The perfect storm of youth culture trends I blogged about yesterday is here. We need to deal with it. So what now? A theologian once said that every Christian should start their day with the Bible in one hand and newspaper in the other. Our calling is to speak the truths of God’s Word to the cultural realities that exist. Because the cultural stuff they swim in everyday serves them as a map (telling them what to believe and how to live), we must know where the cultural map is sending them. Then, we must respond by showing them the way of God’s map for their lives. Effective ministries to children and teens–whether in the church or home – are marked by a balanced, three-fold response to everything we see in the soup.
First, respond to what you see in the soup prophetically. Make an intentional effort to look for and seize opportunities to speak biblical truth into their lives in response to the realities that exist. Looking in the soup will reveal the realities that exist. Spending time with Jesus in his Word will shape your prophetic response. At times, you will find yourself affirming where the map of culture is sending kids in the right direction. At other times you’ll challenge the map where it sends them down the wrong road. Maybe the best way to put forth a prophetic response is to follow the lead of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Do you remember how he did this? He would begin by saying something like, “You have heard it said that. . .” Then, he would lay out whatever the popular cultural belief was. Then, he would continue by saying, “but. . . I tell you. . .” Then, he would lay out the Kingdom way of looking at the matter. Your kids are soaking in a culture that shapes their values, attitudes, and behaviors with lots and lots of “you have heard it said that’s.” Your responsibility it to expose the “you have heard it said that’s”,and then correct them with the scripture’s “but I tell you’s”. That’s what it means to respond prophetically.
Second, respond to what you see in the soup preventively. All parents share a great concern for their kids’ physical well-being when they are young. We know enough about children to know that they might wander into the street, talk to strangers, or reach for hot stuff. As a result, we do our best to prevent them from wandering into the street, talking to strangers, and burning themselves on a hot burner or dish. Likewise, if we care about the spiritual health of our children, we should answer the map’s faulty directions preventively, by going out of our way to equip them to face all of life and its challenges in a way that brings honor and glory to God. They need us to pass on the valuable information we’ve learned about life so that they adopt values, attitudes, and behaviors that keep them from harm and provide for their spiritual well-being. One very practical suggestion is to regularly offer your kids opportunities to evaluate their music, media, and advertising from a Christian perspective. Not only does this preventive measure teach them to think Christianly about all of life, but it opens the door to address all the topics in the media “soup” from a biblical perspective.
Finally, respond to their sin, failures, and mistakes redemptively. All children face temptation, and all children will make dangerous and sinful choices. Remember, they’re young, impressionable and very vulnerable. The determining factor in whether or not a bad choice turns into a situation that gets better or worse depends largely on your response. Your goal should be to help the child and their family redeem these situations by turning a mistake into an opportunity for the child to become a more Godly and Christlike person. Don’t ever write off any child as hopeless or irredeemable. Rather, treat her as you know your heavenly Father treats you – regularly! - when you are the offending party.
I want to pass on one more little bit of advice that’s really, really important. As a student of youth culture, you are going to learn a lot. As a parent, I want to ask you to do me, and all other parents, a big favor. Pass on everything you learn about youth culture to parents. I know this sounds like it might be extra work, and you’re already super busy. But this may be the most important service you can provide to moms and dads. Most parents would readily admit that they’re terribly out of touch with the culture of their kids. They may even feel frustrated by the growing cultural-generational gap that exists in their home. But if parents are the one’s primarily responsible for the spiritual nurture of their kids, doesn’t it make sense that we would do everything in our power to help them better fulfill their calling as cross-cultural missionaries? Use every avenue and opportunity to pass on your youth culture knowledge and insights to parents.
As a culture-watcher, I’ve listened to a lot of music over the years. A few years ago I ran across a song by Tom Petty called “LostChildren.” Even though Petty’s never claimed to be a follower of Jesus, he’s concerned enough about kids and the problems they face in today’s youth culture to intercede on their behalf. In the song, Petty asks the Lord to“shine light on these lost children born to chase the hurricane. . . far away from home,” and to “lead them all home again.” Youth workers, childrens' ministers, Sunday School teachers, and parents are all uniquely positioned to fulfill that task. But first, we must say “yes” to God’s invitation to be a cross-cultural missionary to children growing up in a rapidly changing and very confusing cultural soup.