a guideline for improving your students' cultural discernment
It's not hard to look around and see that our culture continues to evolve into one that is more counter to God and His ways than ever. As we encounter and engage with culture alongside our students, I thought it would be beneficial to offer a sort of guideline for addressing cultural elements, whether it be a movie, TV show, song, website . . . really, any cultural entity that offers a perspective contrary to God's standards.
The goal here is pretty simple: improving your students' cultural discernment.
You see, it's not enough to tell students "no," or "don't." What we should be doing, alongside their parents, is helping create discernment. I want my own children and the students I work with in our youth ministry to be able to say WHY a particular message is counter to their beliefs as a Christ-follower. I know you do too.
This is just a simple guideline, but I think it's flexible enough to allow for adaptation to a variety of subjects and settings. I'd love to hear what you think is missing, or anything that strikes you as particularly helpful (or, particularly un-helpful!).
1. Gauge your group's level of exposure.
Consider this your fieldwork, gathering insight through conversations with students and through over-hearing conversations between students. See if the particular issue is something your students are aware of. I think there's a fine line between checking to see if a certain song or movie is on students' radars, and possibly alerting them to something they might not have otherwise watched or listened to. I know as I work with students, I'm always trying to be aware of this element. You know your students best, and if you think they've been exposed to something that they are struggling with, you have to address it. (At least, that's my belief.)
2. Establish a baseline.
Scripture is the only measure we have of how we are to conduct ourselves from a moral and ethical viewpoint. The Bible paints a clear picture of God's character and contains the moral standards of God's Kingdom. And as Christ-followers, we are called to imitate His character, more or less acting as citizens of God's Kingdom! You must establish that God and His ways, as communicated through His Word, is literally the standard by which your students are to conduct themselves.
3. Note where the particular cultural concept deviates from God's standard.
How does the song, or movie, or TV show conflict with Scripture? Does it go against God's standard for right sexual relations? Does it go against the idea of honoring our bodies as the temple of God's Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20)? Does it go against the idea that all people are treasured and valuable because they are made in God's image? Isolate the main reason(s) the particular cultural element goes against God's Word by reading specific passages from Scripture, and, where possible, supporting it with multiple passages.
4. Create an atmosphere of critique.
I ate lunch the other day with a veteran youth pastor. He made a great point about messages and marketing that target a teenage audience, specifically TV shows. He said if you pay attention, you'll see that teenagers are simply being exploited. They are the butt of the joke. In most cases a denigrating view of teenagers is pedaled to generate ratings and buzz, to push the envelope for what is shocking in our culture. You can help students see that this is simply not acceptable, or beneficial.
Ask how students feel being manipulated and used. Don't just teach, engage! If students have watched the particular show, or heard the song, have them bring to light other instances where the show might violate some aspect of Scripture. (Keep in mind point number 1 here as you make sure the discussion stays within acceptable boundaries.) The goal is to help create students who are critics of culture, discerning exactly where and how culture violates God's standards, and choosing to engage with it based on those grounds.
5. End with an emphasis on holiness.
1 Peter 1:15-16 makes such a clear case that as children of God, we are called to emulate holiness in all we do. To me, the pursuit of holiness is the aim of helping students develop "handles" for how to live in and engage with culture.
Again, this is not a rigid set of rules by any means, but a good guideline with which to negotiate dealing with a cultural element your students may find themselves interacting with.