This past week teenagers from around the globe gathered at their school flagpoles for prayer. It’s a movement that began twenty years ago in Burleson, TX, and has swept the nation and world over the past two decades. See You at the Pole.
So how could anything possibly be wrong with teenagers praying at their school flagpoles??
At its inception, See You at the Pole was a student initiated, student-led work of the Holy Spirit. A small group of students, inspired at a Disciple Now event at their church (kind of like a mini-retreat) heard a call of the Holy Spirit to intercede on behalf of their friends, teachers, and administrators. They gathered under cover-of-night to call out to God. It was a very organic, Spirit-led, heart-felt call to prayer delivered to TEENAGERS.
As the story spread and teenagers grabbed hold of the simple, yet powerful, call to intercession – high schools all over the country began to see groups gathering at their flagpoles for prayer.
Then youth pastors got involved. (Here’s where everyone might get ticked off!)
Part of the beauty of SYATP is that it was student-initiated and student-led. There were no gimmicks. There were no bribes. There were no cattle calls. It was a just a simple ‘get on your knees before the Lord’ moment inspired in the hearts of teenagers around the world.
In the past ten years, in some cases, that spirit of SYATP has been lost. Youth pastors are showing up to speak, lead, worship, feed doughnuts – all the things that youth pastors do best. And, in my opinion, some of the ‘hallowed holiness of the Spirit’ has been lost. Student leadership has been pushed aside for more ‘polished’ delivery. The organic prayer effort has become more ‘event’ and less prayer time. Leaving with a doughnut and a cup of hot chocolate has replaced leaving with an urgency to cry out to God. SYATP has become ‘just another youth event.’
My role in SYATP as a youth pastor is to resource and encourage my students to lead out a holistic prayer event that is impassioned and empowered by the Holy Spirit – not my creative genius. My job is to give them the tools and know-how to approach school administration in a mature, thoughtful way. My call is to instill a righteous confidence that they can do it – without my help or expertise – all on their own.
Instead, youth pastors – and in some cases, school personnel – are leading the charge. And true to form, kids are showing up for the food and the show. They’re punching their prayer ticket and going to class. They ‘did’ See You at the Pole this year. Wonder if they’ll have better doughnuts next year….
Now don’t get me wrong, I know there are authentic, genuine movements of God at SYATP world-wide. I just heard about a middle school in Louisiana where attendance outnumbered all area high schools three to one – and where classes were nearly 100% devoted to sharing of the Gospel based on what was seen that morning at the flagpole.
But there are also events like the one at a junior high in Texas – where nearly 150 students showed up for doughnuts, had to be cajoled, screamed at, and finally called together with a stern blow of the dreaded coach-whistle just to get them over to the pole. And as they circled to pray, students were overheard saying ‘this is so gay’ – just ‘doing’ See You at the Pole because someone brought the doughnuts….
It’s just become another event – commercialized and stolen from the Holy Spirit and hijacked by youth pastors much like the WWJD movement of old.
I love SYATP. I think it can open doors for hope and healing like few other events on local campuses today. I hope we’ll equip our students to rely on and invite the Holy Spirit to open those doors in an honest, authentic way – without the motivator being the ‘next best creative event’ mindset. I truly hope that youth pastors will allow this event to fall back into the hearts of students and the hands of the Holy Spirit.
Drive by and take a few pictures, youth pastor. Don’t get out of your car – don’t offer to speak, contact school administration, or provide breakfast. Just resource your kids with the information and tools THEY need to lead – and then allow the Holy Spirit to do His thing.