Jesus-Style Youth Ministry: A Rant About T-Shirts
group magazine: November-December, 2004
by Steve Argue and Dave Livermore
If you put your group on a “T-shirt fast” for a year, would your kids give up their Christian-slogan wear without a squawk? Probably not...the T-shirting of youth ministry has been gathering steam for years. And we think it’s gone way too far. For example, when your missions-trip T’s proclaim you’re “Taking South America for Jesus,” are you telling the truth? Nope. But you have succeeded in using hype as fuel for ministry—the car won’t go far on that.
At the risk of treating a size-S issue like a size-XXL issue, we think it’s high time to ask ourselves: Does the T-shirting of our youth ministry kids really help or hurt our cause? We’re firmly in the “hurt” column.
1. Christian T-shirts condense the grand truths of the Christian faith into pithy truisms. Should we be reducing Christ’s work of redemption into “His Pain, Your Gain,” or the process of spiritual growth into “God’s Gym,” or Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross into “Beating the Devil With a Big Stick,” or discipleship into “Do the Jew”? Slogans are great when you’re trying to sell soda, but let’s not gut our definitions of God, his church, and our redemption by morphing them into peppy commercial hooks.
2. If the slogan is unfit, we must quit it. It’s time to stop
tolerating T-shirts that are theologically and missionally wrong. If the archangel Michael would never declare that “Satan Sucks,” who are we to do it? That’s something better left to God’s judgment. If the Old Testament priests took off their shoes in the temple, where do we get off calling God “My Homeboy”? And are we really “Serving China” when we go there for a weeklong missions trip? Are we really “Changing Mexico” when we spend three days building a small shed then celebrate by going to the beach? Are we really “Taking Jesus to Ecuador,” or is the national church in Ecuador already fulfilling that job description?
3. Do we really need a T-shirt for every Christian event we plan? Is it really Christlike to broadcast every time we serve, sacrifice, or attend a conference? What does a T-shirt communicate that we can’t better demonstrate with our lives? More often than not, Christian T-shirts perpetuate a subculture that tells outsiders “I’m not like you,” or “You missed out.” We have a responsibility to reflect the spirit of the gospel and the posture of a Christ-follower. It’s countercultural to live outside the hype zone created by marketers.
So here’s our appeal: Will you place your hand on this article and agree with us that, for one year, you won’t create, commission, or buy T-shirts for your ministry events? Instead, after the event, will you commit to seek what we all desire—signs of impact, passion, excitement, worship, and selfless love?
Steve Argue and Dave Livermore are co-founders of Intersect, a community for emerging influencers intersecting for theological, personal, and missional formation. They live in Michigan, and you can contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. They’re also part of our Presenter Team for this fall’s group Magazine
Live one-day training event—go to www.groupmag.com/gml for more information.