When looking at broader service for our student ministry, I need to approach it as would a missionary. I believe that if we are going to be effective as ministers, we need to apply the principles of missionary work to our ministries. We need to spend time looking at areas such as evangelism, cultural norms, music, language and decision-making processes used by our local culture. Missionaries spend months studying a culture before planning a strategy to reach the people within that culture. As youth pastors, we must be diligent in our study of youth culture. We need to have many avenues of contact in order to impact students. We must enter their world if we are to be effective.
This means we must spend time listening to their music, watching their TV shows and movies, and learn their language. We must be able to multi-task as youth pastors. As counselors, we must address the problems and issues students experience. As sociologists, we must examine cultural trends and know how much influence they have on our students. As teachers, we must communicate God’s Word in their language. As theologians, we must have a vibrant relationship with God and make Him known to our students. As missionaries, we must know the local culture and penetrate the areas where students live, work and play.
One way in which I am trying to do this is getting more involved in the schools. This past month, I have spoken at two career days in the local middle schools. I shared a little bit about what I do as a student pastor, and then I taught a 30-minute suicide prevention class. Also this fall, I plan to teach a Bible study for teachers once a week at three schools in our county. I realized I need to spend time with students where they are. I will reach them on their turf far better than expecting them to come to a church building that doesn’t hold meaning for them. I need to be immersed in their culture if I expect to reach them.
I believe understanding youth culture is very important. Culture changes so fast now. New fashion, music and technology change every five years according to Barna. We need to be able to keep up with the changes. The teaching materials I have come across provide an understanding of today’s youth culture, dealing with current issues, come with exciting graphics and fast-paced multi-media.
I also have come across resources for parents that deal with cultural issues and help parents stay on top of what is occurring in their children’s lives. I am planning to start a parent ministry this fall. I want to begin a more family-oriented ministry approach in the coming year. I also want to plan more inter-generational events to aid this process.
The church is a cultural repository. It needs to be a place that speaks to its culture, but many churches have missed the mark. The church as a whole has underestimated the power of culture and its influence on religion. Many students feel as if they have to step out of their culture in order to go to church—and end up feeling as if they have stepped back in time. We need to bring the church into the 21st century and appeal to a generation that is looking for a place to experience God and know He is relevant enough to meet their needs.