I’m not 18 years old anymore…in fact I’m far from it. As a youth ministry leader and volunteer I need to be REAL and not try to be something I’m not. Teens see right through that. I’ve seen some student ministry volunteers try to look and act cool and well, to be honest, you just look like a fool. I want to be an “attraction” to God, not a “distraction” from God. However, you do need to keep up on the current culture trends with teens to be a successful leader.
Lately I’ve listened to a conversation going on in youth ministry circles on whether or not it’s valuable to be versed in youth culture . . . to be “culturally relevant.” I think this conversation is of vital importance to us as youth workers. Give me 4 minutes of your time to share my thoughts (and I welcome yours, as well).
I believe youth workers must strive to be experts in two things: Scripture and culture. Let me explain.
We know the truth of Scripture is timeless. It’s as effective today at spiritual transformation as it was hundreds and thousands of years ago.
However, culture is not timeless. Culture is fluid. It changes with time and geography. You would never attempt to reach a people group in another culture without considering that culture’s unique realities. You wouldn’t travel to rural Chongqing, China and teach the exact same lesson you would teach in Idaho Falls. While the underlying biblical truths have a universal application, the cultural “vehicle” through which your lesson is communicated would be wholly ineffective.
I believe as youth workers we should approach reaching our students with the same level of cultural awareness that we would take in approaching another people group in another culture.
Why? What are the benefits of a commitment to cultural relevancy? Glad you asked.
- It’s strategic–Knowing youth culture helps you tailor your message in order to deliver Scripture’s un-changing truth in a way that is wrapped in the rhetoric of the society surrounding your students.
- It Shows You Care–Whenever I travel internationally, I learn some basic conversational phrases in the native language. When I need something and engage someone in their native language (however clumsily), they are much more inclined to help. It shows that I value their culture. Knowing youth culture says the same thing to your students.