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"You're the Example!" | Guest Post

by Sisterlisa Bertolini

A new kind of angle was added to the youth group that was designed to encourage good behavior in the teens at the church we once attended. They created an elite club for specific teenagers who wanted to 'step it up' in their 'walk with God'. A teen needed to apply and be in a 'probationary' period of time before being an official part of this club. During this time, the teen would have to attend a specific amount of church services, participate in a service oriented activity with the church, and memorize verses chosen by the leadership. The verses were about absolute obedience and authority. It was a pyramid type club where one could earn their way up to the top by holding to many different standards from clothing to church attendance. I didn't find anything wrong with serving those less fortunate than you, or dressing modestly, but those 'standards' were outward works for the purpose of getting accepted to this 'special club'

My family and I felt uncomfortable with the manner in which this club was being used as a form of acceptance in the youth group and even worse when they said being a part of this club meant you were more serious about your walk with God than those who chose not to apply. It is known far and wide that this youth pastor is one of the 'greatest examples' of a 'preacher's kid' and youth pastor in the United States, in this specific movement. He had held his position with this youth group for a few years before my daughter was old enough to be involved. Then came the day their leadership began inviting her to join this club. She was told that she was such a 'great example' and that 'she really was the only one even worthy of being in this club'. Not only that, but the leadership told her, that they felt her influence in this group would help change the youth group. I began wondering...if they felt she was that great of a teen, then why does she need to join this group to move the youth group forward in Christ?

This put a tremendous amount of pressure on my daughter and she began feeling like the direction of the youth group was dependent upon her 'example'. I assured her that the status of the youth group's direction had nothing to do with her. No matter which direction the youth group was going, it was neither her example that gets it there, nor her failures that would hinder it from moving forward. We declined their offer for her to join this club many times. However, the pressure she felt for not joining made her feel as though she wasn't accepted. She finally decided to join this club, but was then handed a long list of things she needed to do to qualify and many things she could no longer do. The youth was given a list of questions they had to answer every week. This check list had so many things listed that if any of them were to mark a 'no' I didn't do that thing this week, or 'yes' I did do that thing this week, that they would have 'points' knocked off their status in this club for advancement.

This put the youth in a predicament to either be dishonest about answering, or be refused acceptance to the next advancement or activity. Did you wear nylons to church this week? Did you obey your parents every time they asked you to do something this week? Did you give ten percent of your money to the church this week? Have you had physical contact with someone of the opposite sex this week?

Pardon me, but first of all...the Bible says not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. A person's giving is between them and the Lord. Nylons are not a biblical prerequisite before Christ accepts you. No child obeys 100% all the time, and if my teen was to hold hands with a guy, it certainly would not have been the entire youth leadership's business.

Aside from all this, my daughter is not Jesus Christ. She does not possess the ability to be 'the' teen that inspires the youth to walk closer to God...and least of all by any of these outward efforts. And if the youth group needed a person to inspire them to move forward, then why has this 'godly' youth director in America not able to do what he thought my teen daughter could do?

She was told many times over that she was the best influence in the youth group and in this special club. She was even told by one of the leadership members that they felt my daughter was the only one who deserved honors from this group. That very night an announcement in church was given to 'praise' those in the group who were found 'worthy'. Of all the names called, not once was my daughter's name called, but rather the daughters of all the leadership team were called up to receive public recognition for their 'duties' in this group.

It wasn't that her name wasn't called that upset us, it was the obvious deceit in this organization and the false words of praise they had been giving my daughter.

When we, as parents, place the pressure of 'be the example to your siblings' or to the youth group, we put an incredible amount of pressure on them. Even worse is when we tell our children that if they make a mistake, and if the younger children follow their mistakes, it will be their fault. This puts our children in the position of being the Holy Spirit to the other children. Furthermore, when we tell the other children (or teens) that this one specific sibling (or church teen) is the 'best example', then it leads them to look up to that person rather than to Jesus as their Guide.

Humans will fail us. We see adults fail us everyday, what makes us think our teens will not fail? When we set our kids up to think that all those exterior standards will prevent them from falling, then their faith has been built up in the standards rather than in Jesus Christ himself.

There's a time for teaching and training our children to behave and be mindful of our society and how they feel too, but to make our teens into 'the examples' is leading our next generation deeper into idolatry. Christianity is teaching the next generation to look to one another, rather than to Christ. When a teen fails, they fail the hearts of those who had been looking up to them. But the broken heart of the onlooker is not the fault of the one who failed, the fault is in the one who said to look to that teen in the first place. Throughout the Old Testament, we see God commanding the people time and time again, to take down their idols. It's high time we take ourselves, our older children, the pastors, and the youth directors down off their pedestals. We need to spend more time turning our own eyes to Jesus. We need to help guide our children to keep their eyes on Jesus too, and not on one another.

Not only can we not achieve perfection by simply adhering to a list of standards, neither can our children. Our perfection is in Christ alone. Look to Jesus.
1 Corinthians 3: 18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.



  1. wow, good thoughts. I am aware of a youth group n which youth with potential leadership qualities are given opportunities to serve. All the youth group is given opportunities to serve, with the understanding that they are (already) an important part of the church. I may not agree with every jot and tiddle of what they are doing, but I do believe they got that part right! So it can be done. Kids are loving the church, interacting with the older people and treating each other like good friends. I like hat you spotted the problems in your daughter's situation, comparing it to scripture to get your answers. I like that she cared enoguh about being god's girl that she both wanted to be that good example, and then also knew when to back out when the dishonesties became apparent. thanks for sharing this.

  2. May I ask what you did after this happened?

  3. Thanks for sharing, Sisterlisa! Your daughter sounds like she has a fine head on her shoulders, and a supportive and wise momma to help her keep it on straight. n_n

    That experience of calling up all the children of leadership for special honors is so human- too bad they put the rubber stamp of God on top. It happens in every youth organization I have been a part of- football, scouting, and yes, youth groups. It's so predictable, and such a heart-breaker for any child who had been knocking themselves out to win the approval of the authority figures.

    That is why I told mine, like you told yours, to live as unto the Lord, not for men, knowing that the Lord is the one who will rewards you. Thanks for sharing this story!

  4. "Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest...."

    Excellent job debunking this attitude that's very common throughout lot of "ministry" mindsets. Interesting tidbit: "Minister" is actually the Latin word for "servant" (not "leader" or "example"!) which in turn is derived from the word for "smaller" (as in "minor" or "minimum"). Whatever happened to "He must increase, I must decrease"?

    "Not by works, lest anyone should boast."

  5. Tammy, it was just one of many things happening and shortly after, we left that place. It turns out much of how they run their church is carbon copy on how the Masons run their cult. All the way down to how they 'discipline' church members. And we found out they do have a connection to the Masons..so that started a whole other rabbit trail that was dark and scary.

  6. Eric, they're a place where the 'leaders' "like to sit at the chief tables" too. The 'leaders' throughout their movement look up to each other as if they're royalty and they will side with one another, over a church member who is being abused by the 'leaders'. We sought help from some other pastors in their movement before leaving. No one would help us.

  7. "We sought help from some other pastors in their movement before leaving. No one would help us."

    Sounds like the Old Boys Club had taken over. Uggh.

    The most disheartening thing that my experience of the last few years has taught me?...Many people in positions of authority, when hard pressed to take a stand against wrong, will choose the path of ease, least resistance, or convenience. They fear the controversy that may result within the ranks and the fallout that might land on them.

    While I haven't always lived up to the standard, I appreciate what my parents taught me..."When you know the difference between right and wrong, side with right no matter what people think and no matter what it costs you."

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  9. Lewis,
    We finally sought outside help from former members and one man we contacted, who we highly respect, said.."Stand for what you believe in and let the chips fall where they may" So we did. It got ugly..not what we wanted..the response we got revealed that it was a cult. We'll never go back. And once we left and told other people that we left, then they opened up about it being a cult. It turns out, the whole town knows it's a cult. Our friends on the outside didn't want us to cut off fellowship with them..just in case..ya know? They were wise and we are thankful. The support we got from them was SO needed in our departure. There's no easy way out of a cult. The longer one is involved, the harder it is to get free. Strong support is needed.

  10. Thank you for sharing Lisa!

    This group sounds a lot like the one I left...it was founded by William Sowders and termed themselves the "Body of Christ".
    How arrogant! If you do not belong to a "Body" church you are not going to heaven and they will flat out tell you that.

    Shari Howerton over at "Miss Oblivious thinks out loud" blogspot has written a book on her "escape" from the cult.

  11. I relate to this in a different way. For me, it was my mother telling me that, if my younger sister turned out poorly, it would be because of my example. What a lot of responsibility it put on me. What about her responsibility as a parent? Just like that youth leader should have been able to turn the youth group around himself without the help of the teens, my mother should have been able to raise my sister without my help. Ugh!

  12. It' snot that same organization, but the characteristics are the same ..probably because they're getting their ideas from non spiritual sources.

    Abigail, I'm so sorry you had that burden put on you. If they hold to the doctrine that all are born in sin, then they don't need a bad example to do something 'sinful'. It's already in them. What they need is a discerning parent who knows how to train them up to have discernment themselves. Teaching them natural and social consequences is a wise way to raise children. Kids need to learn how to think on their own two feet.

  13. Yes, indeed. Making one person (feel) responsible for another person's actions is very common - and wrong. It will be a while before I am able to change that lie in my head.

  14. Sharon, I think it's totally natural and healthy to be considerate of others..for example..Some people think drinking wine is acceptable, but if you were out to dinner with a recovered addict or someone who feels that God would not want them to drink, then we don't drink in front of them. That's respect. But if that person is tempted to drink because of all the other restaurant patrons, and they do end up drinking, it's not the other patron's fault. When we make relationship more important then we refrain from some things because of the compassion within us.

  15. At first I thought "Sorority Rush at Church? Then I saw it for what it was--an abuse. Every Church has "those" kids who go on every mission trip, etc, to "resume pack" for college admission. Then there are the other kids who quietly get the jobs done--they don't fight over who gets to "minister" to the poor homeless people who show up at the soup kitchen. Instead they stay in the back hauling trash and washing pots. Me, Me, Me the group you describe shouts!! Ugh...... Thanks for a needed post.

  16. I wish I had read this back when I was with my folks!!

  17. Thanks for sharing this! Having volunteered in youth ministry for more than 10 years, it always disturbs me when there is a seperate group, praised for their maturity. However, if we immulate what Jesus did, he had a large group of disciples from which he "selected" 12. And some of them would have been youth group age. It is a very hard balance, one that man will continue to get wrong because we fall short of the glory, right? But I am so glad to hear of a mom who stood her ground, realizing the obvious sin and deceit within the youth department (and apparently the whole church.)
    I think we have underestimated our youth as a whole. Today's society wants nothing more than to see them as a mass market of consumers, propagating products to them and feeding the lazy mindset that "I'll do the Christ thing" when I'm a boring adult. :) I think we need churches who will start teaching our youth what true discipleship means and how to hear the holy spirit calling to us, asking more of us. But, alas, we continue to entertain, make light of, and eventually disassociate the urgency of our heart's desire to follow something bigger than Kidmo. I think we've watered down the gospel, made fun of our youth's intellect by trying to create mass produced clones of "contemporary" youth departments. Forgive the generalization, but as more and more churches strive to be included in the mega status, we need to be careful that we don't hurt our future congregation in the process. www.trunksofages.wordpress.com

  18. ...this sounds so familiar....

    Thanks for sharing. I'm beginning to feel slightly less crazy :D.



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