Anna and I just returned, along with the Trinity yooots (to the relief of their parents) from a great youth event held at Ridgecrest conference center in Black Mountain North Carolina (close to my hometown of Asheville). This was our first YouthQuake, and I feel certain that we’ll be back. I think our kids had an awesome experience and it touched several of them deeply in addition to challenging them in areas where they really need to be challenged. The whole weekend was filled with professions of faith from the kids, and this morning we finished our time together by listening to the testimonies of many of them.

I really enjoyed the messages given by Pastor Steven Furtik–they were right on the money and delivered very well. I think the portion of the message that stuck with me most was an illustration he gave where he talked about administering a survey at a mall about what people thought was important. Evidently at some point they ran across a 15-year-old “fake thug” who responded that the most important thing in his life was God…at second came “getin’ his smoke on” and third related to “getin his freak on with the ladies.” Clearly there’re are some issues with that list of priorities. As Pastor Furtick pointed out, it’s not about putting God or Jesus FIRST in your life, it’s about having Jesus in ALL of your life.

Which leads me to one of the more ironic finds I had this weekend. At one point I visited the little boys room and, as I often do, I took the time to read the bathroom graffiti–often a source of great cultural insight and amusement–only to discover that there was a distinct difference between the graffiti in this restroom and that I had observed elsewhere. Rather than crude remarks about anatomy or half-baked political slogans the graffiti at Ridgecrest consisted of “Jesus loves you,” John 3:16 and “I Love Jesus.” I’ve been thinking about this awhile and I wonder if this graffiti–whether done by people at YouthQuake or some other event–represents an aspect of what Pastor Furtick was illustrating with his humorous story. As a matter of fact, I found myself wondering throughout the weekend first, how much of the enthusiasm was actually about Jesus and our Salvation and secondly, how much of it would actually carry over. Pastor Furtick’s message was perfect to get the kids and their leaders to ask the same question, I believe, at least for those who actually heard.

The issue is that, at an event like this, there’s a lot of reverse peer pressure for kids who might not otherwise be interested in Jesus or his message. They come to a place that’s so different from their everyday lives, with a group of people who are all–at least ostensibly–Christian, and suddenly it becomes cool to be a believer. But part of me wonders if we are simply reinforcing in this microcosm the same behaviors that get our children into such trouble out in the world. The world says do what makes you popular; we create a place where the popular thing is to believe in Jesus or to go up and receive prayer and “get saved.” The world makes everything a commodity and turns our bodies into advertising; we steal commercial slogans to make cheesy shirts, hats etc… to advertise Christ. The world worships celebrity; we bring a (worship/Christian) rock band up front, have lights flashing, the sound turned up and focus the cameras on them so giant versions of them are seen on the overhead screens. And then, at the end of it all we sale their merchandise, and watch as the kids stand in line to get autographs.

I don’t mean to be cynical. I’m just questioning some aspects of the event–perhaps they are unavoidable by the very nature of it, I don’t know. I do know that the event was positive in that it did precisely one of things I’d hoped it would: it showed our kids that there are other people their age who believe in Jesus Christ, and it showed them that Christianity shouldn’t be equated completely with the boring old people they see going to church in their small towns (that’s not an insult, it’s just the way I think a lot of kids see it). The weekend showed them, I think, that being a Christian can be exciting and fun. I simply pray that’s not all it showed them. I pray they heard the gospel that was very well presented in the midst of all the sound and lights. And I pray that there is great follow-up in their home churches so that those who had an authentic experience of the risen Lord, don’t find themselves left flat by the return to everyday life.

The Band, Unhindered was great, and I really enjoyed hearing them. I’ve already alluded to one of my pet peeves that was touched on at the conference though–the cameras focused on the band during the worship sessions, and the two large screens were often filled with images of the band playing, with worship music lyrics super-imposed over top (something, on a practical level that made the lyrics hard to read). Incidentally, how can anyone take seriously evangelical criticisms of iconography, when the faces of “worship leaders” are projected onto huge screens? Seems to me this plays much more closely to the sorts of modern idolatry than iconography ever has.

So, my take on YouthQuake? Overall a great experience, for myself and I believe for our kids. We’ll definitely be back. We’re also making sure to follow up with our kids after the event. Who knows, maybe they’ll take my advice and use something other than the band as a background for the worship lyrics next year.