About me

I'm just a believer that is recovering from my experience at Teen Mania's Honor Academy and I would like to share my journey of healing with you.

April 8, 2011

Acquire the Fire: Reader Response

Earlier this week, I blogged about Acquire the Fire for the very first time. It generated several reader reactions, most notably this extended comment from "Little Gray Girl" which resonated with a lot of readers:

I went to ATF every year as a teenager and I thought it was AMAZING. The smoke machines, colored lights, repetitive, emotional choruses, melodic guitars, massive crowd of my hyped-up peers, and Ron's charisma and manipulative appeals - all of that made my experience with God seem so much more REAL and significant than my experiences with God say, on any given Sunday morning or any other time in my life. We were always encouraged to make great, sweeping commitments to God, in order to keep being ON FIRE once we went home. These included things like never listening to "secular" music, having a quiet time EVERY day (using whichever poorly-written TM devotional had come out that year), and of course the ambiguous charge to "change the world" by starting a "revolution" in your youth group and high school.

Every morning session (or is it the afternoon session?), Ron had the ushers pass out his new daily devotional, which always coincides with that particular year's theme for ATF, to every single kid in the venue. So the kids have it in their hands, and the book looks so cool, and everyone is so hyped up and all they want to do is stay on fire and change the world and start a revolution, and they have to sit there and listen to Ron would tell them how CRUCIAL this devotional will be in helping them do just that. He would present it as if this was the KEY. He told the youth pastors how helpful these books will be in assisting them in their leadership. And then he announced the price of the book and took up an offering. If you wanted to keep the book that's in your hands, you coughed up the money. Otherwise, you passed the book back in to the usher. Of course, almost everyone buys it.

The last session on Saturday night was the most emotional. Everyone leaves feeling on fire and thinking that everything in their lives has changed. At least that's how I felt. Of course, once I got back to real life, I discovered that everything was pretty much the same - home life was still hard, school still sucked, still struggled with depression, etc. I would read the devotional, trying to keep my fire, trying to FEEL God the way that I did at ATF, begging him to show me that He was still there and that I was still saved. The devotional always had challenges and rules: THIS is what a World Changer does. THESE THINGS are what you should avoid if you want to stay on fire. The same old legalism you find at the HA. I would end up feeling guilty because it was absolutely impossible to live up to all of those things, to keep all the commitments I was manipulated into making at ATF as an impressionable young teen. Because all of the feelings I'd had at ATF had long faded (as will *inevitably* happen), I thought that I wasn't on fire. I thought that God was displeased with me. And I thought it was all my fault because I would forget to have a quiet time one day or I broke a "world-changer" oath. Not to mention that I was DECIDEDLY unsuccessful at changing the world or at starting a revolution at school. I could barely navigate my home life! At ATF they put SO MUCH pressure on teenagers; we are bombarded with messages along the lines of: God always uses YOUNG PEOPLE to start revivals; NOW IS THE TIME; God is calling you tonight, don't MISS this opportunity; YOU NEED TO GO HOME AND CHANGE YOUR TOWN/YOUTH GROUP/HIGH SCHOOL/WORLD. Originally it would give me a sense of purpose and significance; God wanted to use ME!! But when I wasn't able to change the world (I wasn't even *allowed* to go anywhere or do anything anyway), I felt a horrible sense of failure. I was growing up, getting too old, missing my chance to be used by God.

Then ATF would show up again the following year and I would just KNOW that this time, it would stick. This time, I wouldn't fail. And then I would. My decision to go to the Honor Academy was based largely on the fact that I thought it would be like an ATF all the time, and I would finally know how to not lose my "fire." I would finally actually DO SOMETHING for God, He would finally think I was worth using.

So, based on my extensive experience with ATF, I think it is dangerous in more ways than just the fact that it is a "gateway drug" to the Honor Academy. It indoctrinates teens in legalism, and in a relationship with God based on emotions (which is an immature approach to ANY relationship, and one teens ought to be steered away from). It is manipulative and shame-producing. It draws insecure teenagers into the weird, Teen Mania culture that alienates them from people in the real-world (as most of us have experienced from trying to reintegrate after leaving the HA). It presents the wrong idea of Christianity and the wrong idea of Jesus.

18 comments:

There is a psychological thing that happens called "event drop" when people who went through a big convention or longer term event (missions) experience this high for a few days where the thing they just spent their weekend doing seems all important for a few days. After this time there is a huge drop and it leads to depression for a few days. ATF really pushes the event High as something that "should be" for your entire life. The thing is Event drop happens to everyone unless all you do is travel from event to event then when it's over your depression is far worse. Look at this when envisioning your time in the HA, You go from super spiritual charged moment to super spiritual charged moment while being worked to the bone and running on the edge of exhaustion for that year, or two, or 3 (in some cases 5 or more) and when it ends you have no idea what to do with yourself because nothing feels LIKE that. The thing is NOTHING should feel like that because the human mind was not built to handle such a lifestyle and when you do it for too long you start having repercussions.

That is really interesting. Maybe that's why I dreamed of being on the ATF Ministry Team: so that I could go from event to event and never experience the drop. When I WAS on the ministry team, however, (because I didn't recognize the dangers in ATF until much later) it definitely wasn't a constant high. It was one of the most chaotic experiences of my life....

Speaking of the Ministry Team, I idolized them. They stayed at our house in Muncie for ATF every year, and then we got together with them in Florida during our Spring Break, and I wanted nothing more than to be one of them one day. They made the weekend all the more exciting, and the drop all the more depressing.

littlegraygirl, thank you SO much for sharing this. I've been following this blog for a few months now, and although some of the posts have really helped me a lot, I've felt like a lot of this maybe isn't relevant to me because I've never had much experience with Teen Mania, save ATF every year and a GE trip one summer... but this post has helped me to see how damaging ATF can be and even how much it may have affected my own life in a negative way, and to hopefully continue on the road of the healing process. :-)

Thank you for sharing, I can relate to the overwhelming pressure to "change the world!" I still can remember some of the looks and harsh comments I received as I, as a high school student, tried to "inform" people of how differently God wanted their lives to be. It certainly didn't spark any "revolution" and I felt like I wasn't doing enough because people weren't living according to TM rules espoused at the ATF... it wasn't a godly thing at all.

Its amazing how one sided this point of view is. I've attended ATF since I was 12 years old. I am now 28. If anything ATF did infact change my life. I believe just growing up in the church by in large can lead to feelings of inadequacies in our walk with the Lord because we don't understand our identity in CHrist and we try to do it on our own efforts and strength. We are young and lack much wisdom. To say that an event that has changed lives of thousands all over the world is abusive is just lies from Satan. Thats called slander. You can either believe the lies of the enemy and allow him to penetrate your mind with lies. Its really no point in arguing with you guys but I still hate it that you are trying to destroy something the Lord has called to be in place and hundreds of other ministries and partners that believe in Teen Mania. What the Lord has built up he will maintain. Truth will stand. Lord give discernment to readers to know these are just lies.

You just used a prayer to try and persuade readers. HAHAHAHAHA!! "discernment to know these are lies?" Wouldn't having discernment lead them to truth without your help? Yeah... nice.

Anonymous - Please tell us specifically what lies you read. LittleGrayGirl shared her story about how ATF affected her. She never said, nor did I, that this is the effect it has on everybody. Again, please state specifically what lies you have read on this website.

Anon- I would pose that it isn't our view that is one sided but yours. There are several places on this site where we point out that ATF can give people good experiences. There are just as many places on this site where there is the point that God can and does use HA and GE for good of people in some instances. We however are showing our stories of how things were NOT ok, and of how in many ways they still aren't. The event does cause psychological event drop but that is something all conventions and events focused on ONE aspect of life do. A person going to a science fiction convention is just as submittable to it as a Christian going to an ATF or any other event for that matter. The part of ATF that could be seen as dangerous is that Ron Luce specifically says that you have to do your quiet time EVERY DAY and says it's the only way to stay on fire. He talks about not doing so as being less of a Christian, Well if you follow the logic that we are suppose to spend time with God each day well yes, but sometimes even pastors skip a day and that's something Ron doesn't allow for in his talks. To a young person just FORMING their views on God this could be very dangerous. How can you be pleasing to "the FATHER" if you can't do the things that you "HAVE" to do to be a "on fire" christian. Luce speaks only in absolutes and that really does mess with some teens psychology. God allows us to be human and this is the stuff of Grace. To say that people who are hurting who had a bad experience are the enemy shows you have no love for "the least of these." It's not going after the brokenhearted and hurting world I would pose to you that your comment just proved beyond our own abilities WHAT is so damaging about ATF.

Hi again, I posted last week on the other ATF post and I breifly wanted to share a few things about the ATF I went to this past weekend. The Speaking was so great this year! And my favorite session was the one on failure. When I first heard the topic my first thought/prayer was "Lord, help me to discern the truth in this. Like I read on the website, help me not to think im a failure because I didnt measure up to some standard". I was very very surprised by what the speaker said. It was about how we ARE going to mess up and fail at some point, and that God is ok with that! It was about being patient with ourselves and with God as he continues build us up; its not going to happen in one night! This really impacted me and really encouraged me to not let my failures in the past define who I am. YES, ATF deffinetly sets higher standards for teens compared to your normal youthgroup, but I thought the speaker had a great balance between that and grace. I deffinetly realized much more this weekend the power of Jesus because it hit me harder that no matter what I do, he is still the ONLY way to the father. Letting this sink in makes me even more gratefull for Jesus' blood and ressurection.

Hi Anon - Thanks for coming back to give us your report! I'm so glad that what you heard was life-giving truth. Our failures never keep us from the Father!

Agreed, And thankyou for this website, It has kept me from the HA and strengthened my faith in a strange way. It has caused me to re-evaluate my entire faith which has been very painful and hard, but I have a stronger faith because of it.

Anon - Your comment makes me all kinds of happy. And yes, learning to see the good and the bad can be a very important part of our spiritual growth. Thanks for letting us know!

I am glad you have seen all in such a positive way and thanks for the report Anon. Thank you for letting us know what you saw and heard and I am glad someone shared the balanced side of things. Be blessed!

Glad to hear you had a great time anon! Balance and wisdom - such great things to learn in your walk through life.

I remember going to an Acquire the Fire as a boy. I know understand why I felt this strange feeling like something was not just right. You have these so called legalistic ideas they expect you to follow and they do not always bring someone close to the Lord Jesus. I am glad others have been able to see how sometimes people can be manipulated. God loves us and died for us. No event that some preacher or leader can ever add to what Jesus did on that cross for them. I am glad Jesus showed me as I grew older whether I fit into someones mold of who they say I should be, or should I be who he wants me to be himself and let him live through me. I just found out about this and I did not realize there were so many being negatively affected by these events.

I'm starting to see where the TM brainwashing started in my life. I started going to ATF when I was 13 and went on GE mission trips every summer after that up until my time at the HA. The most damage was from the HA of course, but ATF definitely sowed the seeds.

It kind of feels like my life has been a lie... Which is kind of true already with my parents. Now to see that TM, who I very much believed was true, I just don't know. Thanks, RA for providing this forum to discover things about TM to bring healing.

I also came to the HA through Acquire the Fire. I do not discount the good that God can complete through the event, but I am really concerned about the negative impact, particularly the way it sucks in those to become interns. And as interns, we really discover how manufactured these events are. I just dont know that young people need that. RL talks about this being a war to keep kia from becoming like the world, yet he uses worldly methods to encourage young people to join the movement.

One time in class, DH criticized some "Christan rock/metal" bands in the 70s or 80s (early enough to be before my time) because he said they caused a lot of insincere conversions. He said at least half as many people who crossed over to Jesus crossed right back to the world after those concerts. He seemed to think ATF and GE wouldnt have the same issue. What?

This years ATF theme is "Normal's not Enough". Coming from the internship, that raises all kinds of red flags for me. Having gone through it all now, I wish I had known better, but good grief we're talking about somehow being able to see through the marketing aimed at kids who want to be strong Christians. By default I think TM is reaching teens with either very loud personalities or very compassionate hearts. Kids who are really seeking something. I didn't understand why none of my Christian friends wanted to do GE trips or consider the HA because I was absolutely compelled!

But now, I just can't stand with it. I'd rather help kids gain tangible skills to seek God. Seeking truth outside a factory or bubble, but in real life. I'm sick of the hypocrisy.

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