A few years back I received a message at 4am from a young person totally freaked out. His youth group and two full-time youth workers tried to cast ‘demons of legalism’ out of him by screaming at him as he lay on the floor for an hour.
The young lad had come from a conservative Anglican background, which meant he was quite different to others in the youth club. His questions and worship style was apparently symptomatic of legalistic demon activity!
So cold, dark and rejected he was yelled at ‘in the name of Jesus’ while on the floor for an hour.
As much as I totally believe in deliverance ministry, this experience was just insane. The fear, exposure and humiliation of such an event was quite simply wrong. This was a black-and-white case of spiritual and institutional abuse. A safeguarding nightmare and totally inappropriate.
It’s hard to think of a clearer example of how poor theology leads to poor practice.
It’s not like his church was known for being a particularly hyper-charismatic church; but the youth leaders had a very selective church exposure and even narrower training. That young lad is now an adult, those two youth pastors have moved away, and the youth club has been all but decimated – who knows with what kind of baggage. They have not been able to rebuild a working youth ministry.
I spent some years working with him after this terrifying experience, but I imagine that it will be with him for the rest of his life. It will colour his experience of Jesus, and will probably come out in social situations through anxiety, fear and rejection.
Youth ministry is never a game, and it’s never a power-trip. We are curators of an enormous amount of influence. We rely, of course, on the grace and mercy of Jesus; but lets do all we can to temper raw spirituality with considered theology. Let’s do this in a carefully cultivated community – a safe, compassionate, diverse, tolerant and open environment for young people to meet with their Father in heaven, who abundantly exudes all of these traits.