YouthMin is the Christian equivalent of The Office. Michael Scott here is youth pastor Dave (Jeff Ryan). The film, directed by Arielle Cimino and Jeff Ryan, is shot as a mockumentary along with talking head testimonies to “explain” the action. Pastor Dave is preparing his youth group for the annual Christian camp and representing Bethany Church in the camp’s competition for youth group dominance. This year, the decision is made that Dave needs help and recruited is the pregnant, unwed mother, Rachel (Tori Hines).
Much like The Office, Dave passive-aggressively exploits Rachel’s situation to talk to the youth group about sexual purity. Of course, the conversation goes in a dark direction fast. As a youth pastor, Dave is destined to be the best pastor of all eternity and is ready to challenge anyone who’d suggest otherwise. Throughout the film, Dave seeks to fulfill his dream of being the best friend of all his students and lead Bethany to victory at camp. Dave, in turn, gets in his own way as the fight for church superiority takes an unexpected and cringe-worthy turn.
How does YouthMin compare to that hit sitcom? It doesn’t even come close. Then again, nothing is as good as The Office, except The Office (the other one). While it’s hard to parody a parody, writer Christopher O’Connell does a fantastic job of paying homage. I’ve seen countless “versions” on YouTube, and this understands many of the basic ideas of comedy and storytelling. It works in the end, but still, it’s no The Office.
Jeff Ryan as Dave is truly the “Christian” version of Michael Scott. His filter is broken in all the wrong ways, and he has no self-awareness. When he questions the sexual orientation of one of his students, you know exactly what he’s thinking just by his facials and body language. This humorously plays against what he says and how he justifies what he thinks and believes.
“Pastor Dave is preparing his youth group for…the camp’s competition…”
When crafting their tribute to The Office, the filmmakers made a few perfect strategic decisions. First, they did not attempt to replicate the show wholesale. There’s no Pam, Jim, or Dwight character. They made an original batch of characters that would exist as both leaders and students in an actual youth ministry. Everyone involved understands how Christian youth ministry works and hits those notes perfectly.
I should also point that YouthMin is not a movie that you should show your youth group. There are some perfectly placed cursing and swearing, which most church education committees would forbid. It’s a fireable offense. Plus, an unmarried pregnant youth leader and directly addressing sexual orientation from an Evangelical perspective (interpret that however you want) are forbidden subjects still in the modern church.
On the upside, as much as it mocks Christian youth groups and points out their faults, there is a spirit that uplifts the production. It portrays the leaders and students as imperfect people with the right intentions. What it attacks is the idea that Christians are duty-bound to maintain an appearance of holiness and either hide or excuse failings as human beings. The film shows a great deal of respect for youth ministries, much more than films like Saved.
I’m curious about the marketing plan for the film. I feel like it is meant for audiences like me — the ones who’ve been there. But it may not be harsh enough for those disenchanted with religion and is probably too irreverent for those currently involved in youth ministry. For me, YouthMin was a fun experience with a few laughs. I’m glad it exists. The notes rang true and is a definite recommendation for anyone who’s been part of a youth group, as a student or leader, and can endure a little well-deserved ribbing.
"…shows a great deal of respect..."