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.

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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.

Do You Know Where Your Kids Are Swimming?

Do you know which pool your kids are swimming in?

By far, one of the highlights of our Colorado adventure trip was a morning at the natural hot springs.  I didn’t have to hang off a hundred-foot cliff by a tiny rope.  I didn’t have to walk 40 miles, up hill, both ways, in thin mountain air.  No one was falling into the icy river as we navigated rapids designed for Olympians.  Nothing but a natural hot tub…now that’s my idea of adventure.

The hot springs were divided into three pools.  One was a tepid, playing pool.  Kids were playing volleyball, chicken fighting (don’t tell the lifeguards), and swimming laps in that pool.  It was cool upon entering, but one could swiftly adapt….like most pools on a warm summer’s day.

One pool was about the temperature of a traditional hot tub.  But it was huge.  So it was kind of like being in a pretty hot bath with 113 of your closest friends.  It was more of a therapy pool – no playing, just relaxing.

Then there was the final pool – a crescent shaped pool with lots of warning signs about the heat.  And rightly so!  I’m not sure, but I think this pool might have actually been the first model for the Lake of Fire.

So of course, our teenagers were trying to man up and just jump in the crescent pool and stay in.  Few of them could.  It was just way too hot.

I noticed, though, that a few of them would get in and just muscle through the obvious burn.  They would sweat.  Their skin turned red (probably a rise in blood pressure).  Even though they knew it was hotter than a really hot place, they wanted to be in that pool.

I found a fascinating distinction between that pool and the others.  In the other pools, it was them temperature of the water that seemed to change.  Realistically, that didn’t happen.  Bodies just acclimate to the temperature of the pools.  But it seemed as though the cool water pool got warmer – and the traditional hot-tub water got cooler.  Kids were able to stay in both pools for prolonged periods without danger or threat as their bodies became accustomed to the water temperatures.

But in the SUPER HOT tub – the water temperature didn’t seem to change.  The water didn’t get cooler – people just got hotter….and hotter….and hotter.  And even though they were burning up – even undergoing physiological changes – they refused to get out of the pool.

It was a perfect microcosm of our student community.

We had kids who wouldn’t go anywhere near that pool.  It was too hot.  Period.  They didn’t need to try it out.  They already knew – just stay away.

We had kids who knew it was hot, but just wanted to give it a try.  And as soon as they jumped in, they jumped right back out.  Too hot.  They tried it once.  Maybe to say they had tried it.  Maybe out of curiosity.  But it didn’t take long in the pool to help them realize they just weren’t cut out for that kind of heat.

And then there were those few kids who just dived head-long into the cauldron.  Smiling as their blood pressure rose – the sweat beaded up on their foreheads – scoffing as friends tried to get them to come out of the pool.

Left in that pool long enough – according to the warning signs – people develop nausea, dizziness, even the possibility of stroke.  Being in that pool for prolonged periods of time is life threatening.

Incidentally – there was only a small, concrete wall separating the hot tub from the hotter-than-hell tub.  Wouldn’t take much for kids to jump from normal hot to life-threatening hot.

Do you know which pool your kids are swimming in?

My MacGyver Wife & Our MacGyver God

Not because my wife is like the MacGyver of youth ministry spouses. Not because it was up to me to make something happen. Not because we had planned for every eventuality. Simply because God was in control.

Have you ever been out of town when it seems like all Hades breaks loose at home?  Our family always plans for the most unexpected things when I’m gone over the summer.  One year my wife went into pre-term labor while I was on a mission trip.  Another year the wheel fell off our car as my wife drove over the JFK Causeway, almost sending her and my two young sons over the edge of the bridge and into the Gulf.  One year our city was evacuated for a hurricane the day before we were to leave…

My wife has learned to be pretty resourceful in my absence.  She stopped her labor.  She towed the car.  She packed camp luggage amidst our evacuation supplies and left me there when she returned home.  She is a fully capable woman who doesn’t need me to fix one thing for her.  Usually she is fixing stuff for me.

But that never impedes my feeling like I MUST DO SOMETHING when things go amiss and I’m away from home.

This year, my wife didn’t go to camp with us.  She had an opportunity to participate in a ministry opportunity that we knew had been given by God – so she abandoned her plans join us in Colorado for a week of adventure camp in order to pursue a different call God had given her.  (Incidentally, in twenty years, I’ve done this trip five times and she’s never been able to attend…a fact she rarely lets me forget!)  The day before she was to fly out, she found out a clerical error had been made and her flight had not been booked.  Now in a normal city, this might not be such a big deal.  But we live on the edge of the earth.  It can be difficult to get flights to and from anywhere on any kind of time schedule that’s convenient for the receiving end of the flight.  Not only that, but she was FINALLY going to get to join me for this amazing camp opportunity – and it appeared that she had foregone that opportunity for nothing.

In addition, she woke up with an abscessed tooth.  I knew when I got the text saying she was going to the dentist, it was bad.  Have you seen those cartoons where the title character gets hit in the face with a frying pan and his or her teeth just crumble into a billion pieces as they fall out of said mouth?  Yeah, that could happen to Katie and she STILL wouldn’t go to the dentist.

So a perfect storm had ensued at home – I was stuck on the side of a mountain three states away and in roaming service, if I was lucky enough to have service at all.  There was literally not a thing I could do.  I was sharing this frustration with my leadership team…in a very frustrated way.  One of my leaders said ’Wow – my cousin works at such-and-such airline, but they don’t fly out of Corpus.  I wish I could pull some strings for you.’  Then, in an amazing display of wisdom, she said ‘I guess we just need to pull the right strings. We should pray.’

Duh.  What a doofus. Griping had been my string of choice.  Praying, honestly and ashamedly, hadn’t even occurred to me.  I didn’t need to fix a thing.  Not because my wife is like the MacGyver of youth ministry spouses.  Not because it was up to me to make something happen.  Not because we had planned for every eventuality.  Simply because God was in control.

I seem to forget – on a pretty regular basis – that nothing in my life takes Him by surprise.  All my days are numbered – he knows all my hairs, gray and otherwise – not a tooth falls to the ground that He doesn’t know about it.  He had it all under control – even if it didn’t turn out the way WE had envisioned it would.

So I just spent the next few hours praying in between hiking, luggage unloading, cooking dinner, and sitting in the Jacuzzi (hey – I had already spent my one night in a tent!)  When I finally got cell service again – a ticket had been purchased, a tooth had been pulled, a prescription had been administered and luggage was locked and loaded and waiting for the airport.  Apparently, not only do I have a MacGyver-wife, I also have a MacGyver God.  May I never forget it!

Get In The Water

Living on the beach, we are no strangers to powerful water. There is nothing more soothing, relaxing, calming than the sound of the ocean as it meets the beach, each time as though it were the first time. But this water was different.

This summer our students spent a week in Colorado hiking, rappelling, climbing, and rafting.   It was an amazing adventure experience – especially for our ministry, located at sea level,      with warm gulf water and sand dunes – to see God through the glory and grandeur of the Rocky Mountain range.

The first day there, we suited up for our eight mile hike.  The air was crisp and clean.  The fragrant mountain breeze cooled us, seemingly at our every request, as we hiked.  The trees provided a glorious canopy of shade since most of us felt even closer to the sun than usual.  The landscape was nothing short of miraculous.

Trees towered.  Pine needles blanketed the ground.  Boulders beckoned the weary to rest.  This landscape was so very foreign to beach dwellers.

Equally alien were the rushing rivers and streams.

Living on the beach, we are no strangers to powerful water.  There is nothing more soothing, relaxing, calming than the sound of the ocean as it meets the beach, each time as though it were the first time.  But this water was different.

Watching it rush through its designated route, I couldn’t help but think about God.

This water was powerful.  Pulling large stones from their hiding places.  Making rough edges smooth.  Sometimes creating a difficult route for fish to get where they thought they should be.

This water was renewing.  As I watched its mighty flow, it was obvious that what was in the water where I sat just a moment ago was now far downstream.  It made me wonder how much change the bank had seen as it sat silently watching the river-friend work its renewal.  Microbes swept away in the rushing current.  Tress that used to be upstream relocated downstream.  Silt carpeting the river bottom that once belonged to the mountain.  The water changes everything.

And then I thought about my students – seeing this kind of water, some for the very first time.  There was no doubt they could see its power – its renewing properties…even from far away.  At times, we were so far up the mountain that the stream looked like a ribbon of white flowing through the valley.  But you could hear the power in its voice as it sang its song to nature.  When we got close enough to sit at the water’s edge, there was no denying its powerful force as it rushed to its final destination.

And it broke my heart.  As I listened to the majestic water’s roar, watched it change everything in its path, I realized a devastating truth.

The water doesn’t really work if you don’t get in.  I am praying that my students experience the refreshing, renewing, life-giving water from a personal, intimate vantage point.

It is one thing to recognize how beautiful and glorious the rushing water is from the safety of shore.  It’s a completely different matter to allow the current to sweep you away – smoothing your rough edges – changing the direction you thought you were going – renewing everything.

I am praying that our students experience THAT kind of water – the deafening roar of life anew – the panic of going in a completely different direction than planned – life-altering, life-giving, living water.  I want them to know THAT kind of water long after we return to the beach waters of the gulf.

Everyone’s Called to Youth Ministry??

…everyone has a role to play in the student ministry – the parent, the college student, the senior adult, even the one who says ‘I’ll never work with the teenagers’ – especially them!

So why this title – when it’s pretty obvious not everyone could possibly be called to youth ministry?

I’m a veteran youth pastor – and over the years I have developed the philosophy that, indeed, everyone has a role to play in the student ministry – the parent, the college student, the senior adult, even the one who says ‘I’ll never work with the teenagers’ – especially them!

I love students – and while I realize that’s not everyone’s slice of pizza, I believe people can be so enriched, enhanced, and challenged by finding that one special nitch in the student ministry where they can thrive…

Sometimes that’s driving kids to and from church. Sometimes it’s making sandwiches for a youth meeting. Sometimes it’s leading a small group, showing up at a basketball game, praying over one specific student, or listening to music you’d never listen to in the comfort of your own car.

Regardless – I know it’s true – EVERYONE can love Jesus by loving teenagers!