My bio: Hi, Reddit! I'm Rob. I worked in youth ministry, primarily in a Baptist and/or Evangelical context, from 1998 to 2013.

In the Marilyn Manson AMA, I inadvertently blew up the thread by prefacing my question with this comment:

When I worked as a youth pastor at a Baptist church, I was occasionally approached by parents concerned over their children listening to your music. Usually, I would pull up your segment in Bowling for Columbine. I would follow this by encouraging these parents to listen to their children, and to experience their kids' music together. Maybe ask questions like, "What do you identify with in this music? Why is it meaningful to you?" And to actually listen to their answers. Some dismissed me, but others took me up on this suggestion. For the ones who tried it, both the kids and their parents actually learned a lot about each other. All that to say, thank you for being a thought-provoker, question-asker, and notion-challenger.

In addition to a tremendously unexpected 6,000 upvotes, gifts of Reddit gold, and hundreds of replies and messages, I was repeatedly asked to do an AMA myself. I have no idea what you'd like to ask, but whatever it is, I'll do my best to answer it!

My proof: I provided the moderators with documentation from the church with my name and job title, along with my state ID and a selfie-verification. They gave me the go-ahead, so let's do this!

EDIT: Thank you SO very much, Reddit, for being such gracious hosts and thoughtful question-askers. If I haven't responded to your question yet, I'll keep working through them, and I promise to get there soon.

Comments: 142 • Responses: 54  • Date: 

uplawyered91321 karma

Hi Rob, thanks for doing this AMA after being requested!

Did you have any specific artist that you spoke with parents and children about more than the others? Or any artists that parents freaked out about that you were surprised by?

robingallup46 karma

I was working with a youth group in the Denver metro area when the Columbine massacre happened, and so for the next few years that followed, Marilyn Manson was the most frequent source of parental alarm, but not the only one. I remember being asked more than a few times about Rammstein (also because of an alleged Columbine connection) and Godsmack (because of Sully Erna's affiliation with Wicca).

Much more recently, I worked in youth ministry in New Mexico, where I never had one parent ask me about Marilyn Manson. I got asked all the time, though, about Slipknot and Insane Clown Posse.

PathofTotality18 karma

When I was in youth group we had a guy who was a candidate to be our youth pastor with no background in it and a kid was asking him about ICP and we're pretty sure that and some other stuff drove him to withdraw his candidacy.

robingallup32 karma

Sounds like maybe both sides dodged a bullet! It's always weird to me when people who want to work with teenagers have little or no understanding of them.

Youth ministry is exhausting; I can't imagine why anyone would pursue it if they didn't have a strong, personal motivation to pursue that specific career. Well, I take that back. I have known a small handful of people whose goal was to become a "senior pastor," and they saw being a youth pastor as a necessary stepping stone on that particular career path. That, to me, is a terrible reason.

thefoolofemmaus17 karma

I have known a small handful of people whose goal was to become a "senior pastor," and they saw being a youth pastor as a necessary stepping stone on that particular career path.

I have worked in youth ministry as a sponsor for the better part of a decade, and have heard this repeated by the youth ministers I have had the privilege of calling friends. On the opposite side, I hear lots of Elders saying "we can't have a 60 year old youth minister, how will he relate?"

What are your thoughts on this? What is the "end game" of a career in youth ministry? How does such a career progress?

robingallup36 karma

I really don't think that being able to relate has a whole lot to do with age; it has much more to do with willingness. The older we get, the more we appreciate comfort, and intentionally relating to people is not necessarily comfortable. It involves actually caring about someone, and caring enough to get to know them and understand them. But people of any age can develop and maintain this life skill.

On the flip side, too many young youth pastors make the rookie mistake of trying to relate by "being cool." You're not going to relate to teenagers because you're a 30-year old who still knows how to skateboard and has a tattoo, unless that's really just who you are. Teenagers use authenticity as a litmus test. They can smell a fake from a mile away. If you're trying to be someone you're not, they'll assume that you're only trying to get to know them to accomplish an ulterior motive, and they'll never take you seriously.

All that "relating" needs to involve is this: "I want to get to know you better, because I think you are worth getting to know."

robingallup12 karma

As to the end game of a career in youth ministry, a lot of youth pastors do go on to be associate pastors or senior pastors, but an even larger percentage burn out of ministry altogether. The ones who amaze me most are the ones who just work in youth ministry their entire lives.

khakimage6 karma

I was raised Unitarian and the best youth advisor I had as a teenager was a guy in his 50's; he had several children, all much older than me. IMHO asking kids what they have to say, and then listening to the answers, works a lot better than getting a 20-something to do the "how do you do, fellow kids?" routine.

robingallup3 karma

IMHO asking kids what they have to say, and then listening to the answers, works a lot better than getting a 20-something to do the "how do you do, fellow kids?" routine.

I could not have possibly said this better. Very well stated.

uplawyered9137 karma

Some of my favorite bands! I'm sure my parents would have loved to talk to you, haha.

robingallup9 karma

Well, the way you say it, I think they only would have liked to talk to me until my answer didn't validate their "satanic panic." ;)

AnecdotalJar19 karma

Hi, Rob! Do you have any formal ministry training (e.g., seminary, bible college, etc.)? If not, do you plan on obtaining any? Why or why not?

robingallup24 karma

I went to school for writing and graphic design. My wife and I both worked either on staff or as volunteers with youth groups from the time we graduated high school, so it's been very much a learn-as-you-go process.

I didn't go to seminary. I'm a voracious reader, though. My parents are both Bible school graduates, and I remember devouring all of their college books from the time I was 12. At every church I've worked, I've asked pastors to share with me all of the resources they have from either attending seminary or studying for their ordination. They always save them, and they're always too happy to lend them out. And I've been very fortunate to have some excellent pastors as personal mentors.

I would love to go back to school when my kids are older, but I suspect it will be to pursue a master's degree in English. I love writing.

InfernalWedgie16 karma

I know you're no longer serving as a pastor, but how do you see the SCOTUS ruling regarding gay marriage affecting Baptist ministry? How would it have affected your ministry, if at all?

robingallup94 karma

I know that a lot of my Baptist friends are really worked up about it, and they are positive that America is now officially doomed. I think that, by and large, they're wasting their time, and that most of them aren't happy unless they have something to be worked up about.

I do have my own, personal beliefs about gay marriage. What those beliefs meant, for me, was that I shouldn't get gay married. End of story. I see no basis for insisting that everything that Christianity (or any religion) might label a "sin" to be illegal according to the law of the land.

As to how it would have affected my ministry... I had a few students over the years who confided to me that they were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. I felt like my job as their youth leader or youth pastor was simply to love them, and to assure them that God loves them.

God never decides to start or stop loving us because we changed something, or did something, or stopped doing something, in order to make ourselves worthy or unworthy of His love. God just loves us, always. The more we understand "how deep the Father's love for us," the more it cannot help but shape our hearts and bring about natural change in our lives. I don't need to define what that "shaping" or "changing" should look like for anyone. I just keep pointing them back to that love of God which continually shapes and refines all of us.

AWSMtrumpetplayer39 karma

You see, I grew up in the Baptist church. My dad was a music pastor in several churches, and my grandfather has been a pastor for 35+ years. That being said, my beliefs aren't the same as theirs. I tend to be more centered on the Left-Right wing scale. I do not understand people freaking out about the ruling. I have ALWAYS been told that God loves everyone, and you should too. However a ton of people see that statement and follow up with ...unless you're gay. It makes the entire Christian community look bad. I am all down for people loving each other, but be an adult about other people lives.

robingallup5 karma

Yes! I just can't understand the rationale behind "except for THOSE people..."

pearlprosthetic2 karma

You are magnificent. You made me tear up.

robingallup1 karma

Thank you for your very kind words. :)

red5_SittingBy16 karma

Hi Rob, thanks for doing the AMA.

In the title, you mention having "unconventional" ideas about faith. I attend an independent church now and my wife was raised Baptist so I'm familiar with the general belief system. How would you say that your faith differs from a "conventional" Baptist believer?

robingallup34 karma

These days, I self-identify as "emergent" if that label means anything to you. I still agree with a lot of the core theology that Baptists, Evangelicals, or Non-Denominationals would probably share, but I don't feel like the standard institution we have come to regard as "normal church" is an ideal to which we should aspire or settle into.

When the early church was born, it was a revolutionary way of living for everyone involved. It wasn't a moral code, it was an entire way of living that represented generosity, selflessness, and worship. I'm interested in discovering what it looks like for that type of church culture to emerge in our modern day.

libedon11 karma

Hi Rob! As a follow-up question, I've seen a lot of people in my age group (mid-20's) go through youth group with a more Emergent mindset (Rob Bell's Nooma videos were popular), but once they got out into the world and needed more of a foundation, swung way back the other direction to the Reformed church.

I see the benefits and the trouble of both sides of the equation. Do you think we'll see the church start to move to a belief somewhere in the middle of these two?

Also, thank you for being a positive voice for Christianity. My husband was a youth pastor for about three years and while it is wonderful, it is wildly draining to help students. I wouldn't trade the experience for the world and our students were amazing, but I wouldn't go back.

Edit: word

robingallup17 karma

Well, I think there are a couple of factors in play.

First, I think there is a legitimate fear that comes with wandering out into the unknown. When you're asking the question of "if we started over from scratch, what might Jesus' church look like," sometimes you get a leader-type who takes it in a really weird direction. Sometimes it works out, but sometimes it just weirds people out. Those are the ones who I think retreat to the safety of something more foundational.

But second, I think that some people too quickly assume that "emergent" and "vintage" are mutually exclusive. It doesn't have to be all bright lights and rock concerts. Many of the same younger generation who might be turned off by hymnals, pianos and wooden pews seem to have this increasing fascination with what looks a lot more like ancient liturgy, Latin songs, candles, and sort of an atmosphere of reverent mystery. Seeing a new incarnation of Christ's church emerge can have a hugely varied number of outcomes.

And thank you for your kind words, and also for the impact that you and your husband made. I feel the same way -- it was worth doing, but not something I would seek out again.

thefoolofemmaus12 karma

Hey Rob, what have you been up to since 2013? Are you still involved in ministry professionally?

robingallup20 karma

I'm working in a different part of the nonprofit sector now.

While there were definitely things I loved about being on staff at a church, I reached a point where I felt ready for something different. Youth ministry is rewarding, but also draining. I felt like it was hard to spend the entire day meeting with students, and then still need to be emotionally available for my wife and kids at the end of the day.

These days, I work full-time heading up the media and technology department for a non-profit in Colorado. We provide post-rescue care (shelter, food, clothing, education) for young women who have been rescued by law enforcement, usually from the domestic sex trafficking industry. I love my job because it's non-client-interactive, meaning I get to sit at a computer and do nerd stuff, and it still contributes to accomplishing a really great mission.

revanon11 karma

From a current pastor, I can totally vouch for the draining nature of the job--it's definitely tough some days to still be emotionally present for my wife as well. Fortunately, it can also be incredibly rewarding work, as is the work it looks like you do now. Blessings to you Rob.

robingallup7 karma

Thank you so much! And to you as well.

thefoolofemmaus3 karma

Sounds like a very worthy mission, thanks for answering.

robingallup4 karma

Sure thing. Thanks for asking! :)

eflemingo1711 karma

What's the craziest youth group game you created/used with your youth?

If you had five minutes to create the world's most disgusting burrito and everything in the world was at your disposal, how would you create the burrito?

robingallup19 karma

All of our crazy games, for some reason, were always variations on the theme of an "eating challenge." The worst ones I can recall were the Happy Shake (McD's cheeseburger, fries, apples, and Coke, blended together into a smoothie to be chugged) and the Baby Food Challenge (Gerber's Chicken with Apples is the most vile thing I have ever tasted in my life, and anyone who feeds it to their baby is a terrible person, lol.)

One of my favorite things was an annual event we always called "Ice Cream Sundaes from Heaven." All of the ingredients (ice cream, syrups, whipped cream, cherries, etc.) were tossed from the roof, where students waited below with bowls to catch them.

And, let's see, the world's most disgusting burrito... Let's go with Gerber Chicken and Apples, dried seaweed, Spam, cottage cheese, bananas, and sardines.

timecrimehero6 karma

Can we please bring Fear Factor back just to test your monstrous burrito creation? I mean, I would do it for science, but why do that when others can do it for entertainment?

robingallup7 karma

I always thought it would be a blast to be on Fear Factor, but I would lose if it involved eating bugs or anything else that's still alive. I'll try a lot of weird foods, but in general, I prefer it to be: 1) Something that people actually eat, 2) Prepared correctly, and 3) Not still alive.

CrazyCarl19862 karma

I never went to church with my family after I was about 8. I never attended a youth group regularly, but remember a time when I was in middle school that a local youth group did "spam fest". Probably 100 kids showed up with a can or two. Spam carving contest, they blended spam with random ingredients and got people to drink it. Puke everywhere, made out w my crush behind the church... 10/10 would spam fest again.

Is eating/drinking disgusting concoctions a common thing for youth groups?

cajunFAITH4 karma

In youth groups, you ideally want to keep the kids entertained or active. If you let them just sit around and have nothing to do for them it's a possibility that they will get bored and will not want to participate with anything.

That being said, everything typically a needs to be kept PG. there aren't THAT many things you can create that teens want to do anyway, so you have to be very creative.

Sometimes weird food concoctions work, playing sports like volleyball, kickball and human fooseball, video game tournaments and musical jam sessions.

robingallup2 karma

Part of it, for me anyway, was that somehow, it seemed that starting off with something high-energy then led to a more focused and engaged discussion afterward.

robingallup3 karma

Is eating/drinking disgusting concoctions a common thing for youth groups?

Yes, it totally is. But I have absolutely no idea why.

WhyCrazy10 karma

Hi Rob, what did you think about the LGBTT mariage in the USA?

robingallup30 karma

I think it was inevitable, a long time coming, and not the catastrophe that most conservatives are making it out to be. My own marriage to my wife was exactly the same the day before the ruling, the day of the ruling, and the day after the ruling. I don't see how it affects me. I do, however, have a number of friends whom it affected, and I am glad that they seem to now consider their lives to be that much better for it.

tah_infity_n_beyarnd9 karma

Hello Rob! From your unique perspective in religion, can you provide any thoughts about the topic of teen sexual assault? Do you feel the church, and leaders within like yourselves, are able to use faith-based initiatives to help prevent crimes like these? Especially male leaders, do you feel you can positively impact males to help change cultural attitudes towards these acts? I appreciate your time doing the AMA, and am eager to know if the church acknowledges this as an issue, especially in working with youth who are affected by these things. [I imply no blame for these things, I merely desire an opinion on the culture, I'm not trying to start a liberal-agenda or feminist war or anything :) ]

robingallup14 karma

This is a huge issue, and the church should be leading the way on this initiative, not shying away from it.

Now that I am working with a nonprofit that helps young women who have been the victims of sex crimes, I am much more painfully aware of how the church tends to avoid this like the plague.

There's a difference, though, between passive apathy and willful ignorance. I can deal with the former, but have very little tolerance for the latter.

I was recently in a meeting with an elderly man who leads a Christian ministry, and they purportedly wanted to support the work that our organization is doing. About five minutes in, he said something along the lines of "I guess it's politically correct to refer to them as sex trafficking victims nowadays; back in my day, we just called them prostitutes." As though girls who were sold at age 13, transported across state lines, and put to work in a forced prostitution ring are nothing more than wayward teens who made some bad life choices. It made my blood boil. It still does just thinking about it.

The problem isn't simply sweeping it under the rug, or keeping it "all in the family." The problem is that we still aren't even recognizing what has happened to people, and saying, "This should not be, and we are going to do something about it." There needs to be, within the church itself, a conscious, active decision to stop delivering giant helpings of shame when a victim speaks up. There is no shame in being a survivor.

AlmostArbitrary9 karma

Hi Rob,

I myself was born and raised a Catholic. During my many travels over the years I find myself asking more and more questions about life and finding less and less time for religious beliefs. I was graced with a caring pastor that understood my position and informed me that everyone must follow their own path in life at a very young age of 14; and I have since abandoned the beliefs that I was taught growing up.

What, if anything, do you offer as advice to the youngsters who feel that faith may not be for them, and do you have any advice for a (hopefully one day to be) father who wishes to give their child the best possible chance at finding religion and then making the decision for themselves just like I did to either follow or abandon it of their own accord.

robingallup17 karma

One of my favorite novels I read as a teenager extolled this idea: "Know all the questions but not all the answers." That concept has not only come to define my approach to faith, but also the way I try to parent my own children.

I agree with your pastor, because to me, faith is such an intensely personal experience, and such an ongoing journey, that it's really misleading to try to reduce it down to a catechism of beliefs, or a loosely defined moral code, or a list of theological bullet points. No one else has ever lived your life, ever. No one else has ever been you, ever. So your journey will never be identical to anyone else's, ever.

Who's to say where your own journey will take you? Perhaps it will eventually steer you back toward some of the beliefs you have abandoned. Perhaps it will steer you further away from them. If I had to guess, I would say that it will be a combination of both -- things you will embrace with a deeper understanding, or things you will more emphatically reject with a deeper understanding.

My advice, since you asked, would be simply this: Raise children who feel an absolute freedom to question everything, and don't presume to have all of the answers. Questions are a powerful conduit for growth.

If I can wax religious for just a moment, Jesus extolled the idea of having "childlike faith." For a long time, I mistakenly assumed that this meant having a blind, unquestioning faith, but now I believe the exact opposite. Why? Because I actually had children, and it turns out that children are the most inquisitive people on the planet. As a dad, I get asked "why" and "how come" more than anything else in my life. And I love that. When my kids come to me with questions, my favorite response is, "I'm not sure. What do you think about it?" And I never cease to be amazed at what I learn as we explore the question together.

If the goal of the questions is to seek out truth, there is no need to start with the presupposition of "I have already decided what the truth is, so this line of questioning had better lead to the answer I have already decided is true." You just continue to ask the questions, and continue to seek the truth. It's a lifelong endeavor.

My_Question-Isnt9 karma

Hey Rob, first I just want to say thanks for trying to spread the message you did; as someone who listens to the bands like Judas Priest and has to oftentimes defend myself for no reason, its very refreshing to see someone (especially a religious person) share the same thoughts most of the people in the community have.

My main question is, in telling parents to got listen to their kids' music, did you receive any backlash from other religious figures or was it mainly from parents?

robingallup11 karma

I was pretty fortunate in that, by and large, I served under leaders who were willing to grant me a fair amount of leeway in terms of methodology. If it wasn't blatant heresy, they were at least willing to hear me out.

I did have one parent who didn't like my answer, and she went promptly over my head to the senior pastor to discuss the answer she didn't like. He was, perhaps, a bit more apologetic than I would have preferred, but he was happy to hear me out when we discussed it later on. He thought it was an interesting approach, and that it just wasn't well received in that particular case.

cats220158 karma

What is your job now? What made you stop being a youth pastor?

robingallup13 karma

The decision to leave my youth pastor position really was more of a personal family decision that was twofold. One, we reached a point where we wanted our own children living near their other relatives, so we came back to Colorado from New Mexico. And two, I felt like I needed to be emotionally available for my family, and the emotional drain of leading a youth group was at odds with that.

My job now is directing the media and technology team for a nonprofit in the Denver area. My job is not one that interacts with clients (which keeps me from being emotionally spent by the end of the work day), but the organization itself exists to help young women who have been rescued from dangerous situations (usually by law enforcement, usually from the domestic sex trafficking industry).

cats220155 karma

Thank you for answering!

robingallup2 karma

You're welcome! Thanks for asking! :)

mra1014857 karma

Hey Rob...

What's the deal with youth pastors always having a goatee?

(I'm actually an evangelical Baptist youth pastor real question, just posting, "Hey!")

robingallup7 karma

Oh my gosh. Hahahaha! I'm totally guilty of this. (Here's some photo proof.) I've had a goatee for probably the last 12 years.

I have no idea why this is, but can 100% confirm this as true.

mra1014859 karma

Yes...entered ministry in 2008.

Goatee since 2008.

Any time I'm out to eat and see a group of teens with one adult, within 2 seconds I can tell you if they're a youth group. Is there a goatee on the leader?

robingallup2 karma

Lol! This is excellent. Seriously, made my whole day.

MoCJones7 karma

So what kind of music do you listen to?

robingallup19 karma

Oh, man. I'm all over the map. Everything from classical to metal (just not really any country music).

These days, I mostly discover new music from my kids. My daughters (ages 6-13) usually like whatever's in the Top 40, so the stuff out of that genre that grabs me most is along the lines of Imagine Dragons or One Republic. My son is 12, and he's much more of an EDM kind of guy. My favorite thing in his playlist is an artist called Knife Party. Really fun to play while driving.

If I'm rocking out, it's probably some remnant rock from the 90's --Rage, Korn, System, pretty much anything my wife and I would have gone to see in concert back then.

But especially the past few years, I mostly listen to music on my own to unwind, and I dig really ethereal, meditative stuff. Glancing at my playlist, I apparently spend the most time listening to Constance Demby, Karl Jenkins, Jocelyn Pook, and Kevin Kendle (his album Journey to Atlantis is one of my favorite things ever).

CrayonOfDoom9 karma

Knife Party

You should look up Pendulum if you enjoy that. Knife Party is 2/3 of the members of Pendulum.

robingallup6 karma

Thanks! I'll check it out.

MrListerFunBuckle5 karma

Check out "All Is Forgiven" by Australian rock-royalty Tex, Don, and Charlie. It's probably the only country album I ever heard that I liked.

robingallup3 karma

Consider it added to the list! :) Thanks for the suggestion.

G4M3N6 karma

You just replied to me, and that sparked this question: I've seen things saying that the word of the Bible does not change with time. What say you and how do you reconcile what are decidedly some pretty modern ideals (at least on weed) with the word of God?

robingallup17 karma

I would say that the word itself doesn't change, but what it means to us right now is constantly changing. We don't live in a single moment forever frozen in time; we live in a world that is constantly moving and morphing, so the implications of truth have to constantly evolve.

Anything we look at in the Bible, it was written to a very different and very specific audience. But if we're operating on the assumption that it still contains some sort of foundational truth, the question is, "What does that truth mean, right here and right now?"

One example: Scripture records that Jesus was accused of being a "friend of sinners" for spending time with prostitutes and tax collectors. If we apply that literally, we would assume that we need to be spending time with prostitutes and tax collectors. (And I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing nowadays, either; prostitutes and tax collectors are people, too!) But for that specific audience, "prostitutes and tax collectors" represented the people who were the most vehemently despised and reviled by the religious elite.

So if we were to say, "What people are the most vehemently despised and reviled by the religious elite of today?" I can think of a few good examples: Gay people. Transgender people. Pot smokers. Women who have had an abortion. Liberals. Rock stars and their fan bases.

And maybe, just maybe, if truth is still truth, and the application of truth means something different than it did in a day when prostitutes and tax collectors were persecuted by the prominently religious people... Maybe rather than approaching "those people" as a scourge to be eliminated, followers of Jesus should get to know them and treat them in a way that communicates, "I respect and value you as a fully equal human being, one who is loved by God every bit as much as I am."

Donna_N6 karma

Why are you a "former" youth minister?

robingallup3 karma

I felt like that season in my life came to its natural conclusion. It's still important to me to be making a difference and trying to make the world a better place, but for me personally, that comes in the form of a different part of the nonprofit sector these days.

doniebrasco6 karma

Hey Rob, Can you give me some spiritual advice on how to abstain from smoking ?

robingallup9 karma

Well, hmm. That depends. Do you feel like giving up smoking is something you want personally? Something God expects from you? Both? Something else?

themanwhosleptin5 karma

How do you feel about ecumenism? Were you involved in interfaith dialogue as a youth pastor?

robingallup7 karma

I am a fan of ecumenism insofar as it is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. If the point of unification is solely for unification's sake, so we can congratulate ourselves on how united we are, then we haven't really accomplished anything.

If we're talking about unity for the sake of addressing actual issues, though, I'm all for it. I would love to see more interfaith dialogue on how to combat violence against women, or human trafficking, or global hunger, or preventable diseases in impoverished countries.

This is kind of a side note, but I also think some people confuse being united with being identical, and I think this isn't very realistic. It's how you end up with Christian churches in foreign countries, founded by American missionaries, that mimic all of the ways that white Americans "have church." I get way more excited about a foreign church that worships God in a way that is completely new and different to me, but that is in line with the cultural identity of the people there.

I saw this in a much more pronounced way when I lived in New Mexico. There are, for example, "Navajo Baptist churches" that have organs, baptismals, wooden pews, and hymnals in the English language, and that just happen to have congregants who are predominantly Navajo, wearing business suits and fancy dresses.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the reservation, I once had the privilege of attending a worship service that was entirely Christian, but entirely Navajo. There is nothing in the world like hearing people sing to God at the top of their lungs in the Navajo language, while dancing recklessly in full, traditional, Navajo clothing, and pounding the beat on their handmade drums. It was such an authentic, worship-with-abandon atmosphere that I get goosebumps just remembering it.

All that to say, I'm a fan of ecumenism, and my own church community these days is "interfaith" insofar as we come from a really large variety of religious backgrounds and upbringings. I just also love the way that the vast diversity of God's people around the world reveals new glimpses of what "God living within us" looks like, and I would hope that being more united would never change that.

MrListerFunBuckle5 karma

In some other posts here you have indicated that you clearly see context as important and recognise the need to interpret the text of scripture to find the intent (I'm paraphrasing here, but I don't think I'm doing any violence to your position, correct me if I'm wrong). You mention that although you have not attended seminary, you have read very widely. I assume you familiar with the work of Karen Armstrong and Richard Holloway?

My question is, can you share your thoughts on the manner in which scripture should be read (by Christians) in today's world? e.g. Holloway talks about reading scripture as the literal word of God (strong religion), or as an inspired text written by humans that must be interpreted (weak religion), or as a purely human work which, when read by one mindful of context, can still provide a nourishing insight into the human condition (post religion).

I feel that this single point has pretty strong implications for how religious people interact with the world, with bearing on a number of issues currently affecting the whole planet.

Sorry about the rambling...

EDIT: highlighted question.

robingallup5 karma

I'm more familiar with Armstrong due to her TED talks. I'm loosely familiar with Holloway, though I think this is only from hearing him mentioned; I don't think I've read any of his works. (He was a prominent Episcopalian in Scotland, or something along those lines, is that correct? I feel like I heard his name mentioned when Episcopals in the US were debating the more progressive issues and stances.)

Anyhow, let me preface this by saying I'm speaking solely for myself here, not for any specific denomination or movement as a whole. These are just the thoughts of "some guy on the internet."

I would say that not only scripture, but God's entire interaction with the world throughout all of human history, would fall more into the category of what you indicated that Holloway would call "weak religion" -- that is, inspired by an infallible God, but implemented through fallible humans.

If there is a God, and if this God is an all-powerful being, such a God could, presumably, give unmistakable, loudspeaker-style pronouncements from the sky. Such a God could also, let's say, instantly solve the problem of global hunger by making food magically appear on the plate of every hungry person in the world.

For whatever reason (and I don't presume to know the reason) God's interaction with the world seems to be less about grand declarations and instant, magical solutions, and more about working through his creation to bring about restoration for his creation.

Such a God could have hand-delivered a supernatural book, written by his own hand, could he not? And yet, we are led to believe that he chose, instead, to divinely inspire (don't ask me to define that, it's a mystery I don't presume to understand) the hearts of regular humans with his divine words. He intentionally left the door open for making mistakes, for inserting personal bias, for allowing human imperfection to be woven into the very fabric of whatever he had to say. Even in the instance where God presumably DID write the instructions in his own hand (i.e. the ten commandments) it was done in the presence of just one man, and in a long enough time frame so as to leave the door open for others to speculate as to just what exactly happened up on that mountain.

By that same token, rather than making food magically appear for the hungry, he equips other humans with both the resources and the motivation to do something to address the issue of global hunger.

Why? I have no idea. But it seems to me, that in both scripture and far beyond, this is how he chooses to operate.

Now I'm rambling, too. :) But I hope that makes sense. I love, love, love this question.

MrListerFunBuckle4 karma

I can't say for certain Holloway's denomination, I've not actually read any of his books yet, I've just listened to a number interviews with him. He was definitely a Scottish bishop for most of his life, so I think you've identified him correctly.

I have to say to that I always found the nomenclature of his categorisations kind of odd. To me what Holloway calls "weak religion" is in fact a much stronger, nuanced construct than what he calls "strong religion", but I guess it's just a semantic oddity...

Anyway, thanks for answering.

robingallup1 karma

After your post yesterday, I read up a little more on Holloway because I, too, was intrigued at the label "weak religion." I think that what you said about that category being "a much stronger, nuanced construct" is spot-on. Rather than a house of cards that falls apart when you remove one piece, it welcomes the idea that there's always the possibility of having a better or more complete understanding about everything. That strikes me as very strong, indeed.

RainbowTuba5 karma

Hello Rob! I'm a lifelong church goer, my father's a pastor of a church in my area. Much of this is rambling, so if you're pressed for time, I bolded my actual questions, but I'd like to hear your opinion on the bigger picture of my post! Thanks in advance!

I must know, what's your stance on evolution?

My church is very anti-evolution and anti-gay marriage. Bordering on the stereotype, but not so extreme.

This has caused a huge disconnect in my faith. I still want to believe everything I grew up with (minus YEC and "homosexual agenda" stuff), but I find it difficult when most everyone I know is on the homophobic and "evolution is the Devil's theory" side of the coin. My parents know I am an "evolutionist" (I hate that word) and they know I agree with the SCOTUS ruling, but most everyone else in my life doesn't. It's difficult to say that you are a member of a community that remains intentionally ignorant about topics much as evolution and intentionally bigoted and homophobic. How do you deal with the super conservative lifestyle the church you were at and how did it affect you (in your career, how parents and youth saw you, etc)?

robingallup3 karma

I apologize for not answering this sooner.

What's your stance on evolution?

I think it's fascinating!

Based on my upbringing, I considered myself very much a young-earth creationist well into early adulthood. At this point in my life, though, my honest answer to many questions involving the origin of the earth and its inhabitants is, "I honestly have no idea."

People much smarter than me, and with much more relevant education, credentials, and experience than me, have reached some very different conclusions than those I was taught growing up. I'm an avid reader when it comes to new discoveries, and am quite interested in what the scientists have to say. I think it would be a mistake if I were to respond with blanket dismissal to anything that contradicts Genesis.

I have a lot of questions, and I constantly seek out answers to these questions from a variety of educated sources, but I don't think I would ever again presume to say, "I have found the one, true answer! Ta-da!" to anything having to do with origins or evolution.

How do you deal with the super conservative lifestyle the church you were at and how did it affect you (in your career, how parents and youth saw you, etc)?

It's kind of like the internet; you try to avoid feeding the trolls.

The people who would respond with the most negativity to anything that I might have believed outside of the "norm" were people who really wanted nothing more than to argue loudly, so that everyone would stop and take notice of how intelligent they were.

These people were usually neither students or mine nor parents of my students, so oftentimes I would take the low road and try to pass them off to the senior pastor.

But if they insisted, I would allow them to make their point, and then say something along the lines of, "You and I have clearly reached different conclusions, but I very much respect the fact that you believe what you believe about this particular topic." If they persisted after that, I would be a little more firm in pointing out that neither of us was looking to change our own minds, and that debating it further wouldn't be helpful or productive.

In general, I bite my tongue, until it reaches the point where someone is mistreating someone else. If someone's spouting off about how "gay marriage is an abomination," I'll inwardly roll my eyes and avoid feeding the troll. If that same person starts to personally attack one of my gay friends, though, I probably won't keep my mouth shut.

Fireburst084 karma

Hey Rob, thanks for doing this AMA. It's always good to see people thinking differently about traditional Christianity. Recently, I've been feeling more and more drawn to youth ministry - specifically with older students. I think God is calling me to this ministry in one area or another. I am a sophomore in college and am very unsure of what I want to do with my life. Could you give me any advice pertaining to my situation and as to how you became involved as a youth pastor?

robingallup5 karma

Okay, so there's the good answer, in which I will be a total hypocrite, and the real answer.

The good answer is to pursue the usual studies that churches prefer youth pastors to have undertaken, in order to have the prerequisite education and degrees that "search committees" tend to value. The reason I'm a hypocrite in giving that answer is that I didn't do that, at all. I didn't go to a religious college, or to seminary, and my degree is not in religious studies (or even in education, for that matter).

The real answer, or at least how it worked for me, is to get involved with a youth ministry as a volunteer and start making a difference. Every time I have been on youth ministry staff at a church, it is either because I was already volunteering with that youth ministry, or because I had previously volunteered alongside the person who was now in charge of filling the youth pastor position. In my last job as a full-time youth pastor in New Mexico, a role in which I served for two years, my wife and I had volunteered with that same youth group for three years prior. I never applied for the position; I was asked to fill it when it became vacant.

Fireburst085 karma

Thanks for the response and the advice. I don't necessarily want to be a youth pastor, but I want to be a positive influence in the lives of teenagers that otherwise may not have one. YoungLife is the organization I am mainly considering, if you are familiar with it. This may be a terrible misquote, but one thing I have heard from Sinclair Ferguson says, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words." That really sticks out to me because it seems to be the most effective way of speaking to kids today.

robingallup3 karma

I very much agree. I've heard that quote, too, but had always heard it attributed to Francis of Assisi. It also goes along well with another (very pithy, but still accurate) expression, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Though it sounds like a horrible bumper sticker, I still think it's a legitimate observation.

CrazyShaggy4 karma

Thank you for doing this. What are your thoughts on weed/psychedelics? Very interested into hearing what you think.

robingallup15 karma

Not my thing, probably not a good idea for kids, probably not a good idea to fill up privately-owned prisons with people using these recreationally.

G4M3N5 karma

You may be one of the most forward-thinking clergymen I've ever heard from.

robingallup4 karma

Thanks! I'm hopeful that more clergy will further this trend.

timecrimehero4 karma

Hey, thanks for doing the AMA. It's pretty cool of you.

My question, though, is have you had a lot of the same experiences with books as you've had with music?

Growing up, I was certainly limited to what kind of music I could listen to, but what really stunk for me was having amazing books taken away from me. Things like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, anything with "magic", even C.S. Lewis books were taken away. With Tolkein and Lewis, I tried convincing my parents they were Christian authors with Christian themes conveyed throughout, but nope. Magic was the devil. No books with magic. So second question, more specifically, did you ever have to deal with parents concerned with magic in books or even movies?

robingallup6 karma

It's not really something I encountered as a youth pastor, other than having a couple of my students whose parents forbade them from reading Harry Potter, but this mentality was definitely part of my childhood.

My parents weren't too overbearing, but I spent grades 1-8 at a Christian school that explicitly forbade any books they considered having to do with witchcraft -- which, ironically, did not include the Narnia series.

They also banned anything that had "rude language" or that mentioned sex at all, or even books that didn't contain these but were written by authors whose other works contained any of these. I once received an "F" on a book report I wrote on "Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing" because it was written by Judy Blume, who was explicitly forbidden.

It's kind of ironic, I guess, considering we were all required to bring Bibles to school. I mean, talk about sex and violence... ;)

timecrimehero7 karma

Thanks for the reply. The funny thing is my step-dad bought me the first Harry Potter book, then after it blew up in the church because of the witchcraft themes, he took it away and demanded to know where I got such garbage. To this day, he still doesn't believe that he bought it for me.

robingallup8 karma

Denial is a real thing, my friend.

Sharp88073 karma

Hi Rob!

As a youth minister, what do you think is driving many 20-somethings to leave the church? It seems like most churches have huge gaps in attendance when it comes to people in the age group of 18-35 or so, myself and many of my friends included.

robingallup15 karma

Hands-down and in a nutshell, it's a lack of authenticity.

People keep mistakenly thinking that it's the methods or practice, and that we need more theatrics, or more technology, or more liturgy, or more dynamic speakers.

By the time you reach your twenties, pardon the expression, but you've got a fully-developed bullshit meter. Who wants a faith that isn't real, that doesn't change the world, and that doesn't result in a substantial, life-changing difference in its people?

The_vert3 karma

Awesome! Loved your comment in the Manson thread.

What techniques would you suggest to parents raising their children in the Christian faith that will encourage their kids to stay in the faith as adults?

robingallup3 karma

I've noticed that the people who are quickest to offer me unsolicited parenting advice are usually the ones whose kids turned out horribly. (I always think to myself, "Why would I ever want parenting advice from you? You don't know what you should have done, you just know what you think went wrong.")

One of my students at my last youth group had some amazing parents. My student was the youngest of three kids, and a senior in high school when I met him. All three kids grew up to be kind, compassionate (and, incidentally, still Christian) people.

Not surprisingly, his parents were not the sort to go around offering unsolicited advice about parenting. And naturally, I wanted to know what they considered to be their secret, so I finally asked them during dinner one night.

They said it was twofold:

  1. They encouraged their children to be active learners. Not the kind who memorize and recite, but the kind who seek out answers for themselves. These parents were confident enough in what they believed was the truth that they never felt an obligation to tell their children, "You must believe this, because it is the truth." They just encouraged their children to seek after truth.

  2. They not only told their children that they loved them, but perhaps even more importantly, they told their children, "This is your family, and your family will always be a place where you belong. You will make choices, and some of them might be good, and some of them might be bad. You will be similar to the rest of us in some ways, and you will be different and unique in other ways. But we will always be your family, you will always be welcomed and accepted by us, and you will always have a place here, no matter what."

This is how they explained their entire method of parenting. And, in my estimation, the proof was in the pudding. Their children found their own paths, and yet still arrived at the same destination intact and together.

As a parent myself, I put a tremendous amount of stock in that simple advice of those two parents, more than all the other parenting advice I have ever received combined.

robingallup2 karma

Also, it's worth pointing out, those particular parents are not even especially "forward thinking" in terms of faith or theology. Really, they are rather on the conservative side. They like the King James Version, and they would rather sing hymns with a choir. But I never knew them to be pushy about this toward anyone; they just peacefully and humbly lived their lives. Both of their sons were in various bands in high school and college -- one played guitar, one played drums -- and their parents very enthusiastically supported this, even though it was the polar opposite of their personal, musical tastes.

llama_in_galoshes3 karma

Have you ever considered that youth ministry might be something that separates youth from adults, and makes them an "other" within the church? I'm pondering about that, and starting to think that intergenerational activities and events and services might be better for everyone involved. Youth get to form relationships with adults who aren't parents, adults learn that teens are people too...everyone wins (in my way of thinking anyway). I get so tired of people talking about "kids these days" rather than treating young people with respect, and I think integrating youth into the life of the church rather than separating them out might help. I could be wrong.

(I understand that it's good for youth to be able to build relationships with one another, but they also have school for that.)

robingallup1 karma

This is something I've thought a lot about, and your point is well received.

At my last youth pastor post, I also ended up taking on the role of directing music and overseeing the tech/media team. Whenever possible, I would place teens into key roles within these teams and beyond, or even into leadership roles of their own where I could. Eventually, we had teens running sound, lighting and slideshows, teens playing the majority of the instruments, and even teens greeting people and handing out bulletins, or teens leading a prayer during the service. We basically did away with the idea of a twice-per-year "youth Sunday" because every Sunday had heavy youth participation.

I don't know that it brought teens and adults any closer together, but it prompted a lot of adults to start getting involved, too, because it looked bad that a bunch of kids were "showing them up" in terms of being active participants instead of passive spectators.

The sacred calf that I could never persuade the church leadership to change was to allow teens (or, perish the thought, females) to serve the communion elements on Sundays where this was part of the service. That "privilege," for some reason I still do not understand, was restricted to members of the Board of Elders (or, if they didn't have enough present, some other older man that the Elders held in high esteem). Non-adults had no place in administering this sacrament, and the only role of females was apparently to fill the plastic cups with grape juice in the church kitchen before the service. I still smack my head over that.

sativacyborg_4202 karma

Why was I thought that even thoughts are sinful? As in " to look at a woman with lust is the same as adultery, even if you aren't married' it was that day I turned my back. On the church. Not god but the church

robingallup2 karma

It sounds like you're referring to something that Jesus is recorded as having actually, personally taught. The idea behind it is basically this: The way we esteem other people in our minds and hearts is just as important as the actions we take toward them.

Churches love to harp on the lust/adultery correlation, but they seem to gloss over the other one, which was a correlation between hate and murder.

Something to chew on: Based on this same teaching of Jesus, a person who goes around hating gay people is, theoretically, just as bad as someone who commits a hate crime against a gay person.

I'm not at all saying that you have to believe this, or that your thoughts about church aren't justified. I just think it's an interesting concept, that's all.

sativacyborg_4202 karma

So it was more of an example than a literal " watch what you think or you'll go to hell" type of thing. In context it makes much more sense

robingallup1 karma

Yes, sort of. I tend to think of it as being in line with the adage, "Guard your thoughts, for they become words; guard your words, for they become actions."

Krakkan2 karma

Hey, Rob.

Is there any music you think people shouldn't listen to?

robingallup2 karma

This is a generalization, but I don't mean to sound flippant. I hope it doesn't come across that way.

I think that music is really a matter of personal preference.

But if we were going to evaluate music on some sort of criteria, I guess I would say that a good question to ask oneself might be, "Does listening to this music make my life better?"

And I think this really depends on the listener, not the genre or the artist.

A piece of music might provide one person with an escape or an outlet. It makes them feel that they can better respond to, or hold up better under, the pressures and difficulties they face in life. That same piece of music might provide another person with feelings of depression, or strengthen a desire they already have to harm themselves or others.

If that's the case, I'd say it might be a good idea for the first person to listen to it, and it might not be such a good idea for the second person to listen to it.

But there's a certain amount of caution that should be exercised here. In the wake of Columbine, for example, everyone wanted to know "what music influenced the killers." And I think this is the wrong question to be asking. I don't think they went into school and started killing people because of music or video games. I think that the music or video games they preferred might have just been a tangential reflection of something that was already taking place inside their own heads, whereas that same music or those same video games might be enjoyed by countless others who would never even think of killing another human being. I don't think the music or the musician is to blame.

Fidesphilio2 karma

Was there an incident that made you believe in God? Like, I really want to believe but something just stops me every time. It's like believing in Santa Claus to me---I'd need proof but you're not supposed to ask for it.....any advice?

robingallup1 karma

More a series of incidents, really. But nothing of the "I was lying in an alley with a heroin needle in my arm" sort. And they're honestly not compelling to anyone other than myself. I wish I could say, "Here's the proof that will help you believe," or, "follow these steps and belief will come naturally," but I can't. I feel like this is part of that intensely personal aspect of faith that is different for every person on the planet.

All I can say is yes, there were a series of incidents that solidified my belief in God, to the point where I have at times in my life found myself on the opposite side of the coin you proposed -- I wished I could stop believing, because I was angry at God, but I felt like I would have to be willing to lie to myself, that I would have to consciously reject something I already knew to be true in order to get to that point, and I was never able to do it.

If that type of belief is something you're searching for, I hope you find it. And if it's not, I wish you fulfillment and peace all the same.

Jeffums1 karma

What's the deal with airline food?

robingallup8 karma

I must be flying the wrong airlines, because I don't think I've ever been served anything beyond a Diet Coke.

PedroFSO1 karma

Hello, i mostly listen to black, thrash and death metal bands that speak out against religion. Do you think im in danger of being a serial killer?

robingallup3 karma

I'm not sure how to answer this, because I don't see a correlation between these things. I feel like you may as well be asking, "I like orange marmalade on my toast and I support women's reproductive rights. Do you think I'm in danger of being a bank robber?"

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robingallup5 karma

Can you guys tell I accidentally clicked the wrong template this morning? ;)