Divided over Divided? Not Really…

I screened the new film Divided this morning, and I have to say that I was left wanting.

Divided claims to be a full-length documentary of one young (19 years old) man’s journey of discovery as he sets out to determine if Youth Ministry is Biblical. Through the course of the film (a little less than an hour long) he asks several great questions that many great minds in youth ministry have been asking for years. Are we really doing this right? What is our role in the development of teens? How do we partner with parents? And the host makes some excellent observations about our need not to provide entertainment in place of the Gospel and that parents are called to the primary Spiritual developers in their children’s’ lives. But once we are past those observations and questions, I part ways with these filmmakers.

To start, the film is not a documentary. It is an over-sized promotional piece for The National Center for Family Integrated Churches. The NCFIC has a good heart. They desire to see families grow deep Spiritually and to make Scripture the central point of those families’ lives. These are great goals that I line up with. But they also speak very boldly against what we understand to be youth ministry (and honestly, against any age-specific ministry context). Divided is another salvo in the attack on the concept of youth ministry (along with the director’s book A Weed in the Church), and their answer is to simply disband and demolish all modern forms of youth ministry. There is no desire to see it reformed or renovated. I will be the first to admit that there is a lot wrong with modern youth ministry, but there is a lot of good to be found as well that we should seek to hold on to.

Other glaring errors in this film (I refuse to label it a documentary) are that they are guilty of misusing quotes and soundbites from some great leaders in the modern youth ministry movement. There is a clip of Mark Ostreicher which makes it seem as if we youth pastor are only now (read: in the last year or two) are beginning to understand that the flash and the games are not working. But anyone who is in the YM trenches for very long knows that this is not a new thought. And it made Marko seem as if he himself (while still the president of Youth Specialties) was just getting it (read his thoughts on the film here). They interviewed youth pastors at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference and made them seem as if they were unintelligent and un-Scriptural. Walt Mueller has a great piece on his blog (check it out here) that is written far better than I could which shares how the filmmakers interviewed him for close to an hour and only used about 5 seconds of it for the film! The opening clips of teens being interviewed are very contrived as well. I suspect they were hand-picked merely to show how illiterate our teens can be. And don’t get me started on the flimsy arguments they put together concerning the history of youth ministry.

Overall, the film has an agenda. Most do. I am insulted that this movie is being marketed as a journey of discovery, when it is very clear that there was a deliberate line they wanted to trace. For instance, in all of their interviews, why is Doug Fields never on camera? He speaks very loudly against programs for programs sake and argues boldly for parental partnerships. (And he was at the one conference they attended for interviews)! There are more glaring errors, but I don’t want to take up too much space. The tone of the film wants us to believe that Scripture has nothing to say about youth ministry, so we should not do it. (Please read Marko’s thoughts on the people who read the Scriptures first. Very solid there). They want us to believe that their method of doing ministry is the only way. At one point the host even poses the question “Is the mass exodus of teens from the church a judgement against us for going against the word of God and creating youth ministry?” He provides no on-camera answer that I can remember, but it would not surprise me if the filmmakers’ opinion is a resounding “yes!”

The movie is free to view online (through the end of August I believe). So head on over and give it a viewing here. Or if you prefer, here is the original hosting link at Vimeo so you can interact with other viewers below the video. Watch it if you are a parent. Watch it if you are a youth worker at any level. And remember that there is good to be found in the film. I just happen to disagree with their answers and their condescending tone that I happen to be un-Biblical because I am employed as a Youth Pastor here at my local church. It probably makes me a little more defensive than I would like, but that is unavoidable for me. I love conversations and debate like this movie could have raised. I am just disappointed that they left no room for conversation, and instead left us with a holier-than-thou message of “get on board with our philosophy or be responsible for the further deterioration of American Christianity. And the Biblical model for family.”

Share your thoughts below if you have seen the film…

Divided Trailer