Youth Pastors don’t mean to offend the people in our churches, but we do.
The reason: when we were born.
Yes, it’s our fault because of when we were born, what music was popular at the time, who the heroes were of our era, what new technologies were invented, and what kind of clothes were popular. We latch onto culture in our early years and it follows us into adulthood. This makes for some awkward and sometimes contentious moments in ministry.
Pokemon Go is an example of how culture can divide us.
Pokemon came out originally in 1996 as a card game. If you started playing in 2000 at 10 years old and are now 26 and a Youth Pastor, you may have been excited for the Pokemon Go app. If your Pastor was 40 years old in 1996 and jumped on the “everything in culture is evil train” he or she is now 60 years old but is mentally and spiritually still living in 1996. Well… you can see where the conflict comes in.
If you want to know where your Pastor, leadership, or church stands on a cultural issue, just post something to your social media about it and in about an hour you’ll get a phone call because a “dear saint” in the church is “concerned” about your walk with God. Yes, it has happened to me more than once and, as long as there is culture, it will happen again.
Fighting over culture is nothing new.
We’ve been playing Whack-A-Mole with the devil and every fad since forever. Whenever anything controversial pops up, we, the church, feel like we have to address it. We think we have to do a series or make bold, hyperbolic statement to make sure everyone knows where we stand. That is not to say that there aren’t some cases where we must address certain things that could promote physical or spiritually harmful things to our students, and we should address it wisely.
As youth pastors, we are on the front lines; early adopter of cultural things because our kids bring it into our youth meetings every week. This makes for awkward staff meetings when you and other staff or leadership disagree with a current cultural flare up. Catching Pokemon in a staff meeting is probably not a good step forward reconciliation if this is the issue. Regardless, culture will be provocative at times and how we navigate it personally and professionally will make the difference in how we want to spend our time, either arguing or building consensus on how to move forward. Youth workers have to get better at these three things in order create peaceful and insightful discussions as well as not getting fired over cultural biases.
Is this a good thing?
An evil thing?
A dangerous thing?
Or a No-Thing?
When something like a new app or fad comes around; we have to be quick to assess it for ourselves first. We have to be mature enough to, as the Bible says, “train ourselves to discern between good and evil.” Hebrews 5:14. If we discern this new thing as not good, unhealthy, unbiblical, we should come out and say so early and not be ambiguous about it. If we have questions, we should do our due diligence and research it before forming an opinion. We should research both sides of the argument and look at current data and articles as well as past information. The Apostle Paul said, concerning food,
“All things are permissible but not all things are beneficial.”
I think this verse could also apply to many things that pop up in our culture.
If we are unsure about the nature of something, we should get feedback from people we trust and see where they stand on it, allowing ourselves to stay neutral until we can get our footing. Even if we have decided that something is good or not good, if our Pastor disagrees, we, for the sake of unity must take his or her side, even if it is in silence. This does not mean we should preach against or for something out of guilt or lack of conviction, but we should probably not come out for it and make our Pastor’s job more difficult. It’s best to just keep our mouth shut and let discretion be the better part of valor.
Once you, as a staff person, have decided if the cultural craze is good, evil and where everyone else stands, especially the person who signs your checks, we have to decide what we are going to do about it.
Are we going to ignore it or teach a series?
Are we going to capitalize on it and market around it?
Are we going to put out a church position on the subject?
Making the right first steps out of the gate, collectively, cuts down on any confusion for our students and the congregation.
I have had many kids ask me if we could do something that I personally did not disagree with, but for the sake of unity in the church I had to tell them it would not be a good idea. I try to avoid things like The Walking Dead (I am a big fan) because I know our church culture will not support it from a perception point of view. The church will have no context for my series or events and can only form an opinion based on was others say. It’s not worth it, from a professional point of view, to blow years of good will and trust on an event jut because the kids will think I’m cool.
There are some things we can tap into. When Duck Dynasty was at its peak we had a Duck Dynasty night at the church with costumes and family style meal like they have at the end of each episode. This was a total win for everyone. The church thought it was original, fun, and talked about it in a positive light and I looked like a genius (“looked like” is the optimum phrase).
But what if there is a split, especially between you and your Pastor?
This is a hard place to be.
The struggle between our personal rights, freedom of the Spirit, and respecting authority will always be there, but how we handle it could either make us look selfish and petty (a big cry baby), or it can cause us to dig deeper and grow in grace towards those who do not understand.
My students know that most of my social media stuff is boring. I post Bible devotions, inspirational quotes, youth ministry stuff, and the occasional news story where I ask for opinions. My social media is an extension of job whether I like it or not. I use my social media to stay on message and not cause conflict, because in the end, me posting about some cultural spike is not worth the stink eye, negative comments, or a thumbs down.
It is better to discipline ourselves and weed out anything that would cause disunity or mistrust than to garner the few coolness accolades from those kids who are with us today but could quit tomorrow. We should value trustworthiness and not squander the trust of our pastors, parents, and church on stuff that just does not matter.
I get it, we feel like we have to make excuses for our Pastor (or whoever), for his or her un-coolness, but let me encourage you to take the high road when it’s easier to just agree with our students and tear him or her down. We should use these moments to talk about culture and our love of it in light of what Jesus said in Matthew 16:26:
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
And what The Apostle Paul said in Romans 14:16-18:
Do not allow what you consider good, then, to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
There will always be a tension in the church concerning culture but knee-jerk reactions and stalwart defenses will not build the Kingdom of God or our churches. Let’s not define ourselves by the year we were born or the culture we grew up in, but instead, create a new culture of love and understanding together.
PAUL TURNER is a long-time youth worker, speaker, and blogger of all things youth ministry. He’s the youth pastor at Pleasant Grove Assembly in Birmingham, AL and writes regularly at THEDISCIPLEPROJECT.NET.