Mar 22 2009

Broom-Pushing Theology

By John Immel

Here is what I mean by this: follow the metaphor.

You get out of high school and take a JOB at a local factory, or a grocery store, or restaurant. The first day on the JOB, your boss beckons with a finger as he walks towards a large empty floor. He hands you a broom and says: “You got to start somewhere.” After the first hour, you are a master. After the first month, you are desperate to volunteer for any other JOB you can find.

We’ve all been there. I started my working life hauling trash for 5 bucks an hour and all I could eat. I started there for the same reason everybody else starts the world of work–using muscle and brawn; I didn’t have skills much past the very basic:  a pulse body temperature… and if I was really good, I showed up… AWAKE.

This is how we acquired employable ability. This is how we started working. We pushed a broom and built up our employable skills until we got to the big stuff and earned a bunch of money so we could live in a half a million dollar home, buy a luxury car, own a trophy wife, have 3.45 kids, and raise a dog.

We have decided that starting a JOB without skills is the same as GIFTING in the Body of Christ.

Why do we think this? Simple: Uber Church Leaders need free work, so they need a carrot to go with the stick of “Submit to Authority.” It isn’t all that hard to sell folks on the idea that “ministry” starts with lowly service and manufacture a hierarchy of important church occupations. Big Spiritual Stuff is preaching in the big room to the big people, under the lights to 5,000 filled seats. Everything else is less important.

The importance scale is usually a reflection of the Uber Dog’s sensibilities. Whatever those sensibilities are specifically, the presumption remains that you’ve got to start at the bottom, and push a broom to get to the big spiritual stuff.

Here is the tragedy of Broom-Pushing Theology. This operative assumption catastrophically pairs people with JOBS for which they are unGIFTED to perform. It requires people with longstanding professional experience to waste time doing menial tasks that somehow validate their calling. It requires people who have limited or no passion to persist in activities that do not add to their abilities or (even worse) quashes their natural gifting and divine callings for fear of outshining someone else who is comparatively incompetent. Or it puts people in positions they really have NO business doing because we have defined a hierarchy of BIG SPIRITUAL STUFF.

As long as the Uber Preacher has a vested interest in dangling the carrot of “Promotion” to the big leagues in exchange for free work, I suspect that the failure of Broom-Pushing Theology will persist. Or the theology will persist until we all see the true measure of the disaster.

So let’s take a good look at the disaster. Let’s talk about Youth Ministry: the standard bottom ministry position for most aspiring professional ministers. This is where the majority of Senior Pastors start: working in the local youth group. It seems like a logical starting place: just out of Bible College, close in age, still remember what high school was like, and hip to the music and culture of the coming generation.

The freshly-minted bible school graduate has his eye on the stage and the Klieg lights, and a Senior Pastor slot. That slot is already taken unless the college grad thinks he should start his own church and then the Klieg lights are a few year off. The Senior Pastor says that is where he should start: Gotta push the metaphorical spiritual broom for a while. Show your self approved, and wait on tables, and all of that. So by all means: turn ‘em loose on the kids.

Working with kids is a blast. Hanging around 13 to 18-year-olds is like being around a perpetual party, full of all the trivially important anxiety of adolescents. They live tossed and blown by their passions and their frailties: full of life and wide-eyed wonder, full of fear and terrible insecurities.

Oh, the bliss of adolescent drama!

Maybe, as a youth pastor you get paid. But if not, you get to cool concerts, and the theme parks, and camping trips, and the pizza parties. And you get to preach to a captivated audience. Well… maybe a better word is captive: the kids are there because mom or dad sent them there. So IF the kids actually listen, that is a bonus.

If they aren’t listening, >shrug< we aren’t going to do this forever. We are pushing a broom. We are showing ourselves approved. One day we will be before the adoring masses of adults who will appreciate our wisdom. Until then, let’s plan another outing to the theme park. We gotta do stuff the kids like after all.

So, you gain experience with the kids and then you move on to the adults.



Our Fruity Assumption

By definition, we are sending the LEAST qualified person to teach adolescents. That is a comforting thought. And it is sooo backasswards. Why do we put professional inexperience in the path of those who have the fewest tools deal with incompetence? Said another way…why do we define working with kids the place to start? Said another way…why do we put the least qualified where they can do the most damage?

Adults have a lifetime of experience to deal with bad ideas, bad instruction, and misplaced or ineffective ministry.

(Well, they should, but an overview of modern Christianity puts that assertion to the test.)


Kids don’t know a bad idea from a good idea. And that assumes that they have ANY idea, but yet we use them as our testing ground, all because we think someone should push a broom for a while. Everybody starts at the bottom. And our kids are the bottom. That is how we all got a JOB.

We are all under the disastrous, unstated assumption that talking to the grownups in the big room under the lights is BIG IMPORTANT SPIRITUAL STUFF. People get PROMOTED to talk to the significant people.

It is like making it to the Big Show:

“Now batting for Covenant Church USA, after 10 years of hard work in the kiddie leagues, with an Earned Soul Average of 221, Pastor Wanna B. Force.”

The crowd goes wild… Raaayyyyy!   Ohhhh….  Ahhh…


Not, really.


The Fruit of Our Fruitiness (AKA the cause and effect of our Outcome)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

After raising children in church, parents send them to go to the University with the highest hopes for sound economic futures. The kids are good kids. They have spent their entire young lives listening to God’s word, mostly shielded from bad stuff, fully armed with naïveté to combat the rigor of the big world. They were raised in the “Fear and the Admonition of the Lord,” AKA the endless pizza party youth group: they are sent out as sheep among wolves, harmless as doves and as wise as serpents…ooppsss… no, that isn’t right…as harmless as doves and as wise as doves.

The kids spend a semester at the University. They come back from “Secular” education with their Christian fire dwindling and their vocabulary filled with subtle doubts and vague suspicions. Parents are distressed but not truly frightened. Kids have to sprout their wings after all.

Two academic years pass and the formerly dedicated youth group attendees will not be going to church… anywhere. Parents will start paying regular visits to prayer meetings to win their children back to the Lord. And by year four, the now young adults will have mastered all the academic objections to Christianity that dismantles youth group Christianity like a wet piñata.

Parents will be beside themselves. Their lovely bible-quoting tyke is now quoting Kant and Marx, justifying Cultural Revolution with the insidious ideology of Altruism and spouting frightening agnostic ideologies. (Most Parents will have virtually no ability to talk to their kids on that level–most parents don’t even know what I just said.)

A rift enters the family. The kids think mom and dad are out-of-touch, bible thumping, irrational, stupid zealots: they show them no respect. The Parents think their kids are going to Hell and preach fire and brimstone in a desperate attempt to get their kids back on the straight and narrow.

Unfortunately, there is no punch line to this joke. This happens so often that we assume it is normal. The attrition rate for youth group dropout is so vast that those young men and women who navigate all of their Major University higher education and remain believers is the EXCEPTION.

This is UNCONSCIONABLE. It all stems from our broom-pushing theology.

Christians (and Liberals) ignore the elements of reality with utter disdain. What is the substance of our practice? Conduct a quick survey of Youth group activity for two months. What is the content of “ministry?”

  • A trip to a theme park for another QP doll?
  • A pizza party with pool tables and Xbox?
  • Christian Rock concerts?
  • An annual trip to a Christian version of Woodstock?
  • Some alternative hip dance thing so they don’t have to go to local clubs?

What has your church done to become an adolescent social center?

Don’t answer that. I have too much to say about the customer social service Church; I really don’t want to get started on that.


What does the youth pastor preach? Did the youth pastor prepare them to deal with the rigor of a College Professors systematically dismantling the intellectual foundation of their faith? When the youth pastor does preach, (when he’s not at the party) his top 5 are something like:  “Get serious?”  “Be sold out.”  “Are you Radical for Christ?”  “Don’t listen to Rock Music!” And if all else fails, “Rededicate your life.”

If you have spent any more than about 10 minutes in a youth rally, you’ve heard these sermons preached and preached and preached and preached. The content of the sermon is rather stock. Seriousness, “sold-outness”–is that a word?–radicalness, et al. are always defined by some outward display of adolescent zealotry. Beyond being stunningly vacant sermons, they are really nothing more than heavy-handed head trips for young minds.

What is being “Serious” about Jesus? What is “Sold out-ness”? What is “Radical for Christ”? What body of action do we want to see? What is the ruler of our authentication? What is the outcome that we are trying to extract from these young souls? Are we exhorting kids to sobriety? Focus? Single-mindedness? Temperance?

I have got to laugh. Temperate Adolescence is an oxymoron. Exhorting a teenager to sobriety, focus, and single-mindedness is like asking a man who has not discovered fire to cook dinner.

Does the Broom-Pushing Youth Pastor ever teach how to deal with Immanuel Kant, the single most influential philosopher of the last 200 years, whose intellectual synthesis has infused most every expression of our culture, reducing man to an intellectual automaton?

Does the Broom-Pushing Youth Pastor explain how to refute Marx and the host of Statist/Collectivist heirs populating American social agenda with an onslaught of communism and its subsequent slavery of the Haves to the Have-Nots?

Does the Broom-Pushing Youth Pastor address the hijacked bible ideals by the insidious morality of Altruism that is currently driving the rise of Globalism and justifies every manifestation of bloody Despotism around the globe?

Did the Broom-Pushing Theology Youth Pastor teach Apologetics in preparation for dealing with the rigor of College Professors systematically dismantling the intellectual foundation of their faith?

Did the Broom-Pushing Youth Pastor explain the philosophical underpinnings that EMPOWER a soul to abstain from sex until they have found their mate, match, and partner in life?

Are you kidding?

Most freshly-minted bible school graduates DROPPED OUT of “Secular” University precisely because they couldn’t HANDLE the intellectual rigor of those University Professors. And most freshly-minted bible school graduates don’t even know how to spell Apologetics, let alone know what it is. Most freshly-minted bible school graduates don’t even know themselves the BRAIN work necessary to develop a sexual identity and a corresponding resilient sexual ethic.

Did those broom-pushing bible school graduates teach respect for parents?

That is a tough sermon to give at 22 to 25.

Riddle me this: how does a 22-year-old, freshly-minted bible school graduate explain the concept of respect to a 17-year-old? The 17-year-old knows the 22-year-old youth pastor standing before him is a punk…well, mostly a punk because he’s not that much older. He might be cool. He might be hip. He might relate. He might be fun. But he is a pal, a peer, a buddy. What does he know of respect? He Disses me every Wednesday night youth group when he asks me to pray out loud. You want me to listen to him?  WhatEeeeVER!

If you are one of those freshly-minted bible school graduates–or worse, a bible school DROPOUT in youth ministry–and you are insulted, (not sure why you should be), if you accepted your current position as a way to work up from the bottom…to push a broom for a while, by definition, you are in your current position because you are incompetent. But be released…it isn’t your ENTIRE fault; your Senior Pastor and PARENTS are complicit in the incompetence.

Broom-Pushing Theology is a disaster.

Broom-Pushing Theology is part of the overarching body of teaching that puts MEN in charge of dictating the outworking of other Men’s callings. It gives MEN a carrot to go with their stick of “You will submit to my Authoritaaayy!” because if you don’t, I will never promote you to do what you are really supposed to do.”

As a result, People are catastrophically required to do JOBS they are without GIFTING to accomplish. In the name of Broom-Pushing Theology, people with longstanding professional experience are mandated to waste their time doing menial tasks that somehow validate their calling. It obliges people who have limited or no passion to persist in activities that do not add to their abilities. And, in the name of submission, some of great gifting must quash their natural gifting and divine callings for fear of outshining someone else who is comparatively incompetent.

I will say it until everyone agrees with me.

Acquiring skills for a JOB is vastly different than divine gifts and callings. Who God calls is utterly different than who you pick to work in the Church office. And even a casual reading of God’s prep time with major bible players shows He stuck them in the very jobs their calling was supposed to fulfill.

When Church leaders dangle that carrot of pushing a broom as validation towards further spiritual big stuff, what they are really after is FREE WORK. The carrot they dangle before our face is that someday THEY will let us fulfill our calling IF we sweep the floor in the name of service.

Some of you have been pushing brooms for 20 years. How long are you going to keep doing that all the while the vision and calling is dying on the inside of you?

Maybe you will have this consolation. On that day you will be able to say to God: “I kept the floors clean.”

But don’t be surprised when He says: “People went to hell and remained in bondage in their mind and body because of a little dirt on the floor?”

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    1. 41

      numbness desired is a result of ignorance achieved….

      (I just made that up – haha)

    2. 42

      Good post, John.

      <blockquote>By definition we are sending the LEAST qualified person to teach adolescents.  That is a comforting thought.  And it is sooo backasswards. Why do we put professional inexperience in the path of those who have the fewest tools deal with incompetence?   Said another way… Why do we define working with kids the place to start?  Said another way… Why do we put the least qualified where they can do the most damage?  </blockquote>

      I don’t know if I would define the youth as having the fewest tools to deal with incompetence. In fact, I think they have better abilities than adults sometimes, to be able to deal with those who think they are a “minister” of the Gospel and discern garbage. They will turn off from insincere, incompetent, full-of-it youth pastors SOOOOOOO much faster than us grownups who for years) try to follow along and make sense of incomplete, incompeten,t oh-so-humble messages from those leaders who “stand in the very stead of God”.
      Jesus DREW the people in (including the children!!!) – they loved to hang around Him. He hung out with those that some of our former leaders definitely would not have approved of. (So “unwise” of Him, doncha know?) His love and His Truth and His knowledge of the Father is what attracted and kept people hanging around Him.
      I DO agree that those that are not called by God to minister to young people can do ALOT of damage. They will not be able to make young people want to know more about the Lord, they will present a false image of who God really is, and the kids will either (quite rightly) want nothing to do with false Jesus/God/religion or they will struggle along trying to attain the unattainable, eventually becoming either discouraged or a pharisee just like everyone else who “fits in”.

    3. 43

      Ellie – good thoughts..I agree the damage that can be done is tremendous. Both to the youth, and the “leaders”. In some respects, my ten year old picks up on things very quickly, with fewer hinderances, preconceived notions, predjudices, and the like than adults..but at the same time, coupled with this sponge-like quality, is his inability to process abstract ideas logically. That is why, in the teen years, youth should be taught how to arm themselves intellectually to combat, prioritize, defend, question, extrapolate and anihilate ideas of all sorts, beginning with their own…because they will experience an onslaught of ideas from every direction if they go to college. They will be pushed to the limit intellectually – and it has nothing to do with academics. University is one of the best places to dig your mind in and grow, or to lose it if you are not grounded in your ability to think BEFORE you arrive on the campus as a fresh-faced 18 year old.

      Personally, I think one of the greatest failures we commit as parents is in our inability to really understand what “training up a child in the way he should go” actually means. I’ve thought a little about this, but wonder how others see it – I think what that is (training in the way he should go) varies from child to child…and suppressing who our children are in the name of godliness and out of fear will quickly kill the spirit, and rob them of their God-given motivation and abilities. They end up handicapped…vulnerable…and begin making choices that ultimately lead to spiritual death and not life. No wonder they end up departing from who they are meant to be and all they can do.

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