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What Do You Communicate To Your Students About Culture?

What Do You Communicate To Your Students About Culture?

What do we as youth workers say to teenagers about "the world," about the culture they live in? (And by "the world," I mean the biblical notion of the secular world, the opposite of God's Kingdom.)  My experience has been that as youth workers, whether or not we realize we even do it, we say one of two things:

1. The world is really, really awesome.

In our desire to be as "relevant" as possible, we can actually mimic culture so closely as to put it on a pedestal, in a sense, making the messenger the message. We probably (hopefully) don't do this on purpose. But what happens when we go to such extraordinary lengths to wrap our youth programs in the trappings of culture?

Too often, we create environments that are too full of secular, worldly, or cultural "elements" . . . our messages put more focus on funny YouTube videos (Fail!) than on Scripture . . . we make more references to The Voice, or DWTS, or T-Swift than to Christ, The Father, or the Spirit . . . our youth rooms look more like the mall, and less like a place of refuge and sanctuary . . . we as leaders look and act exactly like the culture around us . . .

When we do these things, we're actually projecting the idea that the world is to be emulated. Now, I believe we have to be informed about what's happening in youth culture in order to make sure our messages have connection points (as modeled by Jesus and Paul, most notably.) But there is a fine line between being "culturally fluent" in order to make the timeless truths of Scripture relevant to a 21st century, teenage audience, and allowing culture to drown-out the message of Christ. But often, we're just as guilty of the other extreme . . .

2. The world is no place for Christ-followers.

People on this end of the spectrum see the issues surrounding our students and want to build walls. This position is taken with the best intentions. But there are two things to consider here. First, your students are eyeballs deep in culture. Choosing to ignore this only deprives them of the ability to know how to deal with it. Second, in our desire to help our students live holy lives, we can come across as trying to lead them to disengage from the world altogether. We can say, or at least insinuate, that a "good Christian" should stay away from any aspect of the world, whether it be media or individuals. The problem with this, of course, is that it's not a biblical approach to being messengers of the Gospel. And that brings me to the point . . .

There really is a simple way to help our students understand their role in relation to the world: the biblical way. Jesus was pretty clear. He left us in the world to influence the world.
You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world . . . In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.—Matthew 5:13-16

Peter was on top of it, too
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.—1 Peter 2:12

We must (in what we say and don't say) communicate to students the importance of engaging the world.

It's wrong for teenagers to be so immersed in the world as to be unrecognizable as a Christ-follower. But it's equally wrong for them to separate themselves from the world, as to fail to bring the light and the hope of Christ to those who are dying. It's our job to model in our actions and prove in our words the call for our teenagers to be living holy lives in the world, powerfully influencing their surroundings for the sake of Christ.
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