Teenagers are daily immersed in a combination of their pop culture (for example, music, movies, and the Internet) and their life culture (for example, school, family, and friends). One of your roles, as a volunteer, is to help students navigate real culture—the one they live in. You do this by building healthy relationships, helping them make good decisions, and guiding them toward Jesus.
To understand more about your students’ culture, you need to begin with their daily lives. What type of everyday culture surrounds your students? What are their home lives like? What are their schools like? What’s their family and financial situation? Who are their friends? Aside from what they watch and what they listen to, what influences your students on a daily basis? What makes up their culture?
When you take the time to better understand teenagers’ world, you’ll be a wiser and more valuable youth volunteer. You can begin to help them recognize the positives and negatives of their culture.
Point out the positive. Help students see their good cultural influences. Not everything is negative. I’ve found teenagers to be surprised and amazed when a caring Christian adult sees something positive in their culture and comments on it.
As I write this, online social networks are skyrocketing in popularity, connecting millions of teenagers. I readily admit there is a downside to these kinds of websites. Using them has some dangers, but there are positives as well. I see in these kinds of communities an acknowledgment of the need for relationships and a place where teenagers can openly express themselves to friends who really care about them. When I choose to point out these types of positive things, students are much more open to hearing my opinion on the negatives as well. This opens up a rich dialogue that connects to discussion about friendships in the body of Christ.
Identify the negative. Just as you help students understand positive elements of youth culture, you also point out the negatives, with the goal of helping them understand the possible effects. When I do this, I try hard not to appear judgmental or overbearing, but I’m also not afraid to offer guidance when I see something in students’ culture that could lead them astray. Students might very well resist your guidance, but at least they’ll know you care enough to speak up. When you are bold in addressing unhealthy habits, relationships, and activities, you have an opportunity to nudge students toward wise spiritual decisions.
At times it can be difficult to watch students navigate their real culture. Sometimes they make good choices, and sometimes they are so far off track you’re not sure they’ll make it back. But youth ministry is about helping teenagers navigate the journey, and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take time to understand where they’re coming from, and speak truth in love for all parts of culture.
CONNECT to God’s Word
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”—Ephesians 5:15-16
Wise living does not necessarily mean avoiding everything that is “worldly.” Wisdom is found in those who choose to live like Christ in spite of and even in the midst of evil.
• In what ways can you “make the most of every opportunity” in your life and ministry?
• How will you help your students navigate both the positive and negative elements of their culture?