I’ve been going about this all wrong. ALL wrong. I don’t know why I didn’t realize it before.
I got an invitation from a local church today to attend a hell house. Specifically a HAYRIDE THROUGH HELL, as was repeated in bold full-caps throughout the letter that accompanied the promotional poster. I’m not exactly a fireman, but I was intrigued by the flammability of the selection of upholstery for the Sheol shuttle. I read on. I was startled by the claim that the presentation would have our group “re-evaluating their choices and decisions” about eternity. BOTH choices and decisions!? What kind of budget must they have? This was too good to be true.
My moment of full epiphany came when I read that “due to the graphic nature of the presentation” children under 13 would not be allowed to attend. The light came on.Of course.
People are afraid of dying! It’s so obvious. Even people that have always talked about getting to go to heaven have a bit of a panic attack right before they die. Like pre-flight jitters. What a perfect ministry tool–we can take something that people don’t generally understand well and don’t really like to talk about and make them super-afraid of doing it wrong. It’s especially useful for youth ministry. Did you know that 80% of people that lay away at night worrying about hell do so before the age of 18? We’ve got a limited window that expires for another group of kids every May at graduation.
What complicates things is that separation from God in this life or the next is a little abstract. We’re not afraid of the abstract. Fire, on the other hand, is a motivator. I asked a random sampling of 10 kids from my group how long they thought they might like to burned by fire while still being able to feel it, and their answers hovered right around zero. Zero time! Could you imagine forever time? They could not. This is where the hell house comes in. They’re a sensory generation. When I was a kid, we had to read about what it would be like to burn in hell forever. But we’ve got 1080i now. Well, 720p in the youth room. But still. We’ll have them up to imagining 10, maybe 15 minutes of exfoliating flame in no time. Baby steps. They’ll be terrified.
The thing I’ll have to remember in my new ministry plans is to flip the coin occasionally, of course. Any poke-me-with-a-sharp-stick/do-not-poke-me-with-a-sharp-stick decision should be well informed. Heaven, therefore, shall be expressed as just-before-sunset San Diego weather with streets made to your preferred metallurgic fancy. If you grabbed on to that verse about mansions, then you’ll have one of those as well. Also your friends and relatives will be there. Yes, they will be precisely the age that you remember them, but happier. The Protestant denomination that you were never certain about will be notably absent, affirming what you thought all along. It will be grand. Even the Christians that you didn’t get along with here seem to have been sorted to the other side of heaven. It’s a big place. You probably won’t even run into them at the eternal worship service. Maybe slip up into the balcony.
Sure, this is all a little more cartoonish (maybe graphic novel) than what we have about the afterlife from scripture, but kids sure do like cartoons. Probably God is just trusting us to fill in those blanks. So that’s my new presentation of the gospel I’ll be leading our youth through from now on. I’ll start with the leadership kids. Bad place–no, right? Good place–of course. That simplifies things to a manageable one-time decision.
So we’ve circled the date for the 3-D Hellpalooza. I hope we’ll be able to go with the whole group at once, but we have to call ahead for a group of 15+. It seems that, unlike hell, they have limited seating. Oh, darn it. I already hit print and I forgot to say anything about being a disciple of Jesus. Is there like a prayer we could say, or something? We don’t actually have to do anything, right?