Teenage preachers are over-zealous

From ‘Concerned over teen preacher trend’, 13 July 2011, ST Forum

(Jeffrey Law): MY FIRST impression of teenager Elijah Ng…whose photo appeared on Monday’s front page, was that of a pop entertainer (‘Young, trendy – and a ‘preacher”). But after reading the article, I felt a deep sense of disquiet about the rise in the number of young religious preachers.

While we respect one another’s religion and practices, teen preachers may lack the experience and tact in engaging their audience when it comes to controversial religious issues. Some can be insensitive to the feelings of others when addressing their congregations, while others may be over-zealous in their proselytisation. Worse, some may not be able to provide correct answers to practical questions, and this can give rise to confusion and controversy.

Religious leaders should be more circumspect in allowing teen preachers to deliver sermons or messages of which they have scant knowledge. It is good to be spiritual and most places of worship have small groups for the young to develop leadership qualities so that they can contribute to the well- being of the community.

Above all, we should not create the notion that one can make a lot of money and at the same time, gain popularity by being a preacher.

How much experience and wisdom does one need to read off passages from the Bible? Preaching at a pulpit is more showmanship than answering the deepest mysteries of life, and no churchgoer would flock to a sermon helmed by a teenager to experience spiritual epiphany. I think the question is not so much on the content or delivery of his speech, since that can be easily checked by a mentor, but Elijah’s superstar appeal to the younger congregation, who would take him as a living example of God’s indifference to age when it comes to selecting a dedicated vessel to speak on his behalf, and see the path he has taken as worthy of emulation as joining Campus Superstar. Speaking in the capacity of God is practically fault proof. People may snore at your sermons but no member of the church will ever accuse you of spouting rubbish. Elijah has been reported to say stuff like ‘People are like porcupines…we have to give each other some personal space’. Surely that has nothing to do with religion but if a tween says it from the pulpit it would sound like the most illuminating analogy you ever heard.

Well of course addressing a bunch of religious people is an admirable feat for any youngster, but solely as a confidence building exercise, like dancing on stage or taking part in spelling bees, and if done under strict supervision should be pretty harmless. It’s the dizzying effect that one may experience over some worshippers, who would fall rapt at the feet of any speaker with a booming voice and a manipulative bent,  that could sway his intentions away from noble dedication and communal service, to a power-hungry madness if he takes this stint too seriously, falling into the ‘Chosen One’ trap.  It could happen to anyone, but more so a youth who doesn’t have a family to feed or bills to worry about, and hence all the time in the world to pursue a delirious obsession. Perhaps like the many reincarnations of the Dalai Lama, Elijah is destined for this, and for we know he could be a great spiritual leader, but no responsible City Harvest churchgoer should deify him at this stage. It’s alright to be curious, even better if one could criticise his service, but raise a boy on a holy pedestal too early, treating him like Jesus incarnate before they he  could explore other career options and you risk getting a cult leader or an overzealous prophet.  David Koresh memorised the New Testament by the age of 11. A young Jim Jones, leader of the People’s Temple Cult, held mock church services in his home. But neither of them probably had a personal hairstylist like Elijah does.

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2 Responses

  1. If it was just reading passages off the bible, then we can also use a machine to do it no?

    Actually, it is more than just reading – it is the interpretation of these passages that is more important…

    Not to knock off the young preachers but how much “wisdom” do they have to make the right interpretation or can even truly understand the significance of the passages?

    Otherwise, such young preachers may want to stick to bible reading classes…

  2. Hmm depends on what interpretation means. I’d imagine preachers telling anecdotes from experience and then relating them to parables in the Bible. Drawing parallels with human behaviour seems easy enough. I guess being fresh faced and young would give a different perspective on how the teachings may be applied to teenagers, but yes, ‘wisdom’ is lacking, though we often mistake that for experience.

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