That's so sad, isn't it? That we have to worry about sending our youth to our own synod's National Youth Gathering, I mean. It's not only sad; it's a downright shame.
Why the worry? some might ask. Well, because for the last couple of decades, those who plan our Gatherings have gone out of their way to mimic the youth conferences held by Americanized "evangelicals." I know. I've been to those conferences. I'm not proud of it, but back in the nineties, I led the youth of the LCMS congregation I belonged to at the time to two "Acquire the Fire" conferences. Anyone who wants to argue that our synod's Gatherings have not become increasingly more like those conferences is gravely mistaken. They have. And, that's the danger and reason for worry. Those conferences are put on by those whose theology is vastly different from our Lutheran theology. The whole point of those conferences is to play on the kids' emotions in the hope that they will be so moved through the power of the "worship" and "testimonials" and "dramas," and so forth, that they will make a decision to accept Jesus as their Savior (or, for those who have already "made the decision," to "rededicate their lives" to Him). And, as someone who has experienced this live and in person, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that these conferences had a profound impact on my emotions. Heck, by the end of the first "Acquire the Fire" conference I attended, I was ready to rush the stage and "give my life to Jesus."
But, it's all superficial and shallow. It doesn't last. It didn't have a profound impact on any of our youth. How could it? It's just a show. It's rock-n-roll, dude. You "get down with Jesus" for a couple of days, are moved by the beat of the music and the heart-rending testimonials, and pumped up by the speakers who egg you on to "really let it all out and worship the Lord"! But then, all of a sudden, it's over. And so is the emotion. That feeling you experience - that so-called "spiritual high" you think you had - dissipates as fast as the drummer had smacked his drums during your favorite "praise song." Think of going to see your favorite rock band (or whatever other musical genre suits your fancy) in concert - that "high" you experience (and, no, I'm not talking about that kind of "high") lasts about until you get to your car in the parking lot (okay, if it was a really good concert, maybe till you get home). Then, it's gone - it quickly fizzles away. Emotions and feelings are fickle that way, you know.
For the life of me, I cannot fathom why it is that those who plan our synod's Gatherings do not understand this. They have an awesome opportunity to impact our youth with the Gospel, but instead seek ways to play on their emotions, just as the "evangelicals" do. They have a chance to present substance, but are content with providing a superficial experience. What's worse, they do not see the dangers of subjecting our youth to the false doctrines so prevalent in many of the rock-n-roll ditties performed by the bands they acquire to
Hopefully, the youth from this woman's congregation won't be as impacted by this as she fears. Hopefully, they'll just chalk it up to the "fun-fest" it is, and nothing more. Hopefully, once that "spiritual high" wears off, they'll just forget about the "experience" and return unfazed to the true Lutheran theology of worship followed in their home parish. But, again, it's so sad that we have to hope that our own synod's National Youth Gathering doesn't have an impact on our youth.
Thank God we have an alternative available in our synod today in Higher Things. Both the woman who emailed me and her pastor are hopeful that they'll be able to send their youth there in the years to come. I told her that she would be very pleased if that panned out. Having been to three Higher Things conferences myself, I cannot recommend them highly enough. The good folks at Higher Things are not ashamed of being Lutheran and do not, in any way, shape, or form, attempt to cloak their Lutheranism in some other guise. In fact, their motto for the youth is, "Dare to be Lutheran!" Imagine that! A Lutheran youth conference for Lutheran youth that actually practices Lutheranism. A novel concept, that.
Anyway, if you are still wondering why all the fuss, here are a couple of videos to watch. The first one is a clip from the 2007 LCMS National Youth Gathering, where the youth are being led to sing, "Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord," which is a popular "praise song" that has no business being sung by Lutherans (I apologize to all of you who like this song, but, well, it's the truth - the theology carried along by the lyrics is just simply awful, and most definitely not in line with Lutheranism). The second video is the promo for this year's "Acquire the Fire" Conferences, just to give you an idea of where those who plan our synod's Gatherings get their ideas (I know several LCMS pastors and leaders who have attended these just for that purpose - oh, and by the way, "Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord" has been sung at many "Acquire the Fire" conferences - just sayin'). Notice the crass decision theology which comes through loud and clear in this video. Do we really want to mimic this? Really?