youth ministry 3.0, part 10

youth ministry 3.0 is the working title of a book i’ve mostly written, which is expected to release this fall. it’s an attempt to name where and how we’re missing the mark in youth ministry, and what needs to change in order to more truly live into our calling as youth workers.

we’ve decided to open up the book a bit and solicit youth worker contributions as sidebar comments, and i’m going to use my blog for this purpose. until late april, i’ll be posting a series of snapshots from the rough draft of the manuscript. i invite lots of comments — questions, disagreements, ideas, very short stories or examples, reflections — which will be considered as additions to the book.

by posting a comment, you are giving permission for your comment, with your screen name, to be added to the print book.

so, here’s the tenth bit, from chapter 5:

Youth Culture 3.0 – the third wave

A strange and sneaky shift has occurred in Western culture: youth culture has become the dominant culture. At the very least, youth culture has become the dominant informer and shaper of culture at large. Recent studies have shown that more than half of all household purchases are influenced by children and teenagers. Middle-aged and younger parents listen to the same music their teenagers listen to (or, at least, music their teenagers listened to a couple years ago) . Middle-aged women wear low-rider jeans. Middle-aged men (and women) sport the tattoos kids long for. It’s commonplace to see Boomer and Young X-er men wearing earrings. Clothing brands cross age barriers. TV and Movie celebs are googled by teens and adults alike. Adults are all over Facebook and MySpace.

Sure, there are differences – there always will be. And this is where the shift in adolescent task priority comes into play. But at the pop culture level, youth leads the day.

It’s a natural progression, really. Once Youth Culture 1.0 had its identity roughly formed, and Youth Culture 2.0 put hundreds of stakes in the ground about their otherness (autonomy), youth culture cannot stand by while it becomes completely commoditized and commonplace. That rubs against the essential fabric of adolescence.

So real youth culture has done three things:

First, youth culture began to play out on two levels. There’s the pop, surfacy level that is shared by teens and adults alike. This is the public face of youth culture. It’s the characterization that youth culture is more than happy to have adults believe is the sum total of youth. This isn’t a fake part of youth culture, a cardboard stand-in, set to pose and deceive. It really is youth culture; but it’s only one aspect.

Second, the non-public face of youth culture went underground . Like never before, there is a hidden world of teenagers that almost all adults have no access to, let alone knowledge of. Dr. Chap Clark, in his excellent book, Hurt: xxxx, explains that we adults are not welcome in this subterranean world of adolescents , and the best we can do is sit on the stairs that lead to it and be available to kids passing in and out of it.

I recently took my son to see the movie (adapted from the best-selling children’s book) The Spiderwick Chronicles. In the movie (and book), the children of a family stumble onto a new way of seeing, which enables them to see – and participate in – an otherwise hidden world of nymphs, sprites, ogres and other fantastical creatures living all around them. They go through much of the movie engaging, befriending, and battling in this hidden world. Their mother is completely unaware of all of this, until the very end of the movie, when the children let her in on the secret and help her to see it.

I was struck by this movie as a metaphor for this underground/hidden aspect of youth culture; with the added variable that teenagers don’t want us to see (or even know about) their private hidden land. It’s absolutely commonplace to them: they live in this world with their friends at all times – or, at least, when they’re with their friends. They live in this world, sometimes at the exclusion of the public youth culture world, and sometimes concurrently with life in the public youth culture world.

Teenagers constant need to differentiate themselves from the adult world (there’s autonomy again!) drives them to new, “other” ways of connecting, coping and creating. Every time some aspect of youth culture becomes commoditized and mainstream, accepted by adults and culture at large, teenagers tweak it in a new way for themselves, or, create a whole new category.

Case in point: all web-watchers and adolescent speculators were still convinced that teenagers were going to continue using email and online chat rooms to connect with each other virtually. But teenagers slid out from under than and embraced IM. Then we adults (who, with our last millennium thinking, love to assume things will stay the same) were socked – no one predicted this – that teenagers would slide out from under our assumptions about their IM use and move to texting as the most common form of social networking. As I write this, texting is more important and commonplace to teenagers than actually placing phone calls on their cell phones.

Third (and this is closely tied to the move underground), youth culture has splintered. While one might have some success at describing some of the general characteristics of the public aspect of youth culture, youth culture (both hidden and public) has shattered and dispersed. In my mind’s eye, I picture (computer generated) movie scenes of things exploding in space: all the pieces quickly move out, in all directions, from the center, then slow their retreat and settle into a loosely held orb of various but distinct parts.

Get this: there is no one-size-fits-all youth culture anymore. That did exist in the first two waves of youth culture. But it will, likely, never exist again. There was a day, in the not too distant past, when the entire high school revolved around the football players and cheerleaders . Even kids who were part of the math club knew that the football players and cheerleaders were the driving force, youth perfected, in their school.

Today’s high schools (and middle schools, to a lesser degree, as the students are less individuated and still trying on various identities) are a goulash of sub-cultures. The goth group has no aspirations of emulating or cozying up to the jocks and cheer-nymphs. They are broodily content in their own sub-culture, working hard to define their shared values, tastes, rules, priorities, language, acceptable and unacceptable behavior patterns, style, and more. The “party hard, study hard” gang will tolerate the froofy cheerbabes at parties, but don’t have much in common with them. Even the geeks are more content than ever in their geektitude, creating an entire sub-culture of their own (and not just a fantasy sub-culture staged in role-playing games!).

13 thoughts on “youth ministry 3.0, part 10”

  1. I SO AGREE with that last paragraph. It’s so true. I see it in our youth group, middle school, and high school.

  2. I think this is a great discussion that is getting generated, but I find the important shift going on is not in the elongation of adolescence. Rather it is a new set of term a new language to discuss salvation. This makes many uncomfortable, but it might be necessary in our postmodern world. The elongation of adolescence seems to point to a deeper issue, the loss of meaning in our culture – the muddled nature of our meta-narrative.

    The three issues you address as key to adolescence are key to all of us, and (let me be captain obvious) are always in flux through life. Identity is at the heart of what we are always struggling with, and new questions emerge about who we are when there are significant changes in life (puberty, graduation, marriage, parenthood, job loss, death of a loved one, etc.) In terms of salvation the story of the Bible seeks to answer this for us. By knowing who God is we can better understand who we are as the ones made in his image. The story begins to shape our identity as those created in the broken but being redeemed image of God – the beloved
    of God.

    Autonomy is related to the gospel truth that only true freedom is found in Christ. Only in God’s will do we have the freedom to be who we are created to be. This goes all they way into our life regarding every decision we make from finances, to what to eat.

    We also find affinity in within the identity as the people of God. This is a blessing, but also the potential pitiful of Christianity (or any religion for that matter). Identity as God’s beloved forms our affinity of where we belong, but when affinity informs identity we get serious issues of judgment and shame.

    The power of any meta-narrative shapes the three markers of adolescence

    I think the growing period of adolescence speaks to the confusion present with competing meta-narratives. It is present in all society, and even more so in the youth subculture. Which story makes the most sense? This is going on with in the individual and within the various tribes and affinity groups.

    Our ecclesiology (and youth ministry 3.0) it seems needs to be formed by a robust (narrative) gospel that answers these basic questions of adolescence and of worldview. Instead of targeting youth and their various subcultures it seems we are calling them to emerge into a new identity, autonomy, and affinity that only the Biblical meta-narrative can offer.

    Just my thoughts.

  3. Wow – what to say and not say…great insight.

    Goths never wanted to cozy up with the jocks. You might even say they set the whole multi-subculture thing into gear, or at least that they were the first one to take hold.

    Then came the embracing of the geeks. Perhaps started as long ago as Revenge of the Nerds and Can’t Bye Me Love but definitely the norm now…Chuck, Ugly Beatty, Numbers (the main character is a mathmetician) and so many other current tv shows.

    Add to that the tech side of things from the 80’s on but especially now. To live in a the current world, our inner geek has to come out. Add to that the fact that the computer geeks and movie makers are as popular and recognizable as pro athletes and the subcultures can’t be marginalized and ostracized like before.

    One direct area that illustrates it with youth ministry…in YFC’s early days you got a band to come play…didn’t matter who…everyone came. Now, who do you get? Rap group, rock band, screamo…no matter who you pick a large chunk of the group will be uninterested.

  4. I love this section, and really feel as you stated in YS that it is where we are at in youth culture but not in youth ministry.

    Autonomy IS the thing that these youth are struggling with and also trying to embrace. I believe that it is due to the adult culture that has developted. The “Be who whoever you are around wants you to be” mentality. This is what has really made this generation say, “I don’t want that, I would rather be ME, whatever they think that is, and make people not like me then play someone fake and never be true to myself.”

    These students understand the deep need for truth not only in words but in identity.

    They see the adult culture of being who others want to get what I want as weak, and ultimatly non-truth.

    In all of this they has taken this idea of being true to who they think they are, and they have taken it to the point where they feel like they MUST avoid any chance of being seen as something they are not, which is why they stay in thier own groups most of the time.

    Some of these “sub groups” have even gotten to the point that they are not being true to self unless they are offending everyone else.

    As a youth minister, and I know I am not alone, it has gotten to a point where no matter what you think they want or would like, you will miss it because they see it as us making them be the same group, which is exactly what they are NOT going for.

    The question becomes: “How can we unite all of these very purposefully divided youth subcultures with the ultimate TRUTH and AUTONOMY of Christ?”

    For me, I have noticed that one on one attention is helping developt youth faith without making them feel like I am building a cookie cutter Christian.

    We are acctually in the process of developing a mentoring program for our church in which each youth is paired with a member of our church in which they meet one on one for an hour each week. This happens seperate from anything youth.

    Within this time, our vision is to have each mentor, the adult, using the same questions and same Christian truths, and adapting them to the individual need. So that when these youth come together in youth group and here they same thing thier mentors are saying, they might realize that it is not us trying to make them the same thing, but us trying to give them the same Spirit in which they are doing it.

    I have no idea if this will work, and I know there is much more to be worked out, but I really feel that this might be a way to LOVE each of these youth right where they are.

  5. What I am excited abou tright now is that adults are starting to employ texting and that means that students will soon slide into the next medium. Great news for someone with chronic “text-thumb” pain


  6. How does a functional youth group operate when you have the goth kids sitting next to the home school kid and the home school kid sitting next to the youth group make out machine, Stefany?

    Can we really effectively handle this question: “How can we unite all of these very purposefully divided youth subcultures with the ultimate TRUTH and AUTONOMY of Christ?”

    What we have is a very compartmentalized youth group. As the youth pastor you are trying to tailor the group to 7 different cluster identities while hoping and praying EVERYONE could just get along.

    Ohh yea by the way during youth group you have to talk about Jesus after dealing with the drama and diversity. Can there really be unity in the midst of diversity? And how do we model this to the students who hate the skate punk kids who make fun of them at the lunch table?

  7. I think something to be aware is that it can be easy to create a new subculture for teens–the Christian youth group. Movies liked Saved! point out that Christianity has created its own subculture, with movies, music, and heroes consume. But is conforming to this new subculture what Jesus intends for His disciples? We are to have unity, but are we to have conformity?

    These are some great insights, and some awesome questions being asked in the comments!

  8. WOW! I wish the book was just a big discussion page :-)

    I think that one other thing that this generation has in common, no matter what subgroup they are in, is that they are ready to rally around a cause like being more “green”(Earth conservation), “red”(AIDs awarness and research), social injustice, livestrong, etc.

    This generation knows that there is something more worth living for than themselves, but they are struggling with actually defining it…and everything else in our culture tells them it is all about them. This is where the church can step in and say this feeling of knowing there has to be more than me is because we are created to glorify God in everything we are: our relationships, our jobs, our attitudes, our LIVES!

  9. With customization in full swing, how are we in the body of Christ, specifically in student ministry, how are we looking to disciple and relate to our students in a customized way that helps spurn growth spiritually and helps navigate the waters of adolescent development and NOT become a one-size-fits-all-brand-church that so many students and young adults ignore and avoid?

  10. Mark, you hit it on the nose. Youth has become this un-categorical group that has evolved right under our noses. Just as we think we’ve got them figured out they change. I believe the insight you are using, the phrasing and the style present it as a useful tool for parents and youth workers and no doubt ably a student will pick it up and say, “Finally, someone gets it”. Great job, keep it up!

  11. In acts 2 the entire Christian church was together and ‘of one accord’. The first and only time in history that has ever happened. Now we’ve reached a point where we’re doing well if a lone Teenager is of one accord with him/her self! As Youth Workers we live and minister in a culture of diversity and contradiction. One minute you can have a conversation about faith, life, the universe and everything as deep and insightful as any you’ll ever have with an adult, the next minute you’ll have a bunch of kids rolling on the floor because someone farted. Then you throw in all the culturally diverse groups and I start to realize that instead of trying to make everyone think and be the same we have to find common ground in Christ where whoever you are, whatever your tribe, wherever you’re from, whatever your musical taste, we can learn to embrace the tension and bring our differences and variety to a place of communion at the cross.

    How else could a slightly (ok, more than slightly) geeky classical music lover from rural England work and minister with New York city’s hip hop loving, urban youth? Only Christ.

  12. ||||QUOTE:I was struck by this movie as a metaphor for this underground/hidden aspect of youth culture; with the added variable that teenagers don’t want us to see (or even know about) their private hidden land.|||||

    Generally speaking, you are correct in saying that youth typically do not allow adults to enter into their lairs of unseen reality. But I’m afraid many of us would use our students’ shut-off facade as a cop-out for not trying.

    I have had the privilege (not sure if that is a good word to use here, as the hidden world can be quite dark and oppressive) of entering the sub-world of several of my students. Is it dark? You bet. Scary? Yeah, I’ll admit that it is. Beyond the redeeming work of God? Absolutely not. As agents of change, we need to be ready to enter into the darkness of our teens’ lives and walk them out of it, into the light of God’s glory.

Leave a Reply