This is a sign that hangs outside the chapel building @ Riverside Bible Camp (the location of our summer Youth Camp).
I’m currently 33 years-old. I’m not that old, yet, But in a teenager’s world, I am OLD! And I feel it… not in a diminishing physical way, but in an ever-widening gap between me and the middle school students way.
I was in middle school (grades 6-8) from 1988-1991. There was no internet (as we know it). Most phones were still attached to the wall with long cords and long distance calls were expensive. Cassette tapes were on their way out and CDs were making their splash. Boom boxes and Sony Walkman’s were cool (no such thing as an iPod). Pants with pockets and rolled up at the bottom was in style. Tony Hawk was every skateboarder’s hero. And I could go on and on…
Today’s culture is very different, and considering… I am really OLD and out-of-touch with it.
The argument in youth ministry circles usually swirls around how much cultural relevancy does one need to have and how much biblical/scriptural relevancy does one need to have, and how the two interact.
Read this article:
Lately I’ve listened to a conversation going on in youth ministry circles on whether or not it’s valuable to be versed in youth culture . . . to be “culturally relevant.” I think this conversation is of vital importance to us as youth workers. Give me 4 minutes of your time to share my thoughts (and I welcome yours, as well).
I believe youth workers must strive to be experts in two things: Scripture and culture. Let me explain.
We know the truth of Scripture is timeless. It’s as effective today at spiritual transformation as it was hundreds and thousands of years ago.
However, culture is not timeless. Culture is fluid. It changes with time and geography. You would never attempt to reach a people group in another culture without considering that culture’s unique realities. You wouldn’t travel to rural Chongqing, China and teach the exact same lesson you would teach in Idaho Falls. While the underlying biblical truths have a universal application, the cultural “vehicle” through which your lesson is communicated would be wholly ineffective.
I believe as youth workers we should approach reaching our students with the same level of cultural awareness that we would take in approaching another people group in another culture.
Why? What are the benefits of a commitment to cultural relevancy? Glad you asked.
- It’s Strategic
Knowing youth culture helps you tailor your message in order to deliver Scripture’s un-changing truth in a way that is wrapped in the rhetoric of the society surrounding your students.
- It Shows You Care
Whenever I travel internationally, I learn some basic conversational phrases in the native language. When I need something and engage someone in their native language (however clumsily), they are much more inclined to help. It shows that I value their culture. Knowing youth culture says the same thing to your students.
- It’s Proactive
If you’re aware of a trend, movie, or TV show that you know you will need to respond to (such as this one), you can be proactive in engaging your students. By doing so, you have the opportunity to equip your students with a biblical response to whatever the specific issue is.
- You Become a Resource for Parents
I recently heard Josh McDowell say that the generation gap between parents and teenagers is wider than it has ever been . . . and parents don’t know it exists! You can become an invaluable resource for parents as they try and raise children in a culture that is pretty hostile to the ways of God’s Kingdom.
So, I’ve answered the “why.” What’s the “how”? How do we make sure we are as culturally relevant as we can be when it comes to youth culture? It’s actually pretty simple:
- Behave Like A Teenager
Watch the movies they watch. Read the magazines they read. Visit the websites they visit. Listen to music they listen to. By doing so you craft your cultural vocabulary. You will know the cultural factors influencing your students.
- Engage Students in Cultural Conversation
Titus 2:12 says that we are to “say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” You can help your students know how to say “no” to the harmful elements of culture by engaging them in conversation regarding the cultural influences in their lives.
- Look for the bridges to God’s Word
I believe one of your goals as a youth worker is to help your students develop a biblical worldview, to be able to see the world through the filter of Scripture. It’s vitally important to look for bridges back to Scripture as you discuss what you see in culture. By doing so, you help students rise above the negative effects of culture.
As I stated earlier, I believe all youth workers are called to be versed in culture. Want biblical evidence? Look no further than the way Paul conducted himself in Athens. Acts 17:22-23 says this:
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship.
Paul studied Athenian culture then used this knowledge to craft a Gospel message unique to his audience. It is our call as youth workers to be committed to the same level of cultural relevancy. The effectiveness of your ministry is at stake.
It’s a tricky dance. Some youth pastors strive to be “cool” and “hip” with the students. And they are… for a while. But then they get old… like me. And you either have to grow in cultural relevancy and biblical relevancy and connect the two, or you have to quit and go work at Starbucks or something else.
Here’s what I think: I don’t think teenagers care how cool or hip or cultural relevant or versed you are. They just want to know how much you care. They want relationships. They want adults who look past their quirkiness and accept them for the rapidly changing human beings they are (developmentally) and still like like them. They want relationships with adults who can converse and field questions and thoughts and be safe with them. It’s the risk to be relational that youth pastors or any adult mentor to a teenagers needs to embrace to be “relevant” with teenagers.
Trust me, being cool is fleeting and temporary. Being relevant relationally? Well that has withstood the sands of time. It seems like human beings were made for significant relationships. Interesting, eh?
Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation, consists of people born around the late-1970’s to the early 2000’s. MTV, for better or worse, is known for its culturally relevant or astute programming, targeted, almost precisely, at its intended demographic. “MTV made a decision at its point of inception to never grow old with the audience but to reinvent periodically for each ‘generation next’.”
An article featured in FastCompany.com, highlights the insights MTV has learned about the Millennial Generation. They discuss “two tectonic forces”:
Recalibration of the nuclear family
A century of “parent-centered” nuclear family has steadily been under-going a paradigm shift, and may have just passed the tipping point. The nucleus of the family has been moving towards the child, and Millennials look like the first generation raised in that new nuclear family structure. No longer the hierarchical structure with authoritarian parent “leadership,” the new family is flattened to a democracy, with collective (if not kid-driven) decision-making process. Parents are more like best friends, life coaches, or as we at MTV call them “peer-ents.
No longer is it necessary to “rebel against” authoritarian parents to individuate, engage in acts of self-expression, or push at the boundaries. As one youth psychologist we work with pointed out, “Parents don’t say you can’t go to the party, they create safe spaces to consume alcohol, they say Can I pick you up afterwards?, Here’s money for a taxi.”
Self-expression, having your voice heard, following your own path–these are all values that are positively encouraged in modern parenting styles. Why rebel when you simply need to explain your behavior in terms of “my experiment in self discovery.”
The “You Demand It,” push button, everything free, always on culture of technology and the Internet has amplified much of the “social coding” of the way Millennials were parented. And as many commentators have already pointed out, the revolution will be tweeted. The power is in the hands of a million anonymous hands, and can be wielded apparently consequence free, in real time, with the click of a mouse.
It’s easy, I think, for us that our outside (or maybe a little bit inside) the Millennial Generation, to be critical of the ways things are. How many of us bemoan the widespread, rampant use of technology (i.e. texting) among young people today? And we say things like: If only they knew what real work was, right? Or, why don’t parents “parent” their children instead of letting the kids run the family?
Now I’m not saying (nor do I think MTV or other generational auditors) that technology and kid-centered families are inherently bad. It’s just a cultural snapshot of what I like to call, “the way things are.” Older generations like the Baby Boomers or others have quite different characteristics based on the cultural surroundings that shaped them. The Millennials have particular surroundings that older generations did not (i.e. the internet, cell phones, etc).
So my thoughts are this: it is good to know how (and why) families tend to interact these days, and it is good to know the influence and use of technology as well. Why? Because then we as the church, the community of God’s people, can help and assist families to instruct and guide their children in the wise use of technology. Technology without ethics is not wise. Kid-centered families, or “peer-ents”, is not a bad thing unless kids are not getting any kind of instruction in how to become wise and responsible adults eventually. If parents are merely acting as peers to their children, then they may not be getting the wise instruction they need to be responsible adults that are able to hold down a job or care for a future family.
When I read articles that provide insight into cultural snapshots, I am always asking the question: “In light of the way things are, how do we wisely teach and train, disciple and lead our children and our own lives, to look like the ways of God and the principles of his kingdom?”
Not a simple question, eh? No… because it’s always changing, especially in our lightning-fast culture now!
Quite often it is difficult to pin down the ethic of the kingdom of God in our everyday lives. Giving concrete examples of living out the Gospel that go beyond the obvious (reading your Bible and praying everyday and being nice to everyone) are hard to come by. Every now and then, I come across examples in our culture that touch us in profound ways and model to us what living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ means.
Below is one such story. You can read about the Gainesville State High School football team and/or you can watch it unfold below:
You love your kid. That much is obvious by your willingness to set rules and then hold your children to obedience to those rules. As a pastor to children, I commend your commitment to follow-up your parenting rules with consequences for disobedient actions. Consequences are good things.
However, suspending your child from church is not a good consequence. It sets the wrong precedent. Well-meaning as it is, for many reasons it is the wrong consequence. Obviously it’s a different scenario all together if your punishment is to suspend them from a lock-in, extracurricular activity, or other church-related activity. But when the church doors are open to teaching, mentoring, accountability, and the right kind of Godly relationships…please don’t keep your child from this as punishment.
This what I normally hear in the “witholding church as punishment” dialogue:
“[Insert Name] was not obedient at school this week, and so I told him he has to sit with me in the sanctuary. I know he really loves church, and I just couldn’t let him attend with all of this bad behavior recently.”
What is wrong with this statement? Here is what you are basically saying to them:
You aren’t good enough to go to church, and I will use the adult service as punishment for your crimes.
Why is this bad? It’s bad because you are telling you child a few things when you do this. You are telling them that:
- Adult Worship service is boring and is a worthy punishment. // Your adult worship services may indeed be boring, and if they are I hope that you work to make sure that you find a place to worship that isn’t boring. When you this strategy as a punishment, you are telling your kid that church is something to be “suffered through.” Why would you want to make that impression on your kids? That’s right, you wouldn’t.
- Learning God’s Word is NOT something important. // I know, I know…you think this is crazy and believe that God’s Word is important. But when you deny your child the opportunity to learn God’s Word from godly people who have prepared all this week for the moment that your child would experience on their visit…you are communicating to your child that the lesson he would have learned is not valuable or life-changing.
- God doesn’t want you when you’re disobedient. // This might be a stretch, but hang in there with me on this one. When you punish disobedience by witholding opportunities to learn about God, you are tying obedience/disobedience with God’s acceptance of us. Our Father in heaven has promised to forgive us of ALL confessed sin, and he has said that nothing will ever separate us from his love, and he has said that he has redeemed us from our past mistakes by sending his Son to pay the price for our sin. I say all that to say this…please be careful how you represent the most grace-giving, loving heavenly father in your discipline to your children.
I know that you love your kids, and you are trying to do your very best to lead them spiritually. But from your Children’s Pastor’s heart to your heart let me please remind you that there are many, many, many more creative consequences for disobedience. May I suggest suspension from television, video games, sporting events, after-school snacks, and I could go on and on and on?
Your Friendly Neighborhood Children’s Pastor
On Wednesday, October 20, 2010, we continued our “Minute to Win It” challenges @ msy YOUTH.
The challenge was to put BACK together a cereal box that had been cut up into several pieces. Our intern, Sarah, put magnets on the back of these pieces and set up a piece of metal on an easel so everyone could see. The goal, obviously, was to complete this task in 1 minutes or less. I think we had 5 students attempt this challenge and NOT a single one accomplished it. A couple came close.
So we had Sarah come up and attempt the game she facilitated (just to see if it was possible). And it was. She completed easily and with time to spare!
This was our second CORE retreat, and we have found that the simple act of “retreating” and devoting some time to reflect on our Christian life and spirituality is precious and necessary. This isn’t an outreach event. It’s an internal reflective and contemplative event. Loretta had 4 high school students attend, and I had 4 middle school students attend. The 10 of us made our way to The Wilderness Fellowship Ministries, which is a little over an hour away from Hayward. This place does not have electricity. Only the bath house does (so that is where we made our coffee!). The fridge and the stove are propane powered and the water is from a hand-pump. It was rustic. No lights at night, either!
Loretta and I had two important sessions we wanted to engage the students with, one on Friday and one on Saturday. The first was for the students to ask the question: “Where is my relationship at with Jesus?” They had an hour or so of silence and solitude to think and ponder that question. Then we shared our thoughts around the campfire.
For the second session we asked the students to answer the question: “What do I want my relationship with Jesus to look like at the end of the school year?” Their task was to return to silence and solitude, and draw a picture of what the answer to that question looked like as they picked out a Psalm that illustrated where they wanted to be.
Again, this was the second year we did these same exact exercises, and they continued to prove to be effective thought provoking questions that engaged the students in self-reflection.
Plus we had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs! But that goes (almost) without saying when you’re hanging out with students minus electricity and no electronic gadgets!
The last several weeks we have been playing “Minute to Win It” games at msy YOUTH (middle school youth group @ Hayward Wesleyan), which is where the contestant has to accomplish a task in 60 seconds or less. I happen to be standing in the A/V booth last Wednesday and thought it would be fun to record the action…
Task: stack 28 styrofoam cups in a pyramid and de-stack them in 60 seconds or less.
Doors opened at 8:30p and after we checked everyone in, we went over the rules of the Lock-In. Here is a run-down of what the evening’s activities were:
- 9:30p – Dodgeball games
- 10:30p – Snacks and free time
- 11:00p – Hide and Seek
- 12:30a – Snacks and free time
- 1:00a – Shuffle Your Buns and the Key Game
- 2:00a – Hide and Seek (take 2)
- 2:45a – Minute to Win It (60 seconds) games (kicking shoes on a table from 9′ away and keeping 3 balloons in the air)
- 3:15a – writing Letters to God and prayer time
- 3:45a – Snacks and free time
- 4:00a – Movie Time: “A Diary of a Wimpy Kid”
- 5:30a – Snacks and free time / others can sleep
- 6:00a – Breakfast: Donuts from the Hayward Bakery and some milk, OJ, and Apple Cider
- 7:00a – Lock-In OVER
There ended up being over 100 middle school students at the Lock-In that night! It was awesome! We had the best time just playing and goofing off and eating all the snacks that everyone brought. Below is a video from the evening:
@ msy YOUTH (that’s middle school YOUTH group @ hayward wesleyan) a couple of weeks ago, we talked about Abraham and God starting “to fix this world” back to “his kind of world” – the Garden (before humanity messed it up). God picked a man–Abraham–and promised to make a special people out of him (whose vocation as a people would be to show the world what God is like), give his people a special place to live (land of Canaan, crossroads of the known world at the time), and give his presence to them. I illustrated this story and the Abrahamic Covenant using one of Sari’s beautiful creations.
Sari loves to color. And she’s really good. It’s a beautiful creation. Unique to Sari and perfect. Sari’s picture is like God’s creation–unique to him and perfect. But humanity (Adam and Eve) tore creation apart when they chose to follow themselves rather than God.
Maybe God had some options with this “wrecking” of his creation. He could destroy it, scrap it, and start over with something else. He could erase humanity and rework things. Who knows… but what we do know is that instead of wiping us out, he chose to “fix” us. He chose to “redeem” humanity. And his plan sought to create a special people, put them in a special/intentional place, and bind his presence with them–all through Abraham. This plan had its intent to bring the broken created world (humans included) back into right relationship with its creator–God. Back to God’s kind of world.
The picture doesn’t really look like the original creation does it? It’s got a rip and some band-aids holding it together. The Abrahamic Covenant was just the beginning of God’s redemptive/fixing plan–albeit a very important beginning. God has narrowed his focus from a worldwide engagement with humanity (Genesis 4-11) to one man–Abraham–and is going to begin his work on broken humanity.
Here is msy YOUTH’s working statement about the Bible: “The Bible is about God continually working to fix this world through his kind of special people in order to make his kind of world.”
Back 2 School Bash @ Hayward Wesleyan Church on Wednesday, August 25, 2010 for middle school and high school students.
It’s precarious to summarize the Bible in one sentence, especially when its 66 books long containing hundreds of thousands of words and multiple interconnected stories. But it’s helpful to start with something so to not lose the forest for the trees.
When I was at Wisconsin Wilderness Campus (WWC), Mark Jalovick had such a working statement: From Genesis to Revelation, God is seeking to rebuild his kingdom through obedient servants for the purpose of world redemption.
During this next school year (2010-2011), we are going to go through the Bible with the Middle School Youth group. I wanted to use Mark’s statement as a reoccurring thematic statement every week–something the students can remember and repeat every week for the whole school year–however, I felt that it needed to be “reworded”. Here it is:
The Bible is about God continually working to fix this world through his kind of special people in order to make his kind of world.
The Bible – Genesis to Revelation
God – as revealed in the Bible, Elohim, Yahweh, triune, Father/Son/Spirit
continually working – active presence and involvement
fix – right / redeem the wrong of the Fall
this world – broken humanity and creation
his kind of special people – Israel, Jesus, the church
make – craft/ redeem / procure his will on earth as it is in heaven
his kind of world – true humanity, the kingdom of God, heaven
Any other ideas or edits?
LifeChurch out of Oklahoma City, provides almost all of its resources for free! That includes cutting edge children’s ministry and youth ministry resources. Once you set up an account with them you are able to download video lessons, supplemental lesson pages, even burnable DVDs. The lessons come in various “series”.
Take note: the files you download tend to be quite large and take a long time to download (depending on your internet speed).
LifeKids series – 6-11 year olds
The Loop – middle school (10-12 year olds)
Switch – high school (13-18 year olds)
You can find all these resources and more by going to: open.lifechurch.tv