What’s Wrong with See You at the Pole?

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.

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.

Author: Darren Sutton

I've been in student ministry nearly 30 years…which generally just confirms how much I still don't know. Some days I'm the pizza-eating, over-responding, teaching-on-the-fly, desperate-for-volunteers, frustrated-with-co-workers youth leader that we all are. And sometimes…I knock it out of the park. I'm everywhere on social media that you are!

14 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with See You at the Pole?”

  1. I agree with this article 110%! The problem is the church expects this from student pastors. Because “that’s how it has always been done!” How do we balance what the parents expect, with allowing the Holy Spirit to work through students?

    1. Helping folks, parents or otherwise, recognize that our call is to help THEM help their kids to rely on a faith of their own is the greatest challenge in all youth ministries. And just like the gospel, some catch the vision and some don’t. Specifically with SYATP, I do a lot of ‘information overload’ about the inception and intent of the movement and utilize parents in the ‘drive-by photo shoots’ etc. – so they can see their kids doing it without help – and then invite them to attend any Saw You There rallies, or whatever we do to celebrate afterward – good testimony time from the kids and a great opportunity for parents to get a deeper glimpse into what student ministry CAN BE for their families!

  2. One morning when I was taking my daughter to school, as we turned into the parking lot behind the long line of others doing the same, there, around the pole was a small group of teenagers – maybe 15 kids – holding hands, encircling the flag pole, quite obviously in prayer. Our high school is on a hill. The football stadium is the most obvious feature one sees in the background as you drive on campus, the bleechers frame a view of the vast Pacific. In the morning, the veil of the marine layer creates a thin misty, fog and it was wonderful that in the middle of this gray-themed morning here were these kids… standing there… around the flag pole, solemn heads bowed, eyes closed in prayer. It was powerful. It was not lost on either me nor my daughter that those kids were very much the bright spot of the morning. My daughter said she knew some of those kids and that she has taken to spending her lunch time with them. One of them is her locker partner this year and a trumpet player in the band. He has a story on the front of his binder that tells how the trumpet is God’s instrument and how many times it is mentioned in the Bible. Not surprisingly, my daughter has seen her peer group change, her attitude change and her grades improve.

    We had never heard anything about this ‘see you at the pole’ thing. I can tell you that, even though the gathering at our very large high school was only a handful of kids, they are easily one of the strongest forces on campus. What was really impressive about the moment of seeing the kids around the pole for me was that there was NO adult anywhere near them – NO coffee, NO doughnuts, not even a guitar strapped to a kid’s back in that nonchalant way kids have of slinging guitars across themselves. This was absolutely one of those organic gatherings and that is exactly why the moment was so VERY powerful.

  3. I was part of the SYATP events at my school 20 years ago. Well, our everyday regular before school prayer moved to the flag pole so we could join others for the “official” event. But it was about student leaders bringing students together for prayer. I encouraged my students to attend this year so that they could be a part of something student led on campus. It wasn’t my time so I stayed away. They got to hear enough from me at youth group that night.

  4. Darren,

    About three years ago we spoke with our youth on this very subject of SYATP and how it is being done just as an event that young people do just so that they can have it on their To Do List. We challenge them to make it an every day event at their school, instructed them on how to do a bible study, how to pray and then we stepped back and allowed them to take the initiative to follow through on their own.
    We teach them to be fishers of men and go out to evangelize all of Clay county rather then being welfare Christians or as some call them baby Christians which are always waiting to be fed the Word but never bother seeking on their own.
    Many of our youth have embraced the challenge of being a missionary every day at their own high school. Sometimes they will have our youth pastor, Jeremi or I come in and join them or as a special speaker or just to sit in and worship with them. But they know that in order for them to be effective ministers of the gospel to their peers they must study the gospel and show themselves to be a worker approved and not ashamed.

  5. Check your facts. The youth pastors in that area started SYATP. But good job bashing the men and women who love God and love kids.

  6. In general, I get nervous about youth ministry that churches do FOR students.

    A quick edit of one of your sentences: “My role… as a youth pastor is to resource and encourage my students to lead …, impassioned and empowered by the Holy Spirit.” As a purpose statement, you could do worse!

  7. Great points. Sometimes as youth pastors, we need to get out of the way. I attended a student-led Bible study last week at a church near a local high school at the invitation of a student from our church. The youth pastor was certainly there, but aside from saying hi to students and making some coffee, he just hung back. And it was fun, because while the study isn’t “polished,” it’s certainly being used by God. Imagine that: a student with a passion for God studies the Bible with other students, and things start happening.

    But please: don’t take away the donuts. :-)

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