My Resonse To Tony Nolan

Tony Nolan, the speaker at this years Winter Jam Tour that I commented on in my previous blog, wrote a comment asking very nicely to explain my feelings about Winter Jam in more detail. The following is the emailed response I sent Tony. I am posting it not to start any type of public debate between Tony and I but to instead to explain myself more clearly in case there are others who were curious about my thoughts. I don't know Tony but I know he has a great reputation as a youth speaker and I appreciate him challenging me on my blog.

Hey Tony,

I appreciate you commenting on my thoughts. I know it may have appeared I was "down" on the whole experience but really it was just certain aspects of it. I'm also very sorry if it appeared like I was attacking you. I never meant that but I can see how my words were a bit harsh without a deeper explanation.

First a little background...I have been to every Winter Jam concert that has ever come to our area with the exception of 2007. I have been in full time ministry (youth and church planter) for over 12 years. Now I know that doesn't make me an authority on Christian concerts or youth ministry. I realize that you will impact more students in one setting like a Winter Jam then I will my whole life. But for me, it's obvious we are trying to reach youth and people two totally different ways, which I'll get to in a moment.

Over the past few years I have really soured on the idea of "entertainment evangelism" which is what I feel Winter Jam is. Bring in a bunch of people, mostly students, and try our hardest to show them that Christians can be cool too with BMX bikers, skateboarders, or the infamous "ball of death" or whatever it was called a couple of years ago with the guys riding motorcycles around a steel cage. We (Christians) try so hard to out entertain the world or to develop our own christianized version of it that we lose a lot our authenticity. Or at the very least our appearance of being authentic.

I rode back to church on Saturday night and listened to my youth dissect the concert. I try to never share my feelings with them (if I'm going to be critical) because I want the Holy Spirit to work in their lives without my opinion interfering. But what I heard from them was exactly what I was thinking. They didn't see what the point was in the BMXers or Purenrg. Although they liked the points you were making in your message they felt the delivery was a bit over the top (slang, and illustrations - "l"out of lover it's over") So from their perspective, and mind you we're only talking about 30 youth out of 18,000, your words lacked real meaning in their hearts because it seemed forced or not genuine. I know the dangers of that as I get to speak all around the south east to teens all the time and there is that fine line of trying to speak their language by words and dress but also coming across as real and authentic. I don't envy you and I know your position as a major speaker in a venue like that is difficult.

The biggest problem I had with Winter Jam this year was the offering speech. It came across as VERY guilt heavy and you attempted to make people feel ashamed if they didn't give and extra $5 or more. I think you may have even used the word "ashamed". One adult turned to me and asked, "If their going to beg like this for more money they should just charge more". One of the main topics from our youth on the way home was your offering talk. Not how great the concert was or how heavy the Spirit was moving, because it was, but how guilty you made them feel if they didn't give more money. One kid even said they hoped there weren't some non-Christians there that were turned off by the greed. That hurts as a youth pastor. We try our best to get as many students to these events as possible but all it takes is one thing like that to either turn that youth off from ever coming again or from bringing a friend because they don’t want them to think we as Christians are all about money.

Again, My blog post was not a slam on you as much as it was the method. I'm not convinced that events like Winter Jam truly bring about life change. I know the numbers of people who claim to give their life to him or rededicate their lives is enormous. But I've been there long enough to see how concerts like Winter Jam can create an "emotional" response but not a true spiritual one. Look, I'm from the school of "whatever works" when it comes to leading people to Christ. I really thank God for all that concerts like Winter Jam are doing. I also personally know Roy and know his heart so I know it's not an ego thing. I'm sure there are a lot of people who are sincere in their decisions but how many more are turned off by it all? No ministry is perfect and I realize that. My blog reaction was more of what I felt from my students then me. That's what I waited a few days to write it so my emotions would lead the review.

I sit back and look at these huge Christian pep rallies we have created and wonder if this is what Jesus would have done (not to sound too cliché) If Jesus had access to huge bands and pyro technics, and BMXers, or some a 20,000 seat coliseum would he have used that? Not that he couldn’t have but would that have been His first choice? Sure Jesus had His moments where he spoke to large crowds (Sermon on the Mount) or when he used the current culture or environment to show who he was (the wedding party) but most of the time we see a Jesus that wasn’t trying to out do the world but was simply meeting people where they were at without the flash and show.

I know we have two different mindsets of evangelism. And both are right. You, Roy and Winter Jam are doing a great work. And I feel like God uses guys like me to reach those teens that need a more personal touch. We both just have to be careful that we don’t get to caught up in ignoring the value in events like Winter Jam and also that we don’t over look how those types of events can be just as harmful at times to some people as helpful.

Again I am very sorry for the words I chose in my previous blog post. They were not well thought out and I should have explained my points in more detail. I wish you the best in your ministry. If you want to chat more about this just let me know.


Joel said…
Well said Mike. Laura, Anna Gray, and a couple of friends attended the show. They really mentioned nothing of spiritual significance related to the performances or the "talks". I'm starting to wonder if events like Winter Jam aren't just an excuse for Christians to scream and gyrate in a sterile environment. It's a chance for us to act like pagans without actually sinning. But then again I'm old and cranky.

My daughter was influenced by the concert however. She and her friends kept noticing a couple French kissing behind them. Fortunately she's still grossed out by stuff like that and may stay away from boys a little longer. Thanks Winter Jam.

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