Tuesday, August 15, 2006

SYATP: An Honest Question

I got a flyer in the mail today advertising See You at the Pole. Now, here in New England I'm not sure how popular this activity is, and actually, I'm not sure how big it is nationwide. When I first heard about it some years ago, my reaction was somewhat negative. I've heard of some small gatherings at local high schools, but I've never discouraged a student from participating in this event, nor have I ever encouraged it either. I've been relatively quiet about it, I'd say.

I understand that
"See You at the Pole™ is a student-initiated, student organized, and student-led event. That means this is all about students meeting at their school flagpole to pray—for their school, friends teachers, government, and their nation. See You at the Pole™ is not a demonstration, political rally, nor a stand for or against anything,"
but I can't help but think that it will often be viewed by most as a "Nah-nah! We're gonna pray and you can't stop us!" thing. (As if anyone could ever be prevented from praying.) Now, people misunderstanding you is not necessarily a good reason to not do something, but still, is that a message that is being sent?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for prayer. I'm for students praying together for their schools, friends, family, government etc. I'm confident that SYATP had its origins in sincere hearts with good intentions, but I have to wonder if it does more harm than good. Does the very nature of the event reek of those emails you get? You know the "if you love Jesus you'll forward this silly email to everyone in you address book, and if you don't you must really hate Him…and puppies!" Does it send an unintended message to our students that prayer is not really that important, but other's thinking you pray, is?

For instance why one day? And why so public? Wouldn't it be far better for students to gather and pray each day, regardless of whether anyone sees them or knows about it or not? It seems to me that the one day, big rally event serves only to foster a sense of spiritual superiority among those who participate. It seems to me that very nature of the event unwittingly sends the message that we don't need to pray all that much…one day will do.

On the other hand, one speaker (Efrem Smith) at CHIC, told the story of a high school where each day two students gathered in the gym to pray. There was no announcement, t-shirts, or websites. Some others asked what they were doing and joined them. Eventually, hundreds of students joined in. (Feel free to fill in the details, my fellow CHIC friends.)

Jesus did say, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven…"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

So, am I missing the boat on this or what? I must be because everyone and their sister (including my denomination) is a supporting ministry of SYATP.

There is a repsonse to this posted at the SYATP website. (See the "Is SYATP biblical?" question.) They say essentially two things: 1. This is designed to be done in a spirit of humility and NOT for show. 2. It will hopefully be more than a one day thing.

But doesn't the very nature of the event work against those objectives?

I've got no stake in this and I've got an open mind. Feel free to help me view it differently.

(This post is emphatically not questioning the heart/ sincerity of any student, pastor, teacher etc. who has ever participated in/or promoted this event. I don't question hearts. I just wonder if there are unintended consequences/ ramifications of how we choose to do things. Or in other words, is the medium the message in this case?)


Blogger Rev. Johnny Agurkis said...


First of all, it is a big deal in the midwest. There are huge turnouts for this thing. It is an "in" thing to do, which gets at the heart of your questions, and why it makes me a bit queasy too. My bigger issue is that SYATP by definition is supposed to be a "student-led, student-sponsored and student-initiated" event. How is that possible if there is a nationwide organization (run by paid adults) promoting and organizing it, and encouraging Youth Pastors to get kids to "show up"?
I'll stick with Ephrem's model from CHIC...2 kids, on their own, gathering in prayer because God has set it on their heart. What happens following is truly the Spirit at work.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Rev. Johnny Agurkis said...

ps - when do I get added to your "some blogs i read" section?

10:48 AM  
Blogger JayAreJr said...

At My High School SYATP happens every year and is indeed a student lead event. I have even joined them a few times. (Someone told me later that I had broken the law by doing so.)

Most any student who is brave enough to state an association with Christ gets my apporval. It isn't easy to stand with 6 or 7 others at the flag pole while hundreds of others stare and some ridicule.

In rural Rhode Island, SYATP is not the in-thing to do. It is not the part of popular culture here that is seems to me elsewhere.

11:26 AM  
Blogger James said...

I never go to syatp - I leave it to my students wether they go or not. I've struggles with what you are feeling, too.
Some other yp's in my town go...

2:54 PM  

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