See You At The Pole… Or Will You?
**Disclaimer: I would love to hear your thoughts. Please read the entire post before commenting.
Today is the one day set aside for churches and student ministry programs to encourage their teenagers to gather at the flagpole outside their school to pray. Well, perhaps we encourage it on the National Day of Prayer as well. But largely this is the one event that we point teens toward to encourage them to pray for their school.
I think we are failing dramatically.
You see, I have some theological issues with See You At the Pole. Each year churches and student ministries put a load of energy into promoting this one-and-done prayer event. But we are putting our energy into the wrong area. We are encouraging teens to think that praying for their school is something that should only be done once a year. We are teaching teens that prayer should be a public spectacle. In some instances we are showing teens that they should expect to be recognized and rewarded for gathering together to pray. And above all that, we are teaching teens that commercializing prayer is a good thing. They should feel just fine to plunk down $20 just so they can wear a shirt to advertise that they were at the flagpole this morning.
For starters, we are taking prayer, something that when reading Scripture I see as being a private thing, and turning it into a public spectacle. We are having teens meet outside school before it starts so that they can be seen. Over they years, I have lost track of how many teens who have participated and had more pride about how they were there and seen than they did humility that they had just lifted up their school to God. We invite radio station and TV news crew out to see us pray.
We turn it into something that is all about the participants. Many SYATP events are filled with donuts, juice, giveaways and other assorted prizes. We make it all about making teens comfortable, and enticing them to attend on the hope that they might win something. Where is God in all of this fanfare and gluttony?
It’s not even about prayer. Most SYATP events hold a rally as part of their event. 2 years ago our local event held a rally that, in 45 minutes of time, maybe 10 were devoted to prayer. That’s it. There was more time devoted to giving away SYATP merchandise than there was to prayer!
It’s once a year. It is a one-and-done event. There is nothing beyond that. It is not a call to meet daily in prayer. The literature this year states that “perhaps the best thing about SYATP is the spiritual fruit that follows. SYATP has become a rallying point for students to get acquainted with other Christians and catch a vision for God to move on their campuses. Many students begin Bible clubs or start meeting regularly for prayer.” In the communities that I have lived in this post SYATP spiritual fruit never materialized. There was no revival, no new or renewed passions to change the school, and certainly no (to my knowledge) groups who met regularly for prayer beyond one or two weeks after the event.
Now before you think I am completely negative, there are a few items of SYATP that are good. Every year the heart of SYATP is… in the right place. They desire to see teens (and adults) gather together and pray for their schools. They use Scripture that is designed to encourage teens to commit their lives to God in radical ways. They market it as a great opportunity to get together with other Christians from the school and lift the school up in prayer. I don’t want you to think that I am attacking anyone personally, there is some good in the event.
But I still think it is off-base at best.
I had hoped to attend this year’s SYATP in part because one of the teens loosely affiliated with our church (his parents are members, but I can count the number of times on one hand that I have seen him here in the past 6 months) was in charge of running the event. Unfortunately I was unable to do so. But I am hoping that it will be able to serve as a jumping on point for something else already happening on our school’s property that I feel is so much… better.
After spending time at the Pittsburgh Project this summer, a couple of our teens came back passionate about lifting their school up in prayer. So since school started, they have met every Monday morning to pray for the week, and recently started praying on Friday mornings as well, specifically praying for the weekend. All student-led. No gimmicks. No rewards. No media. Just teens getting together to pray for their school.
This is what SYATP should look like.