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What You Can do About the Challenge of Postmodernism

This post is part of a series on the challenges of postmodern youth ministry. When we as Christians talk about postmodernism, most of the time it’s not positive. We rail against youth who won’t grow up, against changed standards of truth or individualistic morals. We complain about the sexual undertone of commercials, about the dangers of social media and about this generation of young people who seem lazy, self-centered and immature.

But what do we do about it? Do we just complain or do we stand up and do something about it? What specific actions do we take to counter the negative effects of postmodernism and to bolster the positive ones?

Let’s be real here. First of all, postmodernism is here to stay. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon so it’s a reality we have to face. Second, it’s not all bad. Postmodernism offers some real openings for mission-oriented living (or incarnational living as some call it) for instance. Both are really good reasons to change our mindset and see postmodernism as a challenge, not something negative we need to stay away from.

What would that look like, seeing postmodernism as a challenge? Here’s what I think:

1. Get info

If you’re not familiar with the concepts of postmodernism, read up. You’ll be sure to recognize a lot in books and articles of what you see in the day-to-day reality of doing youth ministry in a postmodern world. But I’ve found it helped me to get the bigger picture and see where postmodernism was coming from and what its specific elements were.

2. Change your language

I’m becoming more and more convinced of the power of language. The words you use to describe something matter. If you constantly use negative words to talk about postmodernism or youth culture for instance, you will not only reinforce your own negative image of these developments, you’ll also negatively impact others. Youth who always hears you be critical of their culture, of what they feel to be true and what they value, may decide to stop listening to you. Don’t become culturally arrogant and start thinking that ‘everything used to be better’. It wasn’t, it was just different.

3. Adapt

You don’t need to become a postmodernist, but you’ll need to adapt to this culture if you want to connect with young people. It’s like Paul did:

19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. 20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; 21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. 22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor. 9:19-22 KJV)

4. Identify threats

It’s good to take the time to identify specific threats of modern culture to your youth ministry or your youth. While some threats may apply to all, you’ll be sure to find some specific ones for your community and your setting. Let’s face it, culture is not the same in Holland as it is in the UK and Seattle or Albany will face quite different situations as well. Make sure you do an analysis of what threatens your youth, your ministry. Then come up with a specific plan to counteract this.

5. Identify opportunities

There’s no doubt about it, postmodernism offers some real opportunities. Young people are in general very positive about religion for instance, more than ever before. That’s a definite opportunity you can use to reach unchurched youth. Youth are looking for community, for belonging, for authenticity and real experiences. What can you do in your church, in your youth ministry to meet them, to offer them what they are looking for? Identify these opportunities postmodernism brings you and use them.

6. Talk about culture

One very important thing you can and should do is talk about postmodern culture. Here are just a few ideas, but I’m sure you could come up with more:

  • Help parents by giving them relevant info and helpful tips on how they can help their teens navigate their culture. Remember that they may not have the time or resources to really delve into this matter. You can do them a great service by providing them with the info they need.
  • Encourage parents to talk about cultural issues with their kids and give them tips on how to do this. Help them see that just forbidding won’t work in the long distance, but open lines of communication with their kids will.
  • Make youth aware of culture-specific issues, like extended adolescence or the changed view on absolute truths, without condemning it. You can just inform them about shifts in thinking, in culture and talk about this with them. It all starts with awareness!
  • Offer a Biblical alternative to youth in those cases where culture and God clash, for instance in sex, marriage, or appearance. Again, don’t just condemn what culture is teaching, but offer an alternative based on God’s Word and talk about having a choice in these matters.
  • Help youth make good choices. Awareness of culture and Biblical alternatives is a first step, but youth needs help in making the right choice. That can come down to helping them find the courage to be different, to theologically explaining why choices matter in terms of a relationship with God (you’ll want to preach the relationship, not just the rules) or to give them insight in their own fully-automatic decision making process so they can interrupt this and make a conscious decision.

Do you see postmodernism as something negative or as a challenge? What could you do to change you perspective on it?