To get our brains engaged this fine Thursday, I want to write about our changing culture and how it is effecting our ministry to the next generation. Some of what I have written below may seem obvious, but some no so much. The reason I study culture is to understand what the medium is for us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. The culture I will describe is mainly in the West, but certainly has ramifications for the whole world. Read through my list and add your own. What would you change, what do you agree or disagree with?
Technology is shifting faster than light speed.
It is amazing to think that a digital wristwatch has more computer power than what existed in the whole world before 1961.3 (And most kids today don’t even wear these watches— they just check the time on their cell phones!) “Online” used to describe the birds on the telephone wires outside your house. I remember the bookshelf full of encyclopedias that my parents had downstairs, and I used them for research papers in high school. Now information in the world’s libraries is at your finger- tips. Google handles about 1 billion search queries a day.4 Did you catch that? Yes, 1 billion a day. One week, as I was teaching our church college group on Sunday morning, I mentioned a fact I’d heard about some national monument, and a twenty something corrected me. She’d used her iPhone to do a Google search and found that what I’d said was wrong. We now live in a world of instant correction. And George Barna’s research has shown that an increasing number of teams now use the Internet for “finding spiritual or religious experiences.”5 Computer technology gives teenagers access to both good and bad spiritual influences with the touch of a key. This is why youth workers need to help teens develop a Biblical Worldview that helps them be discerning. Consider more technological advances. There are more than 1 billion computers in use around the world. More than 160 billion emails are sent daily. (It is interesting that 97 percent of that email is considered spam.) There are 2 billion televisions in use as you read this, and more than 4 billion cell phones in use. The first public cell phone call was made on April 3, 1973, by Martin Cooper. Consumers around the world will purchase around 3 million cell phones today. About 10 hours worth of video viewing is uploaded every minute on YouTube. On average, United States users view 100 videos a month. Flickr hosts some 3 billion photographs, while Facebook hosts more than 10 billion. New technologies are reshaping modern life, and our young people are at the center of those changes.
Sex is an everyday word…
…in the media, as well as on the lips (and in the text messages) of our teenagers. In the three decades since the introduction of the birth control pill, premarital and extramarital sexual behavior are now seen as the norm in Western culture. Remember the revelations about world-renowned professional golfer Tiger Wood’s multiple extramarital affairs hitting the news? Ten or twenty years ago, this news might have been shocking, but today it seems par for the course. How unfortunate when our society’s “positive role model” celebrities cheat on their spouses (and deeply affect their children). Kids are surrounded by media messages that tell them any and all forms of sexual expression and experimentation are normal. Kids download pornographic pictures from the Internet and send them to others on their cell phones. There’s plenty of cultural pressure encouraging the next generation to disregard God’s instructions about sexual behavior and holiness.
As our culture becomes more and more diverse…
…cultural relativism becomes more and more common. Multiculturalism is a beautiful display of God’s creativity. We can celebrate our nation’s growing diversity and the fact that our children are taught to value the richness of the world’s people and cultures like never before. The problem comes when this appreciation of cultural differences translates into a belief that all truth is relative and every kind of belief and behavior is equally acceptable because it’s “all good” and shouldn’t we just all “COEXIST”? There is a subliminal message that encourages kids to mix and match their own belief systems—take a little from here and a little from there, throw it all in a blender, and mix up your own spiritual smoothie to drink. Teaching and training adolescents to be “sharp” with a belief system centered on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the key to maintaining a mature Christian faith amidst these competing values.
The local church no longer holds all the cards on faith.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the local church was at the center of Christian life. Today, even many who call themselves Christian have adopted a “do-it-yourself” approach to the faith that’s away from the life of the local body of believers. Now you can “do church” sitting in front of your computer (or maybe this is not church at all). This has huge implications for the way the next generation of youth and young adults view church leadership authority, spiritual growth, church government, and church discipline. The claims of the local church are now up for grabs because of societal and technological influences.
People are working longer hours…
…and spending less time at home increasing the strain on families. Economic pressures and the disease of “workaholism” are causing parents to spend more time at their jobs. This affects the amount of time families have with one another, the modeling of biblical values in the home, and what adolescents see as the norm for adulthood. Some parents value money and materialism over quality and quantity time with their children. With the work-related absence of some moms and dads from the lives of their teenagers, the pressure to grow up fast is clear.
As we look across the cultural horizon, the pace of change is overwhelming.
Trees and farmhouses have been replaced with high-rise buildings and suburbs full of fenced in homes. Libraries and bookstores are giving way to online resources, information, and purchases. Face-to-face community encounters are being replaced by cell phone texting and online social community Web sites. Times are changing fast. By the time this book is in print, I am sure some of the illustrations and statistics will already be out of date. Youth workers need to make adjustments intentionally and strategically if we want to avoid being taken out to sea.
These are difficult times with the negative cultural influences, but with God’s help we can shape culture into a beautiful masterpiece for the Glory of God.
What else would you add to the list? What difference does it make in your relationship with Jesus Christ or your ministry to the next generation?
To read more, pick up my new book Together: Adults and Teenagers Transforming the Church. I have written a chapter on Culture and what difference it makes in reaching and discipling the next generation.