Bird Box, T-post Challenge, “Meowdy,” Desire for likes, and Desire to Lead
It may just be me. It may be that only my students are weird, or different, or odd. However, I would bet that there have been times in your life that you have observed or been in a conversation with a student and your only reaction was “What??” How could you think that? Or how could you do that? Or how could you say that?
It is these markers of youth culture that sometimes give us the most headache. Yet it is these markers of youth culture that I see as the best opportunities for us to walk alongside students. It is these markers (and the opportunities that they provide) that get me excited about Student Ministry and make me love what I get to do. And it is these very markers that give us a pulse on youth culture and help us glean what is lying underneath the actions or thoughts or words. In each trend we see, we must pause and ask, “What does this mean? What can we learn from this?”
However, as I stated before, that does not mean that these markers are not weird or odd or strange. There are five that I have identified, four of which are very odd and make the students look very silly at times. The last one, however, is redeeming for at least my students, and tends to drown out the noise of the other weird ones. The five that I have identified are the following: Bird Box, T-post Challenge, “Meowdy,” Desire for Likes, and finally, the Desire to Lead.
If you have not seen Bird Box, the Netflix original movie, yet, stop reading this and go watch it right now. I would bet that your students have seen it, or at least part of it. The idea is that there is some force that you cannot see, and if you try to look at it, it will control you and make you commit suicide. Thus, you must walk around outside with blindfolds on or die. Yeah, it’s pretty dark (no pun intended). This is so vastly popular that people are actually trying to walk around in our real world blindfolded (My favorite part about this is that Netflix actually felt the need to release a statement telling people not to do this in order that they don’t get sued for it!!) But if we step back and look at it and ask ourselves why it is so popular, what do we see? One of the key lessons that the main actress Sandra Bullock gives is that family is not always what or who we think it is. I would also argue that the idea of reality and authenticity versus artificial and fake can be seen throughout as well.
Recently I was about to start our our class for Wednesday evening when, all of the sudden, a circle of six high school students, who were just talking, stretched their arms straight out to their sides to make a ’T’ shape. I went over and asked what they were doing and they said, “The T-post Challenge,” to which I said, “What is that?” They explained that it is a competition where you see who can hold that position the longest. So, what can we learn from this? I think we can see that competition is still a big part of our student’s lives. They are constantly competing for grades, spots on teams, chairs in band or orchestra, roles in plays, attention from their parents, likes on social media, etc.
Also recently, one of my high school students came up to me on their way into youth group and greeted me with “Meowdy!” I promptly said, “What?” She repeated, “Meowdy! Meowdy, Wes!” Again, still confused, I said, “What?” We both laughed and she explained that it is a meme, where it says normal cats say, “Meow,” but cats from Texas say “Meowdy,” and it shows a picture of a cat wearing a cowboy hat. Now, this is super silly and weird, and I refuse to greet people in this way. But, if we step back and ask ourselves, “What can we learn from this?,” I think we realize that social media and even texting lingo has so saturated the lives of our students that it is literally permeating through how they talk and speak to one other (not to mention how they write research papers).
The fourth trend that I identified is that of the desire for likes. Now, this is not new by any stretch of the imagination. There is an innate need in us as humans to love and be loved, to know and be known. We like to have friends, we like to be in relationships, we like to be liked. This desire has only increased I think, and can lead to dangerous obsession, with the continued rise of social media. This may be common knowledge to you, but our students are literally anxious when their most recent post or picture or comment does not get the same amount of likes as their last one. Now, what do we learn from that? Well, I think a great deal. First and foremost, how can we point them to put their hope in Jesus and not in people clicking a heart outline or a thumbs up.
The last trend that I see in my students is the desire to lead. I said this before, but I think this is the one that redeems all of the other silly ones I see in youth culture. For me, this gives me the most hope in my students and it gives me the most joy when they actually lead. For years now, I have tried to challenge my students to rise to the occasion, whether it is leading a discussion, teaching a lesson, leading us in worship, leading a devotional, etc. And every time without fail, I set a bar, and my students leap over that bar and do a phenomenal job. The most recent example of this was that I had one of my younger high school students message me and ask how she can help. At the time, I was pretty overwhelmed with a lot of logistic items for a retreat, so I asked if she might help me research a topic that we are covering on Wednesday nights. The next week, she handed me a two-page printed paper outline of all that she found. What can we learn? Our students want to serve and want to lead. We just need to be creative and find ways for them to lead. We need to delegate and we need to ask.
So what does all of this mean? What can we learn from all of this? How can these trends inform and support our ministry? What if we lead with full authenticity and don’t allow artificial answers or attitudes in our ministries? What if we challenge our students in real ways, that are actually challenging and stretching and growing for them, and not just ask them to pray one time this week as their ‘homework?’ What if we connect with them even in and even on silly things like when they say “Meowdy” to us? What if we constantly point them to Jesus as the source for real love and affirmation and validation? What if we help them connect that the only likes that actually matter have to come from him? And finally, what if we strive daily to help students find a way to serve, and challenge them to rise up and jump over the bar that we set for them? What if we started expecting more from them? What if we simply started to ask them?
Wes Rasbury | email@example.com | Instagram: @wesraz