Divided the Movie: a Youth Ministry Documentary Film

Kent Shaffer —  August 12, 2011

Is modern youth ministry contrary to scripture?

That is the core question of Divided the movie, an hour long youth ministry documentary film by Philip and Chris Leclerc. It is backed by The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, so naturally the film is biased towards youth being integrated into a church service rather than in silos of age segregated classrooms.

Divided the movie leads with George Barna’s 2002 research that around two thirds of young people are going to leave the church.

We’re losing about 40% of them by the end of middle school and another 45% by the end of high school. In other words, we are losing them way before college.
- Ken Ham

For now, you can watch the free documentary online at DividedTheMovie.com. If you are a pastor, youth minister, or children’s minister, I recommend watching it regardless of your theological stance or methodology. It presents some very good thoughts that run cross current against the mainstream Western church system of how to disciple youth.

With that said, Divided the movie has also received its fair share of controversy and criticism, specifically that it is too one-sided. So watch the documentary then balance it out with a few key thought leaders that have already weighed in on the discussion:

Mark Oestreicher // The Youth Cartel:

>> Let’s start with that straw man thing. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, the idea is that it’s easy to tear down an idea or set of ideas if you construct a fake version of the idea in the first place. That approach is employed throughout the film.

>> Throughout the entire film, the “experts” (who are all from an extremely right wing edge of the church; there’s not even a moderate interviewed) are there to offer soundbite, emotionally packed, fear-tinged, support of the film’s points.

>>  There was no genuine journalism. What there seems to have been is a well-funded donor with a pre-determined set of agenda items.

>> I want us all to talk about this stuff, because I think it’s massively important. I applaud the filmmakers for taking a risk.

Walt Mueller // Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

>> My feeling about the film after one initial viewing – that this is an extremely biased film that was not made as a result of Philip Leclerc’s stated desire to embark on a fact-finding journey, but rather that the film was conceived and made with a bias and agenda that existed long before the first clip was ever shot.

>> Divided is a not so much a documentary as it is a promotional piece for the National Center for Family Integrated Churches.

>> Divided is a film that asks some very good questions and addresses some issues in youth ministry and the church that must be addressed. There are things we need to repent of in youth ministry.

>> Viewers need to remember that what they are seeing and hearing in the film is mediated. Sadly, it’s mediated in an imbalanced manner.

>> I believe that the film asks good questions about age-segregation in worship. It just shouldn’t happen. I’ve been trumpeting that for years and so have many others in the youth ministry community. But again, there are times when we can separate from each other to be nurtured in age-appropriate ways.

Tim Challies

>> What Leclerc does is what so many documentarians do: he chooses his representatives very, very carefully. He chooses the intellectuals of the FIC to represent his view and chooses the young and foolish to represent the other side. It’s hardly subtle and not at all fair. He builds his case on a cliche.

>> I think we need to see it for what it is. This is a movie that heavily promotes a very obvious agenda. It does not take long for us to learn that Leclerc is a member of a Family Integrated Church and that he has been for many years. This then casts doubt on this journey he is taking. Is it a true journey to learn a better way to do church? Or were the questions answered long before the film shoot even began?

>> Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the film, then, is it lumps all non-integrated churches together.

>> It majors on the minors, making family integration the pivotal and central doctrine for the church. It identifies a genuine problem but attempts to solve it in a way that elevates methodology instead of the gospel message.

Personally, I think it is a great documentary because it covers unchartered ground. It challenges status quo thinking and gets viewers to ask questions.

Yes, it is very biased, but what documentary isn’t? (rhetorical sarcasm) I’d rather have the bias be blatant than a cleverly subtle approach that hoodwinks my worldview. I, too, wish it had a balanced panel of experts. But as with any documentary, it is the viewers’ responsibility to balance it out by researching other facts and perspectives.

What’s your opinion?

Kent Shaffer

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I live in an RV with my wife and 2 kids and work with OpenChurch.com to help Christians collaborate and build a global Church library of free, open content.

11 responses to Divided the Movie: a Youth Ministry Documentary Film

  1. I can’t wait to watch this. As a former Young Life leader, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Thanks for sharing. I’ll report back afterward.

  2. I just took the time to watch this with my wife.

    I agree with you, the documentary causes you to think and challenge the “traditional”. I think the basic premise is correct: it is the father’s (parents’) responsibility to raise, disciple, discipline, and nurture their children, not the church.

  3. This was what I expected. While it does raise legitimate questions which should be addressed by all churches and youth leaders, the over-generalizing becomes tedious. My biggest concern is that it tends to foster the idea that IF parents and churches do everything “right”, then God is obligated to respond in a certain way…to keep our kids holy and safe. This is a potentially damaging doctrine.

  4. First Thought…close the nursery. No where in scripture do we see the model of a nursery for infants. Second thought….was this a documentary or an infomercial for Family-Integrated Churches? This has about as much as integrity as a Michael Moore documentary or Bill Maher’s “Religulous”.

  5. My husband and I watched this documentary over the weekend. We’ve been volunteer Youth Leaders for over 12 years. In 2004-2005 we were challenged to bring the Youth Group back into the church and did so. We still have a YG that meets on a separate night, but we worship together on Sunday and sit under the preaching of the Word. The heartbreak for us are parents who make everything (i.e., sports, academics, jobs, etc.) a priority over worshipping together, family bible study, etc. We lose our kids once they hit their jr/sr year in high school and/or drive and get a job. Something is broken. I feel like we’re lifeguards in a sea of drowing teens. We’ve tried to equip parents to be parents. This movie provides a Biblical solution; just the implemenation of it is what draws the controversy.

  6. I wish they would give the context of Ken Ham’s comments. The comments had nothing to do with youth being separated from the main service but everything to do with the authority of the word of God relating to Genesis. I guess any comment taken out of context that pushes the agenda you want to push is acceptable in the world we live in today.

  7. I agree with maybe half of this premise. I did not grow up in a Christian home. Christ was not Lord and Biblical principles were not at the forefront. I started to go to a youth group and my youth pastor was an incredible influence on me. He is still a friend and I would consider him a spiritual father, filling the gaps in biblical teaching that my own father had. I agree that nothing replaces a fathers guidance. I love my father but I was not going to learn about Jesus from him because he’s not a believer. I am in Youth ministry today and I believe it’s in large part to the wisdom and teaching of my Youth Pastor. I have seen unhealthy youth groups that are all about pizza parties and being “cool”….what ever that means. I have also seen youth groups that are fully integrated into the Church body. Groups that God is using in powerful ways to change their communities and culture. I believe that the Bible is always relevant and truth has an infinite shelf life. Many youth pastors are filling the gaps, not causing them.

    It has become my goal to not only pastor our students but pastor our parents as well. We need Fathers and Mothers who are committed to Biblical principles. This is where I think a lot of Youth Pastors have dropped the ball (including myself in my earlier years of ministry.) Many don’t realize that parental buy in and involvement is the most powerful testimony to a healthy youth group.

    To youth pastors: don’t let this video discourage you, let it challenge you to do what God has called you to do. Let it motivate you to not have a group that’s so focused on being “epic” that it loses purpose. We don’t have time to waste, there is work to be done!

    In Christ,

  8. I thought it was a thought-provoking film. Clearly it was heavily biased, and the “filmmaker” is not so much a curious documentarian out to “find the truth,” but a promoter of the FIC agenda. That aspect was pretty heavy-handed at times, occasionally moving into a, “If you don’t do church our way, you’re doing it wrong and God will punish you individually and society corporately” mindset.

    However, the film does raise some interesting questions. The church where I serve as Technical Director has a great student ministry program and I have watched my teen girls faith grow tremendously while being a part of it. But I have also seen many student ministries that seem to be dedicated to becoming the cool, hip place to be without regard to any sense of spiritual growth. These programs tend to drive a wedge between parents and the youth leader because parents cannot compete with the “coolness” factor.

    Yes, the film is biased. Yes, it pushes an agenda. But I also think it raises questions that can challenge us if we have the courage to dig a little deeper rather than rejecting the whole idea out of hand.

  9. I was a youth pastor for many years, and my wife and I always grappled with the idea of youth ministry mainly because of its affect on the family. That may sound odd, but it was my observation that fathers, in large numbers, have stopped being the priest of their homes. They have relied on the church, and the childrens and youth ministries to do the discipling for them. I’ve maintained over the past few years tbat the church is doing something terribly wrong for so many young people to abandon their faith. Thus documentary nailed it for me! This is what God has been speaking to my heart for the past many years.

    To those who are critical of the approach taken with this film…to thise who say the presenter is being dishonest with us because there is a bias that was planned from the begining, I say lighten up a bit.
    This is how documentaries work. Information is presented to the viewer in an entertaining wa
    y. Good information
    YGood informatio was presented. Thought provoking information.

  10. This was probably the worst documentary I have ever seen. Why weren’t we told from the start that this was a promotional piece for a Fundamentalist group? That is what this film is; it is not a documentary. Also, why on earth one would decide to open a piece such as this with commentary from Ken Ham is beyond me! Ken Ham is not a mainstream evangelical figure; he represents a narrow subculture of American Evangelicalism that is indeed a part of the problem when it comes to the Church hemorrhaging teenagers. There is not space here to comment further except to say that Ham’s entire project makes a hash of biblical interpretation. The idea that we can simply turn to Scripture and find the unvarnished truth about anything is simply sophomoric. I am all for facilitating more organic, family-based discipleship within the church–that much sounds great. But, employing the reasoning, and mode of biblical interpretation found in this film is a return to the pit of Fundamentalism, and that has bequeathed to us many problems with which the American church still wrestles. Lastly, why was Christian Smith’s (with Denton) research not referenced once in this film? I would venture to say that Mr. Leclerc is not even familiar with Smith’s work, and if he is, not including it in this sort of film is without excuse. It is the longest (and best, in my opinion) longitudinal study of American teen spirituality ever conducted. The titles of his books are “Soul Searching” and “Souls in Transition”.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Round-up: Must read blogs « Notes from the 21st floor - June 11, 2012

    [...] When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity . American Christianity seems to be going down to the level of “youth activities”.This article may be centered on America but the Philippines, and just about any other country, can surely benefit from this. Read on and learn where things have gone wrong. In order to fully understand what this article is about, I recommend you get your hands on a copy of Divided. [...]