I held a seminar at our weekend away, sharing my thoughts on today’s real world and how we can speak into current culture. My cascade of thoughts is shown below…
Firstly a bit of a look at what the real world looks like.
If we look back to the very beginning of time, God creates the majestic heavens and earth, the intricate and beautiful plants and fantastical animals. Yet, the whole climax of creation is seen when God creates mankind in his own image. God fashions something of value and delight from shapeless material which evokes his delight. He is so delighted and so in love with his creation, he wants to live with them. In perfect relationship with him. This is the world God intended for us, his beautiful creation.
However, the world we live in is so far from what God had intended. I despair, my heart breaks each day. In my role as a youth worker I see on a regular basis: anxiety, depression, teenage pregnancy, underage sex, underage drinking, eating disorders, porn, sending nude photos, homelessness, prostitutes, bullying, low self esteem. I believe the reason we see such broken, struggling individuals is that we are living in a world which has lost its grip on truth. If the world has failed to grasp truth and we know that the truth will set us free, then it should be no surprise that there are a lot of people out there not living in freedom.
Winston Churchill is quoted to have said in an address to Havard University: ‘the empires of the future will be empires of the mind.’ It is actually ideas that conquer our future, it is not nations or governments or armies. The idea we are waging against is the idea that we decide our own truth, based on personal opinion and particular situations. What is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me. There is no absolute truth. We don’t have to answer to anyone but ourselves. Personal pleasure and fulfilment are what’s important. We pursue fame, fortune, health, and wellbeing. We strive to climb the career ladder to gain status and a bigger pay packet, we spend hours at the gym trying to attain size zero, we take countless selfies to attract the attention of others, comparing our real life with other’s edited highlight reel on Instagram.
So how do we begin to speak into this culture?
The world is not meeting these longings; we will never earn enough money, never be the shape and size we desire and we will never be able to feel secure whilst comparing ourselves to others. I believe there is actually a longing for something more, people are trying to find values but can’t find them. They are trapped in their own desires, thinking freedom is doing what they want when they want. So if I want to buy all those nice new things, I can. If I want to go and have sex with a stranger I have the freedom to do that, I don’t need to think of the consequences. If I want to control and manipulate one my work colleagues for selfish gain, I have the freedom to do so. I do what I want. That is worldly freedom. But actually we are not living in true freedom, we are so compelled to satisfy these desires that we find no freedom from them at all. Instead, we are trapped in a cycle of continuously satisfying these desires.
But the freedom Jesus came to give us was to be free from those desires and urges to satisfy our lusts and needs. True freedom is accepting Jesus and following Him. Freedom is in following God’s will, not our own. Wow! What a counter cultural concept!
So how do we speak Christ’s freedom into this culture? We need to make the distinction between how we, as the church and as Christians, embrace current culture and how we surpass culture and don’t water down our message of hope...
Culture stems mainly from our education system and media, therefore it is really important we know our culture, that we are aware of the current trends, what is happening in the charts, internet, schools, world… don’t put your head in the sand. I listen to Radio 1, not just because I secretly love it, but to listen to what the young people are listening to. To hear what is being discussed and what the latest sounds and lyrics are. If we can utilise current culture to attract people then let’s do it! If people can sing along to the current chart songs then why don’t we use them to harness the truth about the nature of Jesus and his love for us?
The current generation, as well as older generations (the fastest increasing age group on Facebook is 45-55) check their phones 180 times a day. There are over 2 billion active social media users online. Can we fight against this? No! So let’s embrace it… let’s flood social media with Bible verses and truth. Get them to follow youth leaders and people from church, preachers and Christian pages, so they scroll down Instagram and instead of being bombarded with selfies of people they think are prettier than them, they see the truth!!
Furthermore, to embrace our culture we should have people in these areas of influence, forging a better way and a more truth based culture. If schools are teaching evolution, let’s engage more Christian teachers. If the newspapers are full of horror stories, let’s get Christian journalists to write about so many good news stories from churches helping their communities. If kids are listening to current music, let’s get more Christian artists to flood the charts. If the books we read are all about sex and violence, let’s get Christian writers speaking of hope. If the films we read are all about fulfilling our desires, then let’s allow our young people to arise as film producers and make content about Gods desires for our lives. We need to respond to our culture and society; We have to make our Christian voice louder than the world’s, we can’t shrink back in fear.
So we need to embrace culture, but that is not enough. As Christians who hold onto truth we should have a message that transcends culture! Previously, in order to fit into culture, Christians have been guilty of presenting a watered down, diluted version of the gospel in order to see more come to church and make a conversion. We take away words such as surrender, crucified life, sanctification, justification and replace them with language of happiness, niceness and heavenly rewards. We forget to mention the calling and cost of being a disciple. There is a difference between conversion and discipleship. Many have an incredible conversion experience and then realise that following God can he hard, trusting and following him and surrendering to his will can be hard – why did no one mention this before? Christianity is NOT a belief system that embraces the existence of a God who demands little more than to be nice with the central goal of life to be happy and to feel good about ourselves.
We were made to be in relationships with God and with people. And I honestly believe relationships are the key to transformation. Engaging in relationships that allow us to be living, breathing testimonies of the truth and connect to individuals on a deep level, mean that person feels loved, belonging, accepted and valued! Wow! Relationships are a way to raise the aspirations of young people, to show them a better way, to show them the truth. You don’t have to be a typical youth worker cliché to extend a hand out, you just need to be able to love someone and show you care. Engage with a young person at church, or your children’s or grandchildren’s friends, chat to them and find out what is important to them. Invite them for tea, take them for a coffee.
So… going back to the truth: the only way we are going to see change in this generation is the transformational power of Jesus! We need to root them and get them to stand firm on the truth and call them out to live a holy life. I have so many stories of young people who have embraced the truth and it really has transformed them, their families and friendship circles. They have overcome awful situations, brought others to freedom, set up ministries to show others the love of Jesus. So take heart! We focus too easily on surviving and managing but God wants us to be victorious because he has already overcome and wants us to join the battle and fight for truth, often it feels like a losing battle but take heart – Jesus had already won!