Culture? What Culture?

I confess. I have seen movies I didn’t need to see. I have read things I didn’t need to read. I have listened to music I didn’t need to hear. And I did it in the name of youth ministry and keeping in touch with the youth culture.

If you’ve been in youth ministry a while, you know that experts tell us we should stay in touch with youth culture so we better know how to minister to and with young people. I’ve made similar statements trying when trying to encourage lay and professional youth workers. Yet, lately, I’ve begun to wonder about the appropriateness of that encouragement.

It is often said that Christians should be in the world but not of the world. We are called by Christ to be a light in the world – to let our light shine before all people. We are called to be a leaven and to add flavor and zest as Christ’s salt.

St. Paul challenges us to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2). Jesus told His disciples, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” (John 15:19) St. John writes, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (I John 1:15)

Now, I wouldn’t exactly say that I “loved the world,” but I do know I have been enamored more than once by its culture. I know it’s easy to use the “keep in touch with the culture” idea as a crutch or an excuse to explore what’s happening out there in the world in the name of building effective youth ministry. I believe we can fall into a trap, set by the devil, of believing that we need to see every movie or read every magazine or shop in every store that markets to teens. In that way, we end up falling into the world and don’t necessarily know it.

So, did you really need to see “Knocked Up” or the latest episode of The Age of Love or whatever the current teen sick-flick happens to be, to know what it was about? There are all kinds of places to find out what’s happening without supporting it. PluggedIn from Focus on the Family provides excellent reviews of movies, music and other cultural items. Hollywood Jesus is an online resource that can be very helpful. In fact, any newspaper review can give you a pretty good idea of what kind of movie you are seeing or CD you are listening to.

In striving to help teens negotiate through an often weird, ungodly culture, I would simply encourage you to be careful in how you negotiate. Our goal should be in stride with what St. Paul says in Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (4:8)