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The Problem with the Cause of the Week

“Oh, I’m so going to use that with my students.”

This week it was the Kony 2012 video. (And the backlash) Next week it’ll be something else because our cycle of interest is now about 96 hours.

As the video went viral all of my youth ministry groups on Facebook were littered with questions from youth pastors asking, “How can we best use this video for our youth group?”

I think that we are too fast to want to use everything as a resource or teachable moment.

In fact, I think we often hide behind our role as a leader to become plastic. We don’t allow things to impact us because we look at everything from a lens of, “How can I use this?

And that’s a very cheap way to engage our life on earth. It denies our own human experience to go from one thing we can promote to another. And we get excited about getting people excited about stuff more than we get excited about getting ourselves to really understand stuff.

I don’t know all that is behind this leadership instinct to rush to resource instead of allowing ourselves to be impacted. But, for me, I think it’s built around my insecurity. I want to be seen as compassionate to child slavery [or whatever the cause of the week is] more than I actually want to personally do something about it. I am quick to give a few dollars but slow to understand how my daily actions may be funding child slavery.

No more distractions

Perhaps the bigger thing, speaking purely for myself, is that I know I need to walk away from the cause of the week sometimes because it becomes a distraction from my cause of every week.

I cannot escape these priorities in my life.

  1. My own relationship with Jesus is more important than the cause of the week.
  2. Jesus has called me to invest in my family. 
  3. Jesus has called me to love my neighbors as myself. Not a metaphorical neighbor, the people who live on my block.
  4. Jesus has called me to dig in at my church. 
  5. Jesus has called me to my work. 

In light of this, the cause of the week really isn’t all that important.

Investing in my relationship with Jesus is more important than leading a discussion about Kony 2012. Having a great conversation with my kids is more important than telling them about Kony 2012. Leaning on the fence and listening to my neighbor is more important than telling them about Kony 2012. Leaning in and engaging with my small group is more important than plugging Kony 2012. Working hard and pushing through my work is more important than caring about Kony 2012.

See, I don’t think the cause of the week is bad. Not at all. But I do think things like this are a big distraction, for me, from my priorities. And if things like that do impact me, I need to allow them to really and truly matter to me before I think about involving other people.

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26 Responses to The Problem with the Cause of the Week

  1. Jared Dilley March 8, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    Totally agree. It isfar easier to care about these causes than to love the town drunk or your jerky neighbor. God’S call to us is local first.

  2. Hannah Adams Ingram March 8, 2012 at 8:01 am #

    I might be wrong, but I think this sentence is the key to your post: “I want to be seen
    as compassionate to child slavery [or whatever the cause of the week
    is] more than I actually want to personally do something about it.”

    I think some people could read what you’re saying about talking to your kids and neighbors and small group is more important than Kony 2012 wrong. At least how I’m reading it, the point is that the tangible actions people will follow through on are more important than talk about a cause they are never going to physically engage in. And I think you are right. One of the big criticisms of Invisible Children is that it is allowing American young people to feel like they are making a difference in the world without changing how they live at all. (The trafficking reference is important here— we all talk about sex slavery because it’s appalling, but we won’t talk too much about the atrocities happening in the tech factories because that would threaten our way of life.)

    The reason it’s important to start with your church and with your OWN neighborhood is because you can’t hide from those things. When we only focus on problems in Uganda, we get to turn it off whenever we want. If we start to focus on the injustices we perpetuate right here in American culture, we are forced into action.

    Thanks for the thoughts. :)

  3. Jennifer March 8, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    Agreed. There is a big leap between awareness and action, and I think you hit the nail on the head – the posters and reposters want to be seen as compassionate to the COTW but 99.9% of them will not let it truly influence their lives.

    Also, these COTW must, inherently, be packaged neatly into share-able clips. These are complex, global-scale problems. I speak with a lot of teens (and even adults) who fail to see the very complicated larger picture for many many issues. Not necessarily understand it – just acknowledge it. (I think oversimplification of issues is the cause of my frustration with most news outlets.) Allowing the COTW to sink in from time to time would help mitigate that reductionist tendency, and perhaps allow for real action.

    • Adam McLane March 8, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      Spoken like a woman who has spent a ton of time with teenagers. :) 

  4. AdamLehman March 8, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    Bingo Adam! 

    It’s easy to root our identity in how we appear online or what we share or what we do. Rather than rooting who we are in Christ and allowing our mission and community to flow from that. 

    Speaking to teenagers on this, I ask this them, “Why did Mother Teresa decide to devote her life to helping the people she helped?” 

    They give answers like “loving god, caring for others, or sacrifice.” I ask them if Martin Luther King Jr. loved God, cared for others & sacrificed? They say “yes.” I ask, “Then why didn’t MLK go do the exact same thing that Mother Teresa did?”

    The reality is that while compassion and missions and serving the poor are no-brainers for Christians, what that looks like in each of our own lives is incredibly unique. God didn’t make any of us the same. You can’t take on someone else’s identity. It won’t work. I can’t imagine how many pastors exist today because they’re following one of their mentor’s missions… 

    The point isn’t to say “no” to a vocation, charity or cause; but to have our identity so secure in Christ that we don’t get caught up in the flurry of things flying past our eyes. 

    Teach your teens to connect with who God is growing THEM to be, what God is making THEM passionate about, how God wants them to use their limited time on the planet. 

    • Adam McLane March 8, 2012 at 9:42 am #

      So good. You bring up an interesting point. We would have never heard of MLK or Mother Theresa is they’d been COTW people. They dug in, got deeply involved, and gave their lives to a single cause. 

      And that meant saying no to lots and lots of other things, perfectly good causes. 

  5. Jeff Lutz March 8, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    I guess I’m a little torn on this. I see your point Adam. We are called to dig into relationships here. However, what if you inspire one kid, like a Zach Hunter, who can carry things further? Doesn’t God work through us in that way too. As so many are fond of saying, there is a tension to this. Maybe we shouldn’t bring it up, as it is the flavor of the week, but we need to be ready for the kid who gets a vision that may change the world and help guide them. 

  6. Ken March 8, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Or even worse….”Ooh!  I can use this video as some filler…”  Great stuff, Adam.  

  7. Aaron Scott March 8, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    I saw this video yesterday and have to admit, I was tempted to use it last night in our midweek class.  As I sat back though and thought about where our kids are and what’s going on in our church and where our church’s mission is pointed, I couldn’t help but steer away from this.

    I totally agree that the cause of the week isn’t bad, but sometimes it just flat doesn’t fit where you need to be at that time.  We just had a high school retreat that involved 30 hour famine and I tried to make it fit with that mission, but I don’t think spreading their focus more by showing this would have helped the issue.  My concern is that we often take the issue at hand and force it to be God’s concern for others…  I think we are better served by showing them God’s heart for the hurting and the lost and creating ways for them to work that out in their lives, rather than spoon-feeding causes to them.  We must teach them to seek the heart of God and how that works in their lives everyday not just one time…what happens when Kony is arrested?  what next?

    • Adam McLane March 8, 2012 at 11:58 am #

      What’s next? You better believe every NGO just watched out Invisible Children got 37 million YouTube views overnight…. that’s what is next. 

  8. David Mantel March 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    I quoted you in my blog this morning. Hope you don’t mind. 

    http://bit.ly/wJGrRb

    -Dave

  9. Liza Dennison March 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    Kony was news for me and new news for a lot of people here in the Western civilization, mainly gone viral in the past 12 hours, but Africa’s oppression is obviously not new.  So why the big deal now?  Well, knowing is only half the battle and only the beginning of this movement of awareness.  I’ve read some misleading, derogatory things about this movement, excuses and hateful words like; scam artist, fake non-profit, bad ratings,
    audited, financial gain, bleeding hearts to fill pockets, old news, too
    late, LRA no longer occupies,intervening only aggravates, only military
    incentives, arming an army, oil interest and now, just a distraction
    from God or Jesus.  Really people?!?  I
    knew people were shallow but this takes the cake, I am ashamed at the
    ignorant haters, bickering, disregard and lost hope of this generation.
    That is the very same reason why nothing has changed
    in decades, we have our priorities backwards hence, “the upside down
    pyramid”.  I think neglecting and failing to acknowledge or not
    contributing the simplest of acts is even more dangerous!
     
    The
    short documentary was just a reminder, just a fleeting 29 min video in
    comparison to the life time of burden and abuse these children bear and
    will continue to while they live out their miserable memories here on
    earth.  Until then, this is an opportunity for
    those children’s voices to be heard and for them to seek out justice in
    their lifetime and for their families to be reunited.  Yet,
    people want to take that only opportunity and want nothing more than to
    tear it down and belittle its powerful meaning and purpose and for
    what, a pat on the back for being witty?  To examine financial records?  Just to be part of a fad to not be part of a fad? This is what is more important? An instant gratification of a like button?   I for the first time have reflected the mirror on this spoiled country and have seen the real ugly, superficial face.  I
    have the freedom to say what I want when I want on Facebook but there
    is still a real world outside this shelter of the United States and that
    cruel suppressed world is hurting, stealing youth, murdering families,
    abusing and raping children!  That is real.  Not a joke and not something that you should even turn a cheek from.  Sure it’s easier to draw the shades, don’t look outside, just close the window, hit the tiny x. Gone now forgotten.
     
    It
    is but one very simple request; share, provoke a thought, discuss,
    hate, love, feel, connect… help them connect to this disconnected world.  Do
    or don’t do that’s your choice, but DON’T steal their voice, don’t shut
    them up by shutting them out or injecting or encouraging with
    negativity.  Help these children who have no means of food, shelter or education let alone a “computer” to share their voice.  
     
    I
    am disgusted at ignorant comments on every blog and wall especially
    coming from complacent Americans living in their adequate suburban homes
    with indoor plumbing.  So unless you’re an
    REAL activist who leaves the comforts of your home, leaves your own
    children and family, sacrifices your time, money and life all for a
    complete stranger then you shut your damn mouth. 
    I can’t believe why humans want to find nasty, hateful and fraudulent claims out of this beautiful, inspirational movement.  Its main intentions are to save and give back children’s lives!  WAKE UP!  Wake up from your slumber of intoxicated, over saturated, artificial life.  Cause one day it’s going under a micro-scope too.  So be ready, your fabricated life you allowed to be molded by Facebook and media will also be under scrutiny.   See the bigger picture here. Nothing is perfect, this movement isn’t perfect, it never will be, but we can make it better.      
    If
    you don’t think awareness matters tell that to Martin Luther King Jr.,
    Harvey Milk, tell that to Rosa Parks, Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony or
    any non-profit organization PETA, Greenpeace or any children’s
    charities that have saved and healed lives and made a difference.  Activist
    and organizers are the people who dreamed of a better world but did
    more than dream, they acted upon them put things in motion starting with
    only a voice of awareness.  Awareness is called communication it’s learning and educating yourself.  When people are educated about what happens abroad they will want to contribute.  I’ve only donated $40 something dollars.. that’s crap.  Honestly
    that is just fricking crap! I spent double that for one decent dinner
    for my family. So even if my $40 and only $15 goes directly to those
    programs then so be it!  It’s
    called operating expense. You should see how your own government tax
    dollars are spent, probably on bills you voted against anyway.  I’m
    already a member of several organizations so if all I can do is a mere
    chunk of change and making a few clicks and hitting share on Facebook.  Then,
    at least that is something because something is always better than
    nothing or worse claiming ignorance when you know very well you have the
    capability to aide these children.

    • Adam McLane March 8, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

      I’m not sure… did you read this post as an attack on Invisible Children? 

      • Mike March 8, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

        I have indoor plumbing. I like it.

      • Liza Dennison March 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

        No, not not as an attack only found it offensive and leading others away from a charitable cause, and saw it “distraction” as an excuse.  Yes, my post was very in your face and very defensive.  Sometimes that’s what it takes to get peoples attention.  I was making a point.  My post was loud and so was the Kony 2012 video. I wasn’t trying to yell or attack you directly I was covering ALL the issues that withhold people from being charitable.

        Church and a relationship with God and Jesus is to love thy neighbor teaching them the gospel, which you can instill by building schools and churches.
        Deuteronomy 15:7-11 ESV / 8 helpful votes
        “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

  10. Jeff Greathouse March 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

    Very similar thoughts on “personal devo”. Individuals have their pens out and how to turn it into a lesson, instead if dwelling on it. Hey, I got a cause – can I get in tge 96 hour viral line?

  11. Nathan Davis March 8, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about this as well… posted my reflections at http://tenaciousserenity.wordpress.com/2012/03/08

  12. Russ Cantu March 9, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Adam. You, along with most posters here, are right – there is a huge danger from buying into a culture of instantaneous WOW. There is nothing inherently wrong with KONY12 or Invisible Children. The work they are doing to shine light into the darkness is critically important to stopping the problem. Sure, it is only one aspect of the fight, but it is nonetheless important. 

    As a pastor, and as someone who oversees other people, the youth ministry has erred in this a little. I too have seen the bandwagon been hitched up. And while the cause is a tremendous cause, perhaps we are a bit uninformed of the overall issue. We use the cause to pump up X, instead of Christ; or more so than Christ. Does God deeply care about freeing kids in this situation? Absolutely. Does he want his children to be the lead banner wavers? You bet! However, when we pump for the sake of pumping, we suck! We lead our kids to causes instead of Christ. 

    Perhaps the question we should be asking is this: As the lead shepherd here at my church, how can I best teach and model Christ-like behavior when dealing with this situation? There are many right answers; a few wrong ones. This is a teachable moment, but not one to simply use. 

  13. Marvin Nelson March 9, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    posted a blog on this as well…different take but similar feelings:  http://youthmaster.blogspot.com/2012/03/kony-2012-your-response.html…gave you props and credits

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