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Should We Consider Culture In Youth Ministry?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Consider the impact of the culture on the way we conduct Youth Ministry and for that matter, overall edification. In his book “This Way To Youth Ministry”, Robbins states that as a person experiences individuation they come to terms with three main questions: (1) Who am I? (2) Where am I going? and (3) How do I relate to other people?” (Robbins, p. 227). I believe, the answers to these questions are shaped in part by “culture”. This is why ministry workers should invest time, effort, and resources into understanding the culture.

 I like the way Robbins uses the analogy of “fishing”: Jesus called us to be fishers of men “But if we are to be successful at fishing, we must give careful thought to the way we fish, the fish’s habits and where they swim” (p. 247). In other words, if youth ministry is like fishing, then we must invest in learning “fishery”. Jesus was just as concerned for His people and the world – this is why he was incarnated. He was made a little lower, came to earth, took on flesh, lived among His people, experienced the culture, gave up His life for the people and the world, made provision for their redemption. “God became flesh” (John 1:14). This is getting to know one’s world as best as anyone could, and this is the ministry to which we are called.

Culture impacts who a person becomes and what they produce (Robbins, 249). This goes back to the three questions I mentioned earlier. So “learning the traits of the culture is an important part of reading our young people” (ibid). To do this, we must understand what shapes their worldview – “the bedrock assumptions they make about the world, their beliefs and values” (Robbins, 250). They use these assumptions to integrate their thoughts, feelings, and experiences to make sense of their world. Practically speaking, this plays out in 3 dimensions:

 (1) Values and allegiances – what is cool or lame, right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate

(2) Affective – tastes, likes or dislikes, joys or sorrows, cultural expressions (dance, video, audio, literature, media;

(3) Cognitive – knowledge (Hiebert/Robbins, 252).

 If we are to use the incarnational approach, then this piece of understanding “fish/young people” is essential to winning/conversion.

Lastly, it will take great effort in our part to become relevant. They will not take us seriously if we are not relevant. This is achieved through “cross-cultural ministry” – one set of people with internalized values and mores reaching out to a younger set of people with their own distinct values and mores. As leaders, we must guard against ethnocentricity. It is easy to make judgments and dismiss trends as non-issue. What we should be doing is engaging our students through ethnotheology –(1)  properly exegeting the biblical texts; (2) properly exegeting the youth culture; and (3) properly exegeting self and community.

These three components assist us in using the incarnational ministry model and applying Christ to the culture. This is exactly what we are called to do –  Be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). Embracing this approach of understanding where our young people live and becoming a part of their world (incarnational) is a winning strategy. Consider this as we plan activities and curricula.


Robbins, D. This Way To Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan (2004)


Written by Dr. Kevin A. Hall



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