Something said by media critic Marshall McLuhan may have initially fallen on deaf ears, but its truths scream loudly about the contemporary power of media, technology, and electronic tools.
I was reminded of this recently when I read an updated version of theologian John Stott’s classic 1982 book on preaching, Between Two Worlds, a book about the preacher’s task of knowing both Word and world, and the ways in which we are called to bridge the gap between Word and world by communicating with an eye to missional contextualization.Recently, Greg Scharf updated and abridged Between Two Worlds into a newer book with the title The Challenge of Preaching. It’s good…and it’s a book youth workers should read. While we may not find ourselves in the church pulpit every week, our relationships with kids do put us in the pulpit 24/7 as we engage with them in the everyday comings and goings of life. Yes, we are preachers.
So what does Stott have to do with McLuhan? In the first chapter of The Challenge of Preaching, Stott addresses three specific challenges to preaching occasioned by current cultural realities: hostility to authority, the electronic age, and the church’s loss of confidence in the gospel.
That last one is a frightening reality, but what I want to pass on here is the way in which Stott’s brief yet astute analysis of the electronic age offers wisdom to those of us who need to know how our technological tools have shaped the kids we minister to. Stott says, “The past 50 years have seen radical changes in methods of communication, and these have had a profound effect on the church (our kids!). The effects are felt worldwide, even in locations where electronic media have not yet penetrated deeply.” Stott then lists five specific effects. He is describing our students. He is describing our students’ parents. He is…I fear…describing us.
People have become physically lazy.
People have become intellectually uncritical.
People have become emotionally insensitive.
People have become psychologically confused.
People have become morally disordered.
We live in a 24/7 world where we see, hear, and read about all kinds of behavioral options. Eventually, we wear down. Everything we see and hear becomes a valid option. Bad behavior becomes acceptable. We justify our actions by saying, “everybody does it.”
Youth workers…are you seeing this in the kids you know and love? If so, how are you pushing back, or are you complicit through your ministry approach and methods? This stuff is so significant that it cannot be ignored. To do so would be foolish. If we don’t push back, we are actually allowing kids to be nurtured further and further down these destructive paths.
As people in youth ministry, we must prayerfully ponder how our technological tools (good things, for sure) have shaped your kids. Then, we must prayerfully strategize on how to push back in ways that help kids shape their use of these tools to the glory of God rather than allowing the tools to shape them into the image of things that are in no way good.
Here are three initial strategies you can implement into your youth ministry immediately.