Why I Let My Kid Skip SYATP…

100_3067Students from around the world gathered around their school flagpoles this morning to pray.  It’s an organized effort called See you At The Pole…and organic prayer movement that began in Texas over 20 years ago.

This year, my kids didn’t go.  And I’m OK with that.

If you’ve read back issues of this blog or my latest column in Group Magazine, you know that I see issues with the way SYATP has morphed in the past ten years.  You also know that I wholly place the blame for that derailment at the feet of well-intentioned youth workers.  That said, I have always designated a generous portion of my budget and ministry-calendar to promote SYATP.  I have relentlessly encouraged my students and my own children to participate.  An opportunity to pray is never a wasted moment, regardless of how youth pastors have hijacked the effort.

This year, I let my children sleep in.  Encouraging students to gather around the pole one day a year does not make them ‘warriors for Christ’ or bastions of faith.  It’s the students who walk their halls daily –  praying for, loving, and serving their friends in the name of Jesus –  who are the revolutionaries.  Anyone can show up 30 minutes early, once a year, for doughnuts and a show.  (And if you’ve been to a SYATP event in the last few years – you know how true that statement is.)

That’s not to insinuate in any way that kids who are showing up at the pole have ulterior motives or are, in some way, less than spiritual or righteous.  Many Godly students spent this morning honestly interceding – and I love that.

I wish more students were making a decision to pray – at the pole or anywhere else at any other time  – without the show, promotion, or pretense.  And I have to wonder if more of them would if youth workers were promoting that lifestyle as seriously and intentionally as they do efforts like SYATP.

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Author: Darren Sutton

I'm a dad - husband - veteran youth pastor. I'm trying to follow God's call on my life, despite my own shortcomings & because of His unfailing love.

23 thoughts on “Why I Let My Kid Skip SYATP…”

  1. I skipped too. But I was defending my home from a rampaging beast (according to my wife). But it ended up being a field mouse.

    But I’ve always thought SYATP, was a student domain to be there and lead, w/out our direction. It is the adults who have definitely morphed it. I love students leading, and us Christian adults getting a chance to marvel at their faith, and God’s working in their lives.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Darren. I couldn’t agree more with the tone of your blog. As one who gives a significant amount of energy each year to promoting SYATP (I am the promotion coordinator for SYATP), I ALWAYS encourage those I’m addressing to see SYATP as a launching pad, not a “doughnuts and orange juice and off to class” annual event. We as youth workers need to communicate that this can be the beginning of a movement, a launching pad for so much more. I hope your voice doesn’t stop with his blog, but goes on to be part of the solution. I’m sure it is.

  3. I’m super out of touch with the current state of SYATP, but in accordance with your friend’s post……what happened to the students leading it……….? Us grownups just take over and control and micromanage it to death and market it.

  4. Darren,

    Thanks for a legit look at the Christian version of a made up holiday known to all of us in YM as “See You At the Poll.” But I would add a layer or two to the statement, “It’s the students who walk their halls daily – praying for, loving, and serving their friends in the name of Jesus – who are the revolutionaries.”

    Too often we challenge our students to love the kids in 5th period or to treat their locker area as a mission field and while I do not dispute that challenge I would ask, “is that all there is?” What about the nameless janitor that cleans the urine off the bathroom floor so the students have a clean restroom to use who is often treated worse than a Compassion International kid? How can we intentionally serve him? How can they serve the grouchy teacher who is itching to fail 1/2 the class just because she has tenure, who most students refer to as “The Dragon Lady”, as her papers cover the floor of the hallway in a pattern only Ferris Bueller could be proud of?

    Yes, I feel SYATP is an opportunity to raise up a new generation of Pharisitical teenagers who pass judgment on everyone who doesn’t live up to their level of spirituality. I equally believe to combat that mindset we’re also raising a generation of ethical Christians who feel great about themselves if they are nice to nerds, forgiving to the jocks and don’t lust after the cheerleaders but Christianity costs. It hurts. Its not standing outside around a pole with a group of friends (which is good) nor is it summed up in simply giving away an extra Ho-Ho to the kid who forgot is lunch (even better) but it’s loving the unlovable and insignificant. those whom society have deemed unworthy.

    Just my 99 cents.

  5. Reblogged this on Ministry Ramblings and commented:
    Darren’s original post has some incredible insight by a dad who happens to be a former youth worker. While the comments have been largely supported the original post, I wonder what your thoughts happen to be. Here were mine:
    “Yes, I feel SYATP is an opportunity to raise up a new generation of Pharisitical teenagers who pass judgment on everyone who doesn’t live up to their level of spirituality. I equally believe to combat that mindset we’re also raising a generation of ethical Christians who feel great about themselves if they are nice to nerds, forgiving to the jocks and don’t lust after the cheerleaders but Christianity costs. It hurts. Its not standing outside around a pole with a group of friends (which is good) nor is it summed up in simply giving away an extra Ho-Ho to the kid who forgot is lunch (even better) but it’s loving the unlovable and insignificant. those whom society have deemed unworthy”

  6. I used to really push and advocate for SYATP. But my support has dramatically waned over the last few years as I’ve been saddened to see what it has become – too many adults, not enough prayer, and too many youth whose ONLY “Christian” witness was showing up for it or saying that they were there. I was that kid who appreciated the custodial crew, reached out to the grouchy teachers, helped picked up kicked papers from bullied students, and showed Christ’s love to my classmates. I was also at my school’s flagpole DAILY before there ever was a “movement” (it helped that I was a Scout and offered to raise & lower the flag, but that was really just an excuse to take a few minutes every day to get my priorities straight and serve by focusing and praying).

    SYATP isn’t “donuts & a show” everywhere (I’ve seen some in my area with genuine passion and prayers by actual student leaders who are actively living out their faith), but it really saddens me that once adults got ahold of it and promoted it, it started becoming a thing to brag about that brought out all the hypocrites and publicity-seekers. I think I’m being pretty biblical and Jesus-minded to say that I’d rather see two genuine students who are known by their classmates as “real” Christians pray fervently at their school’s flagpole than for 50 self-righteous teens to show up and sing a couple of songs and pray for 5 minutes because their youth leaders offered them donuts and praise if they’d come. And the results of the two would drastically dwarf those of the 50!

  7. I must live in a bubble…the two SYATP I visited this morning were student led, full of prayer, and no donuts. Around 40 students at each, I think maybe 2 teachers and one youth pastor at each, but they all allowed the students to lead the prayer. I agree that we shouldn’t hold these kids up as “warriors for Christ” simply because they gather around the pole once a year, and I agree that if events like SYATP are not either launching pads for something far more deeper and/or evidence of an already deep faith and evangelism, they are rather shallow. BUT, I know nothing about how much or little SYATP has morphed outside of our community. All I can tell you is that, I remember maybe 5 kids showing up at SYATP 15 years ago at my high school, and over 30 today at that same school. I, for one, was encouraged.

    1. That’s awesome, Nathan!! I’ll reiterate – I don’t think SYATP is a bad thing at all. I just think that in many communities (but obviously not all) it has transitioned from an organic, student led initiative to something hyped and organized by youth pastors or other adults – and students really are only there because someone told them they should be….I applaud schools and students where that is not the case! Love it!

  8. Great point! Lifelong prayer warriors is the goal. Kids gathered at my house for coffee cake, fruit and fellowship before heading off to school. When I prayed them out the door, my young middle schoolers said “What?? Wait?? You’re not going with us?” I said, nope, its a student-led prayer movement :-)

  9. Enjoyed reading this, Darren. I’m a youth minor at Southeastern Bible College and our Advanced Issues in Youth Ministry class was required to read your recent book Everyone’s Called to Youth Ministry. I enjoyed the book and have rather enjoyed this past few articles regarding SYATP.

    I’m a fan of events like this, but like you have stated, the fact that this has become an ‘event’ rather than a ‘lifestyle’ could result in hazardous outcomes if youth workers don’t encourage this type of living, not just these types of events.

    Love what you’re doing, keep it up!

  10. I think SYATP is a great concept, but I agree that it has become just another “youth group” event. SYATP is at it finest when it is lead by students. If we are simply promoting events to our youth, why are we discouraged when they have no desire for God outside of their teenage years? We are to promote Godly living and equip them for their ministry(life). Good stuff, thank you!

  11. But if we all let our kids sleep in (and I’m not saying you were wrong – but I do want pose a legitimate question to the antithesis of your article) what students would be left to take back this student-led, student-driven event from the Youth Pastor’s who have derailed it. I get being opposed to what it has become – but let’s help our students take it back, not take a pass.

    Thoughts?

    1. That’s a good word, Jason – and I love ‘take it back, not take a pass.’ Do you think somegtimes these events run their course and God is waiting to instill a new vision in a student who’s looking?

      1. Of course! I would agree that God is not married to any event or program to advance His Kingdom – other than the whole Jesus on the cross / empty tomb thing. The risk with anything that is done repeatedly over time is that it becomes mundane. SYATP could be reaching that place, or it could be that we need to breathe “new” life into it by doing it the “old” way – student led and student run.

        Odds are, something new will come along and 20 years from now when we’re Senior Pastors :) 2 other younger Youth Pastors will be having the same discussion. I’ve seen that it can still work though. And you’re right in several ways – Youth Pastors need to do a better job of equipping kids to be in the lime light than running towards it ourselves (said every Youth Pastor ever!).

        I’m cautious to say it this way because there is a whole lot that comes with this statement…but I dare say that SYATP isn’t broken as much as Youth Ministry and Youth Pastors are broken (choke on big piece of HUMBLE PIE right now).

        Bottom line, no matter what “it” is, God using students to reach students and minister to students is far more effective – in my HUMBLE opinion – than Youth Pastors who want to be the hero and not the mentor/disciplers we should be.

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