Ah, the hip youth pastor.
He's got tattoos. He's got cool music. He's got a neat way of making old Bible stories new, such as referring to the woman who tried to seduce Joseph as "Hot-iphar."
And on Sunday, one such pastor made a splash on the front page of the Dallas Morning News.
Yes, the News — which no longer employs a full-time religion writer — devoted its Page 1 centerpiece and 1,500 total words to this profile:
With lines out the door and bouncers handing out wristbands, the Wednesday night gathering seemed more like a trendy nightclub opening than a church service.
Hundreds of students packed the youth center of River Pointe Church, about 30 miles southwest of Houston, for the weekly service of The Take. They sang along to high-energy songs about Jesus and pulled out their phones to take photos and send Snapchat messages.
“I’m at the take where ru”
“The take is lit!”
In a small green room backstage, 34-year-old Landon Pickering monitored the mood in the auditorium to make sure the focus was on faith, not just fun.
Pickering is a Keller-based youth leader who helps congregations like River Pointe develop programs that get young people flocking to church. He studies brands like Apple, Nike and Red Bull to learn how to attract young audiences. He keeps on top of the latest trends in fashion, music and social media to engage kids and bring them to Christ.
Pickering’s appearance — with ripped jeans, tattooed arms and slick hair — is more pop star than preacher. Last year he was a cover model for The Dallas Morning Newsfashion magazine FD and dubbed the “holy hunk.” His events give away the freshest Nikes as door prizes and play the hottest Drake beats in the vestibule before services.
By my sarcasm up top, you might surmise that I wasn't totally thrilled by the piece. You'd be exactly right.
But here's the thing: I'm not entirely sure whether it's the theology or the journalism that bothers me. Honestly, it's probably a combination of the two.
Critiquing theology, of course, is not our purpose here at GetReligion. So I'll refrain from a sermon on what Jesus meant when he said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
But we do analyze media coverage of religion news and raise journalistic-related questions, and I have several related to this story.
"I don’t think it’s bad, really," a fellow GetReligionista said of the profile. "One can disagree with his methods, but the article is clear on what those methods are. Yes, it is Christianity lite, but he realizes that."
OK, fair points.
And the piece provides a bit of intriguing background about Pickering and his past ministry with Ed Young Jr.'s Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas:
Pickering says other than his father, Young is the most influential man in his life.
According to a 2013 FD story, Pickering was dating Young’s eldest daughter while he was global youth pastor at Fellowship. They are no longer together, and Pickering is no longer on the payroll at Fellowship.
He says he left that post at Fellowship in September, that it was a good time for him to strike out on his own. He’d been getting calls about helping mentor others and didn’t have time to while running The Mix.
Although Young declined to comment for this story, Pickering says he left things on good terms with Fellowship. Just about everything he knows, he said, he learned from Young in Grapevine.
But why is this pastor front-page news? And why now? It's not as if the concept of the hip youth pastor is new.
Are there not meatier religion stories to which the Dallas newspaper could devote limited resources and space?
Also, where is the context to put this youth pastor into the bigger picture of Christian youth ministry in the 21st century? Where are the national missiology experts to discuss whether the hip youth pastoring approach really makes disciples? Where are the critics who might suggest that trying to make church "cool" is not the answer?
This profile reads more like a press release from the pastor than a skeptical, hard-hitting piece of journalism from a major metropolitan newspaper.
No, I'm not suggesting a hit piece. I'm all for fair, respectful reporting. I'd just love to see a little more real spice added to the syrupy sweet sugar.
Bottom line: The Morning News needed to do a much better job helping me understand why I should care about this particular youth pastor and his approach to ministry.