organization and some of its more high-profile champions. As I understand it, NCFIC endeavors to promote what they understand to be a biblical approach (or the ONLY approach)to the spiritual formation of children, which includes the elimination of any and all age-segregated programming in the church, including Sunday School and youth ministry. These champions trace youth ministry's lineage to paganism, evolutionary theory, and men who were rebellious against God. Leclerc spends most of his interview time in the film with these high-profile, intelligent, and well-spoken champions.

I'm sure that I'll be watching Divided again soon, and thinking more deeply about it's method and message. I know it will be talked about quite a bit in the youth ministry world and so it should be. In the meantime, let me pass on some random thoughts and responses in no particular order. Know that these are somewhat incomplete, but here's my start in what will be an ongoing process, I'm sure. . . .

-Divided is a film that asks some very good questions and addresses some issues in youth ministry and the church that must be addressed. There are things we need to repent of in youth ministry. . . our lack of depth, our willingness to jump in and think we can supplant the Biblical design for the parental nurturing of children in the faith, that we've relied too much on programs and fun and games, etc. In fact, these criticisms that are leveled from "outside" the youth ministry world by NCFIC are many of the very same criticisms that loads of us have been working diligently, prayerfully, and biblically to address from within for decades. It troubles me that none of that was ever included with any depth or honesty.

-Viewers need to remember that what they are seeing and hearing in the film is mediated. Sadly, it's mediated in an imbalanced manner. I know that the Leclerc brothers shot hours and hours of video that has been boiled down to the one hour that remains. The comments that were chosen for inclusion serve the film's agenda well. I wonder how many of the comments from kids and youth workers at the film's start were taken out of context, chosen to prove a point, etc. I also wonder how many that could have been included that might cast a more positive light on youth ministry and what God is doing were left on the cutting room floor. Any of us could choose commentary from teenagers that casts our particular message in a good light, while casting those who think differently in a more negative light. That's what happened here.

-The problem of the stunted spiritual growth of the emerging generations is complex and multi-faceted. Yes, a lack of father-involvement is key. In fact, many in youth ministry are addressing that. And yes, youth ministry that's more about fun and games than taking kids from a diet of milk to one of meat is a real problem. But what about consumerism in our culture and our church? Has that played a role in people serving idols rather than the one true God? What about all the creature-comforts we enjoy that supplant an opportunity to suffer and thereby passionately seek and rely on God? What about poor preaching? Divided is too simple in it's analysis, diagnosis, and prescription.

-How about a film on the numbers of young people who grow up in homes who are doing what NCFIC prescribes who are not walking with the Lord?

-The interview with Ken Ham was especially troubling to me. I wonder if Ken Ham has ever gone to a youth group where the youth worker understands his/her role as a secondary spiritual support, where the Bible is taught, and where deep thinking is encouraged? And, when did holding to a "young earth" view become the litmus test for spiritual maturity?

-I'm afraid that Divided and its message is rooted in a dualistic view that splits God's world into separate sacred and secular realms. There is a thread of poor understanding of common grace and general revelation woven in and throughout the film's message and theology.

-Can youth ministry and father-involvement/nurture co-exist? I sure hope so! In fact, I've seen it happen.

-After viewing the film, I'm wondering what we do with Sunday School or any other efforts to age-segregate in order to teach in ways that are cognitively appropriate. Seriously. . . should we jettison separate and simultaneous efforts to teach the parents the deep truths of the Scriptures (meat) while nurturing five-year-olds in another room with the milk of a children's catechism? After all, shouldn't we as parents be going deeper, and deeper, and deeper so that we can effectively nurture our own children?

-On a positive note, 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.

So, those are some very initial thoughts about Divided. I can't wait for the conversation to continue. Watch it then weigh in. Overall, I'm concerned that this film, its tone, and its message will wind up being more divisive than constructive. I hope the latter is the case.

One last thought. . . Did God ordain film? The Bible never says that we should use the worldly invention of film to communicate. The Apostle Paul says nothing about film. Seriously. Just saying. . . .


Liz Perraud said...

Had never heard of this film until now. I will watch it and weigh in!


Adam McLane said...

I watched it last week. I'm glad I watched it. And I'm glad I watched the "bonus" interviews first. It's a stretch to call it a film, though it is in a documentary style. If it were a film they would have sought distribution. But it's an infomercial. It's free, and it's so clearly paid for to promote a vantage point displayed in those "bonus interviews." When I watched it last week I wondered if Michael Moore would be in the credits? Because they completely ripped his style off.

Walt Mueller said...

Looks like Tim Challies was all over this several days ago. He posted an extremely thoughtful and balanced blog - as always! - that's worth checking out -

whataboutphil said...

Thanks Walt! It saddens me to see polarization within Christ's Body! So many lines of demarkation - so many who set themselves as the "new" prophetic voice. I'm often left wondering if these subtle shifts in ideology are really laying the groundwork for an all- out assault by the enemy. Thanks for your faithful service and insight Walt - keep pressing on. Modes change but the Source of pur hope doesn't!

Walt Mueller said...

I think that lines of demarcation are good when truth is at stake. We have to stand for something and do it with integrity. However, in this case there is more happening here. . .

Rafael Ortega, aka Ralph said...

WHATABOUTPHIL. Ah yes, Christianity always needs an ENEMY now doesn't it.

How about just saying what you really mean by the word "enemy" - anyone who is not a Christian fundamentalist. Perhaps we should wage an "all-out assault" on "them", prior to them waging one against us. Let's not let them beat us to the punch.

Wouldn't want that to happen, now would we?

PCArev said...

Great job, again, Walt! Sandy and I are hear talking about your review, and I am glad you have criticism that is balanced and that is set against your sense of joy in the Lord and His Kingdom. I would be such a huge cynic if I had your job! (Have enough of a hard time w that as it is!)

Anne said...

The "young earth" view is Ken Ham's litmus test for just about everyone.

Rob said...

thanks, as usual, for keeping us in the know!

Stephanie said...

Walt, thanks for making this video available.

I saw Ken Ham give a presentation on Creationism, it was like totally embarrassing.

I don't understand the purpose behind asking "Did God ordain film." There's a million things you could substitute film with - the Internet, modern medicine, nuclear energy, electricity, gas combustible engines,etc. I don't get it.

Pastor Ben aka redfox2023 said...

Walt just watched with my wife. I agree with you completely. As a youth pastor I do agree with alot of what they said but it seems like they take things to the extreme. I couldn't help but think about how this seemed like a big church issue (at least with the program issue). I think instead of Youth Pastors jumping out of the youth ministry boat we should change the direction it's heading.

I appreciate the film for what it helps me see and that is I need to continue to partner with families in strengthening their relationship.

Walt thank you for you insights and the time and effort you put into breaking this stuff down. Love the ministry you provide! God bless!

Ben Forsman

David youthguy Martin said...

Rafael Ortega, aka Ralph
Ralph, I don't know whataboutphil, but when I read his comment about "the enemy" I though he was talking about Satan and spiritual war. I could be wrong, but read it again. Is it possible you read his comment with some hurt you are bringing into the conversation?

I think Walt's comment about God ordaining film, is to point out the error of the film maker's saying that student ministry or age separated ministry is not "ordained" or given by God or mentioned in scripture is odd when God also never ordained film, or suggested we use any type of media. Walt is calling them on their own use of something not in the bible.

Stephanie said...

David YOUTHGUY Martin

Love your moniker! Thanks so much for taking the time to clear that up. It made total sense immediately.

The Hartman6 said...

Thanks for posting this Walt. I think the greatest danger in the FIC is the bluntness of the gospel they are proclaiming. When we make the responsibility of the Great Commission merely on families... we never penetrate into a lost world because... for lack of a better term, we are only focussing on our own families. This is not a bad thing, it is a biblical thing for families to train their children in the Lord, however, the responsibility to make disciples of all nations has been given to the Bride of Christ. May our ministry as a body continue to carry out this charge! I posted in more detail on the movie and the role of Church and family here...

Thanks Walt!

Matt Hartman

Walt Mueller said...

David YOUTHGUY Martin got it right. Sorry for the confusion. Sadly, what seems so clear in my mind so often gets muddled on the way to my fingers!

Shoobacca said...

Those of us who live, breath and die for the value of Youth Ministry are generally finding it easy to dismissively treat the FIC model as radical, extreme and misguided. But before we "throw the baby out with the bathwater," I'm honestly, genuinely and without agenda asking, is there ANY credence to a claim that God will not bless a model, such as reThink's Orange, partnering the two God-ordained institutions of "Home" and "Local church?" What do you all think?

JasonDaMinister said...

Walt and everyone here. I appreciate very much your thoughts and comments on Divided. I am currently a Youth Director in a Lutheran Church in a small town in MI. I was raised very much in the style of these film makers & their benefactors.

I first watched Divided upon recommendation from some friends of mine last December. To be honest I found a great deal of comfort in the questions it raised. The reason I found comfort in it is because although it was evident they were not of a "mainline" or Lutheran heritage, the problems their congregations were facing have never been a problem for ours. It is our practice to have the children present in worship, in ALL aspects of worship. It has been our practice for parents to be present and involved in ALL areas of the youth ministry program.

If this project did anything, it helped to give me focus on strengthening the families (all forms) and it is my role as the Youth Director to be in partnership with them, a supplement to their primary role in faith formation of the next generation of believers. It is also my role to help them to be mentors and teachers of others outside of their family units, and to always be mindful and intentional about the impact they have on the world with every decision they make.

So, can the Church function w/o youth minstry programs? Sure, God will see that it does. BUT is God using youth ministry to impact and strengthen the next generations who are coming out of broken homes, greater temptations and challenges that we did not face? You bet your bippy He is!

To be honest, until I read these posts, I thought I was the only one outside of the evangelical world who had viewed the film. I am "glad" that I am not alone in my opinions. And I encourage all other viewers to reap only that which is useful, and not get derailed from the obvious bias present in it (unfortunatly the "enemy" is very good at what he does, and has been working on dividing the Church since before Christ ascended!).

I am a product of a broken home. I am a product of a Youth Minister who loved me when no one else could. I am devoted to the Church, I am devoted to Youth Ministry.

Peace & love to you body of Christ!

Dave D said...

Thanks for posting this Walt. I met you once at a class at Geneva College, years ago. I was studying under Rich Grassel at the time. Since them, I have strived over the years to develop programs that support the family, teach Scripture and help teens to go deeper in their faith while going against the 'programmatic age' we seem to live in. A friend sent me this video and I was very disturbed after watching it. Your post help me keep things in perspective.

I have always appreciated the work you have done over the years to help us youth pastors trying to honor God through serving students. Thanks again for providing clear analysis.

Duffy Robbins said...

Really value your comments, Walt.

Having watched the film now, I can say that my appraisal of the piece is very much parallel to your own. These guys are asking some great questions. They certainly aren't new questions, as they seem to believe. But, contra to the hipster Christianity vibe, I don't believe something has to be new to be worthwhile.

I take heart because I believe the LeClerc brothers, and others who were interviewed to bolster their position, are people with whom I share a kindred vision. We all want to see families made stronger, and we all believe that strong families are critical for the long-term spiritual growth of the church, and for children and teenagers within the church. As they argue strongly, it would be difficult to take Scripture seriously and come to a different conclusion.

But to suggest that because Scripture "..doesn't mention youth ministry", or say, "Thou shalt have a youth ministry" (McCracken), "..there is therefore no biblical rationale for youth ministry..", is just poor hermeneutic. I don't recall any biblical references to video gear, but there it was in the movie; and I noticed that each of the pastors were interviewed inside their church buildings (whoops, don't remember those either), buildings which appeared to be well-lit by never-mentioned electrical lights and blessedly cooled by non-biblical air conditioning systems.

I applaud and embrace the film's attempt to emphasize the authority of Scripture. I agree that this essential foundation has eroded in the church. But, a better hermeneutical approach would have asked, NOT: "Is youth ministry mentioned in the Bible?", but "Does youth ministry help the church to attain and maintain goals prescribed in the Bible?" The answer to that question, of course, is: sometimes "yes", and sometimes "no". Needless to say, the same could be said as well of preaching, worship, church governance, and many other elements of church life we see explicitly in the New Testament.

In short, I resonate with the film's concerns, I embrace the film's goals and I applaud the film's intent to do biblical and theological reflection. I have serious disagreement with the movie's approach to biblical and theological reflection. And I think that flawed approach has led its makers to seriously flawed conclusions about youth ministry.

Thanks for once again stirring the pot, Walt. Enjoyed seeing the comments of other respondents as well. I so appreciate your work and the contributions of CPYU. When I get to be your age, I want to be just like you!

Anonymous said...

All the hoopla surrounding this video convinces me that the thrust of the video is correct... Father don't want to be Fathers.... and youth pastors unknowingly support their effort.

Fathers being Fathers is under attack by youth pastors.

Awesome display of total ignorance, and our desire to run and hide from Biblical masculinity. We are scared.

Jared said...

It's propaganda? Propaganda? For what? Killing Jews?

It's propaganda for the family... I'll swallow hook line and sinker.

Ed from Arizona said...

No matter the bias behind the film from any stand point, the film makes a direct and impactful point. I am a father myself and have seen first hand the direction my kids are going, and if we as fathers do not step into the lives of our kids, they will seek leadership elsewhere. The bible speaks directly to parents and explains that it is the parents who will stand accountable for their leadership, not the Youth Pastor. If we neglect this calling, we are setting our kids up for failure as Christian adults.

Keara said...

I did watch the film, but my concern is not so much with it as it is with its controversy and how the "Body of Christ" is handling it. I'm at a loss as to why the film was so offensive to so many people. Consider the information and go to God's Word. Walt, if you were offended and thought your words misrepresented, I hope that you contacted the LeClerc brothers and personally took that up with them, since Matthew instructs us to go about controversies in that way. I find it a violation of one's own standard to accuse the filmakers and those affiliated of causing division in the body. I don't remember even ONE insulting comment in the film. Biased perhaps, but not insulting. I HAVE however heard more negative and insulting comments about the LeClerc brothers, Ken Ham, and several others in the film. So my question is this, "Who is it causing division?" Those who present their "biased" views in a documentary? Or those who make fun of, insult and lash out at them on blogs behind their backs? These people, like their opinions on this issue or not, are brothers and sisters in Christ who deserve the freedom you have given yourself, to express concerns on an issue. I'm just glad they at least have enough courage to go on screen and proclaim SOMETHING. A trait that the "Modern Church" has almost completely forgotten. This comment is directed to those to whom it applies. Please wake up to your own hypocrisy.

Keara said...

P.S. Walt,
I think Ken Ham's basis for the "young earth" thing was to prove that if you can't believe the beginning of the Bible, then you won't believe the rest of it. Which would then, in return, make you a non-believer...not believing the Bible. Certainly a sign of spiritual immaturity. He makes that point in the film. I would also add that if you don't KNOW Genesis or the account of creation, you probably aren't too spiritually mature.

Walt Mueller said...

Keara - thanks for your response. I would welcome the opportunity (as would many others, I'm sure) to speak to you in more depth about my concerns with the film. Too much to go into here. . . and too much to cover in just one blog. This is a complex issue although I attempted to express my concerns briefly in my blog. My response to the film was public because the film was public. I have deep concerns about the film and it's agenda. That said, I don't interpret my public expression of my concerns as being hypocritical. In fact, I see them as no different than the manner in which the film challenges many in the world of youth ministry, the manner in which you publicly challenged my thinking through your comment. Make sense? I think we are entering into some good discussion.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if any will read this since it is 2012. I worked with youth in the church, community, as well as youth in the community who went to church. A position I have always taken is that these young people are not my children. Therefore when their parents spoke my only response was "okay" and to the young person "Listen to your parents".
When it came to working with the youth I would only do what their parents would allow me. So I had to get their okay to do those things because they were not my children; even with regards to teaching the word because I left that right first to the parents.

For those in youth ministry, how do you communicate with parents regarding what is done in youth ministry and if parents say "my child will not participate" can you simply say "okay"?

I could go on but speaking takes less time than writing.

Anonymous said...

I really liked what JasonDaMinister said, "It is our practice to have the children present in worship, in ALL aspects of worship. It has been our practice for parents to be present and involved in ALL areas of the youth ministry program.

If this project did anything, it helped to give me focus on strengthening the families (all forms) and it is my role as the Youth Director to be in partnership with them, a supplement to their primary role in faith formation of the next generation of believers. It is also my role to help them to be mentors and teachers of others outside of their family units, and to always be mindful and intentional about the impact they have on the world with every decision they make."

I have been a youth worker for over 12 years, in a few different churches, in 2 different states. I wish more youth pastors were like JasonDaMinister and the above Anonymous poster, but have found there are some really poor youth pastors coming out of colleges now, and I am very concerned about what/how they are being taught. We were members of a church where the youth pastor did NOT want parental help and did NOT want the church body to know what he was doing or hold him accountable. He had "sex talks" that were NOT age-divided (middle school and high school together) and were NOT from the Bible...they were more "shock and awe" like what the kids get at middle school.

I did not think the FIC was a good model until we started visiting some other churches, even some out of our own denomination. Almost all the churches in our area separate the children during worship time, and once the kids get to youth group, the parents are done. I found that parents don't want to help and really aren't welcomed to help because then their child will be "uncomfortable".

I also agree with what some have said here how this subject is tearing down the body of Christ. We NEED to get along. I believe the FIC is a good model. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it is better than what is being taught in some of the churches in our area. The father IS the head of the household and HAS been commanded to teach his children. We've recently started visiting a FIC and there are two older youth visiting, one who has NEVER met his earthly father. This young man IS is being mentored by the men in the church and it is AWESOME to watch. There are young families whose children stay during the entire service, and after the service, the fathers re-explain the message to their children. We feel very comfortable with this style of church, where the father is the head of the household and is the pastor of his own family. There is a divorced mom who has started visiting, and at the end of the service, another family welcomes her and her children to sit with them, and then the father re-explains to her children as well.